- How To Care For Maidenhair Ferns: The Diva of Houseplants
- 02 Jul How To Care For Maidenhair Ferns: The Diva of Houseplants
- A Fair (Finicky) Maiden – How Not to Kill A Maidenhair Fern
- Growing And Caring For Maidenhair Ferns
- Maidenhair Fern History
- How to Grow a Maidenhair Fern
- Maidenhair Fern Care
- Plants & Flowers
- Maidenhair Fern Basics
- Establishment and Care
- Light and Airy Maidenhair
How To Care For Maidenhair Ferns: The Diva of Houseplants
02 Jul How To Care For Maidenhair Ferns: The Diva of Houseplants
Posted at 08:53h in Garden, How To by Grace
Awww the maidenhair fern, the designer’s delight of houseplants. People rave of their beauty, their architectural impact, their lacy delicacy.
People also rage at their fickleness, their lack of motivation to live, and their weak compositions. Let me just ease your minds, my friends. The maidenhair fern is no weeping wallflower, she is not mousy, and she will not stand in the corner and rub her wispy fern extremities together. She is a DI-VA. D-I-V-A. And she will be treated as such, darn it. And if you don’t? Even for a split second? She will die – a slow, terrible, delicious death, and she will laugh the whole way down. At you. And your silly negligence.
So listen and listen close, as her diva demands and preferences are told to you. Like your life depended on it. And your maidenhair fern’s.
1. She may not require her surroundings to be ALL WHITE like Jennifer Lopez does of her dressing rooms, but you had better not put baby in a dark corner. Girl needs some light, but not direct light. She prefers to be in a brightly lit room, one that is brightly lit most of the day. A sunny window with a slight overhang or porch outside of it works best.
2. If Katy Perry is around, do not even think about having a carnation present, and there had better be “at least two cream chairs, one with a footstool”. Your little maidenhair fern? All she asks is for water – clean, refreshing water. Do not, and I repeat, do not, even think about letting your maidenhair fern get dry, not even for a few hours – or else. Her soil needs to be damp at all times.
3. Don’t worry, your maidenhair fern will not require a chauffeur for the dog or a designated assistant to handle beverages like Mariah Carey, but she will absolutely insist that you do not place her near a draft. Do not position your fern near or underneath a vent, or close to a door that opens and shuts frequently, it messes with her circulation, duh!
4. While Kanye West allows only Versace linens and towels to touch his delicate skin, your fern only desires to receive a gentle liquid fertilizer (nothing too strong) every couple of months. Surely, that’s not too much to ask!
5. The Material Girl requests a new toilet seat to be installed wherever she goes. Your fern does not necessarily mind what kind of pot you place her soil in, but she does want the dead and brown leaves to be cut from its wisps. She doesn’t want to see them, and let’s be honest, neither do you.
6. While Lady Gaga asks for 28 bottles of chilled water, and 28 bottles of room temperature water in her dressing rooms, your fern asks that you not touch it every day very often ever. The oil from your hands can clog its precious pores. And if you make her break out? Yup, you know what is happening.
7. The Biebs diva requests are simple – keep his dressing room stocked with swedish fish, herbal tea, deli meats, veggies, Ritz Bits (BOTH KINDS PEOPLE – peanut butter and cheese), absolutely NO Selena Gomez music, and NO ONE should talk directly to him. Your maiden hair fern does not require even one type of Ritz cracker, but does not want you to leave her. Ever. It is a well known fact in maidenhair owner circles, that you do not leave your fern. If you must go out of town, you had better leave it in the hands of someone that will treat its delicate nature with precision and attention. Consider yourself warned.
Absolutely necessary side note: I am eons away from having a teenage daughter (or so it seems), but I, for the life of me, cannot figure out the maniacal fascination with Justin Beiber. And it’s not like I never had a teen crush. But let’s face it, he is no Uncle Jesse, Zack Morris, Jordan Knight, or Garrett Booth (bonus points if you know the last one – RIP Swans Crossing). Not even close. It’s a mystery to me.
