Basic Fern Care for Indoor Ferns
Creating a tropical rainforest
Many people think ferns are "difficult" indoor plants. Providing you consider their special requirements, however, you will be surprised how well they flourish inside your home. If you are able to reproduce similar conditions to those found in a tropical rainforest, these plants will be almost no bother to look after.
When grown in ideal conditions, indoor ferns create no more work than most other plants, requiring only watering, fertilizing, the occasional misting and repotting. By comparison with flowering plants, there is less work as no deadneed to be removed. Nor will you need to vary the day, night or seasonal temperatures as ferns like regularity and even temperatures all the time.
You will have even less work if you are able to offer your ferns a greenhouse, an enclosed plant window or even a closed glass case which all contain their own climates. Usually, however, such facilities are not available so successful care will require a little time and effort.
Our mains drinking water contains various substances, some of which function as nutrients for plants and others which can have quite a harmful effect on them, particularly If they are present in large quantities. The quality of your mains water will depend mainly on its hardness, the total mineral salts content and any specifically harmful substances.
Water hardness: If possible, do not use hard water for watering your ferns. There are two different types of hardness to consider.
• One measure is defined by the amount of calcium and magnesium salts. Water with a figure of more than 15 degrees Clark is considered to be medium hard.
• Carbonate hardness of the water is a determining factor for plants as it causes the pH value to rise in the compost when you water. When this happens certain nutrients (trace elements in particular) can no longer be absorbed properly by the plant.
How to obtain soft water
• Collect rainwater.
• Put softening agents in the water. These can be obtained in the trade in powder or liquid form.
• Watering cans with special filter fixtures are very practical.
NB: Water that is too soft or water derived from certain water softening installations can lead to just as many problems as water that is too hard. In addition to lacking important calcium and magnesium ions, the high content of potassium ions that is obtained through the softening process will have a damaging effect on the plants.
My tip: The best thing to do is to mix softened water (or rainwater) with mains water or to water alternately with one and then the other. The harder the mains water is, the larger the amount of softened water you will need.
Total mineral salt content: Ferns belong among the species of plants that are particularly sensitive to salts. For this reason, the total mineral salt content should not be too high.
Substances with a negative effect are mainly sodium and chloride. In concentrations that are too high they will impair the growth and health of the plants.
My tip: You will be able to find out about the relative values of your own mains water from your local water authority. The following values should not be exceeded on a long-term basis:
• hardness: 13 degrees Clark
• sodium: 50 mg/litre
• chloride: 50 mg/litre.
Watering with care
Ferns are known to love humidity and will react extremely sensitively to a dry rootstock.
Avoid drying out:
If, for example, you forget to water maidenhair fern (Adiantum) for several days in a row, the rootstock will dry out and the splendour of fresh green fronds will turn into withered, pale green or brown rags that will not recover even after extensive watering. The worst thing about this process is that the plant does not "warn" you over a period of time with slowly wilting leaves, but withers suddenly. If the tips of the young fronds are hanging down limply it may already be too late for the entire plant.
This will be caused by watering the plant too often or too much and then leaving the excess water in the bottom of the dish or potholder. It has a particularly devastating effect on ferns.roots can no longer obtain enough oxygen from the compost, which they need in order to absorb water and nutrients.
Follow the golden rule:
Watering indoor ferns the right way means keeping them evenly moist. If you water by hand you should check the moisture in the compost daily with a fingertip and, when it is needed, give the ferns enough water to make the rootstock quite moist. After about fifteen minutes, tip away any excess water lying in the dish underneath.
Special watering methods for indoor ferns
A semi-automatic watering system using clay pegs is particularly well suited to ferns as this method ensures constant, even moisture in the rootstock. One clay peg is inserted in every pot and the pegs are connected to a storage container, holding water or fertilizer solution, by means of a thin hose. The plant sucks up water from the compost and this water is constantly replenished from the storage container through the porous clay pegs. The moisture in the compost can be regulated by setting the storage container at different levels in respect to the plant pot. If it is on the same level as the plant, more moisture will penetrate the compost than when it is on a lower level.
Even if you do switch over to this method of watering you should still check the moisture in the rootstock regularly to begin with and, if necessary, place the storage container higher or lower, After a while all your efforts will be well rewarded and, later on, you will only need to check occasionally and top up the storage container every so often. In addition, over a period of time you will gradually learn how much water your plants consume and will be able to estimate how many days at a time you can leave your plants on their own if you want to go away.
Immersing is another ideal method for watering ferns. This method is particularly favourable for plants in wicker baskets or for plants growing on small epiphyte trunks. It is also perfectly well suited to ferns growing in pots as, by this method, the rootstock is able to absorb plenty of water.
Method: Immerse the entire plant, in its pot, in a bucket of water long enough for air bubbles to stop rising. Then allow the excess water to run away into a washbasin or bath for about fifteen minutes. If you happen to have forgotten to water, immersing the plant in water is a good first aid measure. Afterwards cut off any dried up fronds. If the plant was not left dry for too long it should produce new shoots.