Heart Fern Care: How to Grow Heart Fern


Indoor potted heart fern plant

If you’re planning to add a heart fern to your indoor plant collection, you’re making the right decision. This plant which originally thrives in a tropical rainforest can easily live under your roof.

By mimicking the environment where it originally belongs, you’ll surely find the right balance to keep your hear fern in good condition.

To care for a heart fern, you have to provide the right combination of light, water, temperature, humidity, fertilizer, and potting mix. You have to learn basic knowledge of propagation, pruning, and repotting. Lastly, you’ll have to manage impending problems with pests and diseases.

What Does a Heart Fern Look Like?

From the name itself, heart fern is called as such because of the shape of its leaves. It does have heart-shaped leaves that appear leathery and green. This fern is a small one with maximum growth reaching around 40 cm high and 30 cm wide. 

Because of its minute size, heart fern makes a good indoor plant, particularly in potted form. Its origin can be traced back to the tropical parts of Asia so it’s accustomed to such an environment. Heart fern will surely make a striking addition to your home interior. 

Heart Fern Care Details

OriginTropical Asia (India and Sri Lanka throughout continental South-East Asia to southern China, Taiwan, and the Philippines)
Scientific NameHemionitis arifolia
FamilyPteridaceae
Common NameHeart’s fern
TypeEvergreen, fern
Maximum Growth30 cm wide and 40 cm high
Watering NeedsMedium
Light RequirementsIndirect sunlight, shade
HumidityHigh
SoilPrefers a moist, humus-rich, neutral to an alkaline soil mix
FertilizerOnce a month application of household liquid fertilizer
Temperature18 to 24OC (60 to 75OF up to 10 degrees cooler at night)
PestsScale, mealybugs, aphids
DiseasesRoot rot, fungal problems
PropagationPropagated by spores and by division
PruningPrune as needed
RepottingOnce a year (or as necessary)
ToxicityNon-toxic to dogs, cats and people
USDA Plant Hazardous Zone10 to 12

How to Care for Heart Fern

Heart Fern Light Requirement

Ferns love a shady environment where light is filtered. Could you imagine yourself in a rainforest where trees of large canopies provide shade? That’s how it should be with ferns. 

Below are three things to keep in mind when providing the best light condition:

Intensity

They love an environment where there’s no direct contact with sunlight, otherwise, they will easily get scorched under high light intensity. The harsh condition is detrimental to the plant so make sure that it’s protected. 

Location

It would be best to place the heart fern in a north-facing window for the perfect light level it needs. If what you have is east or west-facing windows, you can provide additional shade such as curtains to protect your heart fern. 

Source

Sun is our natural light source. Once available, you should take advantage of that sunshine.  

If not, using an alternative light source is also allowed especially in an indoor setting. 

Watering a Heart Fern 

Your heart fern loves moist soil so you should maintain consistent watering. Beware, though, not to get the pot too wet. Once overwatering happens, root rot will follow. 

Underwatering can also be a potential problem if you’re not faithful to provide water to your heart fern. Since they’re accustomed to having moist soil, they can barely tolerate drought conditions. Underwatered heart fern will get wilted. 

Here are some factors that you should consider when you water a heart fern:

Temperature

Temperature is one factor you’d have to consider whether you should give water or not. If it’s under 60oF/15°C, you may water the fern only when the soil is moderately dry. 

If the temperature rises over 75oF/23°C, water intake of heart fern surely rises so you have to water more frequently.

Drainage

One important thing to ensure when it comes to watering is having good drainage. 

Letting the excess water drain out well will save the roots from overwatering. Draining water will also minimize the risk of developing fungal diseases. 

Water Quality

Providing water is not enough.  Some types of water can bring harm to the plant because of harmful organisms or salts present in it.

Tap water which is high in chlorine and fluoride can be harmful if you use them for a long time. Water that has been contaminated with pathogens can also lead to the development of diseases once they touch the host. 

Rainwater is still the best option for plants. If not available, you may use tap water after filtering or once you’ve allowed to sit for 24 hours before use. 

Humidity

Heart fern thrives in a highly humid environment. This is the way they live in their natural habitat like most tropical plants do. A moist air is something they enjoy but there are times when it’s really a struggle to maintain such condition.

