Types of Ferns & Care Tips

Last update: September 15, 2020

There are more than 10,000 types of ferns out there. Some are better for growing indoors while others will do well in a shaded area of the garden. A few popular fern types, like the Boston fern, need a lot of humidity to thrive, while others, like the hay-scented fern, can handle drier conditions. Before you choose a fern, take a look at the conditions in your garden or in your home.

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Types of Ferns to Grow Indoors

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According to the USDA, ferns are a very old group of plant. They’ve been around for more than 300 million years and are more closely related to mosses than they are to other plants. All told, there are more than 10,000 different species of fern.

What sets them apart from other plants is how they reproduce. Ferns produce spores, rather than flowers or seeds. The spores are typically found on the underside of their leaves.

Since there are so many different types of fern, the plants tend to have a wide range of requirements when it comes to light, warmth and other needs.

Although nearly 500 varieties are hardy, a number are better off grown indoors, at least in temperate areas. When you grow a fern inside your home, you’re better able to control the temperature and humidity around it, two features that are very important for the overall health of your plant.

One of the more popular types of fern to grow indoors is the Boston fern or Nephrolepis exaltata. The Boston fern helps to clean and filter indoor air, by absorbing common indoor pollutants. It looks like your classic fern, with long fronds that have smaller green leaves on each side.

The bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) is a particularly good pick for homes that don’t a lot of light. The fern thrives in dimmer area and can also tolerate drier conditions than other types of fern.

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A bird’s nest fern doesn’t look like your typical fern, either. It has long leaves or fronds that are some what crinkly on the edges. The leaves unfurl from the center of the plant. It’s also an epiphytic fern, according to Gardening Know How. That means that you’re like to see it growing on tree trunks or rocks in the wild, rather than in the soil.

The video above introduces you to the mother fern (Asplenium bulbiferum). Although the video shows the plant being grown outdoors, it’s often better suited for indoor growing, since it isn’t very hardy.

The fern gets its name from the way it reproduces. Baby fern plants develop on the ends of the leaves. You can see what those baby plants look like around the 0:30 second mark in the video.

Another popular houseplant fern is the button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia). It’s a native to New Zealand and is only hardy to USDA zone 9, which is why so many people grow it indoors. The plant has very distinct leaves, which are shiny green and shaped like buttons.

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Neglectful gardeners might want to try growing the Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum). It has thicker, stiffer leaves compared to other varieties of ferns. It is also less fussy when it comes to water needs and can handle cooler indoor temperatures.

What Ferns Need to Grow Indoors

What your fern needs to survive and thrive in your home depends in large part on the variety you’re growing. The Boston fern, for example, needs a fair amount of humidity. For that reason, people often recommend growing it in the bathroom. If your fern needs high humidity and your home is dry, you can try misting its leaves with water to help it out.

Ferns need some light to thrive, but not too much. It’s best to keep them out of south or west facing windows, which become too hot and bright in the summer. North or east facing windows are often ideal.

Most ferns like a fair amount of air circulation. To keep your plants happy, don’t push them up against the wall or cram them into corners. If you can hang a planter from the ceiling, you might find that arrangement keeps your fern happiest.

Types of Ferns to Grow Outdoors

Some ferns are hardy, meaning they can tolerate outdoor conditions in colder or more temperate climates. You don’t need to live in the tropics or a subtropical area to grow certain types of fern in your outdoor garden.

The lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is hardy in zones 4 through 8 and is a native plant in many parts of the US. It’s considered easy to grow and will thrive in shaded areas or in a rock garden. It can grow up to four feet wide. The plant is able to tolerate some drought-like conditions, according to Clemson University Extension.

The western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is hardy in zones 3 through 8 and is incredibly low maintenance. It has evergreen fronds and is a native to the Northwestern areas of the US. As a woodland fern, it will tolerate very shaded conditions.

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The hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) lives up to its name. If its leaves are torn or crushed, they release an odor that’s similar to that of fresh-cut hay. The plant is a native to the eastern area of North America and is hardy in zones 3 to 8.

The hay-scented fern is a fairly moisture loving plant. How much water or moisture it needs is directly related to the amount of light it gets. It can tolerate drier conditions in shadier spots, but will need more moisture in sunnier areas.

The video from Growing Wisdom gives you some pointers on growing ferns outside, based on the type of fern you’re planting. It also introduces you to a few more fern varieties that can thrive outdoors.

Challenging Types of Ferns

There are a few ferns that can be pretty fussy and challenging for gardeners to grow, either indoors or out. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, the maidenhair fern and staghorn fern both have high humidity requirements, which make them better suited for greenhouse growing than for growing has a houseplant or in the garden.

Care for Ferns Outdoors

It’s best to choose a shaded area when growing your ferns outdoors. Although the plants can do with a bit of sun, they tend to be less fuss if you plant them in the shade.

The quality of the soil is very important for the success of your ferns. Although they like moisture, you don’t want to plant them in heavy, waterlogged soil. Well drained soils with a good amount of compost mixed in are ideal.

One thing to be wary of when planting ferns in your garden is that some do produce runners, which spread underground, and can be invasive. If you’re trying to cover a large area with ferns, that can be great news. But if you want the plants to grow in a controlled manner, it’s important to make sure you pick a variety that won’t take over your garden.

Learn More About Ferns

We’ve got a lot of articles on different types of ferns and their needs in the garden. If you’re looking for specific information on growing ferns, take a look at the sidebar. You’ll find a list of articles there, one of which is bound to have the information you’re after.

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