How to Grow Ferns

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Ferns are a large group of perennials. They can vary in height from a few inches to 50 feet. Most are forest plants. Plant ferns outdoors in a cool, shady place. Indoors, ferns grow well in indirect light away from drafts or forced air.

Get to know Ferns

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Growing Zones and range: 9-11
  • Hardiness: Average conditions with day temperatures up to 75°F (24°C) and nights between 55° and 65°F (13°F/18°C)
  • Light: Medium to high, indirect light
  • Height and width: 10” to 36” or more depending on the variety
  • Foliage: Glossy deep green fronds
  • Uses: Grow outdoors, houseplant
  • Botanical name: Various genera – see a few below
  • Common name: Ferns

Growing Ferns

  • Grow ferns in small pots in a light, well-drained, all-purpose mix with added peat moss and perlite.
  • Grow outdoors in moist, humus-rich soil that is neutral or slightly acidic.
Sword fern

How to water and feed Ferns

  • Keep evenly ferns moist, water daily if necessary. Extra humidity is a plus.
  • Fertilize ferns twice a year—in early spring and early summer—with fish emulsion.

Ferns care

  • Repot ferns in spring as needed. Grow ferns in soil rich in organic matter.
  • Mulch outdoor ferns in winter.
  • Ferns in spots too dark or shaded can become thin and disease prone

Ferns common problems

  • Scales may produce small, irregularly spaced spots on the fronds; scrape them off with or fingernail, or with a cotton swab.
  • Lower fronds commonly turn yellow and die back; lift the healthy green leaves and trim off the dead fronds; this will stimulate new growth.

Ferns propagation

  • Divide clump-forming ferns; grow new plants from spores, or pin the runners to soil and repot them when they are rooted.

Ferns varieties to grow

  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) has graceful, arching fronds.
  • Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum spp.) thin, dark stems and lacy, light green fronds.
  • Australian maidenhair (A.hispidulum) has a rugged look.
  • Rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia fejeensis) has furry-footed rhizomes.
  • Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) unfernlike fronds; excellent houseplant; epiphyte can grow without soil can grow in sphagnum moss.
  • Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) epiphyte can grow without soil can grow in sphagnum moss.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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