Sumo Gardener
Shares

Maidenhair Ferns | How to Grow and Care Guide

Maidenhair ferns are one of the easiest houseplants to grow, no matter where you are on earth, and a few varieties can thrive in the garden too. These tough plants might look wispy and fragile, but beneath their precious leaves lies limitless prehistoric tricks for survival.

We’ve got the best tips and tricks for how to grow maidenhair ferns, and a focus on the best maidenhair fern varieties you can grow at home.

More...

Maidenhair Ferns How to Grow and Care Guide

What are Maidenhair Ferns?

Maidenhair ferns are a wide-ranging species of fern known for their delicately flowing fronds

Maidenhair ferns are a wide-ranging species of fern known for their delicately flowing fronds. Ferns are particularly easy to classify as every species within the higher class of ferns (Polypodiopsida family) has distinctly unique characteristics. 

The Adiantum has over 250 species under its canopy, making it one of the largest fern families on earth, and nearly all make excellent houseplants that thrive in moist soil and add a touch of nature to a shady room.

Plant Name:

Maidenhair Ferns

Genus:

Adiantum

Species:

Over 250 varieties

Common Names:

Maidenhair fern, Venus hair fern

Location:

Indoor (Outdoors in summer)

Type: 

Perennial houseplant

Growth:

2 ft. x 2ft.

Sun Requirements:

Partial shade, shade

Foliage Color:

Green

Flower Color:

None

Flowering:

None

Fruit:

None

Maintenance Level:

Medium

Poisonous for Pets:

Non-toxic to cats and dogs

Adiantum's Natural Habitat

Ferns are prehistoric plants. They evolved long before human civilization, and long before birds evolved from dinosaurs. As a result, this fern have developed to thrive in almost every climate on earth, with each species developing its own tolerances to drought, light, shade, and cold.

The maidenhair ferns we are used to growing as houseplants are typically damp loving, shade tolerant varieties, but some, like Adiantum raddianum, are used to extreme tropical heat. Others, like Adiantum pedatum, can survive frosts of -30°F/-34°C.

The most common maidenhair fern in cultivation, A. raddianum or the Delta maidenhair fern, thrives outdoors in warmer climates, but won’t tolerate temperatures below 41°F/5°C

The Evergreen maidenhair fern (A. venustum) is happy down to temperatures of -10°F/-23°C, making it a perfect pond-side plant for any garden.

How Do Ferns Grow?

Like all ferns, Adiantum are vascular (using xylem and phloem cells to transport water, carbon, and nutrients from roots to leaves) and reproduce from spores.

That makes them almost unique in the plant world, as the only other plants spreading through spores are mosses and bryophytes, which aren’t vascular.

Fern leaves are unique too, called fronds rather than leaves. Fern fronds carry water, carbon, and nutrients through a single vein (rachis), which carries through a series of pinna, which carry many pinnules.

It is the pinnule that makes maidenhair fairs so unique, with lightweight and translucent pinnules that bristle in the lightest breeze.


Best Maidenhair Fern Varieties to Grow

While all maidenhair fern varieties all share similar pinna over their fronds, there are some which have a far more delicate form, and others that are distinctly different in their ability to survive even the coldest winters outdoors.

Below, we’ve got some of our favorites, as well as a few we’re desperate to find in a garden center one day:

Delta Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum raddianum)

Delta Maidenhair Fern are the easiest maidenhair fern to get hold of

By far the easiest maidenhair fern to get hold of is Adiantum raddianum, the Delta maidenhair. Native to Hawaii, these compact little ferns can grow outdoors in the southernmost parts of the US, provided it doesn’t drop below 41°F/5°C in winter.

While they might be easy to come by, it doesn’t make them anything less special. These ferns became such south after houseplants in the 70s that they are now available in pretty much every garden center in the country.

Five Fingered Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Five Fingered Maidenhair Fern has a unique growing habit that causes them to develop pinna on just one side of their frond

Source: en.wikipedia.org

The five-fingered maidenhair fern, A. pedatum, has a unique growing habit that causes them to develop pinna on just one side of their frond.

