So why choose ferns as opposed to other houseplants when looking to green-up the great indoors? First of all they tolerate the low to bright indirect lighting that most of us not blessed with a south exposure or solarium actually have. Then they come in a myriad of sizes, from tiny 2” pots suitable for fairy gardens right up to larger hanging baskets, so regardless of your living accommodations, there’s a fern to suit every space. They also go well beyond the stereotypes, as all ferns do not look alike and green isn’t your only colour option. Many have new growth that ranges from pink to chocolate brown, some have blue fronds or variegation and there is even a few which grow hairy little rhizomes that look like rabbit’s feet; so forget those old clichés of green and boring.
Ferns also enjoy co-inhabiting many of our humid spaces such as bathrooms or that ledge just above the kitchen sink. This love of high humidity means that occasional misting with tepid water or placing the pot in a saucer with pebbles where the water is allowed to naturally evaporate are both important to keeping your ferns healthy, particularly when the winter heat has been turned on. Speaking of which; most ferns tolerate an ambient air temperature of around 68-70F, which happens to coincide with what most of us are comfortable with. They need to fed when in growth, usually once a month from April to September; use a liquid houseplant fertilizer such as Schultz (10-15-10) at half strength or if available, fertilizer spikes rated for ferns.
Indoor ferns require even moisture, so water before the soil completely dries out but try to avoid soaking it constantly. The exceptions here are Brake and Rabbit’s Foot ferns which actually like the soil surface to dry out slightly before being watered, so monitor these carefully. Last but not least is to remember to repot your ferns as they grow using a peat-based soil medium and grooming them (removing any dead or browned fronds) at the same time. So without further ado, here are your top twelve indoor ferns.
Crocodile Fern (Microsorum musifolium ‘Crocodyllus’) This native of Australia and Indonesia features puckered pale green fronds with intricate veining that somewhat resembles scale-like reptilian skin. It prefers indirect or low light as any direct sun will cause the fronds to scorch or turn a pale yellow. A slightly acidic pH is fine for this epiphyte, with even soil moisture and average room temperatures of 65-75F.
Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) The undivided fronds are recognisable at a glance and its care can be described in two words, warmth and humidity. This epiphytic species can be grown with its roots in a moss ball or ‘Kokedama’, where it can be displayed in a shallow ornamental bowl or hung like a hanging basket (as shown). It prefers bright indirect light, warmer temperatures of 70-80F and regularly watering, taking care not to allow water to collect in the central crown. A ruffled form with undulating frond edges is also available, usually as Asplenium antiquum ‘Victoria’ or ‘Crispy Wave’.
Rosy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum hispidulum) This marginally hardy fern (zone 8) is herbaceous when grown outdoors but reliably evergreen when kept inside. It is one of the easiest Maidenhairs to manage as a houseplant with attractive rosy-pink new growth that really stands out. Be sure to remove any older tatty fronds in early spring before the new growth spurt and expect an ultimate size of about 18” tall.
Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) While it is probably the most common of indoor plants, the Boston Fern is also a powerhouse when it comes to filtering the air; particularly formaldehyde from manufactured wood products (I.e. kitchen cabinets, bookshelves). This one really likes high humidity, so mist twice a week during the winter while the heat is on, and keep the soil evenly moist. It does not require as much fertilizer as other ferns, so limit your feeding to every other month when in growth. While often grown as a hanging basket, make sure it receives bright indirect light as opposed to direct sun in summer.
Blue Star Fern (Phlebodium aureum or pseudoaureum) The bright powder blue colour and unique undulating lobes of this fern make it an absolute showcase plant. It is an epiphyte that tolerates low to moderate light but is sensitive to draughts in winter. Blue Star Fern requires even moisture during the growing season but the soil surface can dry slightly in winter before watering. This plant is non-toxic to pets and has an ultimate height of about 16”.
Kangaroo Fern (Microsorum diversifolium) This native of Australia and New Zealand really likes high humidity, so be sure to mist it regularly. The glossy deep green fronds are somewhat irregular in form and usually grow 12-18” tall at maturity. Kangaroo Fern presents particularly well in a hanging basket where you can appreciate the dangling slightly hairy rhizomes that readily spill out of the root zone.
Silver Lace Fern (Pteris ensiformis) One of the more common indoor ferns that is easily recognized by its bold white inset variegation that radiates towards the green edge of the frond. The two most common cultivars are ‘Victoriae’ and ‘Evergemiensis’, both of which work well in terrarium settings. Be sure to wait to water until the surface of the soil feels dry and then be generous using room temperature water.
Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepsis cordifolia ‘Duffii’) A smaller fern with distinct rounded pinnae that are finely serrated and have an alternate arrangement. This distant relative of the Boston Fern often smells lightly of lemon when rubbed, hence the namesake. It is often mistaken for another fern which shares the same common name, Pellaea rotundifolia, except that the latter has darker, glossier foliage.
Foxtail Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’ or ‘Myers’) A very architectural fern with erect spires of plume-like needles in varying shades of green that present well in hanging baskets or containers. While not a ‘true’ fern, they may produce small white flowers followed by red berries. Be careful not to overwater this one and be sure to trim back old fronds in spring as the new growth emerges.
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium spp.) Staghorn Ferns are a lot like Air Plants (Tillandsia) in that they are true epiphytes, naturally growing on tree trunks in the wild. They prefer bright indirect light and regular misting. Plaque-mounted specimens should be watered (check the weight) once a week in summer (less so in winter) by soaking the roots in the sink and allowing it to drip dry before rehanging. If the fronds start browning or blackening at the base, then you are overwatering.
Rabbit Foot Fern (Davallia tyermanii (syn. Humata) or fejeensis) There are several species at play here all of which are grown for their intriguing hairy white rhizomes that creep over the pot’s edge. These species are particularly sensitive to chemicals, so try to avoid insecticides or leaf shine products. Repot in spring using a container about 2” larger and be careful not to bury the fuzzy rhizomes in the soil as they will rot.
Painted Brake Fern (Pteris quadriaurita ‘Tricolor’) The new growth of this evergreen Brake fern is a showy bronze to reddish-brown, maturing to a glossy deep green. This indoor version of Autumn fern is upright in its growth habit and relatively easy to grow. It prefers bright indirect light and eventually matures at 2’ tall and wide, depending on pot size.
Well that brings us to the end of our top twelve indoor fern selections and I’m hoping that I’ve inspired a few gardeners with shadier indoor living spaces to look for more than just some boring green fronds when choosing your next fern.
All Photos are Copyright 2015-2019 MK Lascelle