The frosty fern can be a house plant, but in warmer climates it can be grown outdoors. It prefers a shady location, but can tolerate early morning or late afternoon sun. It should never to be set in full sun.
Please note: this is true only for Southern States, not for any region of Canada.
Some requirements must be met to successfully grow this plant indoors (see below).
The frosty fern loves water. Consequently when it is in active growth it should be watered twice a week. During the winter months when growth slows down watering should be reduced to once a week. The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy. Test the soil’s moisture by inserting a finger about one-to-two inches deep. Always water the plant from the bottom.
This plant grows well in soil that is rich in compost.
If you are looking for a plant suited for a terrarium or a closed-in fairy garden, the frosty fern is an excellent choice,
as it will do well in those enclosed environments.
Use a fertilizer specifically developed for ferns, and always read the directions carefully.
- The Gardening Secret of How to Care for a Frosty Fern Plant Revealed
- Frosted Fern
- So what are they anyway?
- Caring for Frosted Ferns
- Where to buy frosted ferns?
- Frosty fern: adding Selaginella to your collection
- In the Garden: Tea kettle turns into perfect terrarium for frosted fern
The Gardening Secret of How to Care for a Frosty Fern Plant Revealed
The frosty fern plant is popular for its white-tipped leaves, which give it a frosted appearance. Are you searching for the reason why your frosty fern plants are dying or turning brown? Gardenerdy tells you all that you should know about frosty fern care.
Did You Know?
The frosty fern plant is regarded as an invasive species in New Zealand, which means that it poses a threat to the country’s native plant life.
The frosty fern, contrary to its name, is actually not a fern at all. It is a type of spike moss which gets its name from the fern-like appearance of its leaves. Another misconception arising from its name is that, it is resistant to cold temperatures. In fact, the plant got the name frosty fern from the golden-white tips of its leaves, which get brighter with the onset of winter.
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Frosty ferns can be described as low-growing, mound-like plants, that grow to be a foot tall, and have variegated foliage, which means that the leaves have patches of white and green. It spreads in the garden pretty fast by underground stems called runners, which grow horizontally and give out roots at intervals. Another similarity with ferns is the plant’s ability to reproduce using spores, and not seeds.
Identified by its Latin name Selaginella kraussiana ‘Variegatus’, the plant is believed to have originated in Africa, before it was naturalized in some parts of Europe and New Zealand. Today, it is a common houseplant in many states of the US, where it is grown in pots or hanging baskets. Let us see how to care for a frosty fern.
Sunlight and Temperature
The plant thrives in partial to full shade, and requires only light exposure to sunlight. Early-morning or late-afternoon sunlight is ideal, but not both. Do not keep the plant at a window which receives strong light, as overexposure can cause wilting, even in the reduced sunlight of the winter months. These plants prefer warm temperatures in the range of 75 to 85ºF. Under no circumstances should the temperature be allowed to fall below 50ºF. Potted plants can be shifted to warm areas to protect them from cold winter temperatures.
Regular watering is vital for good growth. Water the plant once or twice every week during summer and the growing season. During winter and fall, water only when the soil feels dry after inserting a finger an inch or two into the soil. Containers used to grow plants should have holes at the bottom for easy drainage. Watering should be carried out until water just starts leaking from these holes. The use of distilled water or rainwater is recommended for watering.
A high level of humidity should be maintained, especially in potted plants grown indoors. Special care should be taken during winters, when dry air can be a problem. This can be prevented by using a humidifier whenever possible. An even simpler way to provide moisture is to fill a tray with pebbles and then with water until the pebbles are partly submerged. The pot should be then placed on the tray, making sure that it rests only on the pebbles and not on the water. Monitor the water level in the tray, and add more if required. A plant mister should not be used, as it can cause fungal growth on the foliage.
This plant requires well-drained soil, which should be moist at all times, but not soggy. It should be neutral to slightly acidic, with a pH range of 5.5 to 6. The soil should have a high organic content, in which case external fertilizing is almost unnecessary. A high-quality potting mix will suffice for plants grown in containers, but for outdoor growth, the soil should have good drainage properties. This can be checked by pouring water on the preferred site and seeing the rate of percolation. A fast rate indicates that the soil is well-drained.
Applying a quality houseplant fertilizer, especially one high in organic nitrogen, is recommended when the soil is deficient in organic nutrients. Fertilizing should be done once a week in spring, and once every two weeks to a month in winter. It should be diluted to the amount recommended by the manufacturer, and applied close to the pot. Monitor the frosty fern for any side effects, such as wilting or yellowing, at which point, fertilizing should be stopped.
