If you’re looking for an easy-to-grow houseplant, then ferns can make an impressive addition to your plant collection, either as an indoor plant or as part of a border. With so many types of ferns to choose from, there really is a variety to suit everyone. They can be relatively easy to care for providing they have moist soil, a shady spot plus a little growing knowhow.
In this article, I’ll be taking a look at some of the best indoor and outdoor ferns and how to grow them. You’ll be able to choose a fern variety to suit you best and details on how to grow them easily.
Indoor Fern Types
Potted ferns can add a real wow factor to your indoor space and as an added bonus, they won’t hog the sunniest positions since they prefer indirect sunlight. Bear in mind that most prefer humidity so you’ll need an appropriate climate or the ability to situate them close by to other humidity-loving plants.
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Austral Gem Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium Dimorphum X Difforme)
An easy fern to grow, the austral gem bird’s nest fern doesn’t really resemble a bird’s nest at all.
It has the lacy appearance of a fern, but the thick, shiny leaves give it an almost plastic appearance. This fern variety is easy to grow and can be a little more forgiving than other types. Its leathery leaves mean it can withstand a little bit more dryness than a typical fern can handle. You should select this plant if you are new to fern-growing, it is excellent for beginners or folks who are not so green-fingered thanks to its easy-going nature.
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata)
Boston ferns are a popular houseplant, but you’ll often also see them growing outside in the warm summer months.
These ferns look particularly attractive in hanging planters and can grow to be quite large, with their lacy fronds hanging down. The mother plant will often send out pups or shoots, which can be transplanted into their own planters or left to grow where they are.
Boston ferns are a little finicky because they prefer high humidity, moist soil, and indirect light. However, if you can manage to get all of these conditions just right, you’ll have a much admired and gorgeous hanging fern.
Crocodile Fern (Microsorium Musifolium ‘Crocydyllus’)
The crocodile fern, sometimes known as the alligator fern, gets its name from its interesting leaf pattern. The pattern on the leaves resembles the hide of an alligator. Scary predator images aside, this plant has a rather graceful and sweet shape. Impressive in stature too, these unique types of ferns can grow anywhere from 2 to 5 feet tall.
These are slow-growing plants and need a humid environment with low or indirect light. They prefer damp soil that isn’t at all soggy.
Delta Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum Raddianum)
This pretty fern is a popular and quick-growing houseplant. This tufted-evergreen fern grows on dark purplish stalks with triangular-shaped fronds. Under the right conditions, this fern can live for many years as a houseplant. However, it needs high humidity and a draft-free environment so make sure you position it away from windows and doorways.
You can place this fern outside during warm summer months, but keep in mind that it doesn’t like cold weather or drafts. You may find it growing wild in cracks in rocks. The fronds of this fern repel water, giving it the name adiantum, which means unwetted.
Horsetail Fern (Equisetum)
More of a fern relative than an actual fern, the horsetail fern resembles small stalks of bamboo. When grown outdoors, this plant can be highly invasive. However, it makes a pretty houseplant if contained in a pot.
The key to growing horsetail ferns indoors is to keep them very well-watered. Some species of horsetail ferns can even tolerate standing water. However, they prefer indirect light and will grow in shady areas with ease which is perfect for sprucing up a dark room or hallway.
Japanese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium Falcatum)
The long fronds of the Holly Fern resemble holly bushes, giving the plant its name. This fern is unique because it does not require the high humidity of other indoor ferns and does not shed. In addition, its shiny green leaves can be wiped clean if the plant gets dusty.
It can reach a height of two feet tall with a spread of about three feet wide. This plant prefers bright, indirect light and damp but not soggy soil.
Kangaroo Paw Fern (Microsorum Diversifolium)
Native to Australia and New Zealand, the kangaroo paw fern gets its name because its fronds are shaped unsurprisingly like little kangaroo paws.
This unique-looking fern grows about a foot tall and two to three feet in spread. Its fronds have a glossy green leathery look, which is a little different from the lacy look of other types of ferns. This plant grows from underground, hairy rhizomes, which can be divided to propagate new plants.
Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Davallia Fejeensis)
The rabbit’s foot fern gets its name from its hairy rhizomes. These furry ‘roots’ grow out from the bottom of the plant and creep over the edges of your pot, giving the plant the appearance of having rabbit feet. Up top, it bears the signature lacy-looking fronds of a typical fern.
Rabbit’s foot ferns are relatively resilient as far as ferns go, but they do need moist soil and high humidity. Nevertheless, these ferns are otherwise easy to grow and delightful to enjoy since their appearance provides a great talking piece.
