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How to Care for Ferns

Two Methods:Caring for House-FernsCaring for Outdoor Ferns

Ferns are a very common plant used both inside as houseplants and as garden foliage. Dating back to prehistoric times, ferns exist in tens of thousands of species. They range in appearance from airy and light to dense and bushy, but their care and needs remain similar. In general, ferns are low-maintenance and hardy, but they do require a bit of upkeep in order to grow luscious and large.

Method 1
Caring for House-Ferns

  1. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 1
    Choose the right location. Ferns require lots of shade and ambient (rather than direct) sunlight. Place your plant near a north-facing window; east and west windows let in too much direct sunlight. You can put your fern next to a south-facing window if a north-facing window isn’t available. Keep the plant a bit away from the window, so that it receives more ambient light.
  2. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 2
    Keep the humidity high in proximity to your fern. High moisture levels in the air are perfect for humidity-loving ferns. There are two ways you can create higher humidity levels for your fern: double-pot your fern, or add a humidifier to your room. To double pot your fern, select a second pot slightly larger than the pot your ferns are planted in. Fill the pot with moss heavily soaked in water, and then place the second pot inside. Cover the top of the soil and the rim of the inner pot with the soaked moss, and wet it every few days to make sure it is still moist.
    • If you use a humidifier, place it near your fern for the best growth.
    • You can mist your first with a misting bottle and lukewarm water, but this should only be done every few days because it can cause spotting otherwise.
  3. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 3
    Keep the temperature constant. Most indoor species of ferns are tropical, although not all require tropical weather. Make sure that the temperature in your home (or at least the room in which the fern is kept) is near 70 °F (21 °C). The ferns can handle temperatures as low as 60, but they won’t thrive as well under low temperature conditions. When in doubt, turn the temperature up.
    • Consider placing your fern in a bathroom; the temperature and humidity are often higher as a result of showers and baths.[1]
  4. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 4
    Water regularly. Ferns love a humid atmosphere, but they also prefer moist soil as well. Make sure that your fern’s potting mix is always damp (but never soaking). This may mean you water a small amount on a daily basis, rather than heavy amounts irregularly.
  5. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 5
    Fertilize your ferns once a month. Visit your local gardening center and find a house plant fertilizer that specializes in species like ferns; ask an attendant for help, if necessary. Spray this fertilizer onto your ferns on a monthly basis to provide nutrients that the potting mix lacks. You should wait until at least six months after you’ve potted your fern to start fertilizing it, though.
  6. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 6
    Remove dead or diseased parts of the fern. House-ferns are able to contract some diseases, however they tend to be hardy and don’t succumb to most. If your plant appears diseased, cut off the damaged areas. If your fern begins to die as a result of neglect, do the same by removing the damaged/dead area with a pair of shears. If your whole plant appears diseased, it is best to remove it before it spreads to other house plants.
  7. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 7
    Transplant ferns after a year or longer. Given enough time, any fern will outgrow the pot it was originally planted in. The time between transplants will vary depending on the health of your fern, but you may need to repot it in a larger pot as early as 6 months after originally planting it.[2]

Method 2
Caring for Outdoor Ferns

  1. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 8
    Plant ferns in the ideal location. If you have ferns that are already growing in your garden, you likely won’t need to move them unless they’re showing signs of ill health. Ferns like lots of shade and moisture, and do well under the canopy of a few other larger plants or trees. Plant (or transplant) ferns onto a plot that gets northern sun and no direct sunlight. If ferns are left in an area with direct sunlight, their leaves will burn.
  2. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 9
    Keep the soil moist. If it does not rain regularly in your area, you’ll need to water your ferns on a daily basis so that the soil is kept moist. Add a dense layer of pine needle or leaf mulch to the tops of your ferns; about 2–3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm) thick is ideal. This will help to lock in moisture and keep the rate of evaporation relatively low, so that the air near the ferns is a bit more humid.
  3. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 10
    Fertilize the ferns once a month. Six months after the original planting, you can begin fertilizing the ferns for added growth. Select an organic fertilizer that is spray-on, and apply it to the ferns (following package directions). Additionally, you can add a layer of compost and mulch to the soil to create a better growing environment for the ferns. Do keep in mind that ferns have a lesser requirement of fertilizer than other common houseplants.
  4. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 11
    Cut back damaged fronds. Ferns don’t have many natural predators outdoors, other than slugs and one or two rare diseases. If, however, you notice that your fern has damaged or diseased fronds, use a pair of gardening shears to cut them back. This will keep the integrity of the rest of the plant, and if it is a disease, prevent it from spreading to other plants.
  5. Image titled Care for Ferns Step 12
    Transplant if necessary. Ferns can get quite large over time, and require splitting and transplanting. To divide a large fern into several smaller ferns, carefully dig out the plant and its roots. Carefully break apart the plant into sections; typically, the fern will grow in clumps making it easy to split. Then replant each of these, and water them well.[3]


  • If you see dark dots on the bottom of your fern, don't worry. They, the spores called sori, are how the fern reproduces.
  • A healthy fern can be split every 2 to 3 years.


  • Direct or constant sunlight can cause fern fronds to shrivel and/or turn brown.
  • Keep indoor ferns away from air-conditioning vents or other potentially drying elements.
  • Scales, mealy bugs and mites all tend to try to live in ferns. Pesticides are not recommended for use with ferns, so shaking or hand picking the bugs off will be the best route for removal.

Things You'll Need

  • Fern
  • Potting or outdoor soil
  • Watering Can
  • Pot (if being cared for indoors)
  • Plant Fertilizer
  • Thermometer
  • Moss, mulch, and/or gravel
  • Shovel

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