How to Keep Your Ferns Thriving Indoors

a fern on a dresser

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

Growing most ferns isn't difficult—certainly no more difficult than keeping orchids alive. 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 grow in an astonishing array of environments. As houseplants, they've been in cultivation for centuries. Worldwide, the American Fern Society estimates there are about 12,000 species of ferns, ranging from cold hardy to tropical, and ranging in size from miniature to the monstrous tree ferns of New Zealand and Australia. Use these guidelines that are common to all types of ferns.

Humidity Is Essential

None of the popular household ferns can 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 train your family members to use it whenever they pass by the fern. Stand the pot on a tray of pebbles or clay granules and keep those wet. This increases 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 humid room of your dwelling.

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

Never Let Your Ferns 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 Light

Contrary to popular opinion, ferns are not typically deep shade plants. They are adapted to the dappled sunlight of the forest floor. So make sure your fern is getting enough bright, filtered light to thrive. Otherwise, they will get yellow fronds. However, few ferns can withstand full midday sun and will quickly begin to turn brown. A room with north-facing or east-facing windows is a good choice. 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 

Feed Your Ferns

As forest floor plants, wild ferns thrive on a steady supply of gently decaying organic matter. In the home, this means giving them a steady supply of weak fertilizer during the growing season. A weak liquid fertilizer or slow-release pellet fertilizer is perfect. You can add a few drops to the water you use for misting the fern.

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

There are many houseplants that thrive in low light

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

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