Everything you need to know about growing healthy ferns indoors

Ferns are wonderful plants for filling in shady spots in gardens. They’re soft, fairly low maintenance, and neutral yet classy. However, all of this applies to outdoor ferns. What about growing ferns indoors? If you have a shady corner in your house, or just want to add a serene forest atmosphere to your home, then you might be considering bringing ferns inside. To keep these ferns happy and healthy, we’re here to give you all the advice you need.

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, man can reach a fairly large size. When growing them outside, this is a plus, but inside, 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 to up to three feet long, but Boston ferns do grow well indoors with proper humidity.

Bird’s nest ferns have crimped, wave-like fronds that can reach four feet in length. However, when grown indoors, they typically only grow to a foot or two. 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.

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. Ferns’ roots don’t cope well with standing water, but they do need consistent moisture.

Ferns don’t just need consistent moisture in their soil—they also need it in the air. Ferns need relatively frequent watering, but only in small amounts at a time. You want to keep the soil moist but not drenched. Ferns also need high humidity. 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.

Ferns do best with filtered light. 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, like leaf tip burn. Leaf tip burn is caused by over-fertilization. It’s easy to spot, but also easy to mistake for sun burns. The difference is that leaf tip burn is specifically browning of the tips of leaves and fronds, while sun burns are more universal.

Since ferns require consistent moisture, they are prime targets for fungi that thrive in wet soil. However, indoor plants have less chance of exposure to fungal spores. Getting your plants from a reputable source, so you can be sure the soil isn’t already contaminated, helps. Avoid watering from overhead and getting the fronds wet, as this can spread any spores that are present.

A potted fern on the floor

What not to do when caring for an indoor 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.

Ferns can add a touch of greenery to almost any corner of your home. Now that you know how to properly care for an indoor fern, 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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