An avid gardener for over 40 years, Dolores has landscaped for private clients and maintained one client's small orchid collection.
Ferns make beautiful houseplants and are often very easy to grow. They are graceful and airy as lace. Despite being quite common, ferns have a magical quality that remind us of hidden places and ancient forests.
Ferns add a soft organic touch to minimalist décor and can put the Victorian in neo Victorian. Fern fronds are a must in traditional floral arrangements adding a quality that can be both natural and formal.
The ferns we know today began to appear 145 million years ago so could be called living fossils. Reproducing via spores, true ferns produce no flowers or seed. Up to one quarter of all ferns need no soil but are air plants, growing on the sides of trees in their natural habitat.
Ferns became a popular houseplant in Victorian times when 'fern fever" hit hard. Young girls snatched up books on ferns, hunted the plants in the wild, and avidly discussed ferns. Fern designs appeared as decorative elements on wallpaper, pottery, furniture, and glass. And potted ferns appeared in the Victorian parlors of the elite and lower classes alike. Keeping ferns in the home has been popular ever since.
If you have a little fern fever yourself, here are a few easy to find and easy to grow ferns to keep as houseplants.
1. Asparagus Fern (Asparagus seteceous plumosus)
Plumosa Asparagus is not a true fern. It has delicate, wispy foliage that makes a lovely addition to floral arrangements.
Keep soil most from Spring to Autumn. In winter, only add enough water to keep the soil from completely drying out. Water with liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks to once a month from Spring to Fall. Plumosa does well at most room temperatures in indirect, bright sunlight. Direct sun will scorch the foliage.
2. Asparagus Sprengeri
Asparagus sprengeri is yet another popular houseplant that is called a fern but in not. This South African native is actually a member of the lily family.
Asparagus sprengeri looks best in a hanging basket where its bright, light green foliage can spill over the edge. It has needle-like leaves and a delicate, airy appearance.
Keep in bright, filtered light (say, in front of lace or sheer curtains in and East or West facing window). Sprengeri appreciates moisture. Water thoroughly and allow to dry slightly between watering. Mist often. Sprengeri will be happy hung in the kitchen above the sink or in the bathroom where it will get lots of humidity. Feed them monthly with a wakened dose of fertilizer from Spring until Fall.
Asparagus sprengeri occasionally produces small white flowers which become small red berries. The berries can be attractive yet are toxic, causing gastric disturbances.
3. Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exelatata Bostoniensis)
Finally, a real fern! Boston fern has been a popular houseplant for over 100 years. It is a lush, beautiful fern with long arching fronds that are medium to dark green. As the plant matures, two rows of brown sporangia (brown dots) appear on the underside of the frond.
Keep soil moist. Mist occasionally or place container on a tray of wet pebbles for humidity. Do not allow container to set in the water. Add liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks to once a month Spring to Fall. Boston fern looks lovely atop a pedestal in indirect light or in warm, partial shade at room temperature.
4. Blue Star Fern (Phlebodium aureum)
Blue Star fern is an attractive, easy to grow fern with an interesting color. Dusty green to chalky blue/green fronds are deeply lobed and papery looking.
Growing 2 to 3' tall and wide, Blue Star appreciates medium to bright indirect light. Blue Star tolerates drought well for a fern. Water weekly. Do not allow soil to completely dry out. Fertilize once a month from Spring to Fall.
Blue Star Fern
5. Kangaroo Fern or Wart Fern (Microsorum diversfolium or adiatums
While the name Wart Fern is not very appealing, Kangaroo Fern sounds more attractive. Two Latin names were included because the 2 forms are very difficult to differentiate, even for experts.
Kangaroo Fern resembles Blue Star (above) but is a much brighter, and truer green. This easy to grow, pest free fern is not addicted to humidity and is happy in temperatures between 60 - 80 degrees F. Keep soil moist but not wet in bright, indirect light.
Kangaroo or Wart Fern
6. Holly Fern or Korean Rock Fern (Polystichum tsussimense)
Holly Fern has attractive, broad, dark green lance shaped fronds with spiny pinnae. As with most ferns, Holly Fern needs moist air and soil. Keep soil moist but not wet or soggy. Do not allow soil to dry out. Mist occasionally.
Fertilize monthly. Remove old, dried fronds to encourage new growth. Keep in indirect sunlight in temperatures between 60 - 70 degrees F.
Holly Fern or Korean Fern
7. Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum raddianum)
Maidenhair Fern is a popular and easy to find houseplant. Dark green, triangular fronds hold tiny, fan shaped pinnae. The fronds of young plants stand up straight then droop prettiily as they mature. Maidenhair looks beautiful in floral arrangements and is a popular wedding green.
This fern prefers moist air, warmth, and relatively low lighting conditions. (Low light does not mean no light but a spot that is still bright enough to read in without a lamp)
Feed monthly. Keep soil moist but not soggy. Remove older fronds when they've lost their color. Divide in clumps in Spring if desired.
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifuratum)
Staghorn Ferns are dramatic looking plants with fronds that resemble a stag's antlers.In their native element, Staghorns are epiphytes or air plants. This means that they do not need soil but grow attached to tree trunks.
You can create this environment at home with a piece of wood or with a wire basket by doing the following:
- Remove the Staghorn Fern from its pot.
- Gently loosen the roots.
- Place the fern on its side (roots facing the wood) with some spagnum moss between the roots and the wood.
- Wrap with fishing line or wire to attach
- Or nestle the plant in a bed of spagnum moss in a wire basket.
- Mist plant daily. Water once a week by soaking in a bucket or holding under gently running water.
- Staghorn Fern prefers bright, filtered light and humid conditions. This fern is tolerant of cool temperatures.
- Do not remove the brown, flat leaves at the base of the plant as they protect the roots.
This video shows several ways to mount a Staghorn Fern
General Care for Ferns
As with most houseplants, do not fertilize until at least 6 months after purchase. When you mix the liquid fertilizer, cut the amount of fertilizer you add to the water. Most commercial fertilizers recommend that you use too much of their product.
Most ferns will not tolerate bright, direct light, cool drafts, gas fumes, or dry air. Keep ferns out of high traffic areas where they may be brushed or battered.
© 2013 Dolores Monet