How to Plant and Care for Ferns in Pots Outdoors

Ferns are a beautiful and diverse group of plants that can add a touch of greenery to any outdoor space. Planting ferns in pots outdoors is a simple and rewarding task if done correctly. Let’s take a detailed look at how you can achieve this.

Choosing the Right Ferns and Pots

Choosing the right fern species and pot can make a big difference in the success of your planting.

Types of Ferns Suitable for Pots

Numerous types of ferns thrive in pots outdoors. Some popular ones include:

  1. Boston Ferns: Known for their arching fronds and attractive appearance, they do well in medium to bright indirect light.
  2. Kimberly Queen Ferns: This type of fern is very hardy and can withstand more sun and less water than most other ferns.
  3. Maidenhair Ferns: These delicate ferns prefer a shady spot and lots of humidity.

Choosing the Right Pot

When choosing a pot, there are a few factors to consider. First, ensure the pot has good drainage, as ferns dislike sitting in waterlogged soil. The pot size should also be adequate for the fern to grow.

Planting Ferns in Pots Outdoors: Step-by-Step Guide

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to planting your chosen ferns in pots outdoors.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Pot

Ferns need large containers to accommodate their roots and provide plenty of drainage.

The pot should be broad and deep enough to allow the fern to grow for at least a year before it needs repotting. Depending on your preference, clay, ceramic, or plastic pots can be used.

Remember that clay pots can dry out faster than plastic ones, requiring more frequent watering. Ensure the pot has one or more drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

Step 2: Prepare the Pot

Before you start planting, ensure the pot is clean to prevent the spread of diseases. If you use a pot previously used for another plant, clean it thoroughly with a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water).

Rinse well and allow it to dry. Add a layer of pebbles, small rocks, or broken pot shards at the bottom of the pot to enhance drainage.

Step 3: Add Potting Mix

Ferns prefer a rich, well-draining potting mix. A good-quality potting mix with peat moss and perlite is usually suitable for ferns. The peat moss balances water retention and air circulation, while the perlite promotes drainage.

You can also add a handful of compost or well-rotted manure for added nutrition. Fill the pot about one-third to half full with the potting mix.

Step 4: Plant the Fern

Remove the fern from its nursery pot by gently squeezing the sides and bottom and pulling it out, keeping the root ball intact. Position the fern in the center of the pot. The top of the root ball should be about an inch below the rim of the pot to allow room for watering.

Once the fern is correctly positioned, add more potting mix around the roots, gently firming it down with your fingers. Ensure the crown of the fern (where the stem and roots meet) is not buried, as this can cause the plant to rot.

Step 5: Water Thoroughly

After planting, water the fern thoroughly until water runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This ensures that the root ball is well moistened and any air pockets in the soil are eliminated. The potting mix should be damp but not waterlogged.

Step 6: Position the Pot

Now that your fern is planted, position the pot in its outdoor location. Generally, most ferns prefer a shady or partially shady spot.

However, some ferns can tolerate more sun, so it’s always best to check the specific light requirements of the fern species you’re planting.

Caring for Your Potted Outdoor Ferns

Ferns are relatively easy to care for but require some attention and specific care to thrive. Below are some comprehensive tips on properly caring for your outdoor potted ferns.


Ferns generally love moisture, but the amount and frequency of watering can vary depending on the type of fern, the pot size, the potting medium, and the current weather conditions.

Process: A good rule of thumb is keeping the soil moist but never waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other diseases.

If you’re not sure when to water, check the top inch of soil—if it’s dry to the touch, it’s time to water your fern. In hot, dry weather, you might need to water your ferns daily, while in cooler, damp weather, watering might be needed less frequently.

Light and Temperature

Ferns typically thrive in partial to full shade, but some types can tolerate more sun, especially if they’re well-watered.

Process: Place your potted fern in a location that matches its light requirements. Most ferns prefer cool conditions, so avoid placing them near heat sources or in hot afternoon sun spots. They generally prefer temperatures between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit, but can tolerate a wider range as long as they are not exposed to extreme heat or cold.


Like all plants, ferns need nutrients to grow. However, they generally require less feeding than many other plants.

Process: A slow-release fertilizer applied in the spring can provide all the nutrients your ferns need for the season. Alternatively, you can use a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength every 2-4 weeks during the growing season. Avoid overfeeding, as this can cause the fronds to brown and may damage the plant’s roots.


Ferns grow in size over time, and they can eventually outgrow their pots.

Process: If your fern seems crowded or its growth slows down despite proper care, it might be time to repot. Choose a larger pot that allows for growth and follow the same planting process as described earlier. The best time to repot is in the spring, just before the fern begins its active growth period.

Winter Care

In colder climates, outdoor ferns need to be protected during the winter.

Process: If your ferns are hardy, you can mulch them heavily or move the pots to a sheltered location outdoors. For more tender ferns, consider bringing them indoors during the winter. Inside, place them in a bright, cool location and reduce watering, but don’t let the soil dry out completely.

By following these care guidelines, your ferns should grow healthy and strong, gracing your outdoor space with their timeless beauty. Remember, the key to successful fern care is providing consistent attention and adapting your care routines to your plant’s specific needs.

Maintenance: Pruning and Cleaning

Pruning and cleaning your ferns can keep them looking their best. Here are some tips:


Dead or damaged fronds should be pruned back to the base. This not only improves the appearance of the fern, but also allows more resources for the growth of new fronds.


Dust and dirt can accumulate on the fronds of your ferns. To clean, gently wipe the fronds with a damp cloth or rinse them with a gentle spray of water.

Fern Pests and Diseases: Prevention and Treatment

Keeping your ferns healthy can prevent most pests and diseases. However, if you do notice problems, early identification, and treatment can save your plant.

Look out for common pests such as aphids, mealybugs, and scale, and treat them with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. If you notice black or brown spots on your fern’s fronds, it may be a fungal disease, which can be treated with an organic fungicide.

How to Plant and Care for Ferns in Pots Outdoors
How to Plant and Care for Ferns in Pots Outdoors


Planting and caring for ferns in pots outdoors is a wonderful way to bring beauty and biodiversity to your outdoor space.

With the right care, these green gems can thrive and add a touch of tranquility to any setting. Enjoy the process of growing these ancient plants, and remember that gardening is all about learning, experimenting, and enjoying the journey.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often should I water my potted ferns?

Water your ferns when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. However, this can vary depending on the weather and the specific needs of your fern variety.

2. Can my potted ferns survive indoors during winter?

Yes, most ferns can survive indoors during winter. They prefer a cool room with high humidity and indirect light.

3. Do I need to repot my ferns?

If your fern becomes too large for its pot or if the potting mix becomes depleted, you should repot your fern. This is usually done in the spring.

4. Why are the fronds on my fern turning brown?

This could be due to underwatering, low humidity, or too much sun. Check the care conditions and adjust as necessary.

5. Can ferns grow in full sun?

Most ferns prefer shady or partially shady locations, but some ferns, like the Sword Fern and Kimberly Queen Fern, can tolerate more sun. However, no ferns can tolerate extended periods of direct, intense sunlight.