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How Often Should You Water Ferns

Master the perfect watering schedule for your ferns, both indoor and outdoor.

Watering a fern

For both indoor and outdoor spaces, ferns bring in lush greenery and texture with little fuss, making them a delightful choice for gardeners. If you’ve been looking for an easy-to-grow project, cultivating ferns might be the perfect project for you.

Now, the question on your mind might be, "How often do you water ferns?". Admittedly, ferns have a reputation for being a tad finicky and challenging to nurture.

But don't worry green thumbs, because the good news is that most ferns don't require frequent watering. Whether you're growing ferns indoors or outdoors, this guide will help you become an expert in keeping your fern happy and thriving without all the fuss.

In short: How Often Should You Water Ferns

  • Ferns flourish when planted in a water-retaining material that stays a bit moist but never completely dries out.

  • For ferns in the ground or well-draining containers, every 2-3 days is generally good for watering. Although, if your fern is in a small pot without drainage holes, ease up on the watering frequency.

  • The prime window for watering ferns is in the cool morning hours. This allows the plant to gradually absorb the moisture throughout the day.

How to Tell if Your Fern Needs Watering

Ferns hail from humid tropical regions, so they certainly appreciate water. But you don't want to go overboard - the right balance is key.

To tell if your fern needs a drink, check to see if the soil is dry and the pot feels noticeably light. If that's the case, it's time to water your fern.

Keep an eye on the fern itself too. If you spot leaves drooping or their tips turning brown, it could mean the plant is thirsty.

How to tell if your fern is overwatered

In most cases, the unfortunate demise of ferns is almost always because they've been given too much water. It's natural to grab the watering can at the first sign of trouble, but that could actually be causing the trouble!

When you overwater a fern, its roots can become suffocated due to excess moisture, leading to potential root rot and other fungal diseases.

Ferns love consistently moist soil, but not soaking. Some signs that you've likely been a bit heavy-handed with the watering include:

  • Soft, squishy or drooping leaves

  • Root rot and smelly soil

  • Leaf drop

  • Yellowing leaves

The tricky part is that some of these signs can also show up due to underwatering. Feeling the soil is your best bet to know which is the culprit.

Fern houseplant
Ferns love consistently moist soil, but not soaking.

How to tell if your fern is underwatered

Underwatering can be just as troublesome for your fern as overwatering. Skipping watering sessions, exposing your fern to too much sunlight, or not providing proper drainage can all lead to your fern being underwatered.

Here are a few signs that your fern is begging for a drink:

  • Drooping leaves

  • Dry or cracked soil

  • Browning leaves

  • Curling or wilted leaves

  • Leaf drop

Bear in mind that some ferns, like the Boston fern, are more prone to these signs. So, watch closely to keep your indoor plant healthy.

How Frequently Should You Water Your Fern?

The right watering routine for your fern depends on a few things: the variety of the fern, its planting location (indoors or outdoors), and the amount of light and humidity it gets.

Keep in mind that these are tropical plants, so you'll need to recreate their preferred conditions.

Ferns flourish when planted in a water-retaining material that stays a bit moist but never completely dries out. Nailing this can be a bit tricky as not all ferns have the same thirst level or dry out the same.

Feeling the soil is your best bet to know when to water.

Bird's Nest Fern
Ferns flourish when planted in a water-retaining material that stays a bit moist but never completely dries out.

For ferns in the ground or well-draining containers, every 2-3 days is generally good for watering. Although, if your fern is in a small pot without drainage holes, ease up on the watering frequency. Don't feel scared to let the soil dry out a little between watering sessions. If you notice the soil is dry several inches below the surface, it's time to water again.

Outdoor ferns, on the other hand, vary in their water needs. For example, moisture-loving ferns, like Boston ferns and Maidenhair ferns, require water more frequently than hardy ferns, like the Ostrich or Sword fern.

Best time to water ferns

When it comes to giving your ferns a drink, timing certainly matters. Much like other plants, the prime window for watering ferns is in the cool morning hours. This allows the plant to gradually absorb the moisture throughout the day. The worst times to water a fern is midday or evening time.

For outdoor ferns in particular, don't forget about those scorching summer days! Considering giving them a mist in the morning and evening to create a humid environment.

For the indoor fern, ease up on the watering during the winter season compared to the thirstier summer months. With indoor ferns, you can simply check the soil's dryness by touch and water accordingly.

How to Water a Fern: Step-by-Step

Before you grab the watering can, asses the moisture level of your fern's soil by touching the top layer. If it's damp, hold off on watering, but if it's dry to the touch, it's time to water your ferns!

