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House Plants/100 year old fern


QUESTION: "My house fern is close to 100 yrs. old from my great grandmother.  It is on a stand near an east window, and is mostly in filtered light.  Over the summer, it has many brown fronds, losing leaves.  The "breathers" are now getting brown and dying. I watered it 7 to 9 days in the summer ---or when the soil felt dry.  My mother told me never to touch the tips of the fronds because that would cause the frond to die, so I am careful.  What can I do to save it?" It is not a Boston fern.

ANSWER: Shirley,

During the summer your fern should have been outdoors in a shady area and watered nearly daily. Even indoors it should never be allowed to totally dry out. Ferns grow on the forest floor where they are humid and moist most of the time. Water it more often so that it never totally dries out. If you have a water meter the plant should never totally get into the dry section on the meter. If you do not have a water meter insert a bamboo skewer into the soil and when 5 days has passed check the skewer. If it is dry down to the bottom 1/4th of the skewer it is time to water again. I think the 3 things you can do is not let it totally dry out, keep a spray bottle handy and spray the foliage twice a day if possible to increase the humidity and last open the drapes a bit so it gets a bit more light especially on dreary days in winter. I am just south of you in Indiana so I know it can get pretty dreary and ferns don't like full sun but they like dappled light on the forest floor. They need enough light that your hand will cast a shadow where your fern is sitting for most of the day. If you have more questions feel free to write again. Good luck!


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: This fern has never been out of doors in 100 years and has been healthy until this past summer.  I have sprayed the foliage.  It loves its spot and I know this because I tried to move it 10 yrs ago and it began to die.  Maybe watering is the problem, but I see no new fronds coming which worries me.  Do you know what kind of fern it could be?  Maybe it has reached its life span.  What do you think?     Shirley


It may need to be divided or repotted but that is best done in the spring, not this time of year. You might call a local florist shop or greenhouse that sells a lot of plants and ask if they would look at it for you to advise you what it needs. To tell you what it is or what is wrong I would have to see it or see several pictures of it. If you are near a County extension office that has a Master Gardener Program or a Large University you might be able to call them and get help. If you can e-mail me pictures I will try to identify it for you. All plants are happier outdoors than indoors. They love the humidity outdoors. 100 years ago your grandmother may have had a lot more other plants in her home that helped keep the air more humid to make the fern happy. They do not like dry air. If you are keeping your home warmer that drys the air out more. Mist it more and it might help.


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Darlene K. Kittle


I have been an Advanced Master Gardener for 24 years and I raise around 300 houseplants and bonsai trees a year including tropicals, succulents, and cacti. I have also been a professional plant care person for businesses in the Fort Wayne, IN area and currently professionally care for bonsai trees for my customers.


I am also studying the Japanese art of bonsai with tropical plants and is President of the Fort Wayne, IN Bonsai Club.

Fort Wayne, iN Master Gardeners. President of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club. Allen County Master Gardeners

I am not a hortculturist. I am a Purdue University Advanced Master Gardener for 24 years. I have studied plants on a personal level by growing hundreds of plants annually for the last 35 years. I have also studied under several nationally known American Bonsai experts.

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