Ferns are plants that are tolerant of low light, and with their wide variety of shapes and sizes, they provide a visual feast for the eye.
Add to this the fact that they are forgiving and easy to grow, and you have an ideal plant to keep in any home.
Watering correctly is one of the key ingredients to keeping your fern in peak condition.
In this article, I will walk you through the easiest and most reliable watering techniques.
Once you understand how easy ferns are to cultivate, you are sure to want to add some of these beauties to your indoor plant collection.
Hanging Ferns make wonderful houseplants and they are easy to maintain, providing you focus on getting the watering right. This is much easier than you might think it is.
Underwatered Versus Overwatered Ferns
As a gardener, you must learn to read your plant so that you can tell what its needs are. With houseplants, in particular, knowing what the water requirements of your plant are can be crucial.
Ferns are no exception to this rule. If your plant starts to look unhappy, the first thing you need to consider is whether underwatering or overwatering is the underlying issue.
- Leaves will wilt and flop downwards.
- Tips will go brown and dry out.
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- Leaves will wilt, but they will also lose color and start to turn yellow.
- Their texture will become soft and soggy.
These symptoms may sound similar, but as you work with these ferns, you will soon become adept at differentiating between the two.
If the plant itself does not offer enough tell-tale signs, feel the soil. Dry soil will probably indicate an under watering problem; wet soil talks of overwatering or waterlogging.
What Factors Affect Watering Frequency
It can be very tempting for any gardener to set up a strict watering schedule. We humans like schedules.
It takes the guesswork out of things and we can simply follow the same regime on a regular basis. Oh, if only gardening was that simple.
Remember, you are dealing with a living thing here. There are way too many criteria at play to use a system as rigid as a schedule.
These are the main factors that come into play when watering your fern in hanging baskets:
In the summer, the ferns will grow actively and evaporation levels will be quite high. In the winter months, the plant will become almost dormant, evaporation will be very low, and less water will be required.
This crucial life source is full of living organisms, and its ability to hold water will vary depending on age and what ingredients it is made up of.
You want to pot your fern into soil that drains easily. Two parts compost, two parts sphagnum moss, and one-part vermiculite are ideal if making your own potting mix.
You will need to do a little research, however. Some ferns prefer acidic soil, while there are a few that like their growing medium to be alkaline. Your plant supplier should be able to guide you in this respect. (Source: The University of Georgia)
The container will directly relate to how much soil there is surrounding your ferns in the baskets. The more soil there is, the more water will be retained.
Contrary to popular belief, your hanging fern will not be happier just because it is in a larger container.
When repotting a fern, only ever pot it into the next hanging basket size up. Excess soil around the roots acts like a sponge and retains too much moisture.
There is another factor to consider with hanging baskets. It must have drainage holes. If these are small, the water will drain more slowly than if they are large.
If your fern is in a porous container, such as a terracotta pot, water will also be lost via evaporation through its sides.
These days, most hanging pots tend to be made of plastic. These are fine, provided the holes in the base are large enough for you to get the tip of your finger into.
Humidity is Important
If the air is too dry, the fern in the hanging basket will suffer. In modern, well-insulated homes, that dry air is frequently exacerbated by central heating systems or air conditioning. Bear these factors in mind when positioning your fern basket.
When the air is dry in your area, you should consider misting your fern to keep them thriving or the best thing to do is using a humidifier around the hanging baskets.
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Lighting Condition for Hanging Ferns
Ferns don’t normally appreciate direct sunlight. Most ferns have come from heavily forested regions of the world and so they are adapted to living in the shade, but with dappled or indirect light.
If you are keeping the hanging pots in a brightly lit area, expect evaporation to be higher.
The temperature should ideally remain at between 65 and 75° F (18 – 24°C). If the temperature rises higher than 75°F (24°C), then watering will need to be more frequent.
If it drops below 60°F (15 °C), then you will need to ensure the soil surface is dry before watering as there will be little evaporation.
What are the Best Watering Techniques
This question lies at the heart of all good plantsmanship. Get this right, and you will have dramatically reduced most of the problems you face with growing healthy ferns.
The interesting thing is that it is really a great deal easier than many people imagine it to be.
How to Water
- Water your fern using a watering can with a long spout. That way, you can apply the water directly to the top of the potting soil. This is particularly relevant with hanging ferns where the fronds often hang down in quite thick curtains. You can maneuver the long nozzle between the fronds until it is over the soil.
- Use lukewarm water or water that is at room temperature, rather than watering with cold water which can shock the roots.
- Distilled water or captured rainwater is preferable to tap water. Municipal water often contains chemicals such as chlorine or salts. Over time, these chemicals build up in the soil and can make it mildly toxic. It is unlikely to kill your fern, but it will prevent it from achieving peak condition.
- Watering from the bottom is another option. The whole pot can be placed in a container of water, and the water will be absorbed through the process of osmosis. The problem with this system is that hanging ferns usually have trailing leaves which tend to dangle in the container of water and then drip when removed. It is also slower because after water for the water to be sucked up by the soil, you must then wait for the excess to drain out thus creating a two-phase operation.
How Much to Water
- Water onto the soil surface until you see water coming through the drainage holes at the bottom of the container.
- There is no hard and fast rule here, as regards quantity. It will vary depending on the size of the plant, the size of the container and how dry the soil is.
Rules You Should Follow
- Your fern must not become waterlogged. After each watering, don’t leave your plant standing in a saucer of water or it will not be able to drain freely.
- Don’t allow your fern to dry out. These plants like to be consistently moist so check them regularly. Water when the soil surface is dry to the touch.
