The Bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus, is an epiphytic plant that grows on trees in its native rainforest home. They can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 11-12, but are also often grown as houseplants in temperate climate zones.
What is Bird’s Nest Fern?
Bird’s nest fern is an epiphyte found in rainforests of Asia, Australasia, and Africa. Where it is provided with the right growing conditions, that mimic this environment, it can do well when grown indoors.
The plant takes its name from the appearance of the rosettes of fronds, which somewhat resemble a bird’s nest in appearance.
Though the fronds can reach around 5ft long in their natural habitat, indoors they will tend to grow up to around 2ft long. They grow slowly though and their strap-shaped fronds will not always grow that long when grown indoors.
Where to Grow Bird’s Nest Fern
Bird’s nest ferns are best grown in a reasonably bright and humid room within a home, such as a bathroom or near a kitchen sink that is used frequently. To grow these ferns, it is important to recognize what they need when it comes to light, temperatures, humidity, and growing medium.
Bird’s nest ferns need filtered sunlight and can cope with moderate amounts of shade. Choosing where to place them, remember that harsh direct light can cause them harm – burning the leaves.
In the northern hemisphere, a window facing east or north is often a good place for this plant.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
Ideally, bird’s nest ferns should be kept somewhere where temperatures remain between 16 and 26 degrees Celsius at all times. The plant will be damaged or killed when temperatures fall below around 10 degrees Celsius.
It is also important to choose a location for a bird’s nest fern where temperatures do not alter too suddenly. Avoid placing this fern in a cold draught from air vents, a door, or a window. And make sure it is not too close to a heat source such as an oven, radiator, or stove.
High humidity is one of the most important things for these ferns. They will thrive in a bathroom or near a kitchen sink, and will also do very well in an enclosed terrarium.
To make sure humidity remains high, you can also sit the pot your fern is in on a tray or saucer filled with pebbles and water. You can also mist the plant. And group houseplants together to raise the humidity in a particular area.
Soil/ Growing Medium
Though these plants grow on trees in their natural setting, they can also be grown in a traditional potting mix in containers. Grow bird’s nest ferns in pots filled with equal parts of loam, coarse leaf mold or peat substitute, and charcoal for best results.
Planting Bird’s Nest Fern
Bird’s nest ferns are typically purchased as young plants. They can also be propagated from spores, though this is tricky for novices to accomplish.
Whenever you are handling a bird’s nest fern, it is important not to touch or disturb the young, delicate fronds emerging from the center of the plant. These are very fragile and easily damaged. So if you touch or disturb them, they are likely to be damaged or grow to show deformity later on.
Bird’s nest ferns can be potted up into new containers once they are delivered or you get them home. They won’t need much room for their roots, due to their usual growth habit. But they do need a pot large enough to anchor them securely and to keep the plant stable.
So make sure the material of the pot is heavy enough to accomplish this, and that it will not tip over easily as the plant grows. A clay pot is better than a plastic one for this purpose.
Make sure when planting that the fern sits at the same level in the growing medium that it did in its previous pot.
Caring for Bird’s Nest Fern
When it comes to caring for bird’s nest ferns, the main jobs are watering and feeding. Get these things right and you should be able to keep your plant for years to come.
Bird’s nest ferns need consistent moisture, but they cannot cope well with waterlogged conditions. It is important to water only when the top few centimeters of the growing medium feel dry to the touch and to make sure that excess water can always drain away freely.
As you water these ferns, make sure that you avoid wetting the center of the plant. Try not to wet the fronds at all. Aim water at the growing medium below and don’t get the foliage wet. When water pools on top of the nest-like rosette of the plant, it can cause rot and fungal issues.
These ferns are not heavy feeders. But during the active growth period, from April to September, it can boost their growth if you feed them moderately. Use a balanced, organic liquid plant feed like compost tea, diluted to half strength, once a month or so.
Watering, it is important to avoid wetting the foliage and instead make sure the feed ends up in the growing medium where it is needed. If the fertilizer is too strong or gets on the delicate young fronds, it can burn them.
From September through April, avoid feeding altogether. Too much feeding can cause more harm than good and may cause deformity or discoloration of the fronds.
The bird’s nest fern is typically healthy. Most problems that arise will do so due to problems with placement or care.
For example, too much sun or too much fertilizer can cause yellowing. Cold draughts or lack of water can cause fronds to turn brown.
Bird’s nest ferns should not need to be repotted very often – perhaps once every 2-3 years. Their roots are unlikely to fill a container, but as they grow slowly larger, they will often need a larger pot to keep them stable.