How to care for maidenhair ferns: watering, repotting and where to position them

·3-min read
 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

Probably Britain’s most murdered houseplant, Adiantum raddianum or the maidenhair fern, is a beautiful, but fussy character.

If you can keep it alive, and looking good, you’ll be rewarded with delicate, diamond-shaped lime green leaves that hang from narrow jet black stems.

Tiny new fronds unfurl from the base of the plant in spring and summer, gracefully rising above the older foliage before folding out.

If you follow these key care tips, you’ll have a maidenhair fern that will be the envy of all your plant loving friends.

How to care for a maidenhair fern

More essential than anything else with a maidenhair fern is the watering.

The fern is endemic to tropical Central and South America, where it grows under the canopy of the tropical forest, at the edge of waterfalls, simply loving life.

Our window sills, coffee tables and bookshelves are a far cry from where your maidenhair fern really wants to be, and they aren’t afraid to let you know.

The roots must NEVER be allowed to dry out completely. Never.

Water regularly, and be sure to soak the roots thoroughly. To water well, fill your sink with water and dunk the pot and root ball just as the compost on the surface begins to dry out or the pot begins to feel light.

Hold it under the water until it stops bubbling, and then for a couple more minutes, let it drain and return it to its position. Depending on the time of year and how warm your home is, you may have to do this as many as 3 times a week.

Allowing the root ball to try out won’t always kill your maidenhair fern, but you’ll certainly do some damage to the delicate foliage.

Crispy leaves, brown or green are a sign of chronic under watering. Crispy fronds can be carefully cut from the base of the plant, but removing too many can leave your fern looking very sad.

Misting alone wont keep your maidenhair fern alive. It is a surefire way to plant murder.

You can further improve your maidenhair ferns chance by upping the humidity. Keep it in a naturally humid part of the house, the kitchen or bathroom, out of direct sunlight.

If you are keeping the compost moist but the leaves are still going brown, you may need to increase the humidity even more, by standing the fern on a tray of wet pebbles or LECA, as the water evaporates around the plant, it will increase the humidity.

Don’t be too hasty to chuck out a fern you think is dead, even in extreme cases of fern-neglect, when all the leaves are crispy, if you get water to it just in time, they can eventually make a full recovery.

How to propagate a maidenhair fern

Healthy maidenhair ferns can be propagated most easily by division.

You’ll need some peat-free multipurpose compost, a couple of extra pots and, depending on the age of the plant, scissors or a sharp knife (a serrated bread knife works best).

Remove your fern from its pot, and assess where the growth is coming from. Take the knife or scissors and begin to cut the root ball in half or into thirds from at the top of the root ball and work down, trying to keep an even amount of foliage in each piece.

Place each of the new pieces in a pot and fill the gaps with compost, firming to secure. Give them a really good drink to settle the compost, what was one fern is now two or three!

George Hudson is Head of Plants and Education at Walworth Garden, a South London charity delivering workshops, courses, therapeutic horticulture and plants for sale in a garden open to all. Follow on Instagram @walworthgarden

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