- Don’t rely on a simple schedule to tell you how often you should water. This is a common mistake and can have deadly consequences.
- Feel the soil with your fingers, and if the surface is dry, then water. If it is still damp then wait a day and feel again.
- If you are more comfortable with a soil probe, use that instead of feeling the surface of the soil.
- Aim for a consistent level of moisture. Plants don’t like their conditions to change frequently. Achieving this is something of a learned skill that develops with experience. Initially you will need to feel the soil often, but over time it will become almost intuitive.
- With hanging ferns, you can lift the pot and feel if it is light. If so, that will be a clear indication that you need to water. There is a bit of a knack to this one. You do reach a point where pot weight will tell if the plant needs water. Until you have mastered this skill, use the touch method to back up your diagnosis.
How Much Do You Need to Water
This is a question that many people ask when they first start growing ferns indoors. The fact of the matter is, there is no definitive answer here.
What you are looking for is a consistently moist soil and there are so many factors that come into play in achieving that objective. The size of your plant, the time of year, the humidity levels, and the age of the plant all come into the equation.
There are two factors that will always ensure that your plant has just the right amount of water. One is that the soil surface never becomes dry, and the other is that you have plenty of drainage.
If you keep those two things in mind, the exact quantity you provide ceases to be an issue. You simply add water when it is needed and make sure that it can drain away freely.
What you will need to learn, is to differentiate between consistently moist and overly wet. If the plant has what is known in gardening terms as, wet feet, it will be vulnerable to all sorts of health problems.
Conversely, these plants are not tolerant of dry conditions. You can use a soil probe to indicate how moist the levels of your soil are.
I find using my fingers more convenient and more reliable. A probe will often give different readings at different depths or in different parts of the pot.
After acquiring a fern, you will quickly develop the ability to sense the moisture level by touch. You will need, however, to place your fingers on the soil surface every day or two.
Incorrect Watering Issues
It is quite easy to get to grips with the delicate art of watering correctly. By now, you know what to do.
Just in case you get things wrong, here are some of the problems to be aware of if you water incorrectly.
If you are overwatering, your ferns will soon be standing in a pot of water. If you don’t pour this away, the water that is in the soil cannot continue to drain and that is bound to lead to water logging of the root system.
This problem is easily dealt with. All you need to do is to pour that water out of the container half an hour after watering.
If the water in the pot is still wet, it will continue to drain into the saucer. You might, therefore, need to pour it out again for a second time.
With experience, you will soon reach a point where you will only need to empty the pot once.
Root rot is a direct result of overwatering or waterlogged soil. Because the roots are enveloped in wet soil, they are unable to breathe and they start to rot and die. This is quickly followed by the demise of the top sections of the plant.
- If you suspect root rot has started, remove the plant from its pot.
- Allow the worst of the moisture to drain onto a sheet of newspaper and then gently scrape away any wet soil clinging to the roots.
- Rotten roots will be brown and have a soggy texture. They can be cut away and disposed of.
- Repot the plant into fresh potting soil and hang it in a bright position where it is not exposed to direct sunlight.
- Don’t water again until the top of the soil is touch dry. When you plant into new potting soil, it should be moist and will probably remain that way for several days.
Brown Leaf Tips
Brown leaf tips and sagging leaves tell you that the fern is too dry. The plant has a sad wilted look that is easy to spot. The leaves also have a brittle texture to them.
If this situation is not rectified soon, the ferns will start to drop leaves and then die. Soak your fern and let the water drain away as with a normal watering.
Don’t fool yourself into believing that by adding extra water, you can make up for the underwatering.
The fern should recover, but the brown tips are unlikely to. These sections have died and can be cut off with scissors.
Overwatering is nearly always the most common problem among people who are new to taking care of ferns. In some ways, this is quite understandable.
Many of the ferns that we see in the wild seem to be growing in thick forests or on steep river banks. There, conditions are very damp. It is only natural to try to replicate these conditions.
What you fail to take into account, is the free-draining nature of the soil in these outdoor environments.
Potted soils are unable to drain fast and therefore you should avoid watering as much as they might by natural rainfall.
Humidity is another factor that is important. Often natural conditions in the wild might offer humidity levels as high as seventy percent.
You simply cannot replicate these levels in the normal home. You may, however, achieve levels of between thirty and fifty percent, which your plant will tolerate quite happily.
There are several easy ways to up the level of humidity around your fern.
- Purchase a plant humidifier. These are popular devices with people who are serious about their indoor plants. There is a wide variety of options in terms of pricing, and you will need to see what suits your needs and your budget.
- A far less expensive option is to group plants together so that they create their own microclimate.
- Another method is to fill the plant saucer with pebbles and pour water into it. The pot can then stand on the pebbles without having its base in the actual water. As the water begins to evaporate, it will increase the humidity around your plant.
- Another low-cost method favored by fern growers is to place the plant pot into a larger pot. You can then fill the gap between the two pots with moss and keep it wet. The evaporating water will provide the required humidity.
Lighting needs to be bright but the fern needs to be out of the direct sun. This is one of the things that make ferns such ideal indoor plants.
Although south-facing window sills will be too sunny, other windowsills in the house are normally ideal.
Bathrooms can be good fern homes as well, providing they have some natural light. They are often high in humidity which your fern will love.
Some people are a little frightened of ferns because they are seen as being tricky to look after. I hope that this article has shown just how wrong that perception is.
If you follow the guidelines for watering your ferns in hanging baskets I have laid out, your ferns should remain in perfect health.