The leaves may be beginning to turn outside, but inside there’s no excuse not to have a lush tropical paradise.
Indoor ferns are becoming increasingly popular as we look for plants which add softness and a more natural feel to our homes and have air-purifying qualities.
The ferns are a broad group of plants, and there's a wide variety readily available to buy. Some have diva-like demands, but others are easily cared for in the home.
Below are a few general rules for care, followed by a selection to try for yourself.
Despite not flowering, ferns are an interesting group of plants. Here, this hen and chicks fern is producing babies on its fronds.
In the wild, ferns generally live in dappled shade. This means they receive a good degree of sunlight without it being direct, as this will bleach and scorch the leaves.
A bright spot with indirect light is preferable.
Ferns like to be kept moist, it’s true, but they don’t appreciate waterlogging.
Never allow a fern to dry out as it will take a long time to recover (growing new fronds to replace the desiccated old ones). But also never leave sitting in a tray of water.
Heat & humidity
A humid fern is a happy fern. Bathrooms are ideal and, in rooms with a drier atmosphere, frequent misting with soft water will keep leaves at their best.
The warmer the room, the higher the demand grows for humidity, so ideally aim to keep between 10-18°C (50-65°F).
Ferns are relatively pest-free, but look out for the usual culprits: aphids, mealybug, scale and red spider mite. Fungus gnats often appear on damp compost, but aren't a serious issue:
Mature fronds produce reproductive spores on their underside, as is the case with this bird's-nest fern. These are occasionally mistaken for pests or disease, but are harmless.
Popular houseplant ferns
These are the most commonly-seen ferns on the market.
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)
With classic fishbone-style fronds and a wide range of varieties available (‘Teddy Junior’, ‘Fluffy Ruffles’, ‘Tiger Eye/Fern’), this is the go-to fern for the home. Bright light, moist (not waterlogged) compost and a cool-warm humid environment will give you a large, graceful houseplant.
Bird’s-nest fern (Asplenium nidus)
Named due to the nest-like crown of the plant, the bird’s-nest fern has leaves which look more similar to a miniature banana leaf. The crosiers, which unfurl from the middle, are extremely fragile. The plant delights in the high humidity of a bright, warm bathroom.
Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum spp.)
There are oceans filled with the saltwater tears of failed maidenhair fern owners. It’s somewhat of a falsehood to say they’re easy to grow, but they can be fine in the home, providing you follow a few rules:
- Never allow to dry out. However, if the plant shrivels keep watering and it may grow new fronds.
- Keep well away from any heat source (particularly central heating) and in bright, indirect light.
- Mist daily or sit on a tray of pebbles to keep humidity high. Don’t leave sitting in water.
- If concerned, keep in a terrarium, where it will surely thrive.
The fragile green fronds of a maidenhair fern.
These three ferns aren't as popular as those above, but are great houseplants, nonetheless.
Silver lady fern (Blechnum gibbum)
A miniature tree fern with erect, herringbone fronds. Much underrated.
Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
Cute, button-like foliage and attractive, compact growth habit.
Heartleaf fern (Hermionitis arifolia)
Often stocked for use in terrariums and similar in size and requirements to the button fern.
The heartleaf fern is also known as the tongue fern, due to its leaf shape, which is unusual for a fern.
These plants are not true ferns, but are often sold alongside them.
Asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus)
Delicate, lacy foliage on plants that enjoy high humidity.
Foxtail Fern (Asparagus densiflora ‘Sprengeri’)
Another asparagus fern with larger needles and trailing habit.
Moss fern (Selaginella spp.)
Actually, neither a moss nor a fern and difficult outside a terrarium: treat as per maidenhair fern.
The asparagus fern in an instantly recognisable indoor favourite.
There’s more to ferns than green alone. Here are a few with more unusual colours.
Silver lace fern (Pteris ensiformis)
A beautiful fern with green-edged white fronds.
Blue star fern (Phlebodium aureum)
Grey-blue fronds and unusual surface roots also give it the name of haresfoot fern.
Cretan brake fern 'Mayii' (Pteris cretica mayii)
Like a larger silver lace fern with curious, ruffled leaf tips.
The delicate fronds of the silver lace fern make it a popular choice for arrangements and terrariums.
A few oddities to try in the home.
Stag’s horn fern (Platycerium bifurcatm/P. grande)
An unusual plant, which grows on tree trunks in the wild and can be bought either potted or mounted.
Hen and chicks fern (Asplenium bulbiferum)
Related to the bird's-nest fern, tiny baby ferns appear at the tips of mature fronds (pictured near top).
Rabbit's-foot fern (Davallia spp.)
A remarkable fern with lacy leaves. But it's the furry rhizomes, which spread across the surface, that are the real conversation starter.
This rabbit's-foot fern is trying to escape its pot!