Maidenhair Fern: How I Care For It Successfully As a Houseplant (After Many Failed Attempts)

The Maidenhair Fern is a plant that appeals to many of us, with its delicate leaves that look like they are nearly dancing or floating in the air.

These plants are commonly sold in greenhouses, and I am willing to bet that many of us plant enthusiasts have tried at least one of them. But, they often don’t survive long in our home conditions.

Why do these plants look so amazing in the greenhouse and then decline so rapidly in our house?

And, is it possible to keep these ferns alive in our homes?

Today, we will discuss the answers to both of these questions because I am happy to share that I’ve successfully kept multiple maidenhair ferns alive for over a year (after many previous failures).

Maidenhair ferns require a lot of water to maintain their delicate roots, stems, and leaves. Without very regular watering, they rapidly decline. I’ve had success growing maidenhair ferns in glass containers, where I can see the moisture level throughout the potting mix to maintain evenly moist potting mix.

Keep reading to learn more about the tips I’ve learned to help my ferns thrive and exactly how I use glass containers successfully.

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What makes the Maidenhair Fern so challenging?

Maidenhair ferns have incredibly thin stems and leaves as well as very fine root systems.

There isn’t any part of this plant that has a thicker storage system to retain water, which means it cannot tolerate drying out or surviving drought of any kind.

It is the fine, black stems of the plant that inspired its name, maidenhair.

The name “maidenhair fern” represents a whole group of ferns in the genus Adiantum. Some are native to parts of North America, South America, and Asia.

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Delta Maidenhair Fern/Adiantum raddianum, Photo by: Christopher David Benda, iNaturalist, Source

All of the ferns have a beautiful, delicate nature, making them super appealing to grow and own. But they are all very sensitive to drought.

So, does that mean there’s no hope for those of us who want to grow them? No! There’s hope!

Now, I’ll discuss the method I’ve been using for a year to keep multiple types of maidenhair ferns alive successfully.

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Maidenhair Fern on Stool
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How I’ve Been Successfully Growing Maidenhair Ferns in My Home (Without Any Fancy or Expensive Equipment!)

After trying and losing a bunch of them, I had kind of given up on growing them.

Then I found accidental success growing a rabbit’s foot fern and a variegated boston fern.

That success gave me the confidence I needed to try again with maidenhair ferns!

I bought a tiny pot of maidenhair fern from one of my favorite local nurseries and started thinking about what I would do to keep it alive.

I knew I had to try a new method because the ways I had tried before always ended up in crispy ferns and composted plants.

Here’s what I did that actually worked!

Tip #1 Maidenhair Ferns need consistent moisture, so try growing them in a glass container

One of the most difficult parts of growing a maidenhair fern is keeping the fern adequately watered.

Like all plants, it can also be overwatered and suffer rot – though it is much more difficult to overwater.

To resolve these issues, I planted my maidenhair ferns into clear, glass containers.

The glass containers let me see the soil’s moisture level from top to bottom.

As soon as the top of the soil begins to dry slightly, I add more water.

When I add more water, I can see what happens to that water (thanks to the glass container): where it goes in the pot, whether I need to add more, whether I added a little bit too much and should pour some out.

This gives me a lot of control over the situation, allowing me to provide the fern with pretty great growing conditions.

I do nothing to control the humidity in my dry Michigan home. And the fern has been growing fabulously.

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Maidenhair Fern Closeup on Glass Container

Tip #2 Grow a Maidenhair Fern somewhere that you will see it often – so you don’t forget to check it frequently!

Because maidenhair ferns are so sensitive to drying out, they need someone to check their moisture level very frequently.

To ensure that this fern gets the frequent attention it needs, I put mine right in my kitchen (where I spend a huge amount of time each day) so I will see it and think to check it regularly.

This set me up for success to avoid accidental underwatering. And it also taught me the next tip: that these ferns like a lot of light.

Tip #3 Maidenhair Ferns need bright light (not low light)

I stumbled on this tip by accident because I needed my plant to be in the kitchen where I wouldn’t forget it, but my kitchen windows are west-facing where the afternoon sun streams in. I was concerned that the plants might receive too much light and scorch.

To my surprise, however, none of the ferns suffered any burns. Instead, they grew happily in the bright light and, if anything, dried a bit more rapidly with the increase in sunlight.

Sometimes, I forget just how dark our homes are, particularly if you live far away from the equator (like I do).

Do not assume these plants want to be in a dark, shady spot in your home. They may live on the forest floor, but the forest floor is still pretty bright compared to our homes a lot of the time.

Start your fern in a bright spot and move ir farther away if you see signs of leaf burn or too much light.

Some signs of too much light are: white or brown, crispy patches on the leaves. foliage fading in color, or wilt. (These symptoms can also be signs of other issues too, so please observe the plant’s overall health before deciding the cause)

Tip #4 Maidenhair Ferns (all ferns, really) can be sensitive to the minerals in our tap water. Try using an inexpensive water conditioner to detoxify them.

Many plants, including ferns, can be sensitive to the minerals in our tap water. Perhaps the most talked-about example is prayer plants, because the plants are known to have leaves browning and crisping from the minerals and salts in tap water.

Ferns can also be sensitive to water quality – probably due to how delicately they are built.

To detoxify the water, I use a simple additive that I also use for my fish tanks. It is called Seachem Prime. If you buy the smallest bottle, 2 drops detoxifies one gallon of water. I use 1 drop in my smaller watering cans and 2 drops in my larger, 1-gallon watering cans.

I started out doing this for more sensitive houseplants, but now do this for all of my houseplants.

I truly believe it has improved the health and well-being of my houseplants. Since it is only a few dollars for a bottle, the investment is well worth the improvement in my plants’ health. One small bottle lasts a long time, even with a large collection of plants.

SeaChem Prime Water Conditioner (linked to Amazon)*

* The Amazon links shared above are through the Amazon Affiliate program. This means I could make a small amount at no additional cost if you choose to purchase using these links. Any proceeds I make go back to support this blog. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for any support!

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Maidenhair Fern

Tip #5 Have some patience while your Maidenhair Fern settles in to its new pot and home

Once you have repotted your fern (if you choose to try my method), it will take a little time for the fern to start to grow.

The fern has to adapt to its new environment and begin to grow new roots in its new pot. It may also be adapting to a new amount of light.

All of these adjustments take time and come before new foliage (most of the time).

Patience and consistency will be rewarded!

Here’s what I see now, a year after buying a tiny pot of maidenhair fern: spores!

Those black spots on the leaves in the photo below indicate that my plant is now mature and producing spores to create babies. How exciting!

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Maidenhair Fern Spores

Disclaimer

This advice may not work for every houseplant grower, but it works for me and my plants!

If you do something different that works better for you, share it in the comments below! That’s how we learn and grow as a community. 🙂

Here’s a Cheap & Easy Tip to Caring for Plants that are Sensitive to Tap Water

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