With over ten thousand species, ferns have been a favorite choice among gardeners. The shallow roots of this plant make watering a tricky factor that requires attention and practice to understand how much and how often you should water.
Ferns love evenly moist soil and do not prefer to dry out, but it catches diseases if the soil is too wet. Watering frequency depends on factors like how much light it gets, where your plant is kept, the soil mix, seasons, etc. If unsure, check the soil’s moisture before watering.
In this article, we will talk all about watering ferns correctly. How often you should water, how much to water, and tips to water the ferns correctly. So keep reading to know more.
Table Of Contents
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How often should I water ferns?
Ferns are one of the most ancient plants on earth, dating back to the historical era.
They evoke a bright green tropical vibe in any place where they grow.
If you are struggling to get the watering schedule of your ferns right, you have reached the right spot.
This is one gorgeous plant to look at, but getting its watering regime right requires patience and experience.
Ferns thrive in humid, moist conditions, which are prevalent in tropical regions.
Whether you grow them indoors to enhance the visual appeal of your home or outdoors, meeting the right watering is crucial.
Ferns do not like a lot of heat and hot sunlight.
Keep them under shade or partial light in a slightly cooler area in moist soil.
So how often you have to water your ferns will depend on multiple environmental factors, including whether the fern grows indoors or outdoors, the amount of light it gets, the temperature range, the rainfall in the area, and so on.
A simple formula to remember is to touch the topsoil; if it feels slightly dry, you can water it.
Ferns have many variants, and almost all require cooler shade and moist soil.
Ferns that are grown in containers indoors have lower evaporation rates than the ones that grow outdoors.
This is because of the lower sunlight availability.
The amount and frequency of watering will depend on the size of the plant and its growth rate.
A large bushy fern may get thirsty more often than a smaller baby fern.
Indoors, it is also important to create an environment that mimics the natural setting the plant needs.
Using humidifiers is recommended to maintain the humid environment which ferns enjoy.
You can also mist your indoor ferns to keep them humid and fresh and prevent the fronds from drying up.
Using pebble trays is also an effective way to raise the humidity around ferns inside the home but be careful that the bottom of the pot should not directly touch the water.
The key point to remember is to water when the soil is dry but do not wait for it to get bone dry.
Also read: How long can indoor plants go without water?
If you are growing your ferns outdoors in yards or patios, ensure they are kept under shade and not exposed to direct sunlight.
Outdoor ferns tend to dry up faster due to more light and ventilation.
Depending on the plant’s heat, it might need to be watered every day or every alternative day.
Do not let the soil fully dry up; water when slightly damp.
Sometimes in scorching summers, you may need to water the outdoor ferns multiple times daily.
For outdoor ferns, it is also highly recommended that you mist them in summer to prevent them from drying up.
Some variants of ferns, like rabbit’s foot ferns grown outdoors in USDA zone 8 through 10 and brake ferns that grow outdoors through USDA zone 6 through 10, require the soil to get slightly drier in between watering.
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How to tell if my fern needs water?
Ferns enjoy soil with constant moisture but not soggy soil.
The delicate root system catches rotting if suffocated in water.
If you are unsure if your fern needs water, you should poke your finger in the soil, and if it does not stick to your finger, you must water it immediately.
But if you see the soil is stuck in your skin, wait another 2-3 days until it is completely dry before watering again.
Using a moisture meter is also an effective scientific way to know the moisture content in the soil.
Another way to understand if you water your fern is by checking the weight of the container.
Try lifting the potted fern container; if you see it is heavy, the soil still has water in it, but if it is light to pick up, that means the soil is dry.
Also, a thirsty under-watered fern may look droopy and wilted, and the leaves can look shriveled, whereas a hydrated fern will be more fresh and bushy.
But sometimes, wilting can also be a result of overwatering.
If you find the fronds of the fern are turning yellow and falling, it can be a sign that you are overwatering your fern, which may lead to fungal diseases.
Best time to water ferns
As with most other plants, the best time to water ferns is always the early morning hours.
Watering in the early morning prepares the plant to perform its activity for the entire day.
Also, watering in the morning makes the excess water evaporate throughout the day so that the foliage is no longer wet by the time night comes, and the soil does not have excess waterlogging.
When the leaves stay wet for a long time, it becomes an easy target for pests and bugs to invade the plant.
Even when you mist the plants, it is always recommended to mist them in the mornings, so the leaves stay dry after sunset.
How to water fern plants?
Ferns flourish with the right amount of water because they belong to the tropical world, where rainfall is plenty, and the air is damp.
Ferns are the happiest where the soil they grow in is damp but not soggy.
So let me tell you the right way to water your ferns.
There are multiple ways to water your ferns:
Water the plant thoroughly from over the soil till all the excess water starts running out of the drainage holes.
If you have a cache plate below the pot, always empty them, and don’t let the water stay stored there for too long.
Fill a large bucket or tray with water.
Put the container on this tray and wait for 20 minutes until the soil absorbs the water.
If the soil has become moist, take it out after 20 minutes.
If the soil is still dry after absorbing all the water, pour more water and water to hydrate the soil.
