The Complete Guide to Ferns and Top 10 Popular Types.

Ferns are a group of plants different from anything else in our gardens. This is because they are vascular plants that do not have flowers or seeds. Of the ancient plants that exist on earth today, ferns are second only to club mosses, which date back to 350 million years ago. Unfortunately, most of these initial ferns have become extinct, and what we are left with today represents around 70 million years of evolution. There are more than 10,000 different fern species today.

Did you enjoy this article?
Signup today and receive free updates straight in your inbox. We will never share or sell your email address.

They take us to a dreamy fantasy world of shades of green and even other earthy colors. Gardeners love them for their graceful leaf patterns, the fullness of the plant that adds a luxurious feeling to any landscape, and their varieties are suited to any geographic or climatic conditions. It can be seen in the Arctic, in deserts, and in swamps.

Fern Plant

The leaves of this plant are known as fronds, and the leaf stalk is called a petiole. Most often, we recognize ferns by their leaves. Fronds that are undivided or simple are called broadleaf. A compound leaf fern has fronds that comprise many leaflets arranged around a central stem and is the most common form of fern. When the leaflets of the frond are arranged symmetrically on either side of the stem, it is called pinnate. Pinnae refer to each leaflet.

They can also be classified according to their habitat. For example, terrestrial ferns grow on land rooted in soil; other varieties grow on tree branches in the air without any soil or water. These are known as epiphytic ferns. On the other hand, aquatic ferns grow fully in water.

Cultivation and propagation of fern plants

Propagating fern plants is sometimes tricky. This is because many gardeners do not understand the reproductive structure of ferns, which is entirely different from typical plants. Fern plants have three major components: the rhizome, the fronds or leaves, and the sporangia or spores.

Most ferns that grow in your area are available commercially and also found in the wild. The best way to find out what is needed for these plants can be studied by carefully observing them in their natural habitat. Sometimes, even though a fern grows easily in the wild, it may not be easy to transfer to your garden. Often, you will find that the ferns seem to grow for a few weeks and then slowly die off. This is mainly due to your inability to replicate the fern habitat in your garden. It may also be that you did not remove the plant intact. This is especially true of ferns that grow in crevices of rocks or rough terrain.


One tip to remember when propagating ferns in your garden is to recreate the natural conditions of the wild. This means you have to take care of the conditions, such as the amount of sunlight and type of terrain required and find the best place in your garden with these conditions. 

Ferns have spores that form on the underside of mature fronds. However, propagating from spores can take a very long time and is a specialized activity best known to keen gardeners. Some ferns have bulbils, or small fronds, growing from the original frond. These can be planted in a tray with moist soil. The bulb should be pinned down, held fast to the soil by garden wire, and covered with clear plastic. This can be placed in a warm shady area till the bulbs root. Once the bulbils take root, they can be pulled from the parent frond and potted in moist soil.

How to grow and care for fern plants?

Growing this plant is not that difficult, and having said that, there are a few points that the gardener should be mindful of when planting or caring for ferns. Some plants are hardy and will survive in the garden well, while others that are delicate require more controlled environments, such as indoors. It is all about finding the right spot in the garden or indoors. Shade-loving ferns should be tucked away and sun-loving ferns placed in a sunny location. The soil should be more wet than dry and drain well. If it is waterlogged, the ferns may run the risk of disease or death.

The best time to plant ferns is during the summer months. Humus-rich soil is used in planting ferns. Leaf mold is added to this soil if needed. Leaf mold is preferred to compost or manure as it can be too rich. Growing this plant is done on the soil’s top layer to expose the fern’s crown. Covering the crown may rot the delicate fern.

Fern Leaves

Pruning and maintenance.

Cleaning around the fern plant is a must. However, this should be done in spring, when new growth is most likely to occur. Dead fronds are removed, and the plant is cleaned of fronds that may be damaged. This gives the fern a better and healthier look.

Potting and repotting

There are fern-specific potting mixes available commercially. These are the best and easiest to use. If you are making your soil mix, then ensure that you mix compost with peat moss and sand for best results. Sand will ensure proper drainage, and the peat moss will keep the soil moist. You will know when repotting is necessary for your fern. If the plant is crowded or has outgrown the pot, it is time to repot. Another indicator that repotting is necessary is when 

Your plant starts to have smaller fronds or a bare look. The best time to repot is during spring when new growth tends to thrive. A thick layer of moss or mulch layered on top of the repotted fern will keep the soil moist and damp.