To increase humidity in your home, here are a few things you can do: 

Use Humidifiers

This is an instant solution to the dry air inside your home. Just turn it on and let it do the work. Heart fern surely loves the extra moisture it gives. Place the vaporizer in a strategic location near the plant. 

Mist Your Heart Fern

Spraying around your plants is also another easy way to increase humidity. All you need is a small sprayer filled with water to mist the heart fern. 

Do this once in the morning or as frequent as necessary. Just make sure to let the mist dry before the evening to prevent fungal problems.

Set up Pebble Trays

If you want to save time and resources, one option you have to increase humidity is by setting up pebble trays. Use a tray topped with pebbles, fill it in with water just half the height of the pebbles. 

Put your potted heart ferns on top of the pebbles but don’t let the water touch the bottom of the pot. The water that evaporates from the pebbled tray adds moisture to the air. 

This is a convenient option especially if you’re someone who leaves the house most of the time. Just make sure to fill in water when it’s depleted as well as clean the tray to avoid build-up of algae. 

Group Your  Plants

Grouping your plants in one place is another good technique to raise humidity level. You can place all your tropical ornamentals near each other so that they benefit from each other’s moisture. 

Always give enough space for air to properly circulate. Don’t arrange them in an overly crowded manner. 

Temperature

A temperature ranging from 18 to 24OC (60 to 75OF) is ideal for most ferns like heart fern. It can tolerate even up to 10 degrees cooler at night. A temperature that’s either higher or lower you should watch out for. 

High temperature can lead to wilting because the moisture of your heart fern is easily lost with higher transpiration rate. 

Heart fern has the tendency to get dehydrated. Water supports the structure of the plant so when it’s lost, cells shrink leading the whole plant to get limp.

To protect your heart fern from drastic changes in temperature, here are a few things you can do:

Use Air Conditioner or Heater

Summer and winter are two seasons where temperature can get extremely hot or cold. During these seasons, you should take extra care of your heart ferns by raising or lowering temperatures inside your home.

Air conditioners and heaters are two instant solutions. However, they are also sources of cold or heat drafts so make sure not to put the heart fern directly in front of it. 

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Trim The Plant’s Foliage

You can start trimming your heart fern when the temperature starts getting hotter or colder. 

This will help the plant conserve moisture when temperature is high and reduce potential cold injury when temperature starts dropping.

Cut off the older leaves to lessen the plant’s density. You can cut as much until only a third of the original size is left. 

You may trim the young fronds too until they’re only 10 inches long. 

Provide Shades Or Cover 

Shades play an important role in protecting the plant from frost during winter. Make sure to cover the plant using blankets, burlap or paper to provide insulation.

When there’s a heat wave, shades also provide protection by blocking sunlight. Depending on how hot it is, you can adjust the shade factor from 25% to 90%.

Add Mulching on Top of The Soil

Mulching can prevent rapid water loss from the soil when it’s too hot. Remember, we have a higher evaporation rate when temperature is high. 

With mulch on top of the soil, moisture is conserved. It also prevents the soil temperature from fluctuating with sudden temperature changes.

Mulching in winter also helps regulate soil temperature in the same manner it does during summer. Aside from that, the mulch on top of soil also serves as insulation that prevents the soil from freezing or thawing rapidly.

Add or Reduce Water

As mentioned earlier, temperature has a say on how much water a heart fern should receive. High temperature requires a high amount of water intake for plants to compensate for increased moisture loss. 

The exact opposite happens when temperature is colder. That’s why we need to reduce water frequency during winter and rainy seasons.

Right Potting Soil

Heart fern prefers a moist, humus-rich, and neutral to an alkaline soil mix. You can mix garden soil with amendments high in organic matter content such as compost. You may also consider adding perlite, sand or gravel to have a well-draining mix.

To get the right mix, here are a few things to remember when mixing the potting soil:

Use Sterilized Soil

Soils that are infected with pathogens can result in soil-borne diseases once they get in touch with the plant. By sterilizing the soil before using it, you’re making sure that these harmful microorganisms are eliminated. 

Make The Mixture Proportional 

A good mixture is a result of a well-balanced composition. By mixing equal portions of soil, organic matter, sand/perlite/gravel, you’ll get a porous potting mixture. 

With porous potting mixture comes high water holding capacity as well as high drainage capacity. This helps the soil maintain a moist texture without letting excess water sit for longer periods.

