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Large potted plant positioned to the right side of a white wall, near sunlight
Though these delicate indoor ferns can be a bit of a handful, maidenhair fern care will be a piece of cake with our tips on planting, growing and propagating.


What you need to know about a maidenhair fern

Name: maidenhair fern, Adiantum species.

Height: can grow to 1m, but are more commonly much smaller, growing to 30cm.

Foliage: evergreen, lacy delicate leaves with soft shiny stems.

Climate: cool climate or indoors.

Soil: slightly acid with plenty of organic matter.

Position: protected shade with good drainage.

Feeding: blood and bone or liquid fertilisers during warm months.

Watering: keep moist, but not wet.

Appearance and characteristics of a maidenhair fern

Maidenhair fern has light green delicate foliage on arching brown to brownish black shiny fine stems, growing from underground rhizomes. One of the common indoor varieties is Adiantum raddianum ‘Fragrans', but for a moist shady spot in the garden, grow the relatively tough Australian native Adiantum aethiopicum.

Uses for a maidenhair fern

Maidenhair fern is commonly grown as an indoor plant in a pot or hanging basket in a bright room, away from direct sunlight and draughts. The Australian native variety can also be grown in the garden, in well-drained soil rich in organic matter, in a cool, shady spot. It looks great next to a pond, or between rocks or pavers in a fernery.

How to plant and grow a maidenhair fern

  1. If you are planting in the garden, make sure you choose a very shaded spot, free of frost with rich, moist, well-drained soil.

  2. To get the best growth, avoid waterlogging or drying out.

  3. If you're growing your maidenhair fern in a pot, choose one twice the size of your plant, and fill it with good-quality potting mix.

  4. Gently tease out the roots of the plant, then put the plant in the hole.

  5. Backfill, being careful not to plant the crown below soil level, and water in well.

How to care for a maidenhair fern

Maidenhair fern care is pretty straightforward. The most important thing is not to grow it in a room where the climate fluctuates. Maidenhair fern is happiest in places where the warmth and humidity stays the same. Sometimes this involves trial and error—you may need to move the plant around the house until you find just the right spot.  Too little light will result in poor growth and yellow leaves; too much light and it'll be scorched. Try to find somewhere that gets indirect morning or afternoon sun. If your maidenhair fern starts to brown off, cut the brown fronds back to the base and keep the plant moist.

Maidenhair fern is one of those plants that you can't forget to water. If the soil dries out, the fronds will shrivel up and die, almost before your eyes. However, too much water will cause it to rot – small, regular amounts of water are best. If your maidenhair has dried out, cut all of the fronds off at ground level, put it in a shady spot, keep it moist and it may re-shoot. Make sure you back off the watering in winter, and if your fern is in a pot, always check that the pot isn't sitting in a saucer of water. A self-watering pot could be a good idea. Feed fortnightly in spring and summer with diluted liquid fertiliser, then once in winter and once in autumn.

Diseases and pests affecting a maidenhair fern

Watch out for scale, aphids or mealy bugs. Treat with an appropriate insecticide, following the directions on the container. Black spots on the underside of the leaves will most probably be the reproductive spores of the plant, so don't worry about them. Lack of water or humidity can cause leaf drop, and yellow fronds could be due to overwatering.

How to propagate a maidenhair fern

  1. When re-potting in spring, use a clean knife to cut the roots into pieces with at least two healthy fronds on each.

  2. Plant each piece in a new pot filled with good-quality potting mix with water-saving crystals added, and water well.

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