Fern Care: How to Keep Ferns Healthy and Green

Fern care can be tricky. Have you ever watched in dismay as a beautiful, fluffy green fern turned yellow? I have, and it’s a sad thing to see. But then a sweet neighbor of mine shared the secret of the huge, beautiful ferns hanging from her porch. I’m going to share that trick with you in this post. Be sure to watch the video, where I explain it step by step.

Why do ferns yellow?

First, why do ferns yellow? These delicate plants require just the right amount of water, light, and nutrients. Here are a few of the factors that may cause them to turn yellow.

Fern in cast iron planter with flowers on the bottom
Ferns can stay lush and green all year round!

Watering Ferns: Overwatering or Underwatering

Ferns may yellow in response to overwatering or underwatering. They need soil that is evenly moist. A key to fern care is to make sure your pots have drainage holes so that the roots don’t stand in water. 

How often do you water ferns in hanging baskets?

Ferns in hanging baskets beautify a room or porch if they are healthy. If your ferns are getting yellow, you may be watering too little or too much — but it’s probably too much! Water the fern when the surface soil starts to feel dry to the touch.

An occasional misting of the leaves is great for ferns — they thrive on humidity. 

Front porch ferns by the door

Too Much or Too Little Light

Another big factor in fern care is, of course, light: ferns thrive in the shade, but they also need some indirect light periodically through the day. You can acclimate an indoor-grown fern to more light by bringing it outside for increasingly longer periods over time instead instead of all at once.

Tips for Porch Fern Care

A porch with full sun won’t be the ideal environment for a fern. But some morning sun is good. If possible, find a spot where the sunlight filters gently through trees or other partial cover.

How to Care for Ferns Outside

A key to growing outdoor ferns is to pick a type of fern that can thrive in your yard without too much effort.  Here are a few options for relatively easy fern care:

  • Christmas fern – likes full or partial shade
  • Lady fern – tolerates sunlight pretty well; prefers moist soil. Caution: this fern is poisonous to pets!
  • Boston fern or sword fern – needs a cool, shady environment
  • Maidenhair fern – needs humid, shady environment with moist soil
  • Wood fern – very adaptable and hardy
close up of fern on front porch
Boston Ferns love shade and moist soil.

Lack of Nutrients

Like other plants, ferns need occasional food to replenish the soil. You can use a good houseplant food to ensure that the ferns get enough (but not too much) nitrogen and minerals. 

Yellowing ferns may be a sign that they’re not getting enough of the nutrients they need. Besides the right amount of plant food, how do you solve this problem?

The trick I learned from my neighbor for healthy green ferns is — believe it or not — Epsom salt.

How does Epsom salt help with fern care?

Epsom salt is an amazing substance that’s good for so many things. Have you ever had sore muscles, soaked in an Epsom salt bath, and then felt better? You may even have slept better that night. Epsom salt is a mineral compound made of magnesium and sulfate, two substances that do your body good. Lots of people have a magnesium deficiency, and soaking in an Epsom salt bath can help replenish levels of magnesium through the skin.

OK, so what does that have to do with fern care? It turns out that ferns are like people this way: they need magnesium and sulphur, too. And they can lose these substances over time through watering. Epsom salt to the rescue!

Epsom salt on table on front porch
Epsom salt has minerals perfect for fern growth and fern care.

How do you use Epsom salt for ferns?

For fern care, you simply mix 2 tablespoons Epsom salt with a gallon of water and spray the mixture monthly on the ferns.

Watch the video on this page for step-by-step instructions on foolproof fern care with Epsom salt — as well as on how to use it between layers of soil for healthy tomato plants. (More on growing tomatoes here!)

Emergency Fern Care: How do you revive a dying fern?

If you already have dying ferns in pots, you may be able to save them by applying the information and tips above. Also check to make sure the fern pot’s drainage holes haven’t gotten clogged up. You can poke a pencil up into a drainage hole to open it up again.

If you have a fern with dried out fronds, you can trim the leaves down, leaving just the healthy parts of the leaves near the pot. Then remove the top couple of inches of old potting soil and add in fresh. Give the fern a good soaking in a spot where it can drain completely. 

You may need to repot ferns in the spring to make sure that the roots don’t overfill the pot.

Ferns growing in outside planter in courtyard
Ferns love shady spots in the yard. A little Epsom salt every month will keep them healthy.

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  1. Hi Stacy – thank you so much for the correct measure of water and Epson salts. I am going to use this. Hopefully the ferns will start to flourish. Kind regards

    1. I hope they do get lush and green! Mine are doing great this year. So far so good!

  2. Something is eating my Boston Fern leaves. What can I do to save them?

    1. I’m so sorry about that. Trim off the fronds that are eaten and fertilize with a liquid nitrogen.I hope that helps.

    2. Marilyn Casselman says:

      look for little black spots on floor under your fern. if you see some it’s likely caterpillar poop. the catepillars eat at night, so look for them with a flashlight. there is a spray to kill the caterpillars.

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