You Can Grow That: Tropical Ferns

You may love living in the Southwest but I’m sure there are days when the heat gets to you and you just want to fly away to someplace cool for a break. Flying away is not always possible (especially these days) but you can create a cool sanctuary inside your home with ferns.

Ferns are a family of plants native to lush, tropical forests and glades. They tend to have fibrous roots that grow in shallow soils or sometimes in the crotches of large trees where debris gathers. Because they are happiest with indirect low light conditions, they are the perfect plant for house, office, or shady porch. Here are five of the easiest ones to grow:

Isn’t this bird’s nest fern attractive? Imagine growing one in your home office.
  • If this is your first try at growing a fern, try a bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus). This is a modest sized fern (growing only about 18” inches tall) but looks quite dramatic in a ceramic container. It is one of the ferns that can tolerate the relatively dry conditions in our homes or offices. It is called “bird’s nest” because the tight, fuzzy central core resembles a bird’s nest in a leafy bower.
  • If you’d like to try a cold-tolerant fern on your patio, try a holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum). This can survive temperatures as low as 30 degrees. Holly ferns grow about 2 feet tall. Although this can be grown outdoors for much of the year, bring it inside under cover when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees.
  • Of all the members of this family, rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia sp.) makes me smile the most. They send out fuzzy rhizomes along the soil surface that resemble rabbit’s feet. These feet will slowly grow out of the pot and cascade down, seeking new soil in which to root. The light green fronds of rabbit’s foot fern grow to about 18 inches high. Because the leaves are relatively thin, this fern should be sprayed daily to provide humidity.
  • If you are looking for a large fern, get a Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata). This is the classic parlor fern made popular during the Victorian Era. The leaves can be 12 to 36 inches long, depending on the light and humidity. Place them in a sunny corner but not where they will get light directly on the fronds. Shear drapes are a good solution for an over-sunny window.
  • Perhaps the easiest and least fussy of the common ferns is the brake fern (Pteris sp.). The ribbon-shaped leaves can be medium green to dark green, sometimes with silver highlights. Because they are most tolerant of low light conditions they can be featured on a table top where they will grow about a foot tall. Mist these ferns regularly during the more dry winter months.
Yu can enjoy a collection of ferns like this on a sunny window in your home.

Because they are native to low-light conditions, place ferns where they will not get direct sunlight through windows. Mist them regularly to encourage healthy leaves. Avoid placing them near fireplaces or forced air heating in winter. Hot, dry conditions will kill them quickly.

Ferns are generally sensitive to chemicals. Clean the leaves with a quick rinse under the faucet or using a paper towel moistened with pure water. The roots are also tender so use any fertilizer at half strength to prevent root damage.

If you decide to grow a fern outdoors on the patio, I recommend using a self-watering container like this pot from Lucca.

With a little TLC you can grow these and other ferns in your Southwestern home. Their lush fronds are a welcome taste of tropical life.

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