Always water the ferns during the early morning so that the extra moisture can evaporate and the plant does not have to sit in the soggy soil.
Always check the soil’s moisture content before watering to prevent overwatering.
You should not only rely on bottom watering but also practice top watering sometimes, as it helps eliminate the accumulated salts.
Watering fern seedlings
The young fern seedlings constantly need moist soil.
They soak up a lot of moisture, so it is important to keep the soil damp for the growth of these seedlings.
While watering the seedlings, water them lightly but frequently instead of drowning them with water but less frequently.
Too much water together can drown the seedlings, and they can get uprooted.
So you should keep an eye on the surface of the soil and sprinkle some water whenever they look slightly drier.
Signs of incorrect watering in ferns
Ferns are finicky regarding watering and any incorrect watering schedule; they quickly show up on the plant.
If your fern has been under-watered for some time, it will show signs of wilting leaves and a shriveled appearance, and the growth of the fern will significantly reduce.
Ironically the signs of overwatering are also quite similar to underwatering.
It will also cause droopy leaves, and the soil stays wet and compact at all times.
The fronds of an over-watered fern lose their green color, turn yellow, and fall off.
Sometimes you will also notice a layer of algae growth on the soil surface of an overwatered plant.
Watering ferns with Epsom salt
If your ferns are healthy and thriving, you will not need this, but if your ferns are going yellow and droopy despite putting all the care, this might help you.
Epsom salt contains 13% sulfur and 10% magnesium, a fantastic fertilizer for foliage plants.
Ferns are also very delicate, so too much fertilization can burn them.
Use 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt in 1 gallon of water and give it to your fern.
Doing this once every 2-3months will help your fern immensely to produce lush green fronds.
Factors to consider while watering ferns
There are several factors to consider that affect the frequency of watering.
Let us discuss them briefly.
- Weather: In regions experiencing hot and dry weather, your ferns would require more frequent watering as they get thirstier. However, during winters, the evaporation rates are lower due to the low intensity of sunlight. Also, you can only water your plants if they get wet during rainier days.
- Sunlight exposure: The amount of sunlight your plant gets determines the water you should give. Ferns growing indoors in low light levels need less water than plants grown indoors in more light.
- Pot type: If you grow your plants in a clay pot, the soil will dry fast, whereas material like plastic and ceramic holds water inside. Thus you have to water lesser for the latter.
- Placement: how much water your fern will require depends on where you have kept your plant. If you keep your plant at a spot with more airflow, the soil will dry faster.
- Container vs. landscape: Ferns grown in containers dry up quicker than those grown in the ground as they have access to the moisture in the earth.
Fern watering tips
- Mist the fronds of your outdoor ferns in the early mornings so they can dry up during the day.
- Remember that ferns in nature thrive in 70% humidity, whereas our modern homes provide way less. So you must provide humidity to your ferns by misting or using a humidifier.
- While watering from the top, ensure the soil does not splash on the fronds. Instead, aim the water directly at the roots of the plant. Dirty fronds can invite unwanted pathogens and bugs into them. The water on the fronds can also cause sunscald damage as it might burn the leaves.
- The soil should be kept moist but not soggy.
- Some plant owners find keeping ferns hydrated a task. Try the double pot method to maintain hydration. Put your fern pot inside a bigger pot and line it with moist sphagnum moss. For this method, it is best to use clay pots to grow the plant as it will help to draw the moisture from the moss, but using a plastic pot for the outer pot will seal the moisture inside.
- Check for the signs of overwatering on underwatering so that you can take action if your ferns show any warning signs.
- Spots on the leaves can occur due to misting with cold water. So always use water at room temperature.
- Ferns do not like hot temperatures, so if you live in an area with over 75°F, you must keep your plants cool. So move them from scorching sunlight and put them under shade.
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Care tips for ferns
Let me discuss a few basic care tips to keep your ferns happy and thriving:
- Use a very light well-draining soil that holds moisture in it. Ferns hate tight, compact soil, so make sure you amend the soil with many organic elements like bark, compost, perlite, etc.
- Ferns do not need or like direct sunlight so keep them under indirect bright light or shade.
- Feed the plant during the growing season of spring to early summer.
- Do not let the soil dry out completely, nor let the plant stand in waterlogged soil. Keep the soil moist.
- Ferns need at least 70% humidity so misting, pebble trays, and humidifiers are important.
- Protect them from scorching summers or extremely hard winters.
- Prune your fern to get rid of the dead fronds to make space for the new.
Watering your ferns might feel tricky, but once you understand their requirements, you won’t have any problem watering them.
The watering frequency of ferns depends on whether outdoors or indoors, environmental conditions, seasons, etc. In general, water your fern whenever the topsoil feels slightly dry. Avoid letting the soil go bone dry, but don’t make it soggy.
The outdoor ferns will require more watering than the indoor ones as they get more sunlight and warmth. Consider watering with Epsom salt if your fern looks unhealthy.
Reference: University of Florida, The University of Arkansas Division, Texas A&M University System, The University of Georgia, University of New Hampshire, Wikipedia, The Royal Horticultural Society.
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