The Maidenhair fern is an incredibly rewarding plant once the quirks have been figured out! Its delicate thin foliage and black shiny stems are really beautiful, and in mature specimens the leaves fan out and down in swooping arches, making it sway around in the wind. Very glamorous indeed!
This advice also applies to the Adiantum hispidulum. A bronze tinged version of the normally bright green Maidenhair fern, but very close relation. The hispidulum has slightly thicker, glossier leaves, and so is a little more tolerant to drought than the Maidenhair, but the rest of the care advice listed here is exactly the same.
Light requirements for the Maidenhair
As with most ferns, they require more light than you'd normally think. People tend to think ferns equal low light, but in our experience this is not the case. We do not recommend them any longer as a traditional 'low light loving' houseplant.
The Maidenhair will happily thrive on or near to a North facing windowsill, or at the back of a South facing room for example. Give the Maidenhair more light than you would normally and this will be a very happy houseplant.
This is the absolute number one priority for Maidenhair fern care. They do not like to dry out WHAT SO EVER!
You can let the top 3-5cm of compost get dry, but as soon as this has happened, give a generous glug of water. You don't need to soak the plant each time, but be sure to give it a good drink, especially if it has dried out a little more than you'd normally let it.
Rainwater is always a good thing you can give to your plants, however tap water is absolutely fine for Maidenhairs, and all ferns for that matter.
Ferns in general prefer it cold. Or cold-ish. They are ok in a heated house of course, as long as the watering and regular trimming is kept up. Ferns naturally drop a lot of leaves, however the Maidenhair is much less prone to this than say a Nephrolepis fern for example (the big bushy one).
The main thing to be aware of with regards to keeping ferns indoors is just to ensure the plant isn't too close to any radiators that may be blasting hot air during the winter. This can increase leaf droppage and stress, and it'll dry the plant out way too much too.
Compost and potting
Ferns are usually fine in a good peat free compost mix. A little perlite or coco coir can be mixed in for extra drainage, but in our opinion it is not desperately needed.
Repot every year at the start of the growing season to ensure healthy growth. The plant can also be split by cutting or pulling apart the root ball into smaller sections. It will happily be split and continue to grow as long as enough light is provided as per the above guidance.
What to do if brown edges appear
If a Maidenhair starts struggling you may start to see brown, crispy edges to the delicate leaves and dying leaves or entire stems. Do not panic! The great thing about this fern is that it is incredibly resilient and quick at recovering and regrowing.
Chop back all of the dead or dying growth you can see. Chop the stems with a sharp pair of scissors right down to the base, as low as you can get to it. Remove all dead leaves, including those dropped and sitting around the pot. This is mainly for aesthetic reasons, but also gives the new shoots an easier route up!
Check the compost. If it is soggy, this is an indication it has been overwatered. If there are any signs of rot (bad smelling compost, stems coming loose and out of the pot) then the compost may need to be replaced. Then, give the plant an extra few days to dry out before your next watering session.
If the compost is dry, the plant needs an immediate soaking. Soak for a few hours, longer than usual, and move to a brighter spot for a few weeks to give it the best chance of recovery. We call it a rehab spot, doesn't everyone have one?!
Other interesting information
The Maidenhair fern is native to Brazil and Venezuelan forests and cliffs. It won't grow very big, but can get up to 50cm tall.
EVERYONE'S HOMES ARE DIFFERENT! This is what works for us, over years of trial and error and first hand experience with this plant. However, there may be some whacky environmental condition present in your home that affects plants in a whacky way. This we cannot take any responsibility for, but we'd love to chat to you about it! Contact us at the Mint HQ in Bristol if you've got any queries or comments!