Looking after ferns? Take a page from Sophie Lee’s guide Living With Plants if you’re looking to introduce some greenery to your space
Words Sophie Lee
Ferns are quite easy to maintain when you know how. They can be considered to be quite needy plants, but if cared for properly, they will reward you with lush green fronds all year round. Asplenium nidus, or bird’s nest fern, is a great indoor plant and looks quite different to other ferns. Moisture is very important for them to thrive and grow well. The attractive, spear-like fronds should look shiny when the plant is in good health.
Ferns were extremely popular during the Victorian era and large collections were grown in conservatories, in terrariums or glass cases. Their popularity waned because they were easily damaged by coal res, but when central heating came along ferns came back into favour.
Most ferns are not difficult to grow, but they will not tolerate neglect; if you go on holiday for a fortnight and forget about them, they will not be happy. Their compost must never be allowed to dry out and the surrounding air needs to be kept moist. They love being in bathrooms – if you keep them elsewhere, mist with water regularly.
Many ferns are formed of a rosette of divided arching leaves called fronds, which unfold into a beautiful performance of foliage. These fronds are delicate and need room to develop, so when putting a fern next to the rest of your plant gang, make sure they have space to grow. If any fronds die off, make sure you remove them so new ones can grow.
My favourites are the Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston fern) and Asparagus setaceus (asparagus fern). The Adiantum (maidenhair fern) comes in at a sly third – however, it is not as forgiving as other ferns if you forget to water it as its leaves go very crispy very quickly.
Keep ferns nice and warm, at around 16–21°C (60–70°F). Most people think that ferns are shade lovers, but that is not true. They love indirect light; an east- or north-facing windowsill is ideal. They also love to be kept moist, so make sure you give them a regular misting. Water them from the bottom and never let the soil dry out – this does not mean you should keep the soil soggy, as waterlogging will lead to rotting; just keep the soil moist. Do not water them as much in winter as they do not drink as much water in the colder months. Most ferns are fast-growing and will need repotting annually, but be careful not to bury any part of the fern’s stems or leaves as this could cause the plant to rot.