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Here’s how you can help ferns thrive indoors

Ferns are beautiful. They can add a touch of elegance to the shade, whimsy to the shadow, and softness to the dark and damp. Can they do the same for the shady corners of your house, though, or are they limited to just the outdoors? This is what you need to know to keep your ferns flourishing inside.

Fern in a pot on a balcony
Jeerayut Rianwed / Shutterstock

Basic fern care

Ferns, in general, are fairly low-maintenance compared to other plants. They really only need a few things, most of which is pretty simple and makes a lot of sense when you consider their natural habitat.

Ferns are typically forest plants. They grow in the underbrush, underneath larger trees and between bushes. As such, they don’t need too much light and prefer a bit of shade. Forest floors are typically littered with decomposing leaves and logs, so it’s important to make sure your ferns have a lot of organic material in their soil.

In addition, because it’s shady under the trees, water doesn’t evaporate as quickly and is instead stored in the thick, rich soil and in the air. Keep your fern well-watered, sheltered, and in an area with moderate to high humidity.

Fern in a small brown pot on a white background

Do indoor ferns need special attention?

Indoor ferns do need a little special consideration, but in most situations it isn’t a difficult accommodation to make.

General care tips include:

  • A potting mix that’s rich in organic material (with the optional addition of homemade compost).
  • Humidity is important. Keep your fern away from drafty places, like near windows, which may dry the plant out. You can get a humidifier for your fern, but an easier solution may be to place them in or near your bathroom. Showers produce a lot of humidity!
  • Ferns prefer medium/dappled light.
  • Keep the soil moist and mist occasionally.
  • The fern’s preferred temperature depends on the variety, so make sure to read up on whichever variety you purchase.
  • During the summertime, you can supplement your care with liquid fertilizer every few weeks.

What ferns grow well indoors?

Many types of ferns thrive indoors. Silver brake, bird’s nest, button fern, and Boston fern all do very well indoors and are low-maintenance. Silver brake and bird’s nest can grow fairly tall, while button fern and Boston fern stay a bit smaller. Otherwise, since they’re relatively low-maintenance, you can safely pick your fern based on appearance.

  • Boston ferns are most likely what you’ve seen as indoor hanging ferns, especially in hotels or other businesses. They have tapering branches with small, ovular leaflets extending from either side.
  • Bird’s nest ferns don’t look quite as much like classic ferns. They have long leaves rather than leaflets and sometimes have crimped or jagged edges.
  • Button ferns have thin branches that curl over each other and very circular leaflets. They come in a range of shades of green and look not unlike a string of pearls succulent.
  • Silver brake ferns come in varieties that have leaflets and varieties that don’t. What they all do have, though, is a silvery white stripe down the center of each leaf or arm.

Can I move my ferns outside?

Yes, you absolutely can, provided you live somewhere with a climate they enjoy! Here are a few important things to keep in mind when moving your indoor ferns outdoors.

Firstly, what is the weather like and what will it be like for the next little while? Although it can be tempting to move a plant outside during the day when the weather is nice and bring it back inside at night when it cools off, this can actually be detrimental for your plant. Too much variance or too sudden of a change can stress your plant, which impacts its health. Make sure when you start moving your ferns outside that the weather will be suitable for the next week, to avoid unnecessary stress.

Fern in a black pot on a wooden table
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If your ferns are young, and you plan on moving them outdoors permanently, it’s important to harden them first. This means placing them outside for a few hours a day, gradually increasing the time they spend outside. Start with them in a place that is protected from the elements and slowly move them to a more exposed location.

Now, this may sound counterintuitive. We just talked about sudden changes being stressful for plants, after all. Young plants, however, are more adaptable to stress, and this small stress when they’re young helps them become tougher and more resistant to environmental stressors when they’re planted in your garden.

No matter if you’re looking for a Boston fern to stay indoors forever or looking to start a silver brake indoors and then move it outside, now you’re prepared to help your fern survive and thrive!

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Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
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