I bought two ferns to put on my screened porch which also has roll-up
blinds for the sun. I've been watering and misting both ferns and one
is doing great and the other isn't. Any suggestions?
All ferns are extremely sensitive to overfeeding. Many ferns especially
those which are evergreen fare best if never fertilized at all except with
mulch. An inch of mulch made of crumbled leaves or leafmold kept moist
restores nutrients by keeping microorganisms alive; if the soil ever
seriously dries out completely the microrganisms may be insufficient to
keep the soil healthy.
The more delicate, faster growing, or deciduous ferns especially if potted
will need an extremely light feeding once a month in spring, one fourth or
a third what would be fed to most potted plants, usually a slow-relase
acid feed (though a few ferns like hartstongues do not want acidic
conditions). No one ever agrees what is the ideal balance for the
fertilizer but 10-10-10 is a safe bet. The nitrogen count of the
fertilizer could be relatively high so long as they never get much at a
time. If leaves seem to be yellowing in spring the light feedings can
occasionally be twice a month or extended monthly into summer, but don't
fertilize late in the year.
The day before fertilizing, flood the pot & let water drip through into
a bucket or take the pot outside for the drenching, this is to flush out
as many salts as possible that otherwise accumulate from periodic
fertilizing & make soil less & less healthy for ferns over time if never
flushed. The light feeding would be a day or two after the flushing.
Before ferns are potted up, the potting soil should have a bit extra of
peat or fine woodchips or sawdust added. A potting medium that is 60% peat
is not too much, but this uncomposted organic component can also consist
of woodchips or crunched up leaves. This helps keep the beneficial fungus
spiked, whereas completely finished compost & regular potting soil lacks
sufficient decaying matter, & ferns like a lot of decaying matter (or the
resultant heightened fungus count) in their medium. I'm personally against
perlite as it does not support microorganisms in the potting medium & the
moisture-retentive component should be the same peat or sawdust or humus.
Although just about any sort of pot will do, clay (terra cotta) pots are
better than glazed pots or plastic pots because clay pots provide for
better breathing of the roots & soil, & plants that want to be all but
perpetually moist will be less apt to develop harmful bacteria or mold or
sogginess if in clay pots.
Soil should be evenly moist, never soggy & never quite entirely dry.
Perfect drainage is necessary because even liking to be moist, sogginess
is deadly if it lasts more than mere minutes. A fern only uses the soil in
the top few inches of a pot, so a pot deeper than 8 to 10 inches is wasted
space for even large ferns & may be too moist too deep in the pot to
Most ferns don't like heat & if the porch area or window gets hot it won't
be enough to block the sun. Scruffiness of ferns otherwise well cared for
is often because of heat & low humidity. Potted ferns actually need a bit
of sunlight (indirect or suffused), & a dimly lit indoor spot will cause a
Some ferns are just not suited to indoor & potted conditions. Those which
are adaptable to pots are easily damaged by over fertilizing,
overwatering, underwatering, & poorly sustained living component of the
potting medium which requires a component of the medium that is in the
process of slow decay.
These are general guidelines & not all ferns are the same. If a fern is
thriving even though you're doing some things wrong, then don't correct
For indoor & potted plants always bare in mind that succulents require
-paghat the ratgirl
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