4 Basic Tips for Making Your Ferns Thrive Indoors

a fern on a dresser

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

Growing most ferns isn't difficult but there are just a few basic pointers you need to follow to have success with most of the common houseplant ferns available.

Ferns are some of the oldest plants in the world—they've been thriving for 300 million years and the American Fern Society estimates there are about 12,000 species of ferns. Use these guidelines that are common to all types of ferns.

Keep Your Ferns in a Humid Environment

Household ferns won't tolerate dry conditions for long; their fronds will quickly turn brown, and they will begin to drop leaves. Mist your ferns as often as practical, preferably in the morning. Keep a spray bottle handy and get into the habit of regularly misting based on your fern's needs. Stand the pot on a tray of pebbles or clay granules and keep those wet to increase the humidity around the plant without keeping the roots soggy. Another option is to keep your ferns in the bathroom, which will usually be the most consistently humid room of your home.

fern propped up on a plate of pebbles
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Never Let Your Fern's Dirt Get Dry

Most ferns are adapted to the loamy understory of forests and rainforests. Even the epiphytic ferns (air plants that don't have roots), such as the staghorn, tend to thrive in the loamy leaf litter that collects in the crooks of tree branches. So make sure your ferns are well hydrated. Touch the soil and water your fern if the top feels dry. However, a word of caution: unless it's a bog fern, don't let your fern sit in water. Keep it damp, not soggy.

person feeling soil for dampness
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

Provide Ample Bright, Filtered Light

Ferns are not typically deep shade plants as they are adapted to the dappled sunlight of the forest floor. So make sure your fern is getting enough bright, filtered light to thrive—be careful to avoid full midday sun—otherwise, they will get yellow fronds or quickly begin to turn brown. A room with north-facing or east-facing windows is a good choice for keeping your ferns happy and healthy. If your ferns are in a windowless room, provide light from a gardening bulb or fluorescent strip.

a fern positioned by a window
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Fertilize Your Ferns Regularly

As forest floor plants, wild ferns thrive on a steady supply of gently decaying organic matter from the dying leaves and insects found in the forest. In the home, this might be harder to replicate. Luckily, giving them a steady supply of weak fertilizer during the growing season is a simple way to get your ferns closer to their natural environment. You can add a few drops to the water you use for misting the fern. If you're out of weak liquid fertilizer, a slow-release pellet fertilizer is also a perfect choice.

person adding liquid fertilizer to a spray bottle
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

Beyond these basics, each genus of ferns has more specialized requirements. Make sure you know what kind of fern you're growing and then provide the right elements to help it thrive. You'll be rewarded with an indoor garden of unparalleled lushness and delicate beauty.