Ferns must be one of the most fascinating groups of plants to collect.  While they lack flowers there is such a huge diversity of form and growth habit that you can continue to find new and unusual varieties for a lifetime.


Outdoors, ferns are very useful plants for a shady nook as a ground cover effect or in pots and hanging baskets.The best ferns for indoors come from tropical areas because these plants can handle the constantly warm conditions of our homes.  Varieties from temperate areas - for example the southern parts of Australia are not consistent performers indoors.


One significant weakness of ferns is that they are not able to draw moisture out of potting mix with the same force as most other plants.  This means that they need to be kept constantly moist.  If severe drying out occurs the fern may die as it has difficulties is rapidly taking up the moisture.


Fern Care Basics

🌿Ferns need some natural light in a room if they are to grow permanently indoors. Maidenhair ferns like a brightly lit position in order to grow well, but don’t like being kept in a draft.  As a rule of thumb, if sun can shine directly on the plant through glass it will more than likely burn.


🌿Ferns like high humidity.  Clustering plants together helps to increase humidity as does placing plants on pebble filled saucers that you regularly top up with water.  A third strategy is to place this plant in a larger pot with moistened coco peat filling the space between the two pots.


🌿Watering is critical to success.  During the warmer months from September to March when ferns are growing actively, it’s important to keep the soil constantly moist.  When interior temperatures start to dip below 18 degrees centigradeit’s possible to easily overwater the plants.   Ideally let the soil dry out between 'drinks' through the cooler months of May-August.


🌿Soil requirements are predictable if you remember that many ferns grow in nothing more that leaf litter up in the branch crotches of trees.  Basically they need very open, well drained mixes, rich in organic material. Commercial potting mixes with the addition of 20% peat moss are perfect. Alternatively packaged terrarium mixes are ideal.


Types of ferns. 

Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) has broad leaf like fronds to 2 metres long in a vase like cluster. This Australian rainforest plant makes a dramatic indoor specimen particularly in a large tub.


Staghorn and Elkhorn ferns (Platycerium) are usually grown on tree trunks or boards.  They perform best in shady locations.  Both varieties bring a tropical feel to a fernery or patio. 


Mother of Millions (Asplenium bulbiferum) is of particular interest because it produces baby plants on a mature frond.  This is a popular variety for indoor growing, particularly in pots.


Maidenhair (Adiantum sp.) ferns come in a host of different forms.  Some have such fine 'leaves' that they look like a cloud of mist.  The giant Maidenhair has large coarse looking fronds.  These much loved ferns are light hungry indoor plants.


Boston or fishbone ferns (Nephrolepis) are perhaps the most popular members of the family because they do so well both indoors and in shade.  They make dramatic hanging basket plants with fronds that can cascade 1 to 2 metres over the edge.  However, some varieties can become a nuisance when planted in garden beds if left to roam; they can pop up in all the wrong places.


Tree Ferns some in two main types. Cyathea sp. are tall, elegant, fast growing plants.  While they can be used as highlight plants in a shaded landscape they also make attractive tub specimens for patios and pergolas. They are not recommended for growing indoors.Dicksoniaantarctica are dramatic tree ferns with stout, rusty brown coloured trunks.  They are a favourite landscapers' feature plant for shady areas and easily grow to a height of 3 metres. 


Miniature tree ferns (Blechnum sp.) are tropical beauties that have beautiful burgundy or pink toning to new fronds.  While rarely exceeding 1 metre in height, you can see the small trunk that identifies them as a tree fern.


Hare's foot fern (Davallia sp.) spread by means of a furry flat stem.  This can grow to envelop a hanging basket or pot. They are best suited to shade rather than indoors.  The dainty triangular fronds are sometimes harvested by florists for flower arrangements.


 By: Meredith Kirton