This lop-sided growing habit creates a transient spiral of foliage that looks like an outstretched palm (hence fiver fingered). The lobes on each pinnule are less defined than most maidenhair ferns too, so they are often mistaken for common garden ferns. 

A. Pedatum can be grown outdoors in zones 3-11, meaning it can handle frosts right down to 10°F/-23°C.

Rosy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum hispidulum)

Rosy Maidenhair Fern can tolerate a very light frost, but should ideally be kept as houseplants, or brought indoors for winter

Source: wilsonbrosgardens.com

Found growing in gardens up the west coast of North America, the Rosy maidenhair fern is grown for its blushing foliage, which develops a rich salmon pink along every frond through the growing season, covering the entire plant in a red stain by the time winter comes around.

Rosy maidenhair ferns can tolerate a very light frost, but should ideally be kept as houseplants, or brought indoors for winter.

Silver dollar maidenhair (Adiantum peruvianum)

Silver Dollar Maidenhair

Source: whiteflowerfarm.com

The Silver Dollar maidenhair fern is a herbaceous evergreen, holding its fronds right through into late winter before new fronds unfurl from the center of the plants.

Its larger than average silvery foliage is made up of slender black stems, and silvery pinnules that catch the dappled light and hold morning dew beautifully when grown outdoors.

The Silver dollar maidenhair isn’t fully hardy though, only really coping with temperatures down to around 41°F/5°C, so should be brought indoors to overwinter.

Walking Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum caudatum)

Walking Maidenhair Fern grows an abundance of new droopy fronds every year

Source: plantdelights.com

The walking maidenhair fern, or A. caudatum, grows an abundance of new droopy fronds every year. These drooping fronds trail along the ground and give the name ‘walking’ fern thanks to their ability to spore directly onto the soil from their lower leaves, creating more plants nearby.

Largeleaf Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum macrophyllum)

Adiantum macrophyllum is a great statement fern for the bathroom

Source: inaturalist.org

The Largeleaf maidenhair fern shares many traits of the silver dollar and Rosy maidenhair ferns. Its large, rounded leaves mature through summer and autumn into pink pinnules, jumping out from the dark in a shady corner.

While they develop larger pinnules than most ferns, they are still fairly compact, making them a great statement fern for the bathroom – much preferring to be indoors all year round.

Diamond Maidenhair (Adiantum trapeziforme)

Diamond maidenhair fern has distinctly diamond-shaped leaves that connect to the stem on a wider surface

Source: en.wikipedia.org

As you might have guessed, the Diamond maidenhair fern has distinctly diamond-shaped leaves that connect to the stem on a wider surface, which skews the leaves into organic trapeziums.

More striking than the leaf shape with diamond maidenhair though, are their black stems, which appear to float out of the soil holding up their oddly waxy pinnules.

Evergreen Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum venustum)

Adiantum venustum holds its leaves all year round, only dropping the previous year’s growth once the fronds have unfurled

Like A. peruvianum, the evergreen maidenhair holds its leaves all year round, only dropping the previous year’s growth once the fronds have unfurled.

For many, the beauty of ferns is watching their fronds unfurl in spring, but you can’t deny the appeal of a fern that doesn’t die back in winter. For a distinctive evergreen feature in a damp, shady, corner of the garden, A. venustum is a perfect choice.

California Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum jordanii)

Adiantum jordanii

Source: calflora.org

The maidenhair ferns found growing wild across California aren’t hardy further north, but for most of the US can be grown outdoors all year round.

Because they are native, they have a habit of thriving almost too well in shady spots in the garden and can spread quickly. Make the most of these clunky little maidenhairs by using them in indoor hanging baskets.

Lotus-Leaved Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum reniforme)

Adiantum reniforme are exceptionally unusual plants, growing just a single pinnule per frond

Source: mundani-garden.blogspot.com

Adiantum reniforme are exceptionally unusual plants, growing just a single pinnule per frond. They look astonishingly prehistoric and are prized trophies for serious fern collectors around the world.

