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Plant and care for ferns in the garden and indoors: step by step instructions!

Ferns first appeared about 360 million years ago and diversified during the Cretaceous period, although many are now extinct. Most ferns that grow wild or are cultivated today have evolved only in the last 70 million years. Most areas have their own native species. Learn how to plant and care for ferns below!

Growing conditions for ferns in the garden

Plant and care for ferns in the garden and indoors - step by step instructions.

Ferns generally prefer full or partial shade. Some varieties also tolerate morning and early afternoon sun, and some even full sun, though not in a dry, hot region. If you don’t have much moisture in your area, it may help to plant them near a pond or under the canopy of trees. Avoid windy areas, as wind promotes transpiration and water loss.

With few exceptions, these plants need constantly moist, but not wet, soil. If you can stick your finger into the soil up to the third knuckle and it feels moist but not wet, there is no need to worry. However, if the soil is dry halfway up your first knuckle, you should add water. Overwatering can lead to root rot or fungal problems.

A forest floor, for example, is ideal for ferns. The decaying foliage and light in the understory are just what they need. If you grow these ancient treasures in a landscape that mimics these conditions, most varieties have the best chance of success. If you have heavy clay, you can also incorporate some poultry grit or oyster shells to improve the texture of the soil . A top dressing of organic matter in the spring and fall will ensure that your plants are well nourished.

Keep in mind when planting ferns that they generally prefer soil that is acidic rather than alkaline. Between 6.5 and 7.0 is ideal, although they can tolerate soil outside this range well.

Planting ferns indoors

Many species also do well in containers, as long as you keep in mind that plants dry out faster in pots

Many species also do well in containers, as long as you keep in mind that plants in pots dry out faster than those in the ground. Keeping them alive and happy indoors is notoriously difficult, but that doesn’t stop them from being one of the most popular houseplants! You will succeed if you pay very close attention to the conditions you create. Ferns need bright, indirect light, plenty of humidity and constant water.

Thirty to 50 percent humidity is the ideal level for these prehistoric plants. Make sure that only the surface of the soil dries out. When you water, lift the foliage and water the soil.

To maintain the healthy appearance of your houseplants, occasionally trim off brown fronds. Popular varieties for growing indoors include sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia), kangaroo fern (Microsorum diversifolium) and silver fern (Pteris cretica ‘Mayi’). If you are new to growing ferns indoors, start with the good old Boston variety.

Cut off the dead leaves of deciduous species in late fall after frost has killed them. This prevents pests and diseases from finding a place to hide or breed, and just looks cleaner.

Propagation of the exotic plant

You can also propagate these versatile beauties by division

Ferns do not produce seeds. But you can propagate new plants by spores, runners, division, or purchased transplants.

Propagate ferns from spores
Creating new plants from spores is more difficult than any other method on this list, but many people use this method to propagate wild ferns they find while hiking. If you decide to collect wild plants, always make sure you know the laws and rules for collecting wild plants in your area.

Collect spores when they look plump and furry. The timing of this varies greatly from species to species. Some mature as early as May, while others, like climbing fern, don’t mature until November. When the spore capsule begins to darken and split open, that’s when it’s time.

Take out a healthy frond and place it in an envelope or between two pieces of paper – white wax paper works best. Leave it overnight at room temperature out of direct sunlight, then lift off the frond. You should see a spore print on the paper. If this is not the case, the spores were not mature at the time of removal and you need to try again.

You can propagate new plants by spores, runners, division or by purchased transplants


You will need to sprinkle the spores over moist, organic, sterile potting soil in a shallow dish with a lid. Before you sprinkle in the spores, you can heat the soil in the microwave to kill any pathogens.

Place the bowl with the soil in a room with indirect light, and keep the soil moist at all times. It may be helpful to put a glass or plastic over the container to keep moisture and humidity in. Keep the temperature between 18 and 24 degrees. Keep the soil moist, and a few months later you will see small fronds sprouting. Now a fern has finally formed.

Division of the plant
You can also propagate these versatile plants by division. Start by watering the mature plant the night before you divide it. Carefully dig up or remove the plant from the container, then cut or pull it into two or three clumps. Each divided clump should have at least one growing tip – this is the structure from which the fronds grow. Replant the clumps as you see fit, keeping the starts moist until you see new growth.

Grow new plants from stolons
Some varieties form stolons or runners. To grow a new plant from these , simply attach a stolon to the top of the soil with landscape staples, wire or a small rock. Keep the soil moist and wait for new growth, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year. At this time, you can cut the runner from the parent plant and transplant as desired.