How to Care for Your Bird's Nest Fern

Everything you need to know about this unique tropical houseplant.

Updated 10/21/19

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Bird’s nest fern, also known as nest fern or Asplenium nidus, is the perfect houseplant to add an elegant, tropical look to your space. This fern features wavy, lance-shaped leaves extending two to three feet from a central rosette, rather than the lacy or feathery fronds of its fellow ferns. It’s also an epiphyte; in the wild, bird’s nest ferns often grow in the junctions of jungle tree branches. 

Because of their upward-arching growth habit, bird’s nest ferns make a lovely option to display in a hanging basket or macrame planter. Some varieties, like twisted bird’s nest fern, have been bred to emphasize different aspects of their wavy, ribbonlike leaves. Another, Asplenium nidus 'Cobra,' features attractive ripples up and down the leaves, which curl down towards the center at their tips. 

While bird’s nest ferns do not flower, their rosette-like shape and wavy leaves make these houseplants a chic addition to your collection. 

Best Growing Conditions for Your Bird’s Nest Fern

To grow bird’s nest ferns (and other ferns) successfully, do your best to simulate their natural growing conditions—those of a tropical forest—in your space. That means warm air with high humidity and dappled shade or indirect light, but never direct sunlight.

Choose a spot to display your bird’s nest fern where the temperature doesn’t drop below 60 degrees at night. Plant your bird’s nest fern in a well-draining potting mix such as a peat-based mix. 

Bird’s nest ferns need lots of humidity to thrive. You can display a bird’s nest fern in your bathroom, where steam from the shower will help boost the humidity around the plant. 

You can also place your bird’s nest fern on a tray of pebbles with a little water added—just enough so that the pebbles elevate the bottom of the pot above the water level and keep it dry. The evaporating water will add humidity to the air around your plant. Be sure to check the tray of pebbles periodically and add more water as necessary. In both cases, your bird’s nest fern will benefit from regular misting as well. 

hand holding bare-root bird's nest fern with arching, wavy green leaves
The Sill Bird’s Nest Fern $14
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Another option is to display your bird’s nest fern together with other tropical houseplants like bromeliads, pothos, or prayer plants, then run a humidifier nearby to help keep all your moisture-loving plants happy. Bird’s nest ferns can also do well in terrariums, thanks to the closed system that will hold in moisture and humidity in the vessel. 

In terms of light, bird’s nest ferns do well in partial shade or filtered light. A north- or east-facing window, where the light is weaker, can provide the right conditions. Locations with more light will cause your bird’s nest fern’s leaves to crinkle more, while spots that receive less light will cause them to grow flatter. 

Avoid displaying your bird’s nest fern where it will come into contact with direct sunlight, with the exception of weaker early-morning light in an east-facing window. Too much light will cause leaves to yellow; if this happens, cut off the affected leaves at the base with a clean, sharp blade and move the plant to a shadier spot out of direct sun.

When watering your bird's nest fern, avoid getting any water in the center of the "nest," as this can cause your fern to rot.

How to Care For Your Bird’s Nest Fern

Keep your bird’s nest fern’s soil consistently moist, not too wet or too dry; check the soil a few times per week and water as needed to maintain even soil moisture. 

While bird’s nest ferns grow well in soil that’s consistently moist but not soggy, how you water them is very important. Carefully water the soil around the fern directly to avoid getting moisture in the central rosette. 

Feed your bird’s nest fern with half-strength liquid houseplant fertilizer every two to three months during the spring and summer growing season, roughly April through September.

During this time, tiny new fronds will unfurl from the center of your fern. Take care not to touch the young fronds, as they are very delicate. Avoid feeding your fern during the winter months. 

Bird’s nest ferns should be repotted in spring before the growing season starts. Your bird’s nest fern doesn’t need to be repotted until you see roots appear at the surface of the growing medium. At that point, you can repot the plant in a larger container or simply prune the roots and repot with fresh potting mix in the same container. 

How to Propagate Your Bird’s Nest Fern

Bird’s nest ferns are tricky to propagate. They do not grow baby plants in the form of offsets or pops the way many succulents do, and new plants will not grow from leaf or stem cuttings. Nor can they be divided, as other fern species can. 

Rather, bird’s nest ferns, like other ferns, reproduce via spores, which are held in tiny cases on the undersides of their leaves. Since propagating these ferns from spores is difficult to do in a home setting, it’s simply easier and quicker to purchase a new plant.

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