Ferns Plant

Light Requirement: Do ferns need sun or shade? 

This plant adores the shade because it provides the plants with ideal growing conditions. Shady areas are essentially damp and moist. Notably, ferns grow under trees or on shady slopes with limited lighting. On the other hand, some ferns, like the Ostrich fern, grow in direct sunlight in hot and dry conditions. Observing the natural conditions that occur in the wild will tell you how much shade is best for a particular fern.

Soil Requirements

The soil for this plant has to be moist but well-drained. Apart from a few aquatic-oriented ferns that may tolerate water, the majority tend to rot in excess water. Acidic to neutral soil is suited for most varieties, although a few grow in alkaline soil. The usual pH count of the soil is between 4.0 and 7.0 for ferns. Some delicate varieties, such as maidenhair fern (Adiantum), thrive in more alkaline soil.

ferns in the garden


Regular maintenance of this plant demands that they be kept moist. This requires watering in dry weather. If the soil is dry for even a few days, the fern will start dying slowly, which cannot be reversed. In the case of indoor plants, misting them with a sprayer daily is sufficient. A thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant is another tip for keeping the roots cool and damp.

Humidity and temperature

Ferns are versatile plants and can be grown in almost any climate. Generally, they are known to grow in humid surroundings, and we tend to think of rainforest undergrowth conditions as being ideal for fern plants. While this may be true, ferns grow in any climate, including the Arctic, if the proper humidity and soil conditions are met.

Indoor humidity levels can change during winter, and placing the planter in a tray filled with water and pebbles will not only add to the aesthetic aspect of your home but will ensure healthy ferns.


Fertilizers and feed

Ferns do not need strong fertilizers. A slow-release fertilizer can be added to the soil in advance for new plants. Overfeeding a fern can have negative results. As stated before, leaf mold is the best for a fern.

Most Common Types of Ferns.

Boston Fern.

  • This fern, which has triangular leaves in a dark green color, is one of the most popular houseplants. When added to hanging baskets, Boston fern’s gracefully arching fronds provide a stunning visual effect.


Button fern. 

  • This fern’s spherical, dark green leaves seem like a row of buttons strung together along with the wiry stalks. With time and experience, the thin stalks take on an attractive crimson color.

Button fern

Ostrich Fern.

  • The leaves look like the ostrich’s massive plumes. The vivid green leaves of the sterile frond can reach a height of 3 to 5 feet. It is a fantastic fern plant variety.

Ostrich fern

Japanese Painted Fern

  • This tough fern grows into a cluster that gradually spreads its fronds. Silvery green triangular leaves with dark red midveins. This fern can survive in sub-zero conditions and only reaches a height of 16-20 inches at its maximum.

Japanese Painted Fern

Holly Fern.

  • Each holly fern frond can have anywhere from 10 to 14 individual leaves. Clump-forming perennials that reach heights of two to three feet in containers are a sight to see.

Holly Fern

Cinnamon Fern

  • There is some evidence that this fern may reach 3–5 feet. Its fronds have a triangle shape because they are wider at the base than at the tip.

Cinnamon Fern

Man Fern.

  • It may reach heights of 40 feet in the wild, but with proper care and pruning, it can be kept to a more manageable size for indoor use in containers.

Man Fern

Bird Nest Fern.

  • This fern, which goes by the name crispy wave fern, is so named because its center looks like a bird’s nest. Exposing the plant’s foliage to direct sunshine for 2–4 hours daily may result in crinkled leaves, which may surprise some. However, it is a fantastic fern plant variety.

Bird's nest fern

Asparagus fern.

  • Despite the asparagus fern’s somewhat fuzzy, needle-like leaves, you’ll want to exercise caution since they really bear sharp thorns. Bright, indirect light is ideal for the plant’s growth.

Asparagus fern

Cretan Brake Fern.

  • Thin, green leaves of the Cretan brake fern have a lovely creamish tint in the center and are serrated at the edges. Place it where it will get at least two and a half hours of sunshine each day for optimal coloring. It is a fantastic fern plant variety.

Cretan Brake Fern.

Staghorn Fern.

  • This tropical fern has glossy, bright green leaves fashioned like antlers. The small, white hairs on the leaves aid in water absorption.

