The Q&A Archives: Resuscitating a Tasmanian tree fern; hardier tree ferns

Question: Recently, my indoor tasmanian tree fern started dying. After reading the FAQ's about it, I started humidifying it for about 6-8 hours per day. This seems to have slowed the rate of decay but I'm not convinced the process has been reversed. I've made sure to also cool-mist it and feed it regularly. A number of questions flow from this situation:
1) What else do I need to do to bring the fronds back? and how long should I expect to continue humidifying at this rate?
2) How do I know if the roots are ok even if the fronds are dying?
3) How does one sustain a plant that only has the root system going?
and 4) Are there any other species of tree fern which is more hardy to the conditions found in most homes (dry warm and cold air)?

Many thanks!

Answer: Unfortunately this is not an easy plant to grow. The Tasmanian tree fern requires a humid environment so you will always need to keep it humidified. You can use a pebble tray with water (shallow pan, fill with pebbles, set tree fern container on pebbles, keep water in the tray to the top of the pebbles so the container is just above the water, replenish water as it evaporates.) You can also try grouping it together with other plants to humify the general area, and using a room humidifier also helps. Misting is not really effective. Avoid placing it in a cold or hot draft; in winter, a slightly cool room temperature will help reduce the drying effects of your heating system. Ideally you would keep it in a greenhouse rather than in the typical home environment.

Keep the soil evenly moist, meaning damp like a wrung out sponge. If it is in a peat moss based mix, you may need to plunge the container into a bucket of water to hydrate it thoroughly, then allow excess water to drain out. Take care that water is not running out between the soil and edge of the container when you water it. Depending on the conditions where you keep the plant, you may need to water lightly every day to keep the soil slightly damp. Never let it dry out.

It is important to keep the crown or trunk moist as well as the soil, so when you water you can drizzle it over the trunk as well as the soil. Leave old foliage along the trunk to help trap moisture and keep it damp.

If possible, water with rain water rather than tap water. In some areas there are chemicals in the municipal water that may affect your container plants. Also, do not use well water that has been through a water softener system as this will contain adverse levels of salts.

Besides dry air, too much direct sun can cause browning. You might try keeping it in a location with only indirect light and see if that helps.

This is a plant that likes a humusy, organic, rich soil. Regular fertilizing dpring through fall with a complete water soluble or slow release fertilizer might help if you have not been doing so; read and follow the label directions.

Based on your description unfortunately I am not sure if your plant is still alive, or not. If the top growth has completely died back it may not revive.

Ferns absolutely need humidity and indirect light to grow indoors. I am not aware of any that tolerate warm dry air. Instead, you could try the asparagus fern (it is called that but is not really a fern, the botanical name is Asparagus densiflorus "Sprengeri') if you need a plant with an airy look -- it will grow in bright light and dry air and is quite easy to grow.

I hope this helps.

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