of Rhode Island GreenShare Factsheets
Ferns are excellent plants for low light conditions. The
foliage can range in appearance from delicate and airy to dense
and dramatic. There are ferns with furry rhizomes that reach
out of the pot like little feet, appropriately named squirrel
foot and rabbit's foot ferns. Staghorn and Bird's Nest ferns
also make a strong visual impact on a room. While green may be
the only color choice, the texture and variation of leaf shape
make ferns an elegant addition to rooms with little light. Ferns
can be hardy and low-maintenance indoor plants.
Most ferns require similar care--low light, high humidity,
and a light feeding of a balanced fertilizer. Variations occur
in the amount of water a particular fern requires and the temperatures
it can tolerate. A soil-less potting mix containing peat moss
is an excellent choice for potting ferns, as they prefer potting
soil with good drainage and high organic content.
Indirect light is a necessity. Ferns need a north-facing
window. South or west-facing windows are to be avoided, unless
they are curtained. The foliage will burn if put into direct
sunlight. Ferns will not survive a total lack of light. Like
all green plants ferns need sunlight to photosynthesize nutrients.
High humidity is a requirement for all types of ferns, but
it is especially important for Maidenhair, Staghorn, and Boston
Fern. In order to raise the humidity around the fern, place their
pots on a tray containing pebbles and a small amount of water.
Never let the bottom of the pot touch the water in the tray.
A pot that constantly sits in water will encourage fungus diseases
and root rot. Misting on a regular basis will help increase humidity.
Ferns that need especially high humidity can be grown in bathrooms
and terrariums. Browning or die back on the tips of the fronds
is evidence of low humidity. While most ferns enjoy a moist atmosphere
some varieties like to dry out slightly between watering. Rabbit's
Foot Fern, Brake Ferns and Holly fern should not be watered until
the surface of the soil is dry.
Most ferns do well in average room temperature--68 to 72
degrees F during the day and 62 to 65 degrees F at night. Some
varieites, such as Brake Ferns and Staghorns, need cooler night
Ferns are not heavy feeders. They only need to be fertilized
once a month with a liquid fertilizer at one-half strength.
Ferns can be propagated by division. Early spring is the
best time to repot or divide a plant. Remove the plant from the
pot and carefully cut between the rhizomes. You want to keep
as many leaves as possible on each division. Repot in a good
sterile potting soil. Do not feed a newly repotted plant for
at least 4-6 months.
Ferns may also be propagated by spores. During the warm
months of summer, ferns produce dot-like structures called spores
on the underside of the leaves. When the spores ripen and turn
dark remove the leaf and place in a dark container like a paper
bag. Let the plant dry out. Once dry you can shake the leaf and
thousands of spores will fall free. Place the spores in pot containing
a peat based seed-starting mix. Work carefully as the spores
can blow away with the slightest breeze. Water the container
from the bottom up. When the soil surface is damp, place the
pot in a plastic bag. Place the bag in the sun and keep it warm,
at a constant 65 to 70 degrees F. You will first see a layer
of green goo on the surface of the pot. This is the primordial
soup that will become new ferns. This can take a few days or
several months. Next, small fern like structures will appear,
when these fronds are about 1 inch tall remove the plastic bag.
As the ferns are very closely packed they will have to be transplanted
in clumps to small pots. Once they are two to three inches in
height they can be transplanted to individual pots. Fertilize
lightly at this time.
Scales, mealybugs and mites are
the most common insect problems. Avoid pesticide use as it may
damage the plant. A hard spray with warm water will dislodge
most insects. Hand picking can also remove these pests. If infestation
is extensive and you must use a pesticide, carefully read the
label for warnings about using the product on ferns.
When first growing ferns you may want to start with some
of less demanding varieties such as Bird's Nest fern (Asplenium
nidus), Japanese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), Rabbit's
Food Fern (Polypodium aureum) or Brake Ferns (Pteris
cretica). Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) are
a good choice if you can maintain the high humidity they require.
If you want a challenge, try growing, Maidenhair (Adiantum), Staghorn (Platycerium sp.)
or one of the potentially huge tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica).
By Cheryl Cadwell, URI Master
are poisonous! Read and follow all safety precautions on labels.
Handle carefully and store in original containers out of reach
of children, pets or livestock. Dispose of empty containers
immediately, in a safe manner and place. Pesticides should never
be stored with foods or in areas where people eat.
When trade names are used for identification, no product endorsement
is implied, nor is discrimination intended against similar materials.
Be sure that the pesticide you intend to use is registered for
the state of use.
The user of this information assumes all risk for personal injury
or property damage.
information, call the URI CE Gardening and Food Safety Hotline
at 1-800-448-1011 or (401)874-2929 from outside Rhode Island;
Monday-Thursday between 9 am and 2 pm.
of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension provides equal program