Separating Ferns: Learn How To Divide Fern Plants

dividing fern
dividing fern
(Image credit: pryzmat)

Ferns are great garden or container plants. Depending on the variety, they may thrive in shade, low light, or bright indirect light. Whatever your indoor or outdoor conditions, there’s probably a fern that’s right for you. 

As long as you keep it well watered, your in-ground or potted fern should reward you with dramatic, sweeping foliage. As with most plants though, especially those that are potted, ferns will outgrow their location if given enough time. 

Keep reading to learn more about separating ferns and how to divide fern plants.

How to Divide Fern Plants

As a general rule, ferns need to be repotted or divided every 3 to 5 years. If your plant is starting to die out in the middle and produce smaller leaves, chances are it’s outgrown its container or garden space. 

It’s possible to simply move it to a bigger container, but most gardeners choose dividing fern plants instead. Separating ferns is easy and almost always successful because, unlike a lot of perennials, ferns and their roots can take some serious manhandling.

Division of Ferns

The best time to divide ferns is in the spring. When separating a fern, you first need to remove it from its old pot or dig up the clump. Once it’s out, brush off and shake loose as much soil as you can. It may not be much, as ferns tend to have very tight, interlocking root balls. 

Next, use a long serrated knife to cut the root ball either into halves or quarters. Make sure there are leaves attached to each section, and try to keep the number of leaves balanced. Fern roots are tough and it may take some work to cut through them, but the plant can handle it. 

After your fern is separated, move each section to a new pot or garden space and fill it in with well-draining but somewhat water retentive soil, preferably with some grit and lots of organic matter. Water each section well and continue watering more than usual while the plants get established.

Liz Baessler
Senior Editor

The only child of a horticulturist and an English teacher, Liz Baessler was destined to become a gardening editor. She has been with Gardening Know how since 2015, and a Senior Editor since 2020. She holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and an MA in English from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After years of gardening in containers and community garden plots, she finally has a backyard of her own, which she is systematically filling with vegetables and flowers.