The lotus-leaved maidenhair is often called a fossil fern, or a living fossil, thanks to its direct lineage to prehistoric varieties, providing answers to how these unique plants evolved and retained their unique place as sporing vascular plants.

Delta Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum raddianum)


By far the easiest maidenhair fern to get hold of is Adiantum raddianum, the Delta maidenhair.

Native to Hawaii, these compact little ferns can grow outdoors in the southernmost parts of the US, provided it doesn’t drop below 41°F/5°C in winter.


While they might be easy to come by, it doesn’t make them anything less special.


These ferns became such south after houseplants in the 70s that they are now available in pretty much every garden center in the country.

Delta Maidenhair Fern are the easiest maidenhair fern to get hold of

Five Fingered Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum pedatum)


The five-fingered maidenhair fern, A. pedatum, has a unique growing habit that causes them to develop pinna on just one side of their frond.


This lop-sided growing habit creates a transient spiral of foliage that looks like an outstretched palm (hence fiver fingered).


The lobes on each pinnule are less defined than most maidenhair ferns too, so they are often mistaken for common garden ferns. 


A. Pedatum can be grown outdoors in zones 3-11, meaning it can handle frosts right down to 10°F/-23°C.

Five Fingered Maidenhair Fern has a unique growing habit that causes them to develop pinna on just one side of their frond

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Rosy Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum hispidulum)


Found growing in gardens up the west coast of North America, the Rosy maidenhair fern is grown for its blushing foliage, which develops a rich salmon pink along every frond through the growing season, covering the entire plant in a red stain by the time winter comes around.


Rosy maidenhair ferns can tolerate a very light frost, but should ideally be kept as houseplants, or brought indoors for winter.

Rosy Maidenhair Fern can tolerate a very light frost, but should ideally be kept as houseplants, or brought indoors for winter

Source: wilsonbrosgardens.com

Silver dollar maidenhair

(Adiantum peruvianum)


The Silver Dollar maidenhair fern is a herbaceous evergreen, holding its fronds right through into late winter before new fronds unfurl from the center of the plants.

 

Its larger than average silvery foliage is made up of slender black stems, and silvery pinnules that catch the dappled light and hold morning dew beautifully when grown outdoors.


The Silver dollar maidenhair isn’t fully hardy though, only really coping with temperatures down to around 41°F/5°C, so should be brought indoors to overwinter.

Silver Dollar Maidenhair

Source: whiteflowerfarm.com

Walking Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum caudatum)


The walking maidenhair fern, or A. caudatum, grows an abundance of new droopy fronds every year. These drooping fronds trail along the ground and give the name ‘walking’ fern thanks to their ability to spore directly onto the soil from their lower leaves, creating more plants nearby.

Walking Maidenhair Fern grows an abundance of new droopy fronds every year

Source: plantdelights.com

Largeleaf Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum macrophyllum)


The Largeleaf maidenhair fern shares many traits of the silver dollar and Rosy maidenhair ferns. Its large, rounded leaves mature through summer and autumn into pink pinnules, jumping out from the dark in a shady corner.


While they develop larger pinnules than most ferns, they are still fairly compact, making them a great statement fern for the bathroom – much preferring to be indoors all year round.

Adiantum macrophyllum is a great statement fern for the bathroom

Source: inaturalist.org

Diamond Maidenhair

(Adiantum trapeziforme)


As you might have guessed, the Diamond maidenhair fern has distinctly diamond-shaped leaves that connect to the stem on a wider surface, which skews the leaves into organic trapeziums.


More striking than the leaf shape with diamond maidenhair though, are their black stems, which appear to float out of the soil holding up their oddly waxy pinnules.

Diamond maidenhair fern has distinctly diamond-shaped leaves that connect to the stem on a wider surface

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Evergreen Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum venustum)


Like A. peruvianum, the evergreen maidenhair holds its leaves all year round, only dropping the previous year’s growth once the fronds have unfurled.


