If you just got your first maidenhair fern, a quick online search for care tips might have left you panicked. These ferns are often labeled as ‘divas’ that die off at the first sign of trouble. Now, while maidenhair ferns are not the first plants I’d recommend to beginners, it’s not like they’re impossible to grow. Just keep in mind that moisture is key here.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about caring for maidenhair fern and growing this beautiful lacy-looking number in your own home!
|Name(s) (common, scientific)||Maidenhair fern, Venus hair fern, Adiantum sp.|
|Recommended lighting||Bright indirect|
|Water||Keep moist at all times(!)|
|Soil||Rich and loamy|
Maidenhair fern natural habitat
Since there are over 200 species within the genus Adiantum, maidenhair ferns can be found in various areas. Habitats can range greatly, from humus-rich woods to rocky waterfalls.
Their range is extensive, with species being found in North America and as far as Asia. All habitats are characterized by their high moisture levels, warm temperatures and medium to low sunlight.
Maidenhair fern light and temperature
Like most ferns, the genus Adiantum is generally shielded from direct sun in its natural habitat, since taller trees block the rays with their leaves. When it comes to light, just keep in mind that when it comes to knowing how to care for maidenhair ferns, it’s all about moderation!
Too much direct sunlight can lead to crispy leaves and soil drying out too quickly. Too little light, on the other hand, can lead to the leaves dying from lack of photosynthesis.
A bright window that doesn’t receive direct sun (or just a little bit in the late afternoon or early morning) is therefore ideal. You can also go for artificial lighting if your windowsills are too crowded.
When it comes to maidenhair ferns and temperature, just keep in mind that these plants like the same indoor temperatures that most humans do. As such, room temperatures of around 21 °C (70 °F) or more are preferred.
A little lower won’t be too much of an issue, but temps should really not drop below 15 °C (59 °F) for extended periods of time if you want to prevent frond loss.
When it comes to maidenhair fern care, it’s crucial to consider humidity, though just how much they need is hotly debated. However, it’s paramount to know that all ferns including the maidenhair fern absolutely need moisture. Low humidity means that the soil will dry out faster and can lead to crispy leaf tips or even leaf loss.
The number one way to combat humidity-related issues is to keep on top of watering, as explained below. If you don’t miss a watering, you can potentially get by without having a high-humidity environment.
Here are some more maidenhair fern care tips when it comes to providing moisture:
- Put your plants in the bathroom so that they can take advantage of steam.
- Keep them in an enclosed environment, like a terrarium or paludarium.
- Run a humidifier (might also be beneficial to your own health if the air is very dry).
- Group plants together to create a mini rainforest.
Maidenhair fern soil and planting
When it comes to plants that like their soil to be kept moist at all times, like the maidenhair fern, a rich, loamy and moisture-retaining mixture is ideal. However, excess water should still be able to drain: soil should be moist, not wet.
Using an enriched soil or mixing in some compost is often recommended for the added nutrients it offers. Additionally, some peat moss can help with water retention while a handful of perlite makes sure drainage is still up to par.
Sources vary on whether you should be using alkaline or acidic soil for your maidenhair fern. Most report that the genus prefers a more alkaline mixture than other ferns. Others, though, still stick with acidic. It likely varies between species since the genus is so large. After all, some maidenhair ferns naturally grow on rock walls (likely more alkaline) while others occur on more acidic forest floors.
You could try just going for a relatively neutral soil with a pH of 7 or relatively close to that. To turn your soil more acidic, you can use mixes containing peat moss (though the sustainability of this resource is the subject of debate). To get more alkaline soil, add ground limestone into the mix.
As for planting maidenhair ferns, try to stick with using plastic or ceramic pots: unglazed terracotta is porous and allows water to evaporate, which is the opposite of what we want with such a moisture-loving plant. Standard plastic nursery planters are ideal as they offer drainage but don’t lose moisture through their walls.
It’s also recommended to avoid repotting too often, as maidenhair ferns like having their roots nice and snug. If you do need to repot, choose pots that are only a little bigger than the ones before.
Watering maidenhair fern
Maidenhair ferns have a bit of a reputation when it comes to watering. They absolutely need to be kept evenly moist at all times or the fronds will brown and die off very quickly. To achieve this, you’ll need to check your plants every day or other day to ensure that they’re still moist all the way through.
One way that people check for this is to simply lift a plant and see if it feels as heavy as it did with its last watering. If it feels even half as heavy, you run the risk of the fronds starting to die off. Fortunately, if you cut back the dead fronds and get the right watering regime going, your plant as a whole should continue to thrive!
Tip: Intimidated by the maidenhair fern’s watering needs? There are plenty of other ferns to grow in the home, many of which are a bit more forgiving. Check out the list of 6 easy ferns to grow indoors for some good options!
Propagating maidenhair fern
Propagating Adiantum pedatum is easy: all you have to do is split through the root ball. To do this, first take the plant out of its pot and remove the soil to make it easier on yourself. Then split vertically through the plant, creating as many segments as you want. Just make sure that you leave at least a few fronds per section.
Once you have your cuttings, plant them in nutrient-rich soil and cultivate like you would do for adult plants. Perfect to expand your own collection or to give away!
Maidenhair fern fertilizer
For as demanding as maidenhair fern care is when it comes to humidity and watering, the species is less demanding when it comes to fertilizer. Depending on how nutrient-rich your soil is, you may only need to feed your plants once every 8 to 10 weeks.
If you use a general soil that’s not enriched, you may be looking at a schedule of every 4 to 6 weeks between March and August. It’s also recommended to avoid fertilizing altogether until the following year if you’ve just planted or repotted a plant into enriched soil, as very high nutrient levels can damage it.
Problems with maidenhair fern
Many people think maidenhair fern care is difficult because of how often the fronds die off. While this can indicate a problem with your plant, it can also just be part of the natural life cycle, too! Older leaves naturally die off as new leaves grow in. As you become more experienced with caring for maidenhair ferns, you will learn how much leaf loss is normal.
If you think you failed at caring for maidenhair ferns and killed a plant, there may be hope yet. Just trim off all the dead fronds and give the plant a good soaking. If you keep up with the watering, you may find new growth in a week or two. Do remember to always provide proper drainage since maidenhair ferns can still suffer from root rot if their soil is overly soggy. Little and often is the way to go for this one.
Although there are no type-specific diseases, they can still fall victim to common pests, like spider mites and aphids. You can check for these pests by taking the time to wipe down the leaves every so often.
Buying maidenhair fern
When buying maidenhair ferns, there are plenty to choose from to find the perfect plant for you. For example, Adiantum tenerum (the brittle maidenhair fern) is loved for its pink shine and Adiantum raddianum (Delta maidenhair fern) is especially popular and works well for terrariums.
Your local plant store or garden center will probably carry some type of maidenhair fern. That being said, if you’re looking for a bigger variety to choose from you’ll probably have to turn to the Internet. Amazon sells a range of maidenhair ferns so there’s a fern for everybody.
Is maidenhair fern toxic to cats and dogs?
The ASPCA does not specify whether maidenhair fern is toxic to cats and dogs. However, it is generally believed to be non-toxic.
Just to be safe, you may still want to discourage your pets from nibbling on the leaves to avoid any negative reactions: ingestion of any plant can cause mild irritation or diarrhea.
If you have any more questions about caring for maidenhair fern or if you want to share your own experiences with these delightful ferns, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Happy planting! 🌿