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Brake Fern Care: 5 Easy Growing Tips

Scientific NamePteris
English NameBrake Fern
Family NamePteridaceae
Genus NamePteris
OriginTropical to Subtropical Regions
Horticultural ClassificationFerns and Mosses
Height4 to 16 inches (10cm to 40cm)
Cold ToleranceLow
Heat ToleranceHigh
Shade ToleranceHigh

The Pteris, or Brake Fern, is known for its cool, beautiful leaves. As a member of the fern family, about 250 to 300 species naturally grow in the USA.

Pteris are cherished for their leaf variations in color and shape, making them a popular choice for a refreshing touch of green in interior spaces. They’re robust shade-lovers and thrive in warm regions, perfect for your shade garden.

However, Pteris are prone to sunburn if exposed to direct sunlight, so it’s best to grow them indoors or in bright shade. They love humid environments, so regularly misting their leaves is a great way to help them grow healthy and happy.

Floral Language of Pteris

The floral language of Pteris speaks to “Trust,” “Ordinary Heart,” and “Charm.” These meanings originate from the plant’s modest demeanor as it grows in the shade.

With these soothing meanings, Pteris make for a thoughtful gift for birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions. Its cool, attractive leaves will lend a stylish touch to any room.

And because it’s highly shade-tolerant, it’s an easy plant to grow, even in spots that don’t get much sunlight.

It’s the perfect first plant for someone new to gardening – a charming gift with an equally charming message.

Feng Shui of Pteris

The Pteris enhances interpersonal relationships and work luck, according to Feng Shui. Its drooping leaves create a calming effect, making it an excellent addition to living rooms, bedrooms, or any space where you seek relaxation.

Because Pteris thrive in humid environments, they’re an excellent choice for bright bathrooms where they can enjoy the steam. They’ll surely contribute to a soothing bath time, helping you wash away daily fatigue.

The Feng Shui effects of Pteris, which promote interpersonal luck, work luck, and relaxation, make it an ideal gift for someone starting a new job or changing careers.

To fully enjoy its Feng Shui benefits, remember to care for your Pteris diligently to keep it growing strong and healthy.

Caring for Your Pteris

SunlightBright location without direct sunlight exposure
TemperatureMaintain a minimum of 41°F (5°C) or above
Cold toleranceSomewhat weak
Heat toleranceStrong
WateringSpring and summer: When the surface of the soil is dry.
Fall and winter: When you no longer feel moisture when touching the soil (until the center of the pot is completely dry)
FertilizerSlow-release fertilizer, liquid fertilizer
Pruning periodMay to October

1- Ideal Spot & Lighting

Pteris prefer a bright environment with good airflow, but watch out for direct sunlight and strong light sources like the afternoon sun, as they can burn the leaves.

While Pteris are generally shade-tolerant, they can become overly leggy and fail to thrive in overly dark spots.

They tend to become weak in such locations, and their leaf color may deteriorate. So, it’s best to place them by a bright window.

Pteris can grow outdoors in the shade, but to be safe, it’s best to move them indoors in winter. If your indoor spot near the window gets direct sunlight, softening it with a lace curtain would be helpful.

Although Pteris love a humid environment, they constantly dislike damp soil. Moreover, poor ventilation might lead to root rot, so be cautious.

2- Temperature

Pteris are somewhat sensitive to the cold, so maintain an environment above 41°F (5°C).

As these plants originate from tropical to subtropical regions, temperatures below 41°F (5°C) or prolonged exposure to frost can cause the leaves to turn black and wither.

If your environment goes below this temperature in winter, move the plant indoors. In warmer regions, they can easily survive outdoors in winter.

As window sills can be as cold as outdoors during winter, place the plant in a bright spot away from the window.

But beware, if the wind from your heater hits the plant directly, the sudden dryness can harm the leaves.

3- Watering Frequency

Water the plant in spring and summer when the soil has dried out. In fall and winter, water it when you no longer feel the moisture in the soil by touch, ensuring the middle part of the pot has thoroughly dried.

During the growing season in spring and summer, ensure you water thoroughly until water drains from the bottom of the pot when the soil surface dries out. But remember, overwatering or standing water in the tray can cause root rot.

After watering, it’s crucial to promptly remove any water that has been collected in the tray. As the temperature drops in fall, gradually reduce the watering frequency according to the soil’s dryness.

In winter, water the plant when you can no longer feel the moisture in the soil by touch, ensuring the middle part of the pot has thoroughly dried.