Ribbon Fern (Pteris Cretica)
The ribbon fern is aptly named for the silvery-colored stripe that runs down the middle of its ruffled leaves. The scientific name, Pteris, comes from the Greek word for a feather. Thus, Pteris refers to the delicate, ruffled look of this plant. It is also known as the Variegated Table Fern and the Cretan Brake fern.
Silver Ribbon ferns come from a collection of ferns known as Brake ferns. They grow solid fronds rather than lacey fronds. These ferns vary in size and color, but their care is similar. Place in a bright room but out of direct sunlight. Water regularly to keep soil moist and plant in well-draining soil to prevent soggy roots.
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium Spp.)
Add drama to your space with these giant ferns that resemble the antlers of a deer or stag. The staghorn fern can grow three to four feet tall and needs lots of room to thrive.
When grown in nature and outdoors, the ferns at the base of the plant are shaped to grab onto trees and often turn brown, while the fronds higher up on the plant are a more luscious green color.
These ferns naturally grow higher up in the canopy of rain forests, giving them the ability to handle stronger indirect light.
Wire Fern (Lycophyte)
Wire ferns aren’t technically ferns at all, although they resemble ferns. Instead, a wire fern is a lycophyte, which is different because the leaves of these plants have only one vein, where ferns have multiple veins. Technically, a lycophyte is what is known as a fern ally.
Wire ferns look a bit, well, wiry. Some might even say their stems and leaves resemble little forks. Regardless, the care of a wire fern is similar to that of any other fern. They prefer indirect light, moist soil, and high humidity.
Outdoor Fern Types
Whether you have acres of space or just a small space to add contrast to your landscape, there really are a plethora of types of ferns to choose from. The majority have one thing in common. They need well-draining soil that can be kept constantly moist and are most happy in the dappled shade of overhead trees.
Here is a selection of some of my favorite outdoor fern types.
American Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Pedatum)
The American Maidenhair Fern is a cold, hardy, deciduous perennial fern native to America, and the pinnae (leaf formation segments) of the fern radiate outward, which makes it look like a bird’s foot. It grows easily in damp, woody areas and will naturalize under the right conditions.
This pretty fern gets its common name from its black rootstock, which resembles hair. However, its genus name, Adiantum, is a Greek derivative meaning unwetted. This is in reference to the way the fern’s fronds repel water. The species name comes from the Latin word for footed.
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus Aethiopicus)
Asparagus Ferns aren’t true ferns at all but are actually related to lilies. However, they get their name because their frilly, fuzzy tops resemble the tops of asparagus. Don’t let this pretty plant fool you, though. The stems have sharp spurs so always wear gloves when working with these plants.
Asparagus ferns grow quickly outdoors in warm weather. They like high humidity and part sun to part shade. When your fern is really happy, it will produce small insignificant white flowers and even berries. The berries can be planted to produce more plants.
Autumn Fern (Dryopteris Erythrosora)
The autumn fern is a strikingly beautiful fern that does well in shady garden beds and borders. New fronds emerge as a rich coppery brown and eventually fade to green. It is sometimes known as a Japanese shield because it is native to Japan and Taiwan.
It is often found growing near oak woodlands, which give it its Genus name. Dryopteris comes from the Greek words dryas, meaning oak, and Pteris, meaning fern. On the other hand, the species name comes from the Greek words erythros and sora, which reference its red fronds.
Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium Nidus)
This slow-growing fern attaches itself to trees and bark in its native habitat, where it can grow up to five feet high and wide. It is a great space filler if you have a larger outdoor area but do be careful, as it can be fairly invasive if not controlled.
It could work as a houseplant too, as the confinement of the pot means it generally stays a good bit smaller.
How does the bird’s nest fern get its name? Long spoon-shaped fronds emerge from a center rosette. In the center of the rosette, you’ll find a fuzzy base resembling bird’s eggs. New fronds emerge from the center of the rosette but are extremely delicate.
Birds nest ferns grow best in a very humid location and would not be suitable for cooler climates.
Carrot Fern (Onychium Japonicum)
Carrot ferns get their name from their delicate lacy fronds, which resemble carrot tops. This fluffy fern works well as a ground cover in partially shady areas, but it isn’t particularly cold-hardy. It may survive a mild winter if you mulch around the base of the plant. However, you may be better off potting it up and bringing it inside for the colder months.
