Maidenhair Fern: Complete Plant Care & Growing Guide

Adiantum maidenhair ferns are fluffy and elegant. We sometimes see them in the forest and, while they’re not always easy to grow at home, it’s worth the time and effort to try.

Outdoor Maidenhair Fern
maidenhair ferns
(Image credit: Erutuon)

How To Grow And Care For Maidenhair Ferns

Adiantum, also known as maidenhair fern, is a genus of about 250 species of ferns notable for their delicate, airy fronds. The maidenhair fern plant is native to areas of rich, moist soil in shaded areas, often beneath tree cover or in rocky areas abutting waterfalls. The key to planting maidenhair fern is to mimic its native habitat as closely as possible.  Learn how to plant and care for maidenhair ferns in the home or garden. 

Quick Facts:

Botanical name:  Adiantum spp.

Height:  2-3 feet (61-91 cm)

Spread:  2-3 feet (61-91 cm)

Sun exposure:  Shade

Soil requirements:  Rich, well-draining yet moist

Hardiness zones:  USDA 9-11

When to plant:  Spring

Maidenhair Fern Plants

Maidenhair ferns have very fine textured fronds of a gray/green color. The delicate fronds stand 2-3 feet (61-91 cm) in height upon black or dark purple stems. Each frond divides into two blades with 2-9 leaflets arranged in a kind of semi-circle. Leaflets at ground level are large and become gradually smaller as you go up towards the tip. 

Maidenhair ferns are suited to USDA zones 9-11 and are ideal specimens for use around shaded water features or mass planted as a ground cover beneath forested areas. Some varieties make excellent houseplants as well. 

Maidenhair Fern Care

Because maidenhair ferns like fertile, well-draining yet moist conditions with significant humidity in a shaded area, they can be difficult to grow. Care for this fern is quite specific but well worth the effort.


Maidenhair ferns thrive in low light conditions; bright indirect or filtered light. 


Maidenhair ferns are not drought tolerant and should only be allowed to dry slightly between waterings. They prefer a moist, not sodden soil. 

Temperature & Humidity

These ferns prefer humidity that is greater than 60% which can be difficult in a home environment. To up the humidity around the plant, set the container atop a saucer filled with pebbles and water, grow it in a terrarium or under a cloche, or situate a humidifier near the plant. 

Maidenhair ferns thrive in typical home temperatures of 65-75 F (18-24 C). The plant suffers if temperatures dip below 50 F (10 C). Keep the plant away from fans, heating units and areas of draft such as doors or windows. 


Maidenhair ferns prefer a hummus rich, deep, well-draining soil that is more alkaline. Indoor plants can be planted in a mix of soil and peat. 


Fertilize maidenhair ferns during the growing season (March through September) every month with a standard houseplant food diluted by one fourth. As growth slows, reduce the amount of irrigation given and quit fertilizing until spring. 

Plants potted and in a peat-based mixture should have more frequent feedings; about every two weeks. 

Problems, Pests & Diseases

Indoor plants may have issues with spider mites, scale, and mealybugs. Outside,snails and slugs may attack this fern. 

Otherwise, a major problem with maidenhair ferns can occur if the plant is allowed to stress under inconsistent irrigation. Keep the plant very slightly damp at all times. Plants that are kept too wet are susceptible to root rot. 

If you use regular potting soil, add some moss or organic compost to aid in moisture retention. Maintain a consistent watering schedule. 


Fronds on this fern tend to die after about 6 months. They should be removed. During the winter months when the plant is dormant, it may shed all of its leaves. Don’t panic. New growth should appear within a month or so. Any major pruning should be done in the spring. 


Ferns, unlike other plants, do not flower or produce seed. Instead, they propagate through their spores which you can see on the underside of the leaves. 

If you want to propagate additional plants, plan on dividing your maidenhair fern in the spring. Remove the fern from its pot and with a sharp, sterile knife, cut through the crown. You can make one or two cuts to get two or more plants. 


Most maidenhair ferns do not tolerate temps below 50 F (10 C). If summer is coming to an end and temperatures are threatening to drop, most maidenhair ferns should be brought inside. 

However, this depends on the type of maidenhair fern you have. Some maidenhair ferns like the northern maidenhair, are winter hardy. Also some that are native to East Asia. Both can be grown outside as low as zone 3. 


Repot your maidenhair fern every 1-3 years in the spring. The bigger the pot, the larger your fern will be. If you want to retard its size, now would be a good time to divide the plant. 

Water the plant well a few days before repotting. If you are not dividing, repot the plant in a container that is slightly larger than the rootball.

Growing Maidenhair Ferns Outdoors vs. Indoors

Maidenhair ferns are hardy outside in southern gardens where temps remain warm. They should be placed in an area that is consistently damp but not soggy in the shade. The soil should be slightly acidic. Remember that this fern likes humidity. If you live in a warm region lacking in humidity, mist your fern regularly. 

Those who live in hot, dry areas or cooler climates, can still grow maidenhair ferns indoors provided you mimic the plant's native conditions. That means acidic, well-draining but moisture-retentive soil, 60% humidity, warm temperatures, low light and no drafts. 

Maidenhair Fern Varieties

As mentioned, there are significant numbers of maidenhair cultivars. Some are native to the United States. The greatest diversity of the species can be found in the Andes although China also claims more than 40 species. 

Northern maidenhair, Southern maidenhair, Delta, Western, Giant, and California are some of the more common species. A. aethiopicum, A. caudatum, A. hispidulum and A. tenerum are also other varieties of maidenhair fern. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Maidenhair Ferns Hard to Keep Alive?

Maidenhair ferns are difficult to keep alive because they have such specific growing conditions. Most types need warm temperatures and fairly high humidity, soil that is consistently moist, and indirect light; conditions that aren’t always easy to replicate. 

Where Is the Best Place to Put a Maidenhair Fern?

Indoors, maidenhair ferns should be kept in an area of indirect sunlight without drafts that’s warm and humid. Outside, this fern should be in an area of low light to shade, in rich, slightly acidic soil that is well-draining yet moisture-retentive. 

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.