As the air tends to be dry during this period, misting the leaves and watering is a good idea. This can help maintain healthy, vibrant leaves. Avoid watering or misting during colder times, and do it when the room is warm.

4- Fertilizer

For your Pteris, apply slow-release fertilizer or liquid fertilizer diluted in water instead of regular watering every two weeks from May to October, which is the growing period. Do not fertilize in winter, as it’s a slow growth period.

While Pteris can grow sufficiently with less fertilizer, add supplemental fertilizer besides the base fertilizer mixed into the soil if you want lush leaves.

However, over-fertilizing can harm the roots, so stick to the recommended pace and timing.

5- Pruning

The best time to prune Pteris is between May and October. Trim off any damaged or withered leaves.

Generally, prune when the leaves become too dense to allow for good airflow. Since different varieties have different growth patterns, it’s okay to prune according to your preferred volume.

Leaves that have withered due to dryness or cold can become a source of pests and diseases, so remove them promptly.

Common Pteris Problems and Their Solutions

Cretan Brake Fern

Pteris fern is wonderfully diverse, but they occasionally run into issues. Here, I’ll guide you through handling these problems should they arise.

By learning these solutions ahead of time, you’ll be ready and equipped to tackle anything that comes up.

Root Rot

In the case of root rot, you might notice the following symptoms:

  • Even after watering, the pteris doesn’t perk up.
  • The soil remains damp for an extended period.
  • Leaves fall off easily.
  • Leaves turn brown or yellow.
  • The stem and base of the stem become soft.
  • There’s a rotting smell coming from the soil.
  • Mold appears on the surface of the soil.
  • The roots turn black.

Root rot happens when the oxygen levels in the soil drop, leading to changes in the microbes. This accelerates the decay of organic matter, producing harmful ammonia.

This process worsens the soil’s environment, which can kill the plant. If the soil is always wet, the roots can’t breathe, causing the cells to die.

As a result, the plant can’t draw up water through its roots, leading to the death of the plant.

Here’s how you can handle root rot:

  • Uproot the pteris fern from the pot or ground, shake off the bad soil, and replace it with well-draining soil.
  • Cut off the damaged or rotten part of the roots.
  • Give it a small amount of water and place it in a bright, well-ventilated spot that’s out of direct sunlight.
  • As a rule of thumb, ensure the soil dries out within a week before watering again.
  • Consider using root stimulants.
  • Remove any damaged leaves.
  • Prune any dead branches.

When root rot occurs, changing the soil and the plant’s environment is crucial. Remove the damaged roots and create an environment conducive to regaining the plant’s health.

Mixing fine coco coir and perlite into the soil can help improve drainage and prevent root rot.

If the tips of the branches are damaged, cut back to the living parts to facilitate recovery by promoting new leaf growth. If the plant is rotten from the base, divide the healthy parts to help it recover.

Root rot often causes the plant to drop old leaves to save new shoots. Severe root rot can cause the tips of new shoots and branches to die off, so it’s important to be vigilant.

Root Bound

Being root bound is a condition where the roots fill up the pot, leading to the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in water penetration.
  • Roots protruding from the bottom of the pot.
  • Leaves turning yellow.
  • Cracks appearing in the pot.

Especially during the growth periods of spring and summer, the roots can grow rapidly, leading to these symptoms. While it won’t immediately kill the plant, neglecting this condition can adversely affect your fern.

The remedy for this is to repot the fern. Repotting the fern into a pot one size larger than its current one should alleviate most of these symptoms. Spring and summer, the periods of growth, are the best times to repot.

Leaf Scorch

In the case of leaf scorch, you might notice the following:

  • The leaf’s pigmentation has faded, leaving it white
  • Portions of the leaf have turned brown and withered

Excessive sunlight exposure can damage the leaves, causing leaf scorch.

If you notice signs of leaf scorch, it’s essential to reassess the plant’s location promptly.

Here’s how you can handle leaf scorch:

  • Place the fern in a bright spot, out of direct sunlight
  • Cut off the scorched parts of the leaves

Leaf scorch usually means that your plant has been getting too much sunlight, so avoiding direct sunlight exposure is best.

Remember, once a leaf has scorched, it won’t return to its original state. Simply cut off the damaged leaves and wait for new healthy leaves to grow.

Spider Mites

The symptoms of spider mites are as follows:

  1. There are thread-like spider webs on the leaves.
  2. Tiny bugs are attached to the underside of the leaves.
  3. Leaves have spots or wounds.
  4. The color of the leaves has faded, and they appear wilted.