The frosty fern is not susceptible to attack by pests. However, most of its problems are caused due to improper care. If the temperature goes below 50ºF, the moist foliage may show fungal growth. Overexposure to sunlight may cause wilting or yellowing, as can excess fertilizing. A low moisture content in the soil, which may happen if it is allowed to dry out between watering, may even cause the death of the plant. Leaves turning brown is a problem caused by dry air, when indoor humidity is not monitored.
- Indoor potted plants can be transplanted outdoors if your region has a warm climate.
- Select a site which receives partial shade most of the day. It should have well-drained soil, which can be checked by pouring water and observing its rate of percolation.
- Dig a hole which is twice the width of the container and slightly deeper. Then, remove the plant from the pot by turning it over, and tapping the bottom.
- Prepare a bottom layer of compost and sand in the pit. This ensures good drainage.
- Insert the root ball of the plant in the hole, and cover it with top soil.
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The frosty fern plant requires only basic care, as you may have realized. If the light requirements, water, and humidity needs of the plant are taken care of, there is nothing more to worry about. You can help keep your frosty fern healthy by just sparing a few minutes for it every day.
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When talking about plants, what’s in a name, anyway? Well, I’m glad I asked, because the plant you might have seen around town in every garden shop and grocery store that has the catchy name of “frosty fern” really isn’t a fern at all. I know most of you don’t really care much whether it’s a real fern or not, but, having grown up with my name being spelled wrong constantly (It’s Kris with a “K”, thank you very much.), I do get a little touchy about providing the correct plant name for folks that care about these things. I can just see how it all came about…some marketing guru somewhere said brightly, “I know!!! Let’s call it “Frosty” because it looks like the tips are frosted; and everyone will think it’s a fern, so let’s run with Frosty Fern!”
The tips of the leaves do look frosted…
To confuse matters even more, some knowledgeable plant people look at it and say, “Well, of course, it’s not a fern; that’s a spike moss, or club moss.” Now, actually, this is true, but in reality a “spike moss” isn’t a true moss either. Confused yet? Yeah, I thought you might be. Hang in there, though; it will all become clear, I promise.
Now is where we get to the good part…and the reason the plant marketers felt they had to dream up a catchier name. The correct name for this pretty little plant is Selaginella kraussiana, a name that almost rolls off the tongue…sellaahhginellaaahhh. What do you think? No? That’s what I thought. Okay, it’s enough for me that you are at least now aware that this plant is not a fern and not a moss. So let’s talk about what it is and how to take care of it.
nephthytis, tooth brake fern, rex begonia and selaginella ‘Frosty’
This selaginella certainly could be mistaken for a fern, with its tiny leaves and wispy appearance. But, if you look closely, the leaves are flat and look forked. Which, I suppose, is also how it comes by its other common name, spike or club moss. The coloring of the leaf tips is natural; another selaginella, Selaginella uncinata, sometimes called peacock moss (Now it’s a moss; see how confusing this gets?), has beautiful iridescent blue-green leaves.
These plants are actually part of an interesting group of plants called fern-allies, not actually related to ferns but sharing the same reproductive means – spores.
Selaginella ‘Frosty’ with a myrtle topiary
Selaginellas have become naturalized in parts of Portugal, Spain, and New Zealand, though they’re originally from Africa. They make quite wonderful terrarium plants since they’re happiest with good humidity and consistent moisture during the growing season. Like most plants, growth slows in fall and winter, so be sure to cut back on the water during those months and let them dry a bit between drinks.
Try to keep the humidity up as high as possible, especially if you plan on keeping one in your home through the winter months when your furnace is running and air gets drier. An easy way to do this is to place your selaginella on a shallow tray of pebbles filled with water just to the bottom of it. Sit your pot on the pebbles, taking care not to sink the pot in the water. As the water evaporates it will add moisture to the air around your plant.
They prefer temperatures above 50 degrees, the perfect range being anywhere from 75 – 80 degrees F. If temperatures drop lower, the foliage can be prone to fungal problems and the tips of their tiny leaves will turn brown. So, if you are using them in outdoor shade planters through the summer, keep this in mind as the temperatures cool in the fall.
Bright but indirect light is best, either early morning or late afternoon if inside. Too much direct sun will cause the leaves to wilt and burn. Be careful not to over feed your selaginella, as too much fertilizer can also cause wilting and yellowing of leaves.
So, whatever you choose to call it, you now know its proper name (And don’t we all want to be called by our correct name?), and the marketing gurus haven’t got the last word after all!
By Kris Blevons
I was asked a question on my miniature ferns for fairy garden post about one of the plants included in the photo of Hirt’s Gardens fern assortment. Keep in mind, I am in no way associated with them other than as an admirer of the lovely plants they sell online.