Chinese Ladder Brake (Pteris Vittata)
The ladder brake fern is originally a native plant to China. However, since this plant is not cold-hardy it has naturalized in southern portions of the United States.
Although it is on the Florida list of invasive species this plant isn’t all bad. It has a unique ability to absorb arsenic from the soil without suffering any ill effects. For this reason, Chinese ladder brake is often used to clean up soils contaminated with arsenic. This is a cheap and environmentally friendly, albeit slow, method of cleaning the soil.
Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda Cinnamomea)
This type of fern is native to the Missouri Ozarks and grows well in boggy, wet conditions or moist shade. Early fronds appear from the center of the plant, like tall brown sticks of cinnamon. As the fronds unfurl, they turn to lush green.
This perennial is great for landscaping because it can grow up to six feet high. It is one of the largest growing ferns. In the fall, the fern’s fronds turn a pretty yellow hue. I love how this fern comes back year after year without having to be replanted.
Crested Buckler Fern (Dryopteris Dilitata ‘Cristata’)
This smaller clumping fern has a lacy appearance and resembles sprigs of parsley. This pretty fern gets its name from its reddish-brown scales. The specific epithet is lepidota, which originates back to the Greek word for scaled. Cristata refers to its crested appearance.
This is an easy fern to grow if it gets enough moisture around its roots. It is a semi-evergreen plant, and it will reach full size in two to five years. It does not reproduce reliably from spores, but it will spread on its own.
Giant Fern (Angiopteris Evecta)
Like its name says, this fern is one of the largest ferns in existence. It truly is giant, with fronds up to 20 feet long and 5 feet high. Therefore, it is also known as the king fern and elephant fern.
This giant fern can be grown outdoors in mild climates, but it can also be grown as a houseplant in areas with more severe winters. Providing you have the space to accommodate it!
In Australia, numbers are dwindling, but this fern has become an invasive species in places such as Jamaica and Hawaii.
Interrupted Fern (Osmunda Claytoniana)
This unique fern gets its name from its reproductive leaflets, which are found between the leaf blades. After the fertile pinnae have done their job, they wither away, giving the frond an interrupted appearance.
Interrupted ferns are commonly found in the forests and wetlands throughout New England. It is typically grown as a natural, ornamental plant. However, it has also been used to prevent soil erosion on banks. The fiddleheads are not edible. They are extremely bitter and can cause diarrhea.
Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium Niponicum Pictum)
The Japanese painted fern stands out for its silvery-blue leaves on purplish stems. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and naturalizes easily. This fern is very hardy and easy to grow. Its color looks most vibrant in light shade. In fact, too much sun will fade its striking hues.
It can form a beautiful ground cover. However, the Japanese painted fern prefers rich, well-draining, moist soil.
Japanese Tassel Fern (Polystichum Polyblepharum)
The Japanese Tassel fern is a thick, spreading fern with luscious green fronds. In the early spring, when fiddleheads begin to form, they are covered in golden hairs. As the fiddleheads open, they flip their heads backward, creating the appearance of a tassel and giving this special fern its name.
This fern easily grows two to three feet tall and wide. It reproduces easily through spores. The Japanese Tassel fern loves full to part shade and is both deer and rabbit resistant.
Lady In Red Fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina ‘Lady In Red’)
Lady in Red Fern is special because it can tolerate drier conditions than most ferns. Or, if the soil is kept moist, it can tolerate more sun. This fern is small in stature and looks great in flowerbeds and as a border.
This is a slow-growing fern and will grow to a maximum size of three feet high and two feet wide at maturity. Under ideal conditions, it can live for as long as 15 years. It can be propagated by division, but there may be laws preventing this depending on your region. Also, it is not native to the United States, and parts of this plant are known to be toxic to people and pets.
Leatherleaf Fern (Rumohra Adiantiformis)
The leatherleaf fern has a thick, waxy coating that makes it ideal for cut flower arrangements. The fronds of this fern can last for up to two weeks when cut. This tropical fern does best in part shade with the dappled sun. And although it prefers moist soil, once it is mature and established, it can tolerate some drought conditions.
Its fronds are light green when new but will mature to a dark, glossy green hue. It grows in clumps up to three feet high and five feet across. When the leaves are bruised, it gives off the scent of anise.
Licorice Fern (Polypodium Glycyrrhiza)
Also known as sweet root or many-footed fern, the licorice fern is native to Western North America. It loves to grow in humid areas with cool summers and warmer winters. Certain Native American groups chewed the rhizome for medicinal purposes, discovering it has a licorice flavor. However, the rhizomes are very fibrous, making them basically inedible.
