If I’m going to be completely honest, I’ve always been a little intimidated by ferns. For the most part, I hadn’t had any wholly negative experiences with them, but I was also aware that many people found them hard to keep alive.
As many of you know, I’m currently in a no-buy year (though I have been informed that the technical term for my arrangement in minimalist lingo is actually low-buy year). As such, I’ve been exchanging and selling plants quite a bit. In the process, I’ve acquired and fallen in love with some really neat ferns, and I’ve also learned that there’s no reason to fear ferns. I’ve come to think of them as the divas of the plant world: They’re high maintenance, but they make their demands known to us in no unclear terms.
Having understood these terms, I’m now going to share some fern care tips that I’ve learned along the way.
1. Wetter is better than drier
Usually with houseplants, it’s better to err on the side of under-watering than overwatering. In general, this keeps root rot at bay and stops roots from being suffocated in low-oxygen environments. However, I’ve learned that when it comes to ferns, they’d actually rather be consistently well-watered in a well-draining mix. Basically, that means to have a well-draining mix that never sits in water, but is wet enough in that it is consistently holding water.
In general, ferns with thinner, more delicate leaves are more sensitive to drying out. After all, the thinner the leaves, the more easily the sun’s rays and heat penetrate to the moisture in the stomata of the leaves. This means that ferns like the maidenhair fern, the Nephrolepsis Marisa and Boston fern are more prone to drying out than thicker-leafed ferns like the staghorn fern or bird’s nest fern. Also do keep in mind that a few specific fern species like the Australian rasp fern actually do fine with less water/humidity than other ferns because they’re adapted to drier environments
2. The taller, the brighter
I recommend looking into the height that your fern grows to in the wild. In general, I find that plants that grow taller need more light. This makes logical sense from a theoretical perspective — plants which grow taller tend to be the ones that are exposed to direct sunlight by virtue of being tall enough to reach it, while the shorter plants tend to grow in the shade of these taller plants. From an inductive perspective, trees grown both indoors and outdoors (which are usually fairly tall in the wild) tend to require more sunlight, while most other plants tend to require less light. Ferns are no exception to this rule, with taller ferns which grow vertical trunks in the wild requiring more light. A good example of this is the silver lady fern.
3. Humidity check
Surprising, not all ferns enjoy humidity. In fact, I had to learn this the hard way with my rasp fern, which did not enjoy its time in a terrarium. To be entirely fair, I had a fair idea that it might not enjoy the humidity because the leaves were fairly thick and solid, and because it originates in Australia, where it’s always fairly dry outdoors. As such, I would always recommend looking into the origin of any fern to ascertain its humidity needs.