For many, the beauty of ferns is watching their fronds unfurl in spring, but you can’t deny the appeal of a fern that doesn’t die back in winter.


For a distinctive evergreen feature in a damp, shady, corner of the garden, A. venustum is a perfect choice.

Adiantum venustum holds its leaves all year round, only dropping the previous year’s growth once the fronds have unfurled

California Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum jordanii)


The maidenhair ferns found growing wild across California aren’t hardy further north, but for most of the US can be grown outdoors all year round.


Because they are native, they have a habit of thriving almost too well in shady spots in the garden and can spread quickly.


Make the most of these clunky little maidenhairs by using them in indoor hanging baskets.

Adiantum jordanii

Source: calflora.org

Lotus-Leaved Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum reniforme)


Adiantum reniforme are exceptionally unusual plants, growing just a single pinnule per frond. They look astonishingly prehistoric and are prized trophies for serious fern collectors around the world.


The lotus-leaved maidenhair is often called a fossil fern, or a living fossil, thanks to its direct lineage to prehistoric varieties, providing answers to how these unique plants evolved and retained their unique place as sporing vascular plants.

Adiantum reniforme are exceptionally unusual plants, growing just a single pinnule per frond

Source: mundani-garden.blogspot.com

How to Grow Maidenhair Ferns

This guide focuses on growing maidenhair ferns as a houseplant. For the few varieties that will overwinter outdoors, they should be grown in moist soils and a warm, but shady spot.

The best place to grow this plant outdoors is next to a pond, but if you decide to grow them in containers, keep them well watered through spring and summer.

Maidenhair ferns being grown as houseplants need regular attention but will thrive as long as you follow the guide below.

How to Grow Maidenhair Ferns

Maidenhair Ferns Sun Requirements

This fern need shade, or partial shade, and do not like direct sunlight at all. Their wispy leaves are so delicate that you can barely feel them if you brush across their crowns. Leaves this fine should never be kept in full sun as they lose moisture too quickly. 

The best spot from maidenhair ferns is a shady corner of a bathroom, usually on the corner of the bath itself, or in a permanently shadowed corner of a bright room.

Remember, maidenhair ferns need warmth, so sunny rooms with shady corners make great homes.

Best Soil for Maidenhair Ferns

Most houseplant parents are used to well-drained soils, and regular fertilizers, but ferns need different conditions than most of the tropical plants we grow in our homes.

The best soil for this fern is rich moisture retentive compost. Use any garden compost or multipurpose compost but sieve it and remove any large chunks of plant material to provide a good root run for your ferns.

While high moisture levels are important for healthy maidenhair ferns, they should still have some drainage, so they are never left sitting in old water for too long.

Add crocks (broken pots or plates) to the bottom of the pot so the soil doesn’t block the drainage holes.

Water & Humidity

Like all ferns, maidenhair fern leaves (pinnules) don’t store water in veins and develop from water held in the stalk (pinna rachis). That means that ferns require constant moisture to cope with any exposure to direct light. 

The best way to water maidenhair ferns is to water them once a week, or any time the surface of the soil seems evenly slightly dry. Maidenhair ferns are excellent air purifiers, and oxygenated water evaporates from their leaves. If the soil is dry they can’t do that, so slowly wither.

Also read: Best Air Purifying Plants To De-stress Your Home


Maidenhair Fern Propagation

Ferns, despite their lack of seeds, are surprisingly simple to propagate. However, maidenhair ferns are more delicate than their native, frost tolerant counterparts, and have finer leaves hosting their spores.

In the two guides below, we’re going to teach you how to carefully propagate maidenhair ferns using spores, and division.

Maidenhair Fern Propagation

Propagating Maidenhair Ferns from Spores

Ferns don’t flower or produce seeds. Instead, they spore. Many ferns will spore along thin pinna, with white, black or red patches on the underside of their leaves.

