Growing Tropical Ferns
You might ask why we are dedicating a whole blog post to ferns… and just growing tropical ferns, at that! Well, they are cool looking and there are many different varieties with interesting textures to choose from. Plus, ferns grow and reproduce in a unique way. Last but not least, tropical ferns can be easily grown indoors in a variety of ways. You can plant them in terrariums, mix them in a tabletop arrangement or simple plant one in a simple pot and let them shine. All of this to say, the plant nerd in us just has to share about them!
Ferns are an ancient plant species; they have been around a LONG time. Ferns have neither flowers nor seeds and reproduce via spores. Many ferns have fiddleheads that unfurl to form fronds (say that 5 times fast!). A frond is a large, divided leaf; you might hear palm leaves called fronds too.
Ferns are one of the most diverse plant types we have; there are two main groups and the larger one has over 10,000 species! If you really want to dip deeply into ferns, check out the American Fern Society. This site has some really fascinating information.
From a general gardening perspective, here in Arkansas, we lucky enough to have ferns hardy to our environment; meaning they overwinter. Tropical ferns are ferns that won’t survive our winters. The line between tropical and hardy varies from plant zone to plant zone. If you are several zones south of us, some of the ferns we consider annuals or tropicals might be hardy in your area! Hardy ferns don’t generally make good houseplants but Autumn Ferns are an exception. The bonus to growing these indoors is that they can be transitioned into an outdoor shade to morning sun spot. We will write a post on hardy ferns another day!
There are such things as outdoor tropical ferns; Boston Ferns, Macho Ferns, Kimberly Queen Ferns and Asparagus Ferns work better as outdoor plants. Grow these during the warm season outdoors in pots; Kimberly Queen Ferns are unique, for us here in Arkansas, in that they can take quite a bit of sun if they are given enough water. All of these tend to lose foliage when grown indoors. And although they can be overwintered indoors and then put back outside, it may be more trouble than it is worth.
Tropical ferns like bright, indirect light. What’s that? Indoor gardening has a whole other lighting language, and understanding proper lighting is one of the keys to houseplant parenting. Here is a link to our post on lighting for indoor plants.
Ferns also like high humidity, which is why they do so well in terrariums. For this reason, we suggest misting tropical ferns and keeping them away from drying environmental conditions such as air vents. If fern fronds are browning and drying out, mist more often and make sure they are getting enough water. Kitchen and bathrooms tend to be the most humid areas of a home, making them good fern homes, if they are bright enough. Another way to increase humidity is to place potted ferns on a saucer with gravel and water. As the water evaporates, moisture is added to the air. Keep the pot out of the water; if the pot is touching the water, the soil may absorb too much water and keep the plant roots overly wet.
Although they like moist soil conditions, they won’t respond well to poor drainage. They can rot when kept in wet soil too long. Plant in pots with good drainage or if using a cache pot, remove from pot when watering and place back after any excess water has had a chance to drain out.
Other Growing Tips
Ferns enjoy an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as Liquid Seaweed or Compost Tea. Avoid fertilizing with a high phosphate fertilizer as that can burn new fronds. When using a time release fertilizer such as Osmocote, use a half rate or lower. Use a watering technique called leaching once a month to keep salts from building up. Leaching is the process of watering thoroughly, and letting excess water drain out.
Tropical ferns are pretty easy to take care of, overall, but they are susceptible to several insect pests. Scale, mealybugs and aphids can be pest issues. Look at plants over carefully when you purchase them and each time you water. This will help you get ahead of insect issues. Ferns do not like harsher chemicals can systemic insecticides so instead, treat with a more mild control such as insecticidal soap.
Fronds can decline for one reason or another. At any point, you can trim out dead or declining fronds without damaging the plant. Be careful to avoid any fiddleheads though!
Decorating with Ferns
As we mentioned, one of the best things about tropical ferns is their versatility. For a modern look, consider a Birds Nest Fern in a sleek white pot. For a cottage look, the Button Fern is a good choice. Homes with more of a boho look, check out the Staghorn Fern. This is one of our favorites, so we wrote a blog post about all things Staghorn Fern! The French country style might pair best with a Mahogany Fern or Maidenhair Fern. Not sure what any of these are? We can help with that, just come visit us!
Tropical ferns pair well with other houseplants, making them good for foliage tablescapes. When planting a foliage or houseplant mixed planter or arrangement, pick out one plant you must have and build around it. From a design perspective, contrast between foliage color and leaf size provides visual interest. Also, if the arrangement is going to be planted and not just temporarily staged together, remember to choose plants with similar light and water needs. For example, pairing a fern with a low water needs type plant, such as a succulent won’t work long term!
We sometimes get in the cutest (really, they just are!) little 2″ potted ferns. These are perfect for terrariums, fairy gardens, or just putting in a small pot and gifting to anyone in your life that needs a little treat. We are all stocked up with these adorable ferns right now, and there is a great variety of them to choose from.