It may grow as an evergreen epiphyte on trees and rocks under ideal conditions. Its feathery fronds can grow up to twelve inches long.
Man Fern (Dicksonia Antarctica)
The Man fern, also known as the Tasmanian fern and soft tree fern, is one of the most well-known tree ferns. It is also one of the easiest to grow and propagate. This large fern grows up to 15 meters tall and can live up to 20 years.
It is semi-cold hardy, will easily survive shipping, and roots well. It grows best in damp soil but can survive drought conditions, as well. It can be overwintered indoors.
Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris Marginalis)
This evergreen fern is also known as the leatherwood fern and evergreen fern. It prefers shady rock crevices and rich, well-drained soil.
The leathery fronds are deep gray-green and can grow up to 20 inches long, with the entire fern reaching a maximum height of three feet. It is easy to grow but needs a little protection from the wind. The marginal wood fern grows in small vase-shaped clumps that can be grown to form a pretty ground cover that adds interest all year long.
Northern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Pedatum Aleuticum)
The northern maidenhair fern looks similar to other maidenhair species. The fronds have a delicate appearance and can grow eight to twenty inches long. The fronds have dark-colored stems which grow in a beautiful circular pattern. The fiddleheads appear as a rich burgundy color in the spring and will fade to green as they grow.
The northern maidenhair fern will colonize itself under the right conditions.
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia Struthiopteris)
The ostrich fern gets its name because its long fronds resemble ostrich feathers. It’s also known as the ostrich feather fern and the shuttlecock fern. This fern grows in large clumps four to six feet tall and three to four feet wide.
This plant needs to stay consistently moist and will grow well in part and full shade. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil pH and will naturalize into dense colonies under the right circumstances. The fiddleheads can be cooked as a delicacy.
Royal Fern (Osmunda Regalis)
Royal Fern also goes by the name of flowering fern because it bears brownish-colored flower spikes in spring. The lush green fronds add interest in the fall by turning a rich shade of red-brown. This fern loves part shade, but it can be grown in full sun if the soil is consistently moist.
The royal fern is an excellent addition to wet areas. It is found growing naturally along bogs and streambanks in Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia.
Silver Falls Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium Niponicum’ Silver Falls’)
Silver Falls Japanese Painted Fern is a low- maintenance, highly elegant fern with beautiful silvery-colored fronds and purple stems. It will grow in clumps 12 to 18 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide. Under the right conditions, this painted fern will naturalize easily.
Although easy to grow and deer resistant, the fern needs a sheltered area to grow and consistent moisture in the soil. It grows best in part to full shade and will tolerate pruning of dead or dying fronds.
Silver Fern (Cyathea Dealbata)
The silver fern is known for its beautiful silver-backed fronds. This tree fern is endemic to New Zealand and is the country’s national emblem. It grows in rich soil in mild, moist forests. To grow in the United States, it needs warmth, protection, and deep shade.
The Maori once used the fiddleheads for food, but they must be cooked to destroy the natural carcinogens. The trunk’s woody fibers are poisonous and were once used to make poison for spears. The wooden trunks can be used to make boxes and fences.
Southern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Capillus-Venerus)
Although similar in appearance to the Northern Maidenhair Fern, the deciduous southern relative of the same name does not grow in the same circular pattern. This fern grows in clumps six to twelve inches high and spreads from its creeping rhizomes.
The Southern Maidenhair Fern is an endangered species in North Carolina. This fern prefers moist, well-drained soil. Without enough water, it will go dormant for the summer. However, it grows well in rock crevices and borders as long as there is enough moisture and can be used to create a lush groundcover.
Tasmanian Cup Fern (Cyathea Arborea)
The Tasmanian Cup Fern is also known as the West Indian Tree Fern. It is part of the family of evergreen tree ferns. However, in cold areas, it may grow as a deciduous fern. The rhizome grows into an erect truck with scales along its sides. The fronds grow in a rosette form at the top.
The Tasmanian Cup Fern grows easily in rich, moist soil. However, it needs protection from harsh winters.
Tatting Fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina ‘Frizelliae’)
The tatting fern, or lady fern, grows in circular clumps that are two to three feet tall. The genus name means doorless, which refers to the slowly opening spore covers. However, the specific epithet comes from the Latin words meaning fern and woman, giving it the name lady fern.
