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Everything you need to know about growing healthy ferns indoors

Tips for indoor ferns and how to keep them healthy

Ferns are wonderful plants for filling in shady spots in gardens. They’re soft, fairly low maintenance, and neutral yet classy. Can you say the same about growing ferns indoors?

It may come as a surprise, but ferns can grow just as well indoors as outdoors! They can bring a soothing touch of green to any shady room. If you need a plant to boost morale in an office or liven up a poorly lit bedroom, ferns may be the right choice for you. To keep these ferns happy and healthy indoors, here’s what you need to know.

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

1 hour

What You Need

  • Well-draining soil

  • Compost

  • Humidifier

  • Spray bottle

  • Sheer curtain

Fern growing in a white pot

What ferns do best indoors?

There are many different types of ferns, and a decent amount of them will grow indoors. Size is an important consideration. Although some varieties are small and delicate, many can reach a fairly large size. When growing them outside, this is a plus. Inside, though, long fronds can get in the way.

Boston ferns are one of the most common ferns. Also called sword ferns or ladder ferns, they have long fronds that stick out and drape down. These fronds can grow up to 3 feet long, but Boston ferns do grow well indoors with proper humidity.

Bird’s nest ferns have crimped, wave-like fronds that can reach 4 feet in length. However, when grown indoors, they typically only grow to 1 or 2 feet. Bird’s nest fronds don’t hang like other ferns, so they’re a better choice if you don’t want a hanging basket.

If bird’s nest ferns are still too large for you, try a button fern. The name comes from its small size and the rounded shape of its leaflets. Button ferns only grow to between 12 and 18 inches, and they make excellent desk plants.

Medium sized Boston fern in a pot on a balcony

What do ferns need?

Caring for ferns is pretty simple if you think about where they naturally grow. Ferns grow on forest floors, typically in shaded, moist, and humid locations. Recreating these conditions will help ensure your fern has everything it needs. Temperature isn’t often an issue with ferns, as long as you know where your fern is native to. There are tropical ferns, which enjoy more heat and more humidity, and temperate ferns, which prefer warm but mild temperatures.

Here's how to properly care for your indoor fern:

Step 1: Choose a rich, well-draining potting soil.

If you need to, you can mix compost with potting soil to thicken and enrich it. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, replacing the decomposing leaves and plants of the forest, but it also holds water without soaking the plant. Fern roots don’t cope well with standing water, but they do need consistent moisture.

Step 2: Water your fern frequently, but only in small amounts at a time.

You want to keep the soil moist but not drenched.

Step 3: Keep the humidity high.

This can be an issue with indoor ferns in particular, since people often work to make their homes less humid. Keeping a spray bottle of water handy to lightly mist the ferns if they dry out can help. Adding a humidifier to the room can also be useful.

Step 4: Place your fern where it will receive filtered light throughout the day or morning sun and afternoon shade.

In most cases, placing a sheer curtain over your window is the best option. However, if nowhere in your house is suitable, you can get away with moving your fern throughout the day, giving them morning sun and afternoon shade. The key thing to takeaway is that ferns need a mix of light and shade. Too little light can stunt their growth, but too much can burn them. It may take a little trial and error to find the best place in your home for your fern.

A bird's nest fern on a small table

Are ferns prone to any pests or diseases?

Ferns are relatively healthy plants, and, thankfully, pests are less common indoors than they are outside. However, there are a few problems you can look out for.

The two most common problems are:

  • Leaf tip burn - Browning at the edges of leaves and fronds. It is caused by overfertilization, but is easy to mistake for a sunburn. Sunburns are typically larger, spreading across an entire section of the plant, while leaf tip burn is only around the edges and tips.
  • Fungal infections - Mushrooms and molds that grow in the soil and on the plant. It is caused by overwatering when fungal spores are present. Ferns are especially prone to fungi since they enjoy damp soil.

Here's how to avoid these problems:

Step 1: Follow fertilizer instructions carefully.

Fertilizers will come with instructions explaining how often to use them, how much to use at a time, and any special safety instructions you should know. Read these carefully to avoid overfertilization.

Step 2: Use a liquid fertilizer.

Any unabsorbed nutrients and salts can build up in your plant's soil, which can contribute to overfertilization. Liquid fertilizers typically have fewer sales and stay in the soil for a shorter amount of time. However, overfertilization can still become an issue, so make sure you're reading all the instructions carefully!

Step 3: Get your plant and potting soil from a reputable source to reduce the risk of fungal spores already being in the soil.

Step 4: Sterilize your soil before using it.

This involves using heat to kill any pests, fungal spores, and bacteria that may be in the soil.

Step 5: Water your fern below the leaf level.

Wet leaves increase the risk of fungal infections. This is partly because consistently wet leaves can rot, giving any fungi or bacteria around a food source, and partly because spores can collect on leaves and begin growing when exposed to water.

A potted fern on the floor

What not to do when caring for a fern

The main thing to avoid when caring for an indoor fern is letting it dry out. A dry fern is an unhappy, unhealthy fern. In many cases, you’ll see the fronds turning gray and even falling off. If regular watering is a challenge for you for any reason, but your heart is still set on a fern, try a lady fern, goldenback fern, or Korean rock fern. Setting up an automatic watering system is also an option to consider.

Ferns can add a touch of greenery to almost any corner of your home. Now that you know how to grow ferns indoors, you can have a house full of lush, low maintenance greenery. Whether you want to turn your home into a rainforest or are just looking for a desk plant that won’t die in the shade, ferns might be the answer you’re looking for.

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