How to Grow and Care for a Bird’s Nest Fern
Whether or not you knew what it was called, you’ve probably seen a bird’s nest fern before and thought, “wow, what cool leaves”. Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) gets its common name from the tightly curled new leaves that emerge from a brown rosette in the center. No matter what shape you think the plant looks like, ferns add a touch of lush, tropical greenery to a home, much like the Maidenhair Fern or the Lemon Button Fern.
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Supposedly the tiny, unfurled fronds resemble eggs in a bird’s nest (though we’re not sure we see the similarity if we’re being honest). Once unfurled, the fronds are long, narrow, and oblong, with wavy edges.
It can grow to be quite sizable at 2 to 4 feet tall and wide, making it a good choice for both floor and tabletop planters.
Types of bird’s nest fern
There are plenty of types out there. The most common variant on A. nidus is A. nidus ‘Antiquum,’ frequently categorized as its own species, Asplenium antiquum, otherwise known as Japanese bird’s nest fern. Its fronds resemble the standard bird’s nest fern but have a more rippled effect. A. antiquum ‘Leslie,’ or crested Japanese bird’s nest fern, is a popular cultivar with crinkly fronds that make you think of green leaf lettuce.
A. antiquum ‘Crissie’ has split fronds that look a bit like fingers.
Logee’s also carries an A. nidus variation, “crispy wave fern.”
How to grow bird’s nest fern
Bird’s nest fern isn’t a tough plant to care for, but only as long as you give it the right conditions. For that reason, it’ll never be named one of the easiest houseplants to grow, but it’s a nice choice if you’re looking to stretch your green thumb from a beginner to an intermediate level.
It’s best to plant bird’s nest fern in a porous, well-draining potting soil, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden. A good all-purpose mix should do the trick. Adequate drainage is key to preventing rot, so choose a pot with drainage holes in the bottom if possible.
Light and location
Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Indoor Gardening and The Houseplant Encyclopedia by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Kruger both stress that direct sun will cause your bird’s nest fern to meet an untimely end. Keep the light filtered and subdued, but not completely shady. Consider a bright, north-facing window.
As with most other ferns, consistent watering is essential to keeping this plant alive, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF IFAS). It’s not going to forgive you if you abandon it for a few weeks and allow the soil to turn to dust—but you don’t want it to be soggy either. Follow the tried and true trick of sticking your finger in the soil down to your second knuckle and watering only if it’s dry.
Bird’s nest ferns are a little fussy about humidity, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. They prefer to live in the bathroom (if the light requirements check out), or at the very least well away from vents that blow dry, hot air.
You can help to create a pocket of humidity around your fern by grouping it with other plant friends and providing it with a water-filled pebble tray setup. To do that, layer a shallow tray or baking dish with pebbles, and then fill the tray with water so that the water line is just below the tops of the pebbles.
Set your potted fern (and other humidity-loving plants) on the pebbles. As the water in the tray evaporates, it envelopes the plant in humidity, while the pebbles keep your plant from getting “wet feet.”
Indoors, the ideal temperature for bird’s nest fern is between 60-70 degrees, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Anything under 50 degrees can mean trouble. Outdoors, bird’s nest fern is hardy in USDA zones 10-11.
A very light application of liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks is all you need for birds’ nest fern, according to both Rodale’s and The Houseplant Encyclopedia. Mix it to half of the strength recommended on the package instructions.
Rodale’s says to repot when the plant’s roots fill over three-quarters of the pot space. This won’t happen too frequently—bird’s nest ferns are epiphytic, meaning they normally grow on trees or other plants in the wild, so they don’t develop a large root ball.
(Other epiphytes you may be familiar with are monstera, bromeliads, and many orchids.) Select a pot no more than one to two sizes larger than the original for the upgrade.
Rather than producing flowers or fruits with seeds, true ferns, including bird’s nest fern, propagate through spores that develop on the undersides of the leaves, according to UF IFAS. You’re better off buying a new plant from a greenhouse rather than trying to clone your own, which gets a bit complicated.
Bird’s nest fern is non-toxic to humans, cats, and dogs, according to the California Poison Control System.