There are two methods of watering you can do to keep your fern plants happy and vibrant - top watering and bottom watering.

Top watering

Watering your fern from the top helps cleanse the soil and ensures even moisture. Here are some simple steps for top watering:

  1. Use a watering can or place your fern beneath a tap if it's more convenient.

  2. Gradually pour water over the soil evenly.

  3. Continue watering until water starts draining out from the pot's drainage holes. To water outdoor ferns planted directly in the ground, take your time to water slowly, allowing the water to seep deeply into the soil.

  4. For pots with trays, remember to empty any excess water to prevent waterlogging.

  5. If you use the tap method, wait until water stops draining out from the bottom before returning the pot to its spot.

Bottom watering

While top watering is a tried and true method, there is another way to water ferns - bottom watering, a great solution for you over-waterers out there. This method works best when you have a pot with drainage holes.

  1. Fill the plant's tray or a container with water and place the pot in the water, ensuring the soil makes contact.

  2. Wait for around 10 minutes to allow the plant to absorb moisture through its roots.

  3. Check the soil to ensure it's nicely damp all around and then remove any excess water from the tray.

  4. If the soil still feels dry, add more water to the tray and wait an additional 10 to 20 minutes before removing the excess water.

Note that bottom watering doesn't wash away minerals like top watering does, so give both methods a shot for happy ferns!

Humidity and Misting

In their natural habitats, ferns enjoy around 70% humidity or even more. However, our modern homes usually have humidity levels closer to 5 to 10%, which can stress ferns.

But while ferns love humidity, you don't need a complex setup to keep them happy indoors. Simply grouping your ferns together or with other humidity-loving plants can naturally increase the moisture in the air.

Another easy trick is to place your potted ferns on a tray with water-covered pebbles to create a small humid zone. Bathrooms are a great spot for ferns too, with certain fern varieties like the popular Boston fern thriving well, as long as it gets some light.

Misting fern plants
Misting is a good way to add humidity but should be done in moderation.

Misting is another clever trick for recreating the humid environment that ferns love. Misting can be useful, but it's not always practical to do it every day. Over-misting your ferns can lead to issues so this should be done in moderation.

If you're serious about the humidity level of your fern, a humidifier is a fantastic option. Humidifiers emit a gentle mist, keeping your ferns feeling rejuvenated at an ideal level of around 40% to 50% humidity. While ferns can still survive at lower humidity levels, they truly flourish in this range.

Fern plants might give you hints they want more humidity by showing browning at the tops of their leaves or even complete leaf loss.

Fern Watering Tips

Now that you know how often to water ferns, here are a few other key watering tips to keep in mind:

  1. Use room-temperature water: Ferns can go into shock with extreme temperatures. Cold or hot water can stress the plant, so aim for water room-temperature water.

  2. Target the roots, not the leaves: When watering ferns from the top, direct the water towards the roots rather than the fern's leaves. This prevents soil from splashing onto the leaves, reducing the risk of fungal diseases.

  3. Water according to the weather and season: The weather and the season are important to take into account when watering your fern. Ferns generally need more water during their active growth periods in spring and summer, and when temperatures are cooler, such as in fall and winter, reduce water.

  4. Watch for watering signs: Keep a close eye on your fern for signs of overwatering or underwatering. Regularly checking the soil will help you fine-tune the watering schedule.

  5. Enhance hydration with the double-pot method: If keeping your ferns hydrated is a challenge, here's a helpful approach - place your fern pot inside a large one with damp sphagnum moss; a clay pot is ideal for the inner pot as they draw moisture, while a plastic outer pot seals it in.


What kind of light do ferns need to thrive?

Indoor ferns prefer bright, indirect sunlight, such as the light found in north and east-facing windows. Steer clear of sunny spots as direct sunlight can scorch their leaves, leaving you with a parched, crispy plant.

What is the best soil mix for fern plants?

Ferns thrive in a specialized medium rather than standard potting soil. A fern-specific commercial mix or a blend of compost, peat moss, and sand is ideal for their growth. This combination strikes the perfect balance of moisture and well-draining soil, exactly what ferns need.

Exactly how much water do ferns need?

There is no exact amount of water a fern needs as this will vary from indoor to outdoor and the size of the plant. As a general guideline, keep the soil moist but not soggy. To check, simply insert your finger into the soil around the plant. If it feels wet, you're good to go. If it's dry, it's time to add more water.

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