The plant in question is in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo. It is a beautiful looking plant for sure. I’ve seen them in grocery stores around Christmas-time. They were so soft and delicate-looking that I saw quite a few folks touching them as if to confirm they were a live plant. But, at the time, the budget just wasn’t there to spend $10 plus tax for what amounted to a mystery plant. Looking back, it wasn’t a bad price for the size of the plant. Maybe this Christmas I’ll treat myself to one if the stores carry them again.
So what are they anyway?
First the disclaimer, I’m going by a photo and hope it’s a match. If not, I’m awfully close. That out of the way, let’s get to it.
Let’s start with the name everyone seems to agree on – Selaginella kraussiana. Where things start to get less clear is the other names they are known by – frosty fern club moss, arborvitae fern, spike moss, frosted fern, Krauss’s spike moss, ground pine and probably a few more I’ve left out. But, is it a fern or a moss?
The pretty specimen shown here is from the Hawaiian biologists Forest & Kim Starr.
Well, the correct answer is neither. It’s sorta both. Club mosses are fern “allies.” They are a perennial evergreen with small, lacy leaves. And they have shallow roots. That pair of characteristics means they’re not a moss. But, are they ferns then? Well, not really.
They do grow from spores like ferns do. Both are non-seed vascular plants. And, both have stems with vascular systems. Fern allies, however, have smaller leaves with a single mid-vein. And, their spores form on a different part of the plant.
Science aside, the main question most tiny green gardeners want to know – How does one maintain frosted ferns?
Caring for Frosted Ferns
First off, let me be clear, I have not owned one of these plants and my information is only second and third hand.
This is truly a tropical plant – it likes it warm, it likes a fair amount of light, and it likes it moist and humid. But, it is not a happy camper if you give it a lot of direct sun. A frosted fern would seem the perfect plant for terrariums then. Being such a fan of warmth and humidity, it does seem odd that it would be primarily available in the colder months.
When kept indoors, frosty fern likes bright, indirect light. Anything lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and it will probably die. It’s also not a fan of temperatures above 80. 60-70 is the sweet spot.
I’ve seen a number of recommendations on caring for frosty fern plants and at least one of them appears to have gotten it extremely wrong. They recommend not watering until the surface of the soil is slightly dry. Virtually every other source says to never let the soil dry out and always keep it moist.
My suggestion would be if you keep your frosty fern indoors, but not in a terrarium, that you should give it a little drink every day and a long drink once a week until the water begins draining out the bottom of the pot. That’s what I’ve been doing with my ferns in 2-inch pots. Miss a day and they will pout. Miss 2 and you might be in trouble.
As I’ve said, I’ve not tried one of these, yet. Though, I do wonder about them being variegated. With the ferns we’ve tried, the variegated ones were the hardest to care for and sadly the first to die off when temperature and water conditions weren’t to their liking.
Where to buy frosted ferns?
Where to buy frosted fern? As I said, the original picture that led to Jami posing her question is for the fern assortment sold on Amazon. The seller clearly states that the photo may or may not represent the plants that you’ll actually receive. You could buy the assortment and hope you receive a frosty fern or Krauss’s spike moss. Or, you could simply buy one of these pretty frosted fern plants from Hirt’s and JM Bamboo.
Frosty fern: adding Selaginella to your collection
The selection of winter seasonal plants has grown by at least one. Frosty fern is a petite, desktop size plant now popping up among the usual Christmas cacti and myriad Poinsettias. ‘Frosty Fern’ is a delicate, lacey thing just few inches tall. Its fronds have creamy white naturally ‘frosted’ edges.The newest leaves are pale and grow at the edges of the branchlets. This gives the frosted appearance to the plant.
Frosty fern is a soft, friendly looking little guy. I spotted it last year and again this, tucked into the tables of the usual winter gift plants. Its small, dense “fronds” remind me of the rich woodlands populated by its cousins, the true ferns and club mosses. Frosty fern is not a true fern. The cultivar or common name rankles some purists who yearn to teach the general public about correct botanical nomenclature. But calling this plant a fern does give the casual plant hobbyist a good indication of the form and habits of the plant.
Care of Frosty Fern indoors
Frosty fern is no harder to care for than other winter seasonal plants . Water frequently to keep the soil moist. This plant, in nature, dwells on shaded, moist forest floors. Like all other houseplants, though, do not let it sit in a puddle.The chief complaint of indoor frosty ferns is the dry air of many homes and workplaces. Frosty fern likes high humidity. Overly dry air will cause the frond to dessicate and curl. Do give Frosty any help you can in boosting humidity. A windowsill in a well used bathroom would be to its liking. A terrarium or glass case is ideal for this plant. Lacking these, group Frosty between other plants. It’ll appreciate their shared moist exhalations and doesn’t mind low light.
