The Pteris genus includes a huge variety of fern species, most native to Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Collectively known as brake ferns, many have flat, pinnate fronds that hardly resemble the traditional idea of a fern.
The most popular ones for indoor cultivation tend to be relatively easy to care for, often featuring beautiful variegation that makes them look fancier and more high-maintenance than they actually are. In fact, these tend to be fairly tough plants (especially for ferns) that require only adequate moisture and protection from very dry air to do well.
Indoors, pteris ferns can be started and grown year-round. They will grow at a moderate pace, eventually reaching anywhere from 8 to 24 inches in height, depending on the varietal. All in all, these ferns make an easy and appealing addition to any indoor plant collection.
|Common Name||Brake fern, cretan brake fern, dish fern, table fern|
|Mature Size||1–2 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Does not flower|
|Flower Color||Does not flower|
|Hardiness Zones||9–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia, Africa|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Pteris Ferns Indoors
Pteris Fern Care
The key to growing good pteris is to provide enough humidity and light to keep the plant thriving. True to their tropical nature, they like a steady supply of water and warm temperatures, but will quickly show signs of stress in very dry environments.
The leaves of this fern can be somewhat brittle, so avoid placing them in areas where people or animals are likely to brush up against them. Although there are some deciduous varieties, the most commonly grown are evergreen and should not drop leaves during the winter.
Pteris ferns prefer bright filtered light, similar to what they would receive in their natural tropical environment under the canopy of larger trees. Distilled light is especially important in the warmer summer months when the plant is actively growing. Avoid harsh direct rays, especially mid-day, which can singe or burn the leaves.
Luckily, pteris ferns are not picky about their soil mixture and can thrive well in basic potting soil. The mixture should be well-draining and easy to keep moist, but it should not get boggy or waterlogged. Generally, any peat-based mixture will allow the plant to thrive just fine.
Pteris ferns are not overly demanding when it comes to water. While most ferns will almost immediately die if left to dry out, pteris ferns are a bit more tolerant of dry soil (though they are not drought-tolerant). For best results, aim to water your plant at a regular cadence, keeping the soil consistently moist. They don't like being waterlogged, either—plants that are allowed to sit in saturated or soggy soil will quickly succumb to root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Keep your pteris fern in a warm environment in your home. An ideal temperature range is between 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, though the plant should never be allowed to dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, keep the plant away from any harsh drafts (either hot or cold), like those from an open window or radiator.
The most important factor in caring for a pteris fern is maintaining the proper humidity level. Pteris ferns have a high need for humidity and will need to be misted daily, along with providing an additional humidity source, like a small-space unit or keeping the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and a bit of water.
Feed your pteris ferns once a mother from April to September, using a a weak liquid fertilizer diluted to half-strength.
Pteris Fern Varieties
There are nearly 300 species of pteris ferns distributed throughout the world, though some have never known a life outside of their native tropical environment. The most common pteris fern used in cultivation is the P. cretica or Cretan brake fern. The plant grows to about 18 inches in height and boasts unusual oval or lanceolate divided leaves that are light green with striking variegation in white down the middle. Breeders have done extensive work with this species over the years and introduced a number of named varietals, as well.
Propagating Pteris Ferns
Pteris ferns can be propagated by spores, but it's much easier to divide the rhizome or rootball during repotting. If you're looking to increase your collection, take divisions in the spring, making sure to get a bit of rhizome and some fronds or healthy leaf buds when dividing.
Potting and Repotting Pteris Ferns
These ferns are moderate growers and thus should be repotted every spring if they're showing signs that they're outgrowing their container. For best results, divide the plant during repotting, shake the old dirt from the roots, and carefully repot into fresh soil. After repotting, make sure to provide the plant with plenty of warmth and moisture until the new growth starts.
Common Pests and Diseases
Pteris ferns are vulnerable to a variety of common household pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If you notice signs of infection, move the fern away from any other houseplants immediately and treat the issue with a mild insecticide or horticultural oil (like neem oil) until all signs of infection have ceased. Generally, these issues shouldn't kill your pteris ferns, but they should be dealt with swiftly just in case.