On the lobed leaves of maidenhair ferns, their spores run along the edge of each pinnule. Those spores are what we’re going to use to create new plants.

You will need:

  • 1 covered container (old grape boxes are ideal, with plastic lids).
  • Sphagnum moss, orchid bark, or moisture retentive compost.
  • 1 Paper bag.

Method:

  1. Locate the spring pinna on the underside of your maidenhair fern leaf.
  2. Wait until they are ripe. Young mounds of spores will be green and mature into white, red, or even black spots. They are ready when they reach the darker stage.
  3. Cut off a healthy sporing frond with clean scissors, and place it in a paper bag.
  4. Wait at least 5 days, then open up the bag. It should have a fine dusting of healthy spores.
  5. Fill a small container with sphagnum moss, orchid bark, or very moisture retentive compost.
  6. Sprinkle over the spores, and mist generously. The growing medium should be moist but not waterlogged.
  7. Cover the container over, and place it in a warm, but shaded spot.
  8. Mist every few days when the contents begin to look dry.
  9. Spores should germinate in 2-3 weeks but can take longer.
  10. It usually takes around 4 months for these young ferns to resemble their parents.

How to Propagate Maidenhair Ferns from Division

The easiest way to propagate maidenhair ferns is division. If you’ve ever separated ferns in the garden, you’ll be used to slicing through the knuckle at the base of the plant.

This is NOT how we propagate maidenhair ferns. Maidenhair ferns have no notable knuckles and tend to grow from smaller tufty bases beneath a tangle of stems.

To divide a maidenhair fern:

  1. Water your fern the night before, and divide the following afternoon so it’s in a happy state and ready to recover.
  2. Remove the maidenhair fern from its pot, and gently prise apart the plant’s root ball. Try not to damage any stems.
  3. Once the root ball is divided, carefully untangle the leaves so you have two separate plants.
  4. Mature maidenhair ferns can be divided down into 4” wide root sections, provided you leave 1/3 of the parent plant intact.
  5. Repot each division into its own container, slightly larger than the root ball, with fresh compost.

The best time to divide maidenhair ferns is early summer, when they are actively growing and have a few months to recover.


Maidenhair Fern Care Guide

Maidenhair Fern Care Guide

Mulching Maidenhair Ferns

Maidenhair ferns don’t require any fertilizer, the air in our homes, and a regular mulch will give them all the nutrients they need. The best mulch for maidenhair ferns is shredded bark because it adds a low level of nutrients but primarily serves to retain moisture in the soil, and create a more humid environment around the base of the plant.

Use shredded barks from hardwoods with a good level of moisture retention if you have access, but most bark mulches from garden centers will be just fine.

Pruning and Repotting

Maidenhair ferns need repotting when they outgrow their container, but they are slow-growing and typically only reach a maximum size of 1 ft. tall depending on the variety.

You should only ever prune a maidenhair fern if there are signs of disease on the plant. Brown foliage might look unpleasant, but it will drop off naturally and add to the natural mulch beneath your plant in time.


Adiantum Pests and Diseases

Despite hundreds of cross-posts around the internet, this plant don’t really suffer from pests. Most ferns are resistant to mammal and herbivorous invertebrates like slugs, so their only common pests are aphids or blackflies that enjoy the shade and privacy of their leaves, but cause little damage to ferns.

Indoors, they suffer from spider mites and mealybugs, which do cause problems but are simple to treat.

Maidenhair Fern don’t really suffer from pests

Aphids & Blackfly

Outdoor varieties are a great hiding place for blackflies and aphids in early spring when they begin looking for more nutritious homes. 

Ferns don’t store water in their leaves and have limited nutrients to host large populations of these pests, so the simplest way to get rid of them is to wash them off with a hose.

If aphids and blackflies are sticking to ferns, it is likely due to a lack of diversity in other plants in the garden, so consider planting sweet rocket, or senecio, which they will thrive on without harming.

It’s impossible to get rid of aphids and blackflies, so learning to live with them by planting alternative plants that they can’t damage is the best prevention.

