How to Grow and Care for Bird's Nest Ferns

Bird's nest fern on a bedside table

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 

Bird's nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) are naturally epiphytic, meaning they grow on the surface of other plants. In their rainforest homes, they can be found growing high in the crooks of trees. They form a series of erect, spoon-shaped, bright green fronds that rise from a central rosette. Healthy plants can have fronds up to 5 feet long, but bird's nest ferns kept as houseplants typically have fronds that grow only about 2 feet long. These ferns have a slow growth rate. They're best planted in the spring, though houseplants generally can be started year-round.

Common Name Bird's nest fern, nest fern
Botanical Name Asplenium nidus
Family Aspleniaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 3–5 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial, shade
Soil Type Loamy, moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time None
Flower Color None
Hardiness Zones 11–12, USA
Native Area Asia, Australia, Africa

Bird's Nest Fern Care

The key to a healthy bird's nest fern is providing it with ample warmth, humidity, and moisture. When growing it as a houseplant, one of the best places to situate a bird's nest fern is near a shower or tub in a bathroom where it will receive optimal humidity and warmth, though it must have a light source as well.

New leaves will constantly emerge from the central area of the plant, which resembles a bird's nest. Do not touch, move, or handle the new, delicate fronds as they emerge from the center. They are extremely fragile, and if you touch them, there is a high chance of them becoming damaged or deformed.

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a bird's nest fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida
crinkly leaves of a bird's nest fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Light

Bird’s nest ferns grow well in filtered sunlight to a moderate amount of shade. Don’t expose them to direct sunlight other than the very early morning sun. Harsh direct sunlight can burn the leaves. Indoors, an east- or north-facing window is ideal.

Soil

These plants like soil that’s loose and rich in organic matter with excellent drainage. A peat-based potting mix is good for container plants. 

Water

The ferns prefer a consistent amount of soil moisture, but they don’t do well sitting in soggy soil. Water whenever the top inch of soil is dry. Avoid watering directly into the center of the plant, as this can encourage mold growth and rot in the dense nest. Aim water at the soil to avoid wetting the fern's fronds.

Temperature and Humidity

The bird’s nest fern thrives in warmth with temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It can tolerate temperatures down to 50 degrees, but anything colder than that can harm the plant, especially with prolonged exposure. Indoors, be sure to protect your plant from cool drafts, such as air blowing from an air-conditioning vent. 

This fern prefers high humidity and moist environments, such as a bathroom, greenhouse, or terrarium. To raise the humidity around a bird’s nest fern, you can use a humidifier. Or you can set its pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water. But make sure the bottom of the pot isn’t sitting in the water because that can lead to root rot.

Fertilizer

During the fern's active growing season (April through September), fertilize once a month with a balanced liquid fertilizer that's diluted to half strength. Make sure to apply the fertilizer to the soil and not the fronds, as direct contact with fertilizer can burn foliage. Withhold fertilizer for the rest of the year because too much food can cause the fronds to have an abnormal shape or take on a yellowish or brownish color.

Types of Bird's Nest Fern

There are only a handful of varieties of bird’s nest ferns, which typically feature different leaf shapes. They include: 

  • Asplenium nidus 'Crispy Wave': Sword-shaped ruffled leaves
  • Asplenium nidus 'Osaka': Narrow, strap-like leaves with rippled edges
  • Asplenium nidus 'Antiquum': Wavy leaf margins 
  • Asplenium nidus 'Victoria': Long, wavy, tongue-shaped fronds

Propagating Bird's Nest Fern

Bird’s nest ferns can be tricky to propagate for beginner gardeners. Many people opt to purchase nursery plants instead, though propagating them yourself will save you some money. Propagation occurs via spores, which look like fuzzy brown spots on the undersides of fronds. When they look especially plump and fuzzy, that's when it's time to propagate.

To collect the spores, cut off a frond with these spots and place it in a paper bag for a few days. The spores will drop into the bag. Next, add the spores on top of a container of sphagnum moss that’s placed in a water dish, so the moss will soak up the water. The moss should be moist throughout but not waterlogged. Cover the container with plastic wrap to keep the environment moist, and place it in a warm, shaded spot. Keep the dish filled with water, and mist the moss if it doesn't feel moist. Germination should occur in a few weeks.  

Potting and Repotting Bird's Nest Fern

Bird's nest ferns must be potted in a container with ample drainage holes. As an epiphytic plant, bird's nest ferns are accustomed to growing with minimal potting media. So your plant generally won’t need repotting because its roots have run out of space. Instead, these ferns will need repotting once they’ve grown so large that they’re unstable in their pot and need a larger container to attach themselves to. This will typically occur every two to three years, and spring is the best time to repot. When it’s time to repot, select a container that's large enough to keep your plant stable. A clay container is often better than plastic to anchor the plant. Carefully loosen your plant from its previous pot, set it in the new pot at the same depth as it was before, and fill around it with fresh potting mix.

Common Pests

No serious disease or pest problems affect bird's nest ferns, though they can be affected by some insects common to houseplants, such as scale. Natural insecticidal soaps are the best solution to combat pest issues, since chemical pesticides will damage this plant's fragile leaves.

Common Problems With Bird's Nest Fern

Bird's nest ferns are generally healthy plants, but they can be prone to a few issues that largely have to do with an improper environment.

Leaves Turning Yellow

Too much sun can cause the foliage of a bird's nest fern to turn yellow. Likewise, too much fertilizer also can cause yellowing. Check your plant throughout the day to make sure it's always in proper sunlight conditions. And adjust fertilization if necessary.

Browning Tips

Fronds naturally turn brown as they die and are replaced with fresh growth. But browning along the edges of a frond is often due to drafts hitting the plant. Move your fern away from air-conditioning vents and any drafty windows or doors.

FAQ
  • Are bird's nest ferns easy to care for?

    Bird's nest ferns are generally healthy plants with straightforward upkeep when grown in an environment that resembles their native habitat.

  • Can a bird's nest fern grow indoors?

    Outside of its growing zones, many people grow the bird's nest fern as a houseplant. Consistent warmth and humidity are essential for this plant in an indoor environment.

  • How fast do bird's nest ferns grow?

    Bird's nest ferns have a slow growth rate; they typically grow more slowly and remain smaller when kept indoors.