Staghorn Fern

Maidenhair fern.

  • You can tell it’s a gorgeous plant by its palmate fronds, wiry stalks, and delicate leaflets. The plant requires little care and is quite resilient.

Maidenhair Fern

Common Pests & Plant Diseases/Managing Pests and Diseases

The one pest that you have to look out for is slugs. Slugs, like moist, shady garden areas, and will harm the fern fronds. Slug bait that is available commercially will take care of this problem. Diatomaceous earth, also available commercially in packet form, is another solution to this problem. This powder can be spread at the base of the fern plant.

Other diseases commonly seen affecting plant are pathogens, over-fertilization, subpar soil, or unhealthy conditions like drought. Managing diseases starts with the plants that you purchase. First, ensure that they are free of discoloration or spots. Then, as the plants grow, look out for grey or wilting fronds due to a pathogen. This is easily overcome by using pasteurized potting mix. A fungicide will also help. Brown spots, yellowing of fronds, and rotting roots can be arrested by this method.

Over-fertilization often causes the tips of fronds to brown or crinkle and die. Reducing the amount of fertilizer and leaching the pots will take care of this problem. Maintaining soil moisture at all times will ensure healthy plants. However, care should be taken to avoid overhead watering. Another factor that ensures healthy plants is keeping the plant clean by removing infected parts and dead fronds.

Best Uses: What are fern plants good for?

Evidence shows that this plant has been used for medicinal purposes and food since ancient times. All ferns are not edible, and some can be poisonous. However, many ferns are used in their entirety as food. One example is the use of tree ferns in Hawaii as a source of food and starch. In Sicily, this plant are added to cattle feed to increase milk production.

Historically, ferns were used as a remedy for kidney stones, alopecia, and dandruff. In addition, European herbal medicine treats hepatitis, loss of appetite, and indigestion with ferns. These are sometimes available under different names, like wood licorice and sweet fern.

They have another critical function. That is, removing harmful pollutants from our surroundings. Species like the Boston varieties enhance indoor air quality and add moisture to improve humidity levels, resulting in a soothing environment. This plant is also used to remedy soil contamination and as biofertilizers.  


Ferns are beautiful additions to your garden. The delicate yet complicated patterns of the fronds and the evergreen colors make this soothing to behold. When positioned in an appropriate environment, ferns give the garden a rich and exotic feel of a rainforest. This is especially evident in rock gardens. Ferns love rocks and the moisture found in rock gardens. In addition, ferns are easy to grow and maintain once the ideal conditions are met.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time to plant ferns?

Springtime from May to September is the best time to plant new plant or repot existing ones.

Can I grow woodland ferns in my garden?

Yes, woodland ferns can be grown in your garden. Species found in woodlands in your surroundings will thrive in your garden as long as you ensure similar environmental conditions to those found in the wild. Also, care must be taken not to damage the plant’s root systems when removed from its natural habitat. New fronds and roots grow directly from the tip of the stem, known as the rhizome. If this is damaged, the fern will not grow.

How do I prevent disease in ferns?

First of all, the plants that you obtain for your garden have to be healthy. When planting, the crowns of the plants should not be covered with soil, as this might lead to the rotting of the fern, ensuring proper drainage while keeping the soil moist. Keeping the base of the plants clean also helps to prevent disease.

How far apart should I space ferns in the garden?

The plants should not crowd each other. There must be good air circulation and sufficient food for each fern.

Why do my fern plants die soon after planting or re-potting?

There are two reasons for this happening. The first is that the environment you plant in is not suited for the particular fern of your choice. You must provide ample shade and soil moisture for a healthy plant, along with fertilizer at the correct time. The second reason most gardeners fail to appreciate is that ferns are extremely delicate regarding their roots and new growth. It risks dying if these are damaged when the plant is being handled. Do not use heavy garden equipment around the plants as this will damage the new fronds and roots.

Is a fern a houseplant or an outdoor plant?

The varied range of deciduous and evergreen gives the gardener many options. The hardier varieties are suited for the outdoors, and the more delicate ferns thrive indoors. They make beautiful house plants and are ideal for terrariums.

Share on:

Michael is an author and entrepreneur that specializes in content production and marketing. I love helping authors and entrepreneurs succeed. My life experiences have given me a unique worldview, which I've used to write compelling material for my audience. Thank You

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!