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How to Care for and Grow a Bird's Nest Fern

 

If you are looking for a unique plant that is easy to grow then consider the Bird’s Nest Fern.  This plant gets its name from the center of the plant that forms a “rosette” that resembles a, you guessed it, a bird’s nest.

While this fern finds it home in the humid tropics, it can be found growing in and around trees.  This may seem a little odd but there is a reason for this relationship.  First, the tree provides additional humidity and two, it provides shade. 

To successfully grow this fern indoor, we must first replicate the two conditions described above.

The first thing we need to consider is the light requirement of this plant.  Light can be tricky when it comes to the Bird’s Nest Fern.  The best type of sunlight for this plant is bright light without direct sunlight.  If the plant receives too much sunlight, the fronds will become light green or will have burn marks.  Having said that, there really nothing wrong with letting the plant have a little early morning or pre-sunset light. 

Now that we have the sunlight worked out, let’s take a look at the humidity level.  The Bird’s Nest Fern loves an environment with high humidity but when it is inside a house, this can be a problem.  How do you know if you the humidity is right?  Well, the answer is simple.  If the plant is inside and not in a greenhouse then the humidity is too low. 

To solve the humidity problem is not as hard as what you may think it is.  The first step required when it comes to raising the humidity is to build a humidity tray.  While you can purchase one, it is easy and cheaper to create your own.  To do this, simply take a tray that fits the pot that your Bird’s Nest Fern is in and fill it with stone.  If you do not have a tray, consider using a bowl.  The key is to use something that will hold the plant along with stones and water.

Once you have the stones in your humidity tray, fill it up with water and then top with your potted plant. 

Please keep in mind that this tray is only for humidity and not for watering. 

When it comes to watering, the Bird’s Nest Fern likes a wet soil but not a soggy one.  If you see yellow leaves on your fern then it is time to water but how do you know when to water if you have no yellowing leaves?  Well, it is as easy as a simple finger test.  To do this, just push your finger into the soil until it reaches your knuckle.  Once that is done, pull your finger straight up.  If your finger comes out clean then you need to water.  Unlike other plants, if the finger comes up with soil on it then you will need to water.  The only time you do not need to water is if the soil feels muddy.

Now that you know when you need to water, the next step is to know how to water.  Yes, I know you have watered plants for many years but this plant is different and sensitive to improper watering. 

The Bird’s Nest Fern needs to be watered around the outer edges of the fronds not the center.  Another approach is to only water the soil but regardless of which approach you choose do not water the center.  Allowing water to pool in the center will cause it to rot. 

What goes with watering?  Well, a course fertilizing.  Yes, this plant needs to be fed but it should only be fed April through September.  While you may be tempted to feed it anything you have lying around, do not.  The Bird’s Nest Fern require a well-balance fertilizer that has been diluted by half.  Feed this formulation to your Bird’s Nest Fern every two weeks during the season mentioned above. 

As far as temperatures go, the Bird’s Nest Fern requires an indoor temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 

When it comes to replanting the Bird’s Nest Fern, do not worry.  A mature plant should only be repotted every 2 years if that often.  Younger plants should be transplanted once a year but………there is an exception.  Bird’s Nest Ferns have shallow roots.  These roots in the wild allow them to take root in trees but these same shallow roots in a container can cause them to tip over.  If you find your plant tipping over in its container, transplant immediately.

The type of soil you use to transplant is also important.  While an all-purpose soil will work, the best type of planting medium to use is one that is peat moss based or if you cannot find it, make your own.  To do this, just take peat moss and add a little soil. 

Now that you have the basics on this plant, what problems can you expect?  First, plan on seeing fronds with browning tips or wilting.  The browning tips are an indication that the plant is not receiving enough humidity.  Wilting, on the other hand, can be a sign that you need to water.

If you find that your plant has stunted growth or pale fronds, this can be an indication that you plant needs to be fed.  While this is true for pale fronds, this sign can also be an indication that your plant is receiving too much light.

Scale is a common problem that one can find on this plant.  What does scale look like?  Well, to find out turn the fronds over.  If you find little brown disks on the underside of the frond then you have scale.  To take care of this issue, spray down the underside of the fronds with soapy water.  Follow this with a spray of clean water. 

Do not use insecticides or leaf wax on this plant.  The Bird’s Nest Fern is very sensitive to chemicals and the use of them will cause the fronds to die. 

Now that you know about how to care for the Bird’s Nest Fern, how do you display it?  While the fern is young and small, display it on a shelf but enjoy this time.  Once the plant matures, it will really need some room for its two foot spread of its fronds.

 

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Purple Knight Alternanthera

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