Demystifying the Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair ferns -- so delicate, so beautiful, so difficult. If you’ve attempted to care for a maidenhair and come home one day to a crispy leaf pile, you’re not alone. Luckily, we have tips for you!

A lush, standard maidenhair fern in a fully glazed pot.

A lush, standard maidenhair fern in a fully glazed pot.


The biggest secret to caring for a maidenhair? Water. Always water. Since maidenhairs have such delicate leaves, they can’t retain much water on their own, so they need to be watered often. Commit to checking your maidenhair fern everyday, or put it somewhere you won’t forget it like by the bathroom or kitchen sink, or on your dresser. Treat it like a pet. If you’re feeding your dog or cat, you probably need to check on your fern.


Water your maidenhair whenever the top of the soil feels even slightly dry. Unlike many plants, which like to dry out a bit, the maidenhair never wants to dry out at all. We suggest thinking of a sponge to gauge how moist the soil should be. Water a maidenhair when the soil feels like a well wrung out sponge. Is it lightly moist but will probably be dry to the touch when you get home from work? Water it.

When watering your maidenhair, make sure to water thoroughly until water runs out the bottom of the pot. We also recommend keeping your maidenhair (or any other fern) on a pebble tray. Select a generous saucer, fill in with rocks, then place the pot on top of the rocks. Fill the tray with water. Ideally, the pot isn’t fully submerged in water. The pebble tray helps increase humidity immediately around the plant and acts as a reservoir in case your plant needs water throughout the day.

Once you’ve realized how much water the maidenhair needs, there are two other things to think of -- lighting and what to pot it in.

A rosy maidenhair in an unglazed pot.

A rosy maidenhair in an unglazed pot.


Maidenhairs want no direct light at all. This is one of those plants where medium light is perfect. Too little light and they’ll exist, but be thin and spindly. Too much light and they’ll burn and shrivel. Aim to put them somewhere where they can cast a gentle shadow in natural light.


To glaze or not to glaze... The type of pot your plant your maidenhair fern in can affect how often you water your plant. 

Many people recommend planting maidenhairs and other ferns into fully glazed pots. The glaze prevents the pot from stealing moisture from the soil and therefore the fern. It can be easier to maintain a maidenhair or a fern in a glazed pot because you have to water less since the soil stays wet longer.

However (prepare for personal note), I have six maidenhair ferns and they’re all in terra cotta pots. One of them has been in the same pot for two years. They’re in relatively lower light, and kept on pebbles trays. (More on that later.) If keeping a fern in an unglazed clay pot, I highly recommend soaking the whole pot when you repot it, then keeping the pebble tray full at all times.

Either route is acceptable, but a glazed pot may make your life a little easier.


Good luck, and happy growing!