8. You do not have to supply red toilet paper, $900 Titanium straws with drinks, or alkaline water chilled to 21 degrees like Beyonce demands, but your fern does not like to be moved. If you find a great spot for it using the guidelines I have laid out for you, your fern will NOT appreciate a change in scenery. Maidenhair ferns loathe change. Especially don’t ponder moving it because it will look pretty somewhere else. That kind of thinking disgusts your maidenhair, and she will shrivel up faster than you can say Blue Ivy.
So now you know…you have the basic rules, and you are therefore responsible for the knowledge. Don’t cry to your fern when it poops out on you, YOU KNOW THE RULES NOW. I thought, however, I would give you a few extra tidbits of advice that work for me.
Prior to the ferns in my kitchen, I kept one of these babies alive a grand total of two weeks. I have had my kitchen ferns for four months now. Yes, I said four months. And they are going strong. I researched their care and gave into their diva demands, and here are my tried and true tips.
My ferns are in a bright window next to my kitchen sink. That is a great window because it is light-filled most of the day, and my portecochere is on the other side of the window, so the light is bright but not direct. Having the maidenhairs next to the kitchen sink is super convenient because I see them all the time, and it reminds me to take care of them. (i.e. put your fern in a place it will be easy for you to take care of it)
The roots of a maidenhair fern are very sensitive, and if you are watering it with a pitcher or watering can, the soil can get compacted after time and will restrict oxygen supply to the roots. My solution is that I put two handfuls of ice in each of my ferns every day. Every day, folks. It takes all of ten seconds.
If you see a few dead leaves, do not freak out. Healthy, happy, satisfied maiden hair ferns still get wilted leaves every once in awhile. Just snip them off.
Most importantly, never ever forget your maidenhair fern is THE diva of houseplants, and everyone will be happy. And alive.
I’m out, snap.
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- Light. Maidenhair ferns need shady settings. Do not expose them to any direct sunlight, and especially avoid bright light.
- Humidity. This plant requires humid warm air. It will die or wilt with dry, hot air. To achieve the right watering conditions, mist the plant with warm water a couple of times a day. This will maintain moisture on the leaves. Additionally, keep the soil damp but not soggy. A humidifier or pebble tray can maintain optimal indoor growing conditions. Many growers have success keeping these plants in a shady corner or under a plant bench in glassed-in solariums or sunrooms.
- Drainage. Since maidenhair ferns thrive on moisture, it’s recommended to plant it in a pot with drainage holes. Ideally, keep the fern in a plastic pot with holes, and then put the plastic pot in a more attractive outer pot. This will allow you to easily check the moisture levels in the plastic pot. The drainage holes should prevent the soil from becoming soggy.
- Temperature. These plants are best kept above 70 F. Do not expose them to cold drafts or temperatures below 60 F.
- Fertilizing. If you choose to fertilize your fern, do so with weak liquid fertilizer twice a week, only during the growing season and not in the winter months.
A Fair (Finicky) Maiden – How Not to Kill A Maidenhair Fern
Moisture. Never, ever NEVER let her dry out. She will literally crumble before your eyes.
Drainage. That being said, drainage is essential. Since the soil will be constantly wet, root rot is never far away. Make sure you remove excess water by gently tipping the pot into the sink.
Humidity. This one is important and there are options here. I found using a combination of all of them worked very well.
Mist daily. I know.
Group with other plants. Plants transpire and help each other out by sharing humidity.
Plant her in a terrarium or cloche! This provides a humid environment AND groups plants together!
Keeping her in a bathrooms or by the kitchen sink helps with humidity (and to remember to water) but make sure she’s getting enough light.
Avoid putting them near heaters, fireplaces and drafty windows.
Light. Ferns love shade, right? Sorta. When they live inside they actually prefer lots of bright INDIRECT light, Maidenhair especially. If she isn’t receiving enough light she will look leggy and her fronds will turn yellow.
Containers. She prefers her roots to be snug, don’t jump up too many sizes when potting up. Also, I found that plastic or ceramic containers held moisture better than terra cotta, which is porous, therefore causes the soil to dry out much quicker.
Transplanting. She hates to be moved. Avoid disturbing her unless necessary and be prepared to see symptoms of shock (dropping/yellowing leaves, wilting, stagnant growth).
Trimming. Some drying and yellowing of the fronds will occur, no matter what you do. Just gently trim them off and move on.
Prune and Soak. Okay, so it looks like you’ve killed another one. Don’t be so quick to toss her out! Trim all of the fronds down to her bulbous base (or to the soil if she has yet to form that booty), soak her really well, draining out excess water, and chances are she will begin to shoot out adorable new fronds!
Growing And Caring For Maidenhair Ferns
Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum spp.) can make graceful additions to shady gardens or bright, indirect areas of the home. Their light gray-green, feathery-like foliage adds unique charm to just about any landscape setting, especially moist, wooded areas of the garden. Growing maidenhair fern is easy. This North American native makes an excellent specimen plant on its own or in a group. It also makes a great ground cover or container plant.
Maidenhair Fern History
Maidenhair fern history is quite interesting. Its genus name translates to “non wetting” and refers to the fronds’ ability to shed rainwater without becoming wet. In addition, the plant is the source of an aromatic, volatile oil commonly used as a shampoo, which is where its common name of maidenhair derived.
Another name for this plant is the five-fingered fern due largely in part to its finger-like fronds, which are supported on dark brown to black stems. These black stems were once used as a
dye in addition to being employed for the weaving of baskets. Native Americans also used maidenhair ferns as poultices for wounds to stop bleeding.
There are numerous maidenhair species, though the most commonly grown include:
How to Grow a Maidenhair Fern
Learning how to grow maidenhair fern in the garden, or even indoors, is not difficult. The plant typically grows in partial to full shade and prefers moist but well-draining soil amended with organic matter, much like in its natural habitat in humus-rich woods. These ferns do not tolerate dry soil.
Most ferns grow best in slightly acidic soils; however, maidenhair ferns prefer a more alkaline soil pH. Adding some ground limestone to the potting mix of container grown plants or mixing it into your outdoor beds will help with this.
When growing maidenhair fern indoors, the plant prefers small containers and dislikes repotting. Maidenhair is also intolerant of low humidity or dry air from heating or cooling vents when grown in the home. Therefore, you will either need to mist the plant daily or set it on a water-filled pebble tray.
Maidenhair Fern Care
Caring for maidenhair ferns is not very demanding. While it needs to be kept moist as part of its maidenhair fern care, you need to be careful not to over water the plant. This can lead to root and stem rot. On the other hand, don’t let the maidenhair dry out either. But, in the event it does accidentally dry out, don’t be so quick to throw it away. Give it a good soaking and the maidenhair fern will eventually produce new leaves.
Plants & Flowers
Common name: Venus Hair, the Southern Maidenhair Fern, Black Maidenhair Fern
Distribution & habitat: Adiantum capillus-veneris is a species of ferns in the genus Adiantum with a subcosmopolitan worldwide distribution. Adiantum capillus-veneris is native to the southern half of the United States from California to the Atlantic coast, through Mexico and Central America, to South America. It is also native to Eurasia, the Levant in Western Asia, and Australasia.
Adiantum capillus-veneris is found in temperate climates from warm-temperate to tropical, where the moisture content is high but not saturating, in the moist, well-drained sand, loam or limestone. Habitats of the Adiantum capillus-veneris includes rainforests, shrub and woodlands, broadleaf and coniferous forests, and desert cliff seeps and springs. Adiantum capillus-veneris typically grows on rock faces and in crevices of cliffs, on banks and ledges along streams and rivers, or close to natural hot springs. It is cultivated as a popular garden fern and houseplant.
Description: Adiantum capillus-veneris has roughly triangular light green fronds comprising many delicate-looking, fan-shaped leaflets. In particularly fine specimens the fronds may be up to 60cm (24 inch) long and 25cm (10 inch) wide with individual leaflets 2-3cm (1 inch) across, but the average plant will be somewhat smaller. With pale green new growth this fern is excellent for glasshouse or indoor use.
Size: Adiantum capillus-veneris grows to about 40 cm (15 inch)
Houseplant care: Adiantum capillus-veneris requires humid conditions, and air movement, but will not tolerate hot, dry winds.
Light: Semi-shade to full shade with preference to bright indirect light or dappled sunlit areas. Dislikes full sun though!
Temperature: Adiantum capillus-veneris will grow well in any normal room temperature and can tolerate temperatures down to 10oC (50oF). If the temperature rise above 24oC (75oF), stand pots on trays of moist pebbles and moist daily to provide much needed humidity.
Watering: Adiantum capillus-veneris require regular watering in the summer months but with less in winter months when the growth is slow or possibly absent. Avoid wetting the foliage, water by raising the fronds with the back of the hand and watering the underneath parts of the plant. Standing pots on pebbles in a saucer of water helps to increase the humidity.
Soil: Moist soil but well drained. Ideally light, loamy and neutral to alkaline. A soil mix consisting of 2 parts peat moss to 1 part loam to 2 parts sand is recommended, with 2 tablespoons of ground limestone (for every 15cm (6 inch) pot) added to change the pH. This is favorable as the plant’s native habitat is on moist maritime/limestone cliffs and boulders.
Fertilise: From spring to autumn, Adiantum capillus-veneris benefit from fertilising in small doses at half-strength fortnightly or monthly. Fish emulsion, seaweed extracts, liquid cow manure are all good fertilisers. Slow release fertilisers can be added to the potting mix. Fertilise only when the soil is moist.
Potting and Repotting: Adiantum capillus-veneris grow best in a well drained open good quality potting mix containing humus such as cow manure, tree fern fibre, leaf mould, peat moss or perlite to improve the water holding capacity. A small amount of lime or dolomite is beneficial. Adiantum capillus-veneris are better underpotted than over-potted and usually only need repotting each year or two and this is best done in the spring months, that is, the beginning of the growing season.
Propagation: Adiantum capillus-veneris can be easily propagated by dividing its underground rhizome. Firstly, trim off to almost ground level most of the older rachis and remove withered fronds. Then dig it up and divide by cutting through with a garden spade or sharp long-edged knife and finally replant the divisions into individual pots, being careful not to plant their crown below soil level, as it is from this point that new fronds will emerge.
Adiantum capillus-veneris can also be propagated from spores. Collect the ripe spores from under spore-bearing pinnules (leaflets) and sow on the surface of a humus-rich sterilized soil. Keep the growing medium always moist by covering with a plastic bag over the pot. Germination should take place within 6 weeks at a temperature of 20-21oC (68-70oF), then transplant the tiny clumps of plantlets where desired.
Usage: This Venus Hairfern is not only excellent for containers, hanging baskets or terrariums placed indoors or at patios, but a wonderful feature in hanging baskets on trellis too. It is ideal as an ornamental landscape fern for woodland garden or any shade gardens, besides being used as an outdoor groundcover plant beside a pond or rock garden with water fountain. Can also be used as a filler foliage in floral arrangements.
This fern has therapeutic benefits too – as a diuretic, expectorant for respiratory problems, treatment for dandruff, hair loss and menstrual disorders among others.
Problems: No serious insect or disease problems. Leaves may scorch in direct sun. Fronds will die back quickly if soils are allowed to dry out.
Pests: Susceptible to snails and slugs.
Adiantum capillus-veneris characteristics:
- Maintenance: Low
- Tolerates dense shade
- Height: 20 to 40cm (8 to 15 inch)
- Spread: 20 to 40cm (8 to 15 inch)
- Hardiness Zone: 7a to 10b
Ferns Adiantum capillus-veneris, Black Maidenhair Fern, the Southern Maidenhair Fern, Venus Hair
Maidenhair ferns are as fine and delicate as their name implies. They are one of the most exquisite foliage plants for shady gardens, but require a gardener’s tender touch to grow well.