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Test Soil pH

Heart fern has affinity for slightly alkaline soil. To know if you’ve achieved such a mixture, you have to test the pH using a pH tester.

If the soil is acidic, you’d need to add lime to the mixture to increase the pH. Some good microorganisms don’t thrive in acidic soil so you have to meet the correct pH before you plant your heart fern.

Fertilizing Heart Fern

Heart fern wouldn’t need much fertilizer. Once a month application of household liquid fertilizer would be enough to supply its nutrient requirements. Be careful not to over fertilize because this will burn the plant. 

Fertilizers are needed because the nutrients present in soil can get depleted through time. In potted plants where roots have limited space to navigate, it’s important to sustain nutrients. 

To avoid over fertilizing your heart fern, here are some guidelines:

  • Mix only half the strength of the original recommendation

For potted plants, you can dilute the fertilizer because they can be very concentrated, especially the organic fertilizers. Concentrated solutions are very strong that they can instantly burn the plant.

  • Always follow the instructions provided in the label 

Instructions are step by step procedures on how to use a fertilizer. Make 

sure to strictly follow these steps in order to avoid hazards. Otherwise, you’ll just end up hurting your plant with one wrong move.

  • Apply only during the plant’s active stage

Plants enter a period of dormancy and so your heart fern. Dormancy is the time when there’s very little to no growth occurring in the plant. Winter is a dormant period for most plants so fertilizer isn’t needed at this point. Withhold fertilizer application until winter is over. 

Propagating a Heart Fern

There are two classic ways to propagate a heart fern. One is by means of spores and the other is through dividing the plants. 

If you’re planning to propagate your own heart fern, below are the methods and procedures to follow:

Propagation By Spores

Save the mature leaves where the darken spores are attached to its underside. Wait for the leaf to dry and drop the spores.

Heart fern spores underside of the leaves
Heart Fern Spores

Then save the spores and sow them in a potting mix. Spray with water regularly and cover with plastic until the sprouts appear. 

Do some thinning if the tray is crowded. When the newly germinated ferns reach a height of 2 to 3 inches, transfer them to individual pots. 

Propagation By Division

If you want to take the easy route in propagating a heart fern, then you can do it by dividing the plant. This is a convenient option because you won’t have to wait a long time to see the plant grow.

Once the plant is dense enough, you can pull the whole plant out of its pot and divide the root ball in smaller portions. Plant them individually in separate pots and let it settle there.

Repotting Heart Fern

Time will come that your heart fern will outgrow its pot. That’s normal given the plant is healthy and thriving. You can repot the plant depending on how big it gets. 

Usually, it’ll take a year or more before you repot a fern. However, you can make a consistent commitment of repotting it annually for healthier foliage.

It’s also a good time to separate the smaller plants for propagation.

Repotting a heart fern would require some skills, following are some of the important points you have to remember:

Repot During Spring

The spring season is the season of growth. We see many plants sprouting out of the soil during this time. Dormant plants resume to do active work.

It’s ideal to repot during spring because the roots are actively growing. This will make it easy for them to establish in the new potting mix. 

Repot to A Pot Appropriate to Its Size

Once reason you’re repotting is because the pot you initially use is no longer enough. That would affect the plant’s health because there’s no breathing room for the roots.

Use a pot size that is proportional with the size of your plant. Bigger pots for larger heart ferns. 

If you choose to thin out the plant before repotting, then you’ll be needing smaller pots. 

Pruning Heart Fern

Ferns have the tendency to develop lush foliage. Good thing because its heart-shaped leaves are a huge attraction. Nevertheless, we have to occasionally prune the plant to maintain its good appearance. 

Scheduling a pruning should be relative. There’s no exact time to know when. However, there are a few indications you could observe to serve as a signal that the plant needs pruning.

Cut off Old Leaves

Heart ferns will surely produce younger fronds so the old ones can finally go. Aged leaves turn yellow and brown so when you see one, it’s time to cut it off. 

Cutting off old leaves will help maintain the plant’s aesthetic look. It will also encourage growth of new foliage. 

Whole Plant Easily Wilts During Hot Seasons

When your heart fern easily wilts during hot temperatures, this indicates that the plant is losing water rapidly. Pruning can be done to lessen the transpiration rate. 

Pests And Diseases Infected You Heart Fern

Infected portions should be taken out immediately to prevent its spread. You can do this when the infestation has gotten severe and is almost unbearable to see. 

