Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

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What is the matter with my indoor fern?

The secret of success with growing ferns as indoor plants lies in our ability to match, as nearly as possible, their naturally stable environment of filtered light, well-drained soil, adequate moisture, and cool, moist air. The scourge of fern-growers, leaf drop, is usually the result of sharp changes in one or more of these critical factors.

Direct sunlight will scorch the tender fronds of ferns during most seasons of the year and is to be avoided in all but the winter months. Morning winter sunlight will often help to encourage continuous growth of these plants.

Normal room temperatures, ranging from 60 to 80 degrees F., are ideal for growing ferns. It is important, however, that, at temperatures above 70 degrees, the humidity should be increased by misting the fronds and/or by the use of moist pebble trays. Under low humidity, fronds wilt, dry, and tend to drop leaflets in large numbers. Virtually all ferns can tolerate temperatures down to 50 degrees with no ill effects as long as watering is reduced to compensate for slower rates of growth. Excess water given during rest periods invariably leads to root rot and plant decline.

Since the amount of water lost through the fronds of ferns is quite high, these plants should be watered plentifully, using tepid water, so that the root ball is kept evenly moist at all times. The only exception is that watering should be reduced when plants are held at cooler temperatures as noted above. If the root ball is allowed to become sodden and kept too wet for prolonged periods, some wilting of the fronds and leaf drop are likely to occur. Never allow your fern to stand in a pool of pot drainage water.

To avoid general decline, most ferns need to be repotted when roots have completely filled their pots. If repotting becomes necessary, try to do it in spring or early summer using the next size larger pot. It is never a good idea to overpot a fern. That is, use a pot larger than necessary. This can lead to overwatering with its attendant problems. After a maximum, convenient container size has been reached, the fern is best divided to facilitate caring for it.

Since ferns are nonflowering foliage plants, lush growth is highly desirable. Thus, the use of a high nitrogen, liquid fertilizer at one-fourth to one-half strength is recommended on a monthly basis. During periods of slow growth the application of fertilizer should be stopped. The use of household fertilizers at full strength is likely to produce root burn which will be reflected in reduced vigor of the top growth.