Maidenhair Fern Basics
Maidenhair ferns belong to the genus Adiantum, of which there are several commonly grown species. As a whole maidenhair ferns are characterized by silky, finely cut foliage and black stems that create a striking visual contrast to the deep green leaves. They are typically a diminutive plant, reaching no more than 12 inches in height with delicate needle-thin stems that are easily broken.
Maidenhairs are intolerant of direct sun, thriving in indirect or filtered light, high humidity and rich, moist soil. They are a common forest species throughout the world, usually found near water and sometimes found growing from the cliffs alongside waterfalls.
They are an excellent species for massing around well-shaded water features, though they make a nice potted specimen where their beautiful foliage can be view up close. Some species of maidenhair are used as indoor plants, as well.
The most important difference among the various species of maidenhair is their degree of cold tolerance.
- Peruvian Maidenhair (Adiantum peruvianum) is one of the most popular of the tropical species, commonly grown as a houseplant, but is not frost-hardy outdoors.
- Southern Maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris) is native to California and the southern United States where it tolerates temperatures to about 10 degrees.
- Evergreen Maidenhair (Adiantum venustum) is the most cold-hardy variety that does not die to the ground in the winter, tolerating temperatures down to -10 degrees without losing its fronds.
One variety does have additional differences beyond cold tolerance. The Northern Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum), also known as five-fingered fern, is the only species that is hardy outdoors throughout North America. Its leaf structure differs from the other varieties in that the leaves are structured along five stems that radiate out from the larger stem that grows from the ground. It is a deciduous variety that grows slightly larger than the other species with a more coarse appearance, commonly reaching 18 to 24 inches in height.
Establishment and Care
Before planting maidenhair ferns, enrich the soil with copious quantities of compost to provide the nutrient content and spongy texture they need. The soil needs to stay consistently moist, but not soggy. An irrigation system is convenient with a plant like maidenhair fern, as they may need water daily in the heat of summer. Over time, they will spread underground to form a lush groundcover, though they are not considered invasive.
Container Growth and Indoor Care
Maidenhair ferns grow very well in pots with a typical soilless potting mix providing the ideal growing medium. This arrangement allows them to be grown outdoors on a patio or deck for the warm months and then brought indoors for winter. Inside, they tend to suffer from dry air and respond well to being misted on a daily basis with a spray bottle.
The only maintenance with maidenhair ferns is the periodic removal of dead fronds. For the species that go dormant in the winter, it is fine to cut them completely to the ground – they will re-sprout the following spring.
Pests are rarely an issue with maidenhair ferns, but they are quite susceptible to powdery mildew, especially when grown indoors. There is not a lot that can be done for plants affected with this fungal pathogen, other than to keep in mind that it is typically a result of poor air circulation or too much shade. They shouldn’t be in a sunny window, but they do need indirect light when grown indoors.
Light and Airy Maidenhair
There are few plants as feminine and fine-textured as maidenhair ferns. They’re not the easiest plants to grow, but in the right conditions they will form a lush carpet of green in the shade of large trees.
- Maidenhair fern – Adiantum raddianum ‘Fragrans’
- Novel vertical system for displaying maidenhair ferns
- Maidenhair fern as a hanging plant
- Potted maidenhair fern
- Maidenhair fern leaves
Maidenhair ferns are soft and lacy plants which have a variety of uses both indoors and outside.
With more than 200 species of maidenhair and many more cultivars, choosing a favourite may be difficult, but they are attractive and rewarding plants to grow.
They have one major drawback: if allowed to dry out, even briefly, the foliage quickly browns and the plant appears dead. As Don Burke explained recently however, maidenhair ferns have a Lazarus quality, which means with the right care, they can come back to life from what looks like certain death.
Common name: Maidenhair fern
Botanical name: Adiantum spp.
Description: Finely foliaged, evergreen plants, that can grow to 1 metre in height (about 3′) but are more commonly smaller growing. Maidenhair ferns grow from underground rhizomes and have brownish/black leaf stalks from which the fronds unfold to display their apple-green leaflets.
