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Ferns are one of the world’s oldest plant families, dating back more than 300 million years ago. Today, there are over 10,000 different species with some species loving a colder environment while others prefer something a bit more tropical. Despite the vast diversity of the fern family, the required care is quite common between species. Ferns are a relatively easy, low-maintenance plant and make a great starter plant for those just beginning their houseplant journey.
Ferns typically grow in shady, moist spaces where there is indirect sunlight. The same should be maintained for a fern living in your home. Direct sun should be avoided; it will cause the plant to lose leaves and also cause the fronds turn brown and die. Not enough little light will cause little/poor growth and cause yellowing of the fronds. Placement near a window that provides morning or late afternoon indirect light will benefit the plant. They can be kept in dimmer spaces as long as they are periodically exposed to brighter light.
Many plants like the soil to dry out between waterings but the fern is not one of them. A fern’s soil should never dry out. The soil should always be damp, but not soggy, from top to bottom. This may mean watering the plant a little bit every day to keep it moist. If the top of the soil feels dry, it’s time to give it some water.
Humidity is a must! They should be exposed to plenty of humidity. Without humidity, the plant will not be happy and its fronds will dry, turn brow, and fall off. Humidity can be increased by a pebble tray or by a humidifier. If possible, bring your ferns into the bathroom with you when you shower as they will love the humidity the shower produces. With enough light permitting, many fern owners permanently keep their ferns in the bathroom as the space is usually the most humid room in the house.
The ideal temperature depends on the type of fern. If it’s a tropical fern, it will prefer a 60-70°F space. If it’s a subtropical fern, it will appreciate a lower temperature, around 50-60°F. Drafts should always be avoided.
Ferns usually grow on the forest floor where there they are exposed to plenty of organic matter to absorb nutrients from. When keeping as a houseplant, they should be fertilized frequently. Full-strength fertilizer should not be used as it will damage the root system. A weak/diluted fertilizer or a slow-release stick will provide appropriate nutrients. Fertilize in the spring/summer 1-2 times a month. Do not fertilize in the fall and winter months as the fern will go through a period of rest.
Some species are toxic to animals (ie, plumosa, asparagus) and others are not (ie, boston, staghorn). As the fern family has over 10,000 species, it is best to check the ASPCA website for your individual plant’s toxicity information.