Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Care for Ferns


Some varieties of ferns may tolerate up to four hours of direct sunlight per day, but any more than this will quickly burn the delicate fronds. Shade is always best for ferns, as their native habitat is in woodland areas. Mulching is not required for container or indoor ferns.

Ferns are evergreen vascular plants which do not produce seeds or flowers. They are grown for their attractive foliage, shade tolerance and ease of care. Ferns are resilient and low maintenance once established, and will thrive in garden beds or containers. Many varieties are heat and/or cold tolerant, and can be grown outdoors or indoors year round.

Plant ferns in a moist, shady area of the garden in early spring or fall, such as a wooded location or on the north side of a building. Prepare the planting site by mixing in organic compost with a tiller. The soil mixture should consist of at least 50 percent organic matter for the best results.

Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of pine straw to the soil around ferns once in spring, and then again in fall. Mulching helps keep the soil around the roots moist and prevents the soil from becoming too warm. Reapply as necessary to maintain the 2 to 3 inch layer.

Water ferns at least once per week, soaking the soil to a depth of 1 inch any time rainfall is inadequate. Ferns require high moisture, but should not be allowed to stand in water. Make sure the planting site is well-drained.

Fertilize fern plants in spring, just after the first new growth is observed. Use a balanced slow-release fertilizer for outdoor ferns and a balanced fertilizer formulated for houseplants for indoor or container grown ferns. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for proper dosage and application.

Remove damaged, dying or dried fronds from ferns during late winter or spring to maintain a healthy appearance and conserve nutrients. Simply pinch them off with your fingers, while taking care not to remove any healthy growth.

Garden Guides