The range of leaf shapes and growth habits is staggering. Foliage comes in all forms and sizes, some fine leafed, others variegated, and some scalloped. Some species are certainly tougher than others. Following is a selection you may find at the garden centres and their best uses:
Adiantum raddianum ‘Fragrans’ – The most widely grown maidenhair in Australia, and one of the easiest to grow, is the Fragrans (Adiantum raddianum ‘Fragrans’). It is best grown indoors but is not suited to growing outdoors in the ground.
Adiantum aethiopicum – The wild Australian native species, Adiantum aethiopicum, is a tough species that grows well outdoors in moist, shaded locations. It is often sold in nurseries as ‘Valley Mist’. It is not well suited to use indoors as it needs a well lit spot.
Adiantum hispidulum – The rough maidenhair (Adiantum hispidulum) also prefers being outdoors. It is a tall growing plant that tolerates a little more light than the common maidenhair, A. aethiopicum.
Indoors: Maidenhair ferns have a variety of uses indoors. They can be grown indoors in pots or hanging baskets in a brightly lit position out of draughts. They are also a feature of some terrariums. Different maidenhair foliage is also used as a filler foliage in flower arrangements.
Patios and ferneries: They are also a feature of shaded outdoor spots such as east or southerly facing patios or the traditional fernery, where they are also grown in pots or hanging baskets.
Outdoors: the native species, A. aethiopicum, can be planted in shady rock crevices or used as an outdoor groundcover plant in a moist, shaded spot such as beside a pond.
- to be kept moist
- a brightly lit position when indoors but prefers a very shaded spot if planted outdoors
- a sheltered position away from draughts
- regular applications of diluted liquid fertilisers (such as fish emulsion or Nitrosol)
- being allowed to dry out, even for a few hours (so keep well watered)
- frost (best grown as an indoor or patio plant if in cold or harsh climates)
- dark positions inside the house (select a well-lit position but not direct sunlight which can burn foliage)
- draughts (do not place in windy spots such as corridors)
Resurrecting your dead maidenhair
If your maidenhair fern does dry out and its fronds turn brown, don’t despair as it shouldn’t be considered dead until there has been no new growth for 18 months. To give it a new lease of life try the following method:
with the plant still in the pot, cut the fronds off at ground level
place the pot outside in a shady spot where it will hopefully regenerate after a few months.
try repotting your fern using a high quality potting mix to which Nutricote or Osmocote may be added.
Some gardening advice recommends burning the dead foliage of maidenhair ferns. While it may be successful, it can also be rather dangerous so it is preferable to cut away the dead foliage as directed above.
If the plant has only just begun to dry out, plunge the pot into a bucket of water, keeping it submerged until the air bubbles stop rising to the surface. This will rewet the soil.
One way to keep your indoor maidenhair ferns from drying out is to plant them in a self-watering pot. These pots allow the plant to take up as much water as is needed at a time. The only thing you need to do is to remember to top up the reservoir as required. Self-watering pots are usually sold where you buy maidenhair ferns. Prices start at around $5.95.
Although neglect and drying out are the most common problems with maidenhair ferns they can also suffer from insect attack. Keep an eye out for the following pests:
- the maidenhair fern aphid, which causes the fronds to curl up and turn black. Hose off aphids, or spray with Confidor (spray plants outdoors in a well-ventilated spot).
- scale (brown or black lumps on the stems or leaves) and or mealybugs (fluffy white insects which look like tiny pieces of cotton wool). To control lightly spray with Folimat, Confidor or PestOil (applied at half the recommended rate). Spray plants outdoors in a well-ventilated spot. Badly infested plants should be discarded.
Did you know?
The word Adiantum comes from the Greek adiantos, which means ‘unwetted’ and refers to the way that maidenhair fern fronds repel water.
Cost and tips on buying plants
Maidenhair ferns differ in price depending on the pot size. These can range from $8.50 for 140mm (5″) pots through to $22.00 for a 200mm (8″) hanging basket.
