Maidenhair ferns have a reputation for being notoriously difficult to care for. Delicate and humidity loving, there often seems to be a fine line between healthy and flourishing and dried out at death’s door. Here are my top 5 tips to keep your maidenhair fern alive.
I’ve had years of frustration, hard learning, research and practise when it comes to dealing with these beautiful plants. Once you learn to master the care process, however, keeping these elegant, tropical evergreens healthy becomes effortless. Well, almost!
Indirect sunlight is ideal for this fern. In its natural habitat, the maidenhair lives in woodland shaded by trees, with small dapples of sunlight. Think dark and damp. As a general rule, avoid direct sunlight in the summer months, as this will be too harsh and scorch the soft leaves. This is one of the fastest ways to kill off your maidenhair fern, so aim to avoid at all costs.
As a plant native to tropical climates, your fern won’t be happy unless there is a degree of moisture in the air. This can prove tricky in cooler nations where central heating is regularly used, producing a dry heat. Maidenhairs will generally thrive living in the bathroom, where steam from showers and baths create artificial humidity.
Even so, you may find that your maidenhair requires an additional misting with a plant mister or spray bottle once a week. There are many beautiful glass bottle misters to choose from these days; I particularly love this grey-coloured one from Offidix. If living in the bathroom isn’t possible or preferred, mist the leaves at least twice a week.
This can prove to be a delicate balance. The aim is to keep the soil evenly moist at all times. Check frequently and if the top inch of soil is dry, water your maidenhair. Do not drench your fern or allow excess water to sit in the pot, however. Lift the fern out of the outer plant pot to double-check that it isn’t drowning and if so, tip the water away. Afterwards, leave your maidenhair out of the pot to dry out for several hours.
I’ve been caught out several times by overwatering, which hasn’t ended well. Ironically, the maidenhair can often appear under-watered with browning leaves, when in fact the opposite is true. Don’t be fooled, and look for yourself.
Don’t Touch the Leaves
As tempting as it may be, resist the urge. Your hands contain natural oils, which is transferred onto the leaves if touched. This blocks the fern’s ability to absorb moisture in the air and make energy from light. If you repeatedly touch the maidenhair’s leaves, over time, this will lead to a sickly plant. When you do need to trim a sprig, for example, always use gloves.
The Right Temperature
The ultimate temperature for maidenhair ferns is between 65 to 75ºF (18 to 24ºC). The minimum the fern can withstand is 55ºF (13ºC). For most countries, it hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult to keep within this range.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, your maidenhair may dry out and fall into a state that is past redemption. This can often happen if you go away from the house for a period of time. Do not fear, as all is not lost. In this circumstance, cut the fronds off at soil level and make a concerted effort to keep the soil evenly moist. In my experience, after several weeks, signs of life and fresh, bright green shoots normally appear.
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