Spider mites are very troublesome pests due to their high reproductive power and pesticide resistance.

Ignoring them can lead to a danger of a massive outbreak as they weave webs. So, it’s best to act promptly.

Here’s how to deal with them:

  1. Cut off the damaged leaves.
  2. Rinse the front and back of the leaves, the base, and the stem with water.
  3. Spray a pesticide effective against spider mites (besides pesticides, a solution of milk diluted 2:1 [water to milk], a mix of baking soda and water, strong coffee, or vinegar diluted 10:1 [water to vinegar] can be effective).

If you’re dealing with spider mites, spraying Neem Oil can be effective. Although spraying a diluted milk solution can be another effective measure, the rinsing method might be better for you if the smell bothers you.

Prevention is always better than cure. Spider mites won’t appear if you’re diligent about misting your plants and wiping the leaves clean.

To maintain a clean state, investing in a mister is essential. It’s also important to regularly rinse your plants, like showering them at least once a month.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pteris

Lastly, I’ve gathered some frequently asked questions about Pteris ferns and their answers.

How can I revive a Pteris that seems unhealthy?

If your Pteris seems unhealthy, it’s often due to “overwatering (or underwatering)” and “insufficient sunlight.”

Although Pteris prefers humidity, constant soil wetness can lead to root rot. Similarly, standing water in a drip tray can cause root rot.

Water appropriately by checking the soil conditions and promptly discard any standing water in the drip tray.

If the pot has a rotting smell, replant the fern in new soil. When you do so, applying a rooting agent’s a good idea.

Although Pteris is shade-tolerant, it won’t grow well in too-dark locations with no sunlight. Moving it to a bright, well-ventilated spot where direct sunlight doesn’t hit should stimulate healthy new growth.

Does Pteris prefer indoors or outdoors?

Pteris prefers indoors, in a well-ventilated area, not exposed to direct sunlight.

Though it can grow outside in the shade, it can wither if the temperature drops below 41°F (5℃). As the temperature begins to drop in fall, it’s best to move it indoors.

Thus, it’s easier to grow indoors. But it won’t grow beautifully if it’s too dark without any sunlight. Make sure to keep it in a bright indoor spot, avoiding direct sunlight.

Can Pteris be planted in the ground?

Pteris cannot be planted in the ground if the winter minimum temperature drops below 41°F (5℃). If it’s a variety native to the USA, it can be planted in warmer regions, such as Southern Florida.

Pteris can get damaged in areas where the temperature can drop sharply above 41°F (5℃), so be cautious about the temperature.

In areas where the temperature drops below 41°F (5℃), it’s safer to grow it in a pot and move it indoors in the fall when the temperature drops.

Can Pteris be Grown Hydroponically?

Ferns are not particularly well-suited for hydroponic cultivation. Despite ferns preferring a humid environment, they are susceptible to root rot if the roots are constantly submerged in water.

Growing them hydroponically in a container without drainage could lead to your Pteris wilting. If you still wish to attempt hydroponic cultivation, use Hydroballs.

Raising ferns hydroponically can be challenging, so we recommend growing them in pots instead.

Why do Pteris’ Leaves Turn Brown?

The browning of fern leaves is typically caused by “dryness,” “direct sunlight,” or “cold temperatures.”

Since ferns thrive in humid conditions, dry air can cause their leaves to become brittle. Once the leaves turn brittle, they can’t recover and will eventually die. Therefore, it’s essential to mist your ferns to maintain humidity frequently.

The same symptoms can also occur due to the direct airflow from heating or cooling systems, so be cautious. Move your ferns to a location away from direct airflow.

Continuous exposure to strong sunlight, such as summer sunlight or western sunlight, can cause leaf burn, leading to whitish or brownish discoloration.

If your ferns are exposed to sunlight, use lace curtains or shading sheets to soften the light.

Additionally, since ferns are sensitive to cold, keeping them indoors is safer as temperatures drop in the fall. Maintain a slightly dry indoor environment, keeping temperatures above 41°F (5°C).

Wrapping Up on Pteris

You can grow Pteris or Brake Fern easily throughout the year if placed in a bright area with good ventilation indoors. Their cool and beautiful leaves will be a striking piece of greenery in your home decor.

Their flower language meanings of “trust” and “charm” make them ideal for birthday or anniversary gifts.

As they’re also considered to boost interpersonal and career luck, according to Feng Shui, they are appreciated as gifts for job celebrations or job transfers.

Why not try growing this stylish indoor greenery?

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