Ferns include nearly 12,000 species and have been around for almost 300 million years. Graceful ferns grace the woodlands and forests, quietly nestled under tree canopies. Despite their extensive history on this Earth, they are still a mystery to many of us. In one home a beautiful fern is a thriving, lush, and full plant. Another fern might look more like a withering sad weed-like stem. So, what’s the difference?

The truth is, only a few ferns actually grow to their full potential. We are here to help ensure your outdoor or indoor ferns beat the odds and provide you a beautiful addition.

outdoor fern

With so many different species of fern on the market, each must be approached individually. Generally speaking, most ferns like shady conditions, but there are some varieties that grow best in nearly full sun. Some like dry soil, but most ferns need to be kept moist consistently.

Let’s start with the most important things to know if you want to grow ferns in your garden or home.

How to Grow Garden Ferns

bird nest ferm

There are many varieties of ferns that will withstand both the winter cold and summer heat. This makes them particularly useful in a shady landscape. Their hardiness also makes taking care of outdoor ferns simple.

If you’re planting ferns in the garden, choose a location with rich soil and part-shade. As long as the soil is well-drained, and the ferns are comfortable, they grow pretty easily and quickly. They may be so eager that you may have to keep them from spreading where you don’t want them. Learning how to take care of ferns depending on the type of fern you have in your garden bed.

These outdoor ferns are the most common:

·     Southern Maidenhair Fern: This fern is a hardy spreading plant that will survive in a wider range of soil conditions, including rocks and acidic soils. Despite it being very hardy, it has a beautiful and delicate leaf shape and appearance.

·     Lady Fern:Lady fern is drought tolerant fern that grows upright and can be up to 3 feet tall.

lady fern outdoor plant

·     Autumn Fern:This is a semi-evergreen fern that turns a pink color in the spring, green in the summer and copper in the fall. Because of it’s beautiful changes, it adds year-round interest to any garden.

autumn fern plant outdoor

·     MaleFern– The male fern is an evergreen fern that is shaped like a vase and will grow up to 5 feet. This interesting fern likes light to full shade and very wet soil.

male fern

Ferns are extremely forgiving and have an incredibly strong survival instinct. While most of the time, they require very minimal attention, that doesn’t mean they are perfect. If your garden ferns don’t seem to be doing so well, look through and troubleshoot these areas.


Ferns don’t generally have a lot of pest problems, but it is important to watch for slug damage through the season.


Ferns are a little picky with their light. They want to be in the shade, but still want to see the sun, just not directly. Most ferns will not tolerate dry, hot, sunny locations. A dabbled shade provided by tree branches works well, or a house awning works great. This way they get to sit in the shade and still enjoy the sun.


If your fern isn’t doing very well, it might be a good idea to test your soil. It should be from 4.0 to 7.0 in pH, depending on the variety of fern. Waterlogged soil is also not good for ferns, you may need to increase drainage if your fern seems to be struggling.


Ferns like a moist environment. You don’t want to let the soil get totally dry. You can keep a layer of mulch on them to keep the roots cool and damp.

Temperature and Humidity:

Generally speaking, ferns are tolerant to most temperatures and humidity levels. A humid environment is usually better, but they can put up with chilly to steamy temperatures.


Although not essential, you can use a slow-release fertilizer mixed into the soil in early spring. Ferns are sensitive to fertilizer, so don’t overfeed.

Indoor Ferns

Ferns can also make great houseplants. The benefit of growing a fern indoors is that you get to control the temperature and humidity. Ferns can also absorb common indoor pollutants and even filter the indoor air. Tropical species tend to work best, and switch up from a standard potting soil. Ferns will grow best in a richer medium like a fern-specific commercial mix or compost mixed with peat moss and sand.

Here’s a few varieties of ferns that make perfect houseplants.  

1.    Holly Fern: If you’re not much of a green thumb, the Holly Fern is a good place to start. It has thicker, stiffer leaves and is less fussy when it comes to water needs. It can handle cooler indoor temperatures and is low maintenance.

holly fern

2.    Button Fern:Button ferns are a popular choice because they are only hardy to USDA Zone 9, so they are hard to grow outside almost anywhere. However, they thrive inside with cute distinct leaves shapes like shiny green buttons.

button fern

3.    Mother Fern:The mother fern is often a good choice for indoors because it’s not very hardy and may have a hard time thriving outside.  

mother fern

4.    The Bird’s Nest Fern: If you live in a bottom level apartment or in a home without a lot of light, a Bird’s Nest Fern is a good pick. It can tolerate drier conditions and low light, but it doesn’t look like a typical fern either. It has long leaves or fronds that are crinkly on the edges that unfurl from the center of the plant.

bird nest fern

5.    Boston Fern: The Boston Fern is a popular option for indoor plants, and for good reason. It cleans the air naturally and looks like a beautiful classic fern, with long fronds that have smaller green leaves on each side.

boston fern
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