This fern grows well in rich, moist soil in full or part shade. It can handle full sun if the soil is kept moist. In shady areas, however, it can tolerate drier soil than most ferns can take. In addition, it needs protection from the wind.
Fern Care Guide For Perfect Plants
Ferns grow well indoors in pots and this can be a great way to contain some of the more invasive varieties as well as capture the drama of their frond and leaf patterns and shapes. Growing ferns in pots or containers can also solve the problem of growing the non-hardy varieties in colder climates since you could bring them indoors when temperatures drop.
Find a position for them with medium indirect light as any direct sunlight can scorch or fade their beautiful foliage. They also need nutrient-rich soil that can retain moisture without allowing roots to get soggy. If soil is allowed to remain wet it will cause the roots will rot.
The key to potted ferns is keeping the soil evenly moist. If it dries out, the plant will become stressed.
Most ferns prefer the same conditions. They love indirect light and will not do well in bright, direct sun. For example, you may want to hang your ferns in the shelter of a covered porch where they will receive early or late sun, but not direct afternoon soon. These plants need consistently moist soil but take care not to overwater, or the plant will rot from the roots.
Transplanting Ferns Outdoors
You can transplant your potted ferns outdoors under the right conditions. Most ferns need rich, moist soil and indirect light. They may also need protection from the wind.
Dig up as much of the soil around the fern as possible, then make sure the hole is plenty big enough. You’ll probably want to mix in some rich, organic matter as well.
Gently place the fern in the hole, and backfill until the soil is level. Water thoroughly. Try to transplant your fern on an overcast day or later in the evening to lessen the transplant shock.
Soil For Ferns
There is a minority of ferns that will grow regardless of the soil type, but most – and house plants in particular – need rich, well-draining soil in order to thrive. You can make your own potting soil using a combination of peat moss or sphagnum moss, a little sand, gravel, or perlite to help with drainage, plus some garden loam.
Alternatively, I have recently found a fern potting soil from Dirtco that provides an excellent balance of minerals plus that all-important well-draining soil type that is critical for successful fern growing.
I used this to repot some slightly sad-looking Boston Ferns that resulted in a much healthier-looking plant with new growth within just a few weeks.
Watering your fern is one of the most important aspects of fern care. Most ferns prefer moist or damp soil, but they don’t like to sit in water. Waiting until the soil dries out to water could overstress the plant, as well.
I find that the best way to check the moisture level in the soil is to poke two fingers approximately 2-3 inches into the soil. I tend to do this every 2-3 days during summer and every 5-7 days during the winter months when temperatures are a little lower. Make sure that the soil remains consistently moist but don’t allow it to become soggy.
Most ferns are tropical plants or live in shady, damp woodland areas. Because of this, they prefer high humidity. A typical home’s humidity level is only about 10 to 20%, but most ferns thrive at 70%.
Growing them in the bathroom, laundry room, or kitchen is ideal, but you can also raise the humidity level with a humidifier or by keeping the fern on a pebble tray filled with water. If you have the space, you could create a collection of humidity-loving plants in one area as this helps to raise humidity levels from neighboring plants.
Pruning Fern Leaves
You can prune away dying or yellowed fronds at the base of the fern at any time. If you need to do additional pruning, wait until a cool or cloudy day to avoid stressing the plant. You can prune off any areas you don’t like.
At the end of the season, in late fall, you can cut the fern back all the way to the crown, if desired. What’s left should have the appearance of a small, tightly curled fist.
Ferns are not heavy feeders, but a little bit of balanced palm tree or fern fertilizer during the growing season will go a long way to help your fern plant thrive.
Choose something balanced, such as 10-10-10, and apply it sparingly once per month. Then, in the fall, when the growing season is done, stop fertilizing until you see signs of growth again.
Final Thoughts on The Best Types of Ferns
With so many types of ferns to choose from, there really is one to meet all requirements whether that be for indoor or outdoor growing.
Outdoors, ferns have the ability to add drama, height, and depth to borders or as a filler for shaded areas and love moist and shaded conditions.
Some varieties can be easily grown indoors too and provide a beautiful addition to any home or garden. They take very little effort to grow as long as you can get their watering needs just right.
Popular and easy-to-grow ferns such as Boston ferns, man ferns, and maidenhair ferns. They are easy to find at most home and garden centers, too. Just be mindful that some ferns are toxic, so you need to carefully and correctly identify any fern before allowing people or pets near to it.
Once you have mastered how to care for them and the conditions in which they will thrive, it’ll be hard to resist squeezing in one or two more species to add to your collection.