Ensure proper disposal of the pruned parts to avoid contaminating other plants. 

Heart Fern Is Not Growing Dense

One way to encourage the growth of dense foliage for your heart fern is to cut off some leaves. You can do thinning wherein you cut off larger leaves down to its stem.

Thinning will give enough room for light and moisture to pass through. That way, young fronds can grow well.

Source: University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science

Common Heart Fern Problems and How to Fix Them

Caring for a heart fern is not always an easy feat. There are times when you’ll encounter problems like pests and diseases. 

Learning how to fix them is one important skill you have to learn. Here are common heart fern problems and a few tips on how to fix them:

Pests

Scale, mealybugs, aphids are the usual enemies of a heart fern. Their presence, however, is not something to worry about. They rarely kill an entire plant. 

To manage these pests, you can spray water on the surface of the leaves to flush them out. You may also use water diluted with soap, detergent, or neem oil to kill these organisms. 

Diseases

The common disease every fern encounters is root rot and other fungal diseases. This is a result of overwatering the plant. Another reason is using a potting mix that’s already infected by pathogens. 

You can fix root rot by withholding or regulating the amount of water you apply. At times, repotting is needed. This depends on the degree of damage.

As for the fungal diseases, you would need to use fungicide as treatment. It’s important that you properly diagnose the reason behind each disease to provide appropriate solutions. 

Heart Fern Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowing leaves are a result of root rot as well. With too much water intact inside the pot, roots will drown and die. Dead roots will in turn die and their function is affected. 

When too much water is channeled to other parts of the plant, their cells will burst and die too. This is why leaves start turning yellow. 

In this case, you have to lessen the frequency of watering. Ensure that water flows out of the pot with ease. 

There may be other reasons for heart fern leaves turning yellow like nutrient deficiency, pest infestation or over fertilization.

Heart Fern Wilting

Underwatering leads to wilting of your heart fern. Without enough water, plant cells shrink and lose their turgid structure. Thus, plants start getting limp and weak. 

Wilting can also be a result of heat stress brought about by heat waves. Plants that are exposed to high light intensity or heat drafts will suddenly get wilted. To provide first aid, just water the plant deeply and they’ll recover soon enough.

Toxicity

Being non-toxic to cats, dogs and people, heart ferns make a perfect fit to your home. You can have it displayed anywhere without fear of getting poisoned. They don’t contain any compound harmful to anyone’s health. 

Heart Fern Care Tips

To make your heart fern long lasting, give extra love and care to your plant. Once you do, you’ll surely be rewarded with a healthy fern that will provide additional attraction.

Following are some tips on how to properly care for a heart fern:

Know Your Heart Fern By Heart

It’s important that you learn as much information as you can get about this plant. Know its nature, characteristics, growing conditions and all other things it needs. This article can be a great resource for this purpose.

Don’t Let Heart Fern Break Your Heart

Times will come when you’ll be discouraged as you care for this fern. You may be on the verge of giving up but don’t let that break your heart. Do all the things you could do to save your heart fern. 

Do a heart to heart talk with your heart fern

This may seem a little crazy but if you’re a plant owner, you’re probably doing this already. Studies have already proven that talking to plants actually helps them grow healthily.

Remember that plants are living organisms too. They’d love to hear you talk or even sing to them from time to time.

FAQs

Why is my heart fern dying?

There are several reasons for this. First, you have to check the existing conditions where the heart fern is located. Are these conditions ideal for growth?

Another probable reason would be the presence of pests and diseases. Infestation can lead to immediate death especially when it gets out of hand. 

Last, you’re probably not giving your plant enough attention. In short, it’s not receiving enough TLC (tender loving care). So, you have to start exerting more effort to prevent it from dying.

Why is my heart fern curling?

Curling heart fern leaves can be a result of underwatering. Lack of water can shrink the plant’s whole structure. 

If water isn’t the problem, then maybe you’re overfertilizing. Overfertilization can lead to salt build up which increases the soil’s pH. 

Another reason would be heat stress. Plants that receive so much heat are suffering from stress that sometimes, their leaves start curling. 

Pests and fungal problems can also be the reason why leaves are curling. 

Is heart fern toxic to cats?

No, heart fern is safe for cats. They’re classified as non-toxic so you won’t need to get anxious over it. 

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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