General Fern Culture

Over the years, there have been a variety of fern care articles printed in the San Diego Fern Society newsletter, Fern World.

Ferns come from all over the world and grow in all conditions. There are many wonderful articles published on the Internet. Dr. Carl Taylor of the Milwaukee Public Museum has written an interesting introduction called Our Fine, Feathery Ferns: A Sight for Sori.

Ferns grow in rain forests and freezing tundra and broiling deserts. Yet, there are some general rules that work for most ferns we can easily get at a local nursery.

Most ferns like a humid shaded environment. Lots of filtered sunlight or early morning and late afternoon direct light will produce a strong and colorful plant. Dry atmosphere and dry heat will make the delicate fronds wither and die. Good drainage must also be provided or the plant may drown. A lath- or shade-cloth-covered area is an ideal place to raise ferns, giving them filtered light and helping to maintain a moist atmosphere.

The most important thing you can do when you buy a fern is to do a little research. Start by asking the nursery people what they know about the plant(s) you have bought [where they grow, how they grow, what to feed them, etc.]. Next, you can go to your bookshelf or your library and read up on ferns and, especially, your fern.


One of the MOST important considerations in plant care is watering. More plants die from overwatering than from any other cause. With ferns watering considerations are even more important.

Most ferns live either growing on rocks or trees or in very shallow soil. As a result, most ferns require a loose rapidly draining mix which requires them to be watered more often. Potted plants need good drainage holes. As a rule, ferns like to be moist, not wet. With most ferns you should be careful not let them dry completely out.

It is also not a good idea to mist most ferns, especially the lacier, more delicate ones. The water tends to gather in the fronds and on the crown and promote rot. To increase humidity for indoor pots, you can place the pot on gravel or marbles in a saucer full of water. Make sure the bottom of the pot is above the water line.

A brief note on watering is available from the GardenWeb.


Aphids, mealybugs, thrips, and scale are the insects most likely to attack your ferns. Pillbugs, sowbugs, slugs and snails also like them. For sucking insects, a systemic insecticide such as Orthene used per instructions should keep them under control. Sowbugs and pillbugs can be controlled with diazanon granules. Control snails and slugs with snail and slug baits.

It is also important to control the ants in your yard. Ants are active insect farmers, "milking" the insects for their high energy secretions. Ants actually carry many of the sucking insects to your plants.

A brief treatise on Integrated Pest Management is available from the GardenWeb.


If the fern is planted in rich soil, little fertilizer will be needed. Fertilize during the growing season once a month with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Other choices are to fertilize with a very dilute fertilizer solution each time you water or to use a time-release fertilizer.

Containers and Mix

Many ferns do well in hanging wire baskets lined with sphagnum moss and filled with a good mix. If you plan to keep the fern in a pot for a long time, a clay pot is recommended. Plastic pots do well, but do not release salts easily.
Easy Ferns to Grow

If you plan to start growing ferns, the more durable ferns such as holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum ), leather-leaf fern (Rumohra adiantiformis ), mother fern (Asplenium bulbiferum ), bird nest fern (Asplenium nidus or A. australasicum ), and hammock fern (Blechnum occidentale ) should be easy to grow.

Fern Care Links

The GardenWeb's Garden Tips from Sesbania Tripeti provides more information on planting with care and preparing a new garden. provides an extensive database of plant care information for over 2000 plants. If you select their "Plants by Type" link and then select "ferns" as a search criterion, you'll get a list of over 200 ferns. There is at $7.50 a year fee for full access to the database.