Keep the soil moist, and it should look happy just as long as your paperwhites, Poinsettias and Christmas cacti and Amaryllis. However, recognizing that many people discard those traditional holiday plants within a few weeks, you may d so with the inexpensive and possibly fussy Frosty. No judgement from me!
It is really a Selaginella, but what is that?
Frosty fern is correctly called Selaginella kraussiana. On first glance, one might think it is a small fern, a type of moss, or even some sort of immature woody evergreen. Selaginella is the genus of plants known as spikemosses, plants closely related to ferns. And spikemoss is not true moss either. While we’re at it, let’s clarify that frosty fern is not a baby cedar either, despite the small branches covered with scale-like leaves similar to those on cedar. Spikemoss has roots (moss does not,) leaves with only one vein (ferns have true leaves with a network of veins,) and reproduce by spores (cedar makes true seeds.) This species is native to parts of Africa and nearby islands.
Using Frosty Fern outdoors… or not
Should your Frosty make it to spring in tip top shape, you might consider taking it outside. The Royal Horticultural Society granted an Award of Garden Merit to this plant. Their growing tips suggest that use of this plant in the garden was a significant part of their judgement. The spikemoss’ bright green, frosted fronds would cheerfully brighten a very shady moist garden. Indeed, this little plant can be used as a perennial in gardens of about zone 6 and warmer. Selaginella is evergreen except in the coldest of those areas. Unfortunately, Krauss’ spikemoss has become invasive in New Zealand and naturalized in many other areas.. With that in mind, one might better seek out local native perennial evergreens.
In the Garden: Tea kettle turns into perfect terrarium for frosted fern
The old glass kettle turned out to be the perfect place for my latest houseplant, a frosted fern. These plants appear in grocery stores and garden centres every year, along with Christmas trees and poinsettias. And sadly, like the P plant, most barely make it through the season. That’s unfortunate, as it makes a pretty houseplant. The tiny, bright green, fernlike leaves have silvery tips as though dusted with frost, giving it a wintery look. It’s no wonder they’re an easy sell at the grocery store.
The botanical name is Selaginella kraussiana ‘Variegatus.’ Other common names are Krauss’s club moss or African club moss; however, although it is from an ancient line of plants known as the clubmosses, it’s neither a moss nor a fern. It’s a vascular plant, same as most other plants in your garden. It originated in the Azores and parts of East Africa and was then introduced to Europe, particularly Britain in 1878, where it can be found today growing as a weed in the warmer, wetter parts of the country.
The frosted fern loves the humidity and shade outdoors, and that is its downfall as a houseplant. If you own one or were gifted one, there’s a chance it may not be looking too happy or has already been dispatched. Once the silver tips on the leaves begin to turn brown, it soon loses its appeal and is tossed. You can’t blame the plant. Our homes are too dry to keep it happy. It likes moist soil and humid air, more humid than can be achieved in the average living room.
The soil should always be moist but not soggy — never let it dry out. To keep the humidity up, a common suggestion is to mist it, but the effect is short-lived as within minutes the foliage will have dried out. Another tip is to set it on a pebble filled tray of water, and that can help a little, especially if it’s a large tray. Better still is to add it to a grouping of plants that all contribute to the ambient humidity.
Other reasons for the demise of a frosty fern plant are too much sun and cool temperatures, so avoid placing it close to a window. Indirect light is best. And if you’re inclined to jack up the heat it will love you for it, as 20 C is at the low end of its comfort zone. No surprise, then, that the best location is probably a bathroom, providing there’s sufficient light and someone showers regularly.
By now maybe you’re thinking why bother with a plant that would rather be lolling about in a shady glen in the Azores, enjoying the moisture laden breezes of the Atlantic Ocean. There is one place in your home, however, that will suit your frosty fern: a terrarium. And that’s where mine is — kind of — and it’s thriving. I brought it home after the spirit of Christmas plants whispered in my ear while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, despite me knowing that I had no room for it in my current terrarium.
This posed a problem until the kettle quit after a lifetime of service. I couldn’t just throw it out, not after it had provided countless comforting cups of tea. So, there I was with a humidity loving, frosty fern in one hand and a lovely glass tea kettle in the other, a perfect combination. An inch or two of potting soil in the kettle and the plant is clearly happy to be in there. What’s more, if it looks a little too humid, I can even flick the lid open. It might grow too well, but by then I should be able to find a spot for it outdoors in spring.
I know it might seem a little odd, but hey, how are you getting through winter?
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