Growing Ferns At Home

Try mixing different types of ferns in your home display to create a lush soothing landscape.

With their lush green leaves and low maintenance, ferns are popular with people looking for a plant to green up their homes.

Ferns are also suitable for homes because they can survive in shaded areas. However, they reproduce by releasing spores into the air and so they should be grown in areas which are well-ventilated such as the balcony or corridor area, but not too windy and dry as it will dry up the fronds.

Did you know that ferns also have other uses? They have been used for food, medicine, erosion control, and removal of toxic material from contaminated soils.

The distinctive features of ferns are that they reproduce through spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. Leaves of ferns are often referred to as a frond. New fronds are called crozier or fiddlehead, which is a tight spiral that unrolls as it grows. Ferns can be identified by the spore sacs (packed with spores) on the lower surface of fertile fronds. They grow in long lines, in rounded groups or even extend across the entire surface.

Hang baskets of ferns within your home to add greenery to bare walls and ceilings.

Some ferns can be grown in the ground or in pots, and there are some that grow on branches of trees. These are termed as ‘epiphytic ferns’  they grow on trees for support and they make their own food rather than tapping nutrients from their hosts.

Growing Tips

Depending on the species, most ferns are shade-tolerant and can grow at about 70% shade, while some species grow well in brighter light.

A well-ventilated location with high humidity is needed. Humidity can be raised around the ferns by regular misting or spraying of the fronds with water or placing their pots on a tray containing pebbles and a small amount of water. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water in the tray, as otherwise, root rot would develop. In order to prevent mosquito breeding, the water needs to be changed regularly. Ferns are also suitable for terrariums.

A soil mix with good drainage and high organic matter content is recommended for ferns.

Suggested soil mixes

  • Peat moss plus perlite
  • Fern root slabs (broken up into pieces) and general potting mix
  • Matured compost plus well-burnt earth
  • Sphagnum moss

Most indoor ferns die from drowning than from thirst. Allow the soil surface to dry out between watering. However, most ferns will wilt if the soil is completely dried out. Should the soil dry out quickly, it may mean that the fern is getting pot-bound (a situation where the roots have grown so densely that there is no room for further growth) and needs to be re-potted into a larger container. Fronds turning blackat the root tips indicate overwatering. Fertilising: Ferns can be fed with dilute liquid fertiliser of 15–5–15 (15% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous and 15% potassium) at half the manufacturer's recommended strength once a month, as most ferns do not store nutrients well and they grow in soil with good drainage. Reduce the dosage if ferns look 'burnt' or unusual. Alternatively, organic fertilisers could be used.

Ferns can be easily propagated by division.

Trim off all lower and older fronds. Remove the fern from its pot. Using your hands, a pair of secateurs or a thin-blade saw, divide the plant and root ball vertically in halves, thirds or quarters. Put the divided plants in pots just a bit larger than the plant's rootball, and fill spaces with a soil mix that is the same or similar with the one the fern was growing in.

The new plants should not be fertilised until it exhibits new growth (i.e., new fronds). This may take one month or longer.

Ferns can also be propagated by spores.

Featured Species

Scientific name: Acrostichum aureum Common name: Mangrove Fern  
Description: A native mangrove plant that grows well in waterlogged soils, this fern can grow up to 3 m tall and bears attractive young fronds that are orangey-red. It can be grown under full sun or partially shaded conditions. The young fronds are said to be edible.
Scientific name: Adiantum tenerum Common name: Maidenhair Fern
Description: This is an attractive household plant that bears laminae (leaf blades) that resemble that of a gingko leaf. The soil of this fern should be consistently moist, so the top of the soil should not feel dry.
Scientific name: Asplenium nidus Common name: Bird's Nest Fern
Description: This common native fern is seen throughout Singapore growing on the branches of roadside trees or used as part of a gardening landscape. It can be attached to tree branches, or planted in the ground or in pots. A very easy-to-grow fern that can be grown in full sun or partial shade.
Scientific name: Blechnum gibbum Common name: Palm Fern
Description: This fern has a short trunk and resembles a small palm hence its common name. It can reach up to 1.2 metres tall and is suitable for shaded areas.
Scientific name: Davallia denticulata Common name: Rabbit's-foot Fern
Description: The rhizomes of this fern have dense brown scales, causing it to look like a rabbit’s foot, hence its common name. The fronds are often used in floral arrangements as well. This fern can be grown on trees and in the ground. Established plants can tolerate full sun or shaded conditions.
Scientific name: Microsorum musifolium 'Crocodyllus' Common name: Crocodile Fern
Description: A beautiful fern with sword-shaped fronds, and a surface texture that resembles a crocodile’s skin. Exposure to more light encourages an upright growth form with shorter, stiffer fronds.
Scientific name: Microsorum punctatum 'Grandiceps' Common name: Fish-Tail Fern
Description: This fern has upright leaf fronds that resemble fish tails hence its common name. It can be grown in shallow media, but it needs to be kept moist as it may dry out quite fast.
Scientific name: Nephrolepis exaltata Common name: Boston Fern
Description: With a dense crown of pendulous fronds, this fern is often grown in hanging baskets. The Boston Fern and its cultivars are rather durable and widely used.
Scientific name: Phymatosorus scolopendria Common name: Wart Fern
Description: This native fern can be grown on trees as an epiphyte and in the ground. The fronds range from being oval to having three or four pairs of lobes. Its fronds contain a vanilla-scented fragrance and were used to perfume clothes and coconut oil.
Scientific name: Platycerium coronarium Common name: Stag’s Horn Fern
Description: This unique native epiphytic fern bears two kinds of fronds – the shield fronds which are large and fan-shaped and fertile fronds which are pendulous and resemble an upside-down stag’s horn. The plants can be grown by attaching them to tree trunks or tying them to fern root slabs.
Scientific name: Pteris ensiformis 'Victoriae' Common name: Victoria Fern
Description: This fern cultivar has variegated fronds as compared to the pure green fronds of the non-variegated species. It can grow in partially shaded areas.

For more information about these ferns and many other species, please visit NParks Flora & Fauna Web.

By Lim Choon Boon

Total Comments: 3

Li-San 11/26/2013 9:38:36 AM

Hi Rye, Ferns are a group of plants that do not produce seeds. Instead, they produce very fine, minute spores that are dispersed by wind. These spores are contained in sacs under the fern fronds which split open to release the spores when mature. To collect these spores, a damp tissue may be placed beneath the fronds. However, do note that spores from other fern species already present in the air will also adhere to the damp tissue. It is much easier to purchase these ferns from nurseries than to grow them from spores. A list of nurseries can be found <a href="" title="here" rel="nofollow">here</a>.

Rye 11/21/2013 6:02:22 PM

Hi, How can I get these species of ferns?

Rye 11/21/2013 6:00:45 PM

Hi, How can I get the seeds or seedlings of these ferns
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