Don’s tip: The fern shown on ‘Burke’s Backyard’ was priced at $12.95 for a 185mm (7″) pot. It had several different varieties of maidenhair fern, each with different leaf shapes, in the one pot. Don suggested the pot was a good buy as what appeared to be one large plant could be split up into several different plants and repotted to give three or four distinct leaf types.
Our segment was filmed at Swane’s Nursery, 490 Galston Road, Dural, NSW, 2158. Phone: (02) 9651 1322.
For more information on maidenhair ferns consult Christopher J. Goudey’s book Maidenhair Ferns in Cultivation by Lothian. For information on ferns generally consult A Handbook of Ferns also by C. J. Goudey (Lothian).
There is a lot of misinformation out there about maidenhair ferns (Adiantum sp.) which paints them as being finicky and easy to kill when they are actually one of the easiest plants to care for. By looking at their natural habitat you can quite quickly start to see that there are really only two things that matter when it comes to growing this super lush fern. Light and water!
Maidenhair ferns can be found natively around Melbourne. After some research, and trial and error we have figured out how to grow the perfect maidenhair fern and are ready to share our secret with you.
Maidenhair ferns need to be in a very bright position. Look for a spot where there is enough natural (indirect) light that you don’t always have to use any electric lighting to be in the space comfortably. If the room is a bit darker try to keep the fern closer to window to maximize how much light it receives. A good way to tell if it’s a good position is that you will be able to see the sky from the plants perspective.
Cool direct sun either in the morning all year round, or direct afternoon sun in winter provides a huge boost to the growth speed without burning the plant. Our maidenhair fern receives direct morning sun everyday which is how it managed to grow to this size in only three months.
Maidenhair ferns are one of the few plants that you cannot over-water! They love to be consistently moist at all times. The easiest way to achieve this is to keep a deep tray under the pot they are in (self watering pots work great for this too.)
If the tray is empty, add water to it, if it’s full then your job here is done! In summer they can drink up quite a bit of water so be sure to keep the tray topped up at all times. In winter the tray can be allowed to empty for a short time without damaging the plant.
Avoid watering onto the leaves as they may snap. Watering directly onto the soil or just top up the tray.
During the warmer months of the year, apply a liquid fertilizer every two weeks. Make sure to dilute the fertilizer per the instructions on the back. Feel free to use a seaweed extract or similar product at the same rate to elevate your plant’s health.
During winter the growth will slow down so fertilizer will not be necessary, however if you are blessed with the right conditions and your plant continues to rapidly grow then keep fertilising but consider using a weaker dosage.
Most newly purchased plants will come with a few months worth of slow release fertilizer already in the soil.
Due to the maidenhair water requirements it is easiest to get a pot that comes with a deep tray or self watering feature unless you want to water it everyday. It’s always better to re-pot during the warmth of spring and summer when the plant is actively growing but I haven’t found this plant to be particularly sensitive to being re-potted at other times of the year provided it is a well established plant is well looked after. (If you have any well researched resources on re-potting ferns please send them our way.)
Simply massage the plastic nursery pot to help it release and slide the root ball free. The root ball may stay in a solid cylinder shape due the matted form of the roots holding all the soil together. You do not need to tease the roots or loosen the soil up to encourage growth. Simply place it into it’s new container and fill in the spaces.
The large plant featured in the comparison is in a 16cm in diameter and 16cm tall pot. The small plant is in a 14cm x 14cm pot. A larger pot does not always mean a larger plant. It is best to increase pot sizes incrementally to avoid shocking the plant, but even so the maidenhair is quite happy to be root bound and will become very large regardless. The only real difference between the two plants is three months of time.
Terracotta pots are perfectly fine to use. The porous nature of unsealed terracotta does wick water out of the soil and tray but as long as the tray is constantly filled there is no difference to the health of the plant. The plant may release spores that can even grow on the outside of this kind of pot!
I have regularly seen maidenhairs happily growing in pots with no drainage holes although I don’t recommend this as the soil can rot and become full of mould and algae (this will kill most plants too.)
