Let’s just be clear here, right from the start: I’ve killed A LOT of Maidenhair Ferns over the past 5 or so years. That doesn’t stop me from loving them. Since my very first dalliance with house plants, these little soft delicate beauties have been at the top of my list of favourites. The issue is, of course, that they are difficult to keep alive – and I don’t just mean after a few years. I have lost Maidenhairs within weeks of getting them home from the garden centre. Weeks, people. Not even months. Sad times.
In fact, after repeatedly having these lovely specimens dying on me, I had to take some time off from buying them because I had so much guilt associated with them. However, a couple of months ago, I decided that I was going to give it one last try. And I decided – finally! – to do some proper research to ensure that I was giving this pretty girl a chance to really flourish.
In my research, I came across 6 different tips for keeping your maidenhair fern alive and I realised why my maidenhair ferns kept dying on me in the past. Armed with this new-found knowledge, I’ve applied all of these points religiously to my own plant and guess what? I’ve not had even one shrivelled leaf, not one hint of dryness and she has continued to look just as good as it did when I brought her home. Eureka.
So I figured today, I’d pass on what I’ve learned about keeping maidenhair ferns alive. This is not for the faint of heart, either. If you’re looking for easy-to-care-for house plants because you tend to neglect your plant babies, this may not be the best one to start off with. It takes commitment and constant attention. Maidenhair ferns are DIVAS of the highest order. But if you are ready to take the plunge into Beyonce-level plant maintenance, then do read on…
Tip 1: Don’t touch the leaves
So this is one I had blatantly ignored in the past but could be one reason why so many have failed to flourish within my hands (literally and figuratively). You can’t touch the leaves. I know, I know, how lovely and soft they are, how the delicate fronds just feel so damn nice but resist the urge. The issue is that your hands contain natural oils and when you handle the leaves, that oil is transferred on to them, blocking up their ability to take in moisture and light from the air.
When you are handling your maidenhair, do everything you can to make sure your hands aren’t directly touching her leaves or use gloves if you must. Whatever you do, just keep your hands off her!
Tip 2: Don’t re-pot it
So here’s another very diva-like requirement of maidenhair ferns – they don’t like being re-potted. I was always so eager to see it out of the plastic pots from the nursery and into one of my pretty pots that I never took notice of the fact that the change can be too dramatic for them and their root ball gets disturbed leading to… well…. death. Clay pots are even worse, soaking up any moisture from the air and the roots before it can even get to the plant held within. So my advice is to keep her in the existing pot and simply place that ugly plastic pot in another larger pretty pot for display.
The benefit of this? The plastic pots contain drain holes which will help when watering which leads to my next point…
Tip 3: Water it when it’s dry but don’t overdo it
Keep a very close eye on your maidenhair fern’s soil. If it feels very dry to the touch or you are seeing any slight shrivelling of the leaves, you need to get some water into her pot asap. You can give the soil a good soak but ONLY if you drain it until all the water has run through – and this is why keeping it in the original pot is a good idea. The thing is, maidenhair ferns like moisture – they need it desperately and so they require the soil to be nice and moist but not sopping wet. You don’t want the roots to get bogged down in too much water. If you do, your beautiful beauty will die on you.
I find the time I need to water her varies – sometimes it’s once a week, sometimes it’s a little more depending on how warm it is. I make sure it’s nice and dry and then give it a good soak, let the excess water drain away and then I leave it until the soil feels dry again. If you don’t want to bother with the draining part, then don’t soak it through – little and often to keep the soil moist is going to be what is required. It’s a delicate balance and I find myself checking her soil nearly every day to keep on top of it.
Tip 4: Mist it every day
Again, this is a plant that thrives on moisture. I have tried in the past to have one in the bathroom, thinking that the steam of daily showers would be enough to keep my maidenhair fern fully hydrated. I was wrong. It didn’t thrive in my bathroom although that could have been for many other reasons (drafts, not enough indirect light, who knows!) But now, I use a small mister and spray the leaves (without touching them) every single day. I haven’t skipped a single day since I brought her home and I believe that’s definitely partly why she has done so well. It also feels slightly ritualistic and it’s kind of nice spending time with her every single day. Yes, I get quite attached to my plants, what can I say.
Tip 5: Don’t place it anywhere there are drafts
Any slight draft is disastrous for your maidenhair fern. So this means, you don’t want to place her anywhere she might encounter moving air. Yes, it seems ridiculous but you’ll want to make sure your plant’s home isn’t near an open door, near a window or near any radiators. The movement of air means rapid evaporation of any moisture this plant needs so you want to make sure it’s far enough away from any source of drafts.
If you see she’s thriving in one particular area, resist the urge to move her anywhere else in your home. You have been warned.
Tip 6: Make sure it gets lots of indirect light
The maidenhair fern also loves lots of light. But not too much light (sensing a theme here?) – so in other words, a sunny south-facing window is going to scorch your baby fast and no one wants that. At the same time, a dark north-facing room isn’t going to do her much favours either. You need balance once again. A room that gets plenty of lovely bright natural indirect light, away from an open window, door or radiator is your best bet.
So after applying all of these 6 tips to my lovely maidenhair fern, she’s doing incredibly well for far longer than what they normally do. I’m determined to keep up this little diva’s high demands because she’s worth the effort, I think. Those pretty fluttery leaves come at a bit of a time-cost but it just goes to show, when you do your research and get to know your plants really well, they might just have a great chance of flourishing under your care.
Do you struggle to keep maidenhair ferns alive? Is there any of my tips that surprised you? Or perhaps you’re a maidenhair ninja who’s plants are always looking gorgeous – any tips that I might have missed? Let me know in the comments!