Spider mite & Mealybug

Spider mites and mealybugs are by far the most common problem for indoor maidenhair ferns and, frankly, all houseplants. The tiny insects enjoy the lower ventilation and poorer airflow in our homes and rapidly increase populations thanks to a lack of their natural predators indoors.

Spider mites are small red arachnids (sometimes black) that spin fine silk webs to protect their eggs. Bad infestations will cause yellow spots that later turn brown, and can lead to fungal infections on high humidity loving plants like maidenhair ferns.

Mealybugs attack the plant in a similar way and cover themselves in a sticky mucus, which further exacerbates the fungal problems.

To treat both, as well as the potential for fungal problems, mix neem oil with lukewarm water, and spray your house plants every 2-3 weeks in spring and early summer. Neem oil is a natural fungicide and pesticide that won’t harm your plants.

Check out our in-depth guide on how to identify and get rid of mealybug here

Like most moisture-loving plants, maidenhair ferns can suffer from root rot from overwatering, discolored leaves from sunburn, or under-misting. In the section below, we’ll look at the causes, and symptoms of each, and how to treat them.

Best Maidenhair Fern Varieties

Maidenhair Ferns Brown Leaf Spot

Brown leaves, and leaf spots on maidenhair ferns are most commonly caused by low humidity and over-ventilation. To fix brown leaf spots on maidenhair ferns, move them to a more shaded location and mist them more regularly.

Consider growing them in a bathroom, or shower room. Never grow maidenhair ferns in kitchens since the oils and grease in the air can coat their leaves and reduce transpiration to a point that the entire plant dies.

One other cause of brown leaf spots is spider mites or mealybugs causing damage to the leaves.

Yellowing or Wilted leaves

While maidenhair ferns are moisture-loving plants, they should never be in old water, and never be watered while the compost is still moist. Watering too frequently causes stagnation, and fungus and bacteria can build up in the soil, causing root rot to set in.

When root rot sets in, water, carbon and nutrients are not carried from the soil to the leaves properly and leaves quickly start to look undernourished, yellow, and wilted.

If you suspect root rot is the cause of wilting maidenhair ferns, remove the plant from its port, and check for dead or diseased roots. Remove the damaged material, and shake off the soil. Replace the potting mix and replant.


Maidenhair Fern FAQs

Growing maidenhair ferns in humid, shady rooms can reduce how often you need to water them

Are maidenhair ferns easy to grow?

When you find the right conditions, maidenhair ferns are easy to grow, but they need watering more often than most houseplants. They are generally considered low-medium maintenance plants.

Growing maidenhair ferns in humid, shady rooms can reduce how often you need to water them.

What is the best fertilizer for maidenhair ferns?

The best fertilizer for maidenhair ferns is no fertilizer. Maidenhair ferns are not heavy feeders so benefit more from a moisture-retaining mulch, like shredded bark, than any liquid or granular fertilizers.

What is the best way to water maidenhair ferns?

Maidenhair ferns require moist, but not soaking compost. When the soil begins to dry out, water them just until water runs out of the base of the pot.

Leave them to drain for a few minutes before placing them back into any trays, or display pots.

How big do maidenhair ferns get?

Some varieties of maidenhair ferns, grown in ideal conditions outdoors, can reach up to 1m tall, but most are only 1-2” tall after 4-5 years indoors.

Looking for other ferns to grow in your garden? Learn how to grow and care for asparagus ferns here


Wrapping Up Our Maidenhair Ferns Guide

While maidenhair ferns require more maintenance than some houseplants, they are really simple to keep happy. For most houseplants, we can kill them with kindness, while maidenhair ferns thrive on watering, mulching, and division.

 For me, that makes them special, as they are one of the few plants in my house that actually appreciate my over-caring nature.

If you weren’t sure before, I hope this guide has taught you everything you were looking for when it comes to growing maidenhair ferns and, if nothing else, you’ve been convinced to go out and buy one.

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

Leave a Comment: