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Easiest ferns to grow indoors (with care tips)

From Victorian conservatories to the pages of Instagram, ferns have been fashionable indoor plants for generations.

fern plant

Despite a fussy reputation, most ferns aren’t too difficult to grow indoors. Like most houseplants, some varieties are easier than others, and none will tolerate out-and-out neglect. But with just a little effort, they should treat you to a lush, healthy display.

Modern homes make it much easier to grow ferns indoors

When ferns were first brought indoors almost 200 years ago, they had a lot to contend with. Houses were heated with coal fires, and lit with gas lamps.

Unfortunately, coal smoke and gas fumes are extremely toxic to all ferns. So they couldn’t be displayed as ordinary houseplants in the way we enjoy them today.

Instead, ferns were grown under glass. People took great pride in their collections, which were kept like exhibits in conservatories or special glass cases.

Happily, modern homes are much more hospitable for ferns. Cleaner central heating and electric lights have created far healthier fern habitats.

That said, it’s not all plain sailing. Radiators have brought their own issue – hot, dry air, which ferns can grumble about too! But don’t worry, there are some forgiving ferns out there.

For a deeper dive into caring for ferns, check out my guide to growing potted ferns indoors.

Easiest and best ferns to grow indoors

There are at least 2,000 fern varieties that will happily grow indoors. Not all are available to buy, but there are still plenty to choose from.

With so much choice, it’s tempting to pick one you like and hope for the best. But if you’re new to ferns, you might want to err on the side of caution and opt for one that’s a little easier to please.

To help you decide, these are a few of the unfussiest ferns you can grow in your home. Any one of these is a great place to start if you’re a novice:

The ever-popular Boston fern

Boston fern / Sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

One of the most popular and easiest ferns to grow indoors, and a great air purifier too. Exuberant and elegant with arching, ladder-like light green fronds.

Satisfied with full shade or indirect light, it will thrive best in moderate temperatures of at least 10-15°C (50-59°F).

Ribbon fern (Pteris cretica)

Bright green narrow strap-shaped fronds, often with a whitish band running down the centre and sometimes frilled.

It likes partial shade and prefers cooler conditions, so will be quite content in temperatures as low as 5°C (41°F) – perfect for draughty spots.

Hare’s foot fern / Rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia canariensis)

Wispy triangular fronds of tiny leaflets, held on wiry stems up to 45cm long. An epiphytic variety, it can be grown on tree bark, moss poles or even lava rock for a unique take.

Happy in temperate conditions or tropical heat, just as long as it’s at least 10°C (50°F). Will need some extra humidity in warm weather.

Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)

Deep green, long (up to 65cm) arching fronds with wide asymmetrical leaflets, sometimes toothed but not always.

Very tolerant and will take most indoor spots in its stride, from cold porches to heated conservatories. Likes either indirect light or full shade.

A striking shuttlecock bird’s nest fern

Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus)

A distinctive shuttlecock of pointed sword-shaped waxy green leaves with contrasting dark midribs. Graceful looks and a striking silhouette make it ideal for living rooms.

Thrives in a wide range of temperatures, from cool to tropical. Among the least fussy ferns to grow indoors.

Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)

An unusual fern with long, low-growing fronds filled with round leathery leaflets (around 20-60 to a frond).

It’ll tolerate more dryness than other ferns, so it’s a great pick if you’re forgetful with the watering can!

A quick checklist for success

Ferns aren’t too tricky – there are just a handful of things to keep in mind. Take note of these when tending an indoor fern and you shouldn’t go too far wrong:

1) Humidity

Almost all ferns need moist air. Use a misting spray regularly in cool conditions, ideally in the morning (avoiding bright direct sunlight).

Spray all over the plant, leaving a coating of small droplets all over the foliage.

2) Is it getting enough/too much light?

Give your fern indirect light to replicate the dappled shade of their tropical woodland origin. An east or north-facing windowsill is ideal.

3) Heat

By and large, ferns like moderate temperatures with cool but not cold nights. Aim for around 60-80°F. Much below 50°F or above 85°F and your fern is likely to suffer.

 4) Water 

Water your fern freely, but take note of the soil first. If it’s still damp, let it dry out a little before watering again.

 5) Does it need repotting? 

When your fern looks to have outgrown its pot, and roots have filled the available space, move into a larger pot. Do this in spring. Younger plants will probably need repotting once a year.

Troubleshooting indoor ferns – what can go wrong and how to fix it

Nobody wants to see their plant look sickly, but it’s best that it lets you know when it’s unhappy. You can tackle the cause early and save it from more serious issues down the line.

Here are a few things you might spot from time to time when growing a fern indoors, along with the likely reason:

Irregularly scattered brown shells on the fronds

Most likely to be scale – an insect pest that feeds on sap. Bird’s nest fern is particularly susceptible. There are several species of scale, from less than 1mm up to 1cm wide.

Not all species will affect plant growth, but many will, so they’re best removed. A brown waxy shell protects them from sprays, but you can wipe them off with a damp cloth.

Yellowing fronds starting at the base (mature fronds get brown spots & fall)

The air around your plant is too warm. Is it too close to a radiator or other heat source? Move it somewhere cooler. If it’s also limp and wilting, it needs more water too.

Yellow fronds with brown tips and sluggish/no growth

The air is too dry. Start using a misting spray and/or stand the plant in a pebble tray to increase humidity.

Pale, insipid fronds with very weak growth

This is a sign your fern is hungry! Give it a regular feed throughout the growing season to keep it hale and hearty. A specialist fern feed is ideal, but a general houseplant fertilizer is fine too.

Pale fronds with scorch marks

This is most likely a consequence of too much direct sun. Move the plant out of the midday sun in summer, or find it a new home where it can enjoy indirect light.

Like all of us, ferns need a little TLC to keep them feeling happy and appreciated. They aren’t divas by any stretch, and are well worth the little bit of effort it takes to keep them healthy.

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