Any premium potting mix should be fine to use but always be sure it is high quality. In Australian you’ll most likely be spending about $8-$12 for a bag depending on the size. To guarantee it’s good quality in Australia, keep an eye out for the ‘Australian Standard’ logo. If it doesn’t have this logo it is probably not going to benefit your plants. Make sure the potting mix is stored in the dry space and is fresh (before purchase). Many large chain nurseries will store low quality potting mix in the same space as the premium soils causing contamination of gnat flies and fungus. (We will have a more in depth article on soil soon!)
If you’re reading this article it is highly likely you have killed a maidenhair at least once in your life. Don’t stress as they are easily resurrected by simply trimming off the damaged leaves (even if it is all of them) and then returning to the proper care routine. It may take some time but the new fronds will start to emerge from the roots as long as they are kept moist.
Maidenhair ferns can be propagated via division or from their spores. For higher chances of success and survival always propagate during the warmer months.
Take an established plant and divide the root ball in half by gently ripping or cutting it. Don’t worry if a few leaves die off once the division is complete. Place the new plants into pots and then continue so treat them as usual. A little seaweed extract added at this time can help the plants deal with any shock from being torn in half by YOU! Make sure the new pots you plant into aren’t too large. Choose something bit bigger than the new root ball until the new plant is well adjusted to it’s new life.
Propagation via spores:
Ferns don’t produce a flower or seed, they create spores! We will write a detailed article about the life cycle of ferns at a later date. It is both beautiful and confusing!
Propagation via spores is easy to try! You will know your plant is ready to produce spores when you see the sori (little brown dots on the underside of the leaf tips.) Cut off a few fronds with the sori and place them between two pieces of paper and leave it in a protected space for a week. The spores will drop onto the paper where you can then spread them over the soil in a small pot. Cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap to create a mini greenhouse. Make sure this is not in direct sun as it may get too hot.
Keep the soil moist and after a few weeks you will begin to see the gametophytes emerging. This is just one step in the process to achieving a new plant. After fertilisation of the gametophyte, the sporophytes aka ferns will begin to emerge!
Keep an eye out for our full article on this topic as there is a lot to cover and properly explain.
Common maidenhair fern varieties don’t need any additional humidity. This is hard to believe when you see the thin, feathery leaves but it’s true! There are definitely some species that may be more sensitive, but for the more common ones the natural humidity in Melbourne is perfect. Our average year round relative humidity is 55%. Considering you can find this plant growing in the wild in Victoria it makes sense that it doesn’t need any additional misting or protection.
A regular amount of natural air flow is perfectly fine, whether it’s from an open window or because you keep your plants in a sheltered spot outside. Be careful that heating and cooling is not blowing onto any of your plants though as the air is often very dry and will disturb the natural transpiration processes.
Black tea and tannins:
We’ve seen a lot of posts about watering your maidenhair with cooled off black tea and mixing the spent tea leaves into your soil to add extra tannins to the mix. While I see the logic behind this I haven’t seen any results or well researched articles discussing this. If you know of any resources discussing this topic please send them to us.
Maidenhairs do natural grow along waterways, and in organic matter rich soils which would contain a lot of tannins. I don’t know for sure whether or not additional tannins added to your plant would be beneficial but doing this occasionally certainly won’t have negative effects. The potting mix you use will release tannins as it breaks down. This is what makes the water that drains out of your pots a darker colour.
We don’t use this technique for any of our plants and for now simply recommend using a regular fertilizer and a premium potting mix. Try adding seaweed extracts if you want to take your plant nutrition to the next level!
Mastering the maidenhair is easy and very enjoyable as long as you keep the two most important factors in mind. Bright spot and heaps of water. Once you have the plant in a good position you will find that it flourishes and rapidly grows in size. Due to the speed of growth we recommend buying a smaller (and cheaper) plant and instead spend your money on buying a great pot! If ever you are struggling with a plant it is very helpful to look at the plant’s natural habitat for clues as to what is going wrong. Next time you are walking by one of Melbourne’s waterways be sure to keep an eye out for a maidenhair fern living it up under the shade of a nearby gum tree.