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Tips For Growing Tropical Maidenhair Ferns

Distinctive delicate black stems and small fan-like fronds make maidenhair fern a much-sought-after house plant.

The South American Delta maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum, 18-24 inches, Zones 10-11) is arguably one of the loveliest, most delicate house plants you can grow. Its onyx wire-thin stems hold dainty, drooping fronds that tremble at a touch. A few varieties are available–all equally delicate and lovely. One caveat: The plants themselves are on the fragile side, so one has to learn a few tricks to successfully grow them as potted specimens.

About Maidenhair Ferns

In the wild, maidenhair fern likes moist, rocky enclaves. Gardeners need to try to imitate such environments in their homes to keep them happy.

A lover of partial shade and humidity, Delta maidenhair fern originates from the tropical Americas, particularly South America and the West Indies, where it naturally inhabits humid forests, rock crevices, rocky streamsides, riverbanks, and embankments as well as shaded cliff faces. It thrives in spots where the soil is moist, fertile, fast-draining, and temperatures are humid and warm. It naturally spreads by rhizomes that creep along rocks. Because of its tendency to naturally spread, it can become invasive when planted in the ground outside of its native territory, so beware planting it in the subtropical southeastern United States (particularly Florida). In such areas, It is best grown as a houseplant or potted specimen.

There are only a few Delta maidenhair varieties available. The lightly variegated Adiantum raddianum ‘Snowflake’ has ivory stripes across the fronds while the extraordinarily hardy ‘Barberton‘ will survive to USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

Sun, Soil, and Water Do’s and Don’ts

Regular moisture is needed to keep the foliage looking lush and green.

When it comes to sun, soil, and moisture for maidenhairs, there are several dos and don’ts.

  • Do pick a spot that gets bright filtered light.
  • Do place pots in a sheltered outdoor location in summer.
  • Do place them indoors in an east, west, or north-facing window.
  • Do choose a fertile, well-drained potting mix that’s high in organic matter, like Fafard Professional Potting Mix.
  • Do make sure the soil pH is between 6 and 7.
  • Do plant ferns in pots with bottom drainage.
  • Do keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
  • Do water with filtered or bottled water with low mineral content.
  • Don’t let the soil get too dry.

Temperature and Humidity Do’s and Don’ts

When conditions are too dry, maidenhair frondlets will begin to turn dry and shrivel.

Here are temperature and humidity dos and don’ts for maidenhairs.

  • Do maintain moderate to high humidity at a level of 50% or higher.
  • Do invest in a humidifier if your home tends to be dry or place maidenhairs in a brightly-lit bathroom next to a shower stall.
  • Do regularly mist the ferns with filtered or bottled water with low mineral content.
  • Do keep the room reasonably warm. Ideal temperatures are between 65-75ºF (18-24ºC).
  • Don’t place maidenhair ferns in a location where they are subjected to forced air from drying vents or fans.
  • Don’t allow maidenhairs to get cold. If they die back due to the cold, they will sometimes return from the roots, so don’t throw them away immediately.

Other General Care Dos

Follow these dos and don’ts and you will have lush, happy maidenhair ferns to beautify your home.

About Jessie Keith


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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