Air ferns, or floating ferns, are actually submerged plants that have evolved to survive in an aquatic environment. Often used in aquariums and ponds, these plants can easily be propagated from any part of the fern including leaves, rhizomes, and stolons (stem-like roots).
However, if you’re looking to purchase air ferns you should know how to care for them properly so they last longer and remain healthy.
With the right care and propagation methods, you can keep your air fern alive and thriving. Although they look like exotic plants from across the room, they’re actually quite easy to grow and maintain.
The air fern is an evergreen fern that’s often used in dish gardens or terrariums as a ground cover or low-growing plant that’s fed by the air and soil around it
Below are some tips on air fern care and propagation that will help keep your plant happy and healthy!
Origin and descriptions
Native to South America, air ferns (also known as drift ferns) are a popular ornamental plant. Their delicate, cascading fronds are extremely easy to propagate; all you need is an old glass bottle and a little bit of patience.
The air fern is an epiphytic bromeliad that grows in tropical climates.
It can be found growing wild in rainforests or on cliff faces where it has been attached by means of its aerial roots, which dangle from its bases like fine threads or thin vines. These rootlets allow air ferns to cling to trees and rocks.
This species was first introduced into Europe in 1834 but did not gain popularity until 1900 when a French nurseryman began cultivating them for sale.
Today, they’re one of the most common houseplants around, and they’re fairly easy to grow! Air fern care starts with their propagation method, if you have an extra glass bottle lying around, then you’re ready to start your own collection!
Air fern propagation
An air fern can be propagated easily through leaf cuttings. Cut off a leaf from your plant, and plant it in damp (not wet) perlite. Cover with plastic wrap and wait until roots appear, then transplant into moist potting soil or water.
You can take cuttings from multiple leaves at once; just make sure to include some of the rhizomes with each cutting you remove.
Air ferns are very easy to propagate, so if you have extra plants lying around that aren’t quite thriving in their current home, try giving them new life by propagating them yourself! I keep my potted air ferns outside in shade all year round.
They seem to do well when they get full sun for a few hours every day during the summer months, but they also tolerate being inside under fluorescent lights.
Just don’t forget to give them an occasional misting! If you live in a cold climate, it may be best to bring your air fern indoors during the winter months.
Air fern care information
Air ferns are relatively easy to care for, but they do require more attention than many other houseplants. The easiest way to start your air fern garden is with a kit that includes everything you need to start growing your plants, including substrate (soil), plant food, and a clear container.
Some people prefer to grow their air fern plants in glass jars or vases, while others will use plastic containers with holes cut into them. Regardless of what type of container you choose, make sure it has drainage holes at the bottom so excess water can drain out.
The air fern requires moderate to bright indirect light. A south-facing window is perfect for them, and if you have a greenhouse or a conservatory, that’s even better. Air ferns don’t like shade at all, so make sure you give it bright, filtered light instead of direct sunlight.
Or, if you know that your sunniest spot is shaded by heavy curtains or windows during certain parts of the day (early morning or late afternoon), move your plant there instead.
The key to growing air ferns is a healthy environment. Air ferns grow well in porous soil/potting mix. If your plant is placed in a regular potting mix, you may need to add more perlite or vermiculite to help improve water drainage and aeration within the soil/potting mix.
Adding airy materials like perlite or vermiculite will also make it easier for excess moisture to evaporate. This is important because too much moisture can cause root rot and mold growth on an air fern’s leaves.
A good rule of thumb is that if you squeeze a handful of potting mix and no water comes out, then it’s probably just right. However, if water does come out easily when squeezed, then you should consider adding more airy materials to increase its ability to drain properly.
The air fern can tolerate both dry and moist conditions, but it will not grow well in soil that is regularly saturated with water. On a day-to-day basis, these plants prefer to be lightly misted once or twice a week.
The easiest way to do so is to use a hand sprayer or an atomizer bottle for two or three squirts at each plant.
If you want to go ahead and soak your plants, make sure you allow them to drain thoroughly before placing them back on their display shelf. Never let your air fern sit in a pool of water—this will cause root rot.
You don’t need to fertilize your ferns every time you water them. We suggest fertilizing them once or twice a month. The amount of fertilizer you use will depend on their size, but here are some general guidelines: For 4 ferns, give 1/4 tsp fertilizer per gallon of water; for 6 ferns, give 1/2 tsp per gallon; and for 8-12 ferns, use 1 tsp per gallon.
When using dry fertilizer, follow package instructions. If you want to use liquid fertilizer, add it directly to your watering can before filling it with water. It is also a good idea to add an air stone or two when watering with liquid fertilizer so that it mixes well with the water and doesn’t sit at the bottom of your container where it can burn roots.
Air ferns are tropical plants, so keep them near a source of indirect light, such as a window that faces north. They prefer temperatures between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you notice brown patches on your air fern’s leaves, move it to a cooler spot (or, if possible, outside) for three days to allow new growth to begin. You can also try moving it to a brighter location. It may be getting too much or too little light! Be sure not to expose your plant to direct sunlight, however—this will likely kill it quickly.
The humidity of your indoor environment plays a huge role in propagating your air fern. The moss that lines your air fern’s leaves requires a high level of humidity, and if it is not properly maintained, it can dry out and die.
A simple way to ensure you are providing enough moisture for your air fern is to check on its leaves every few days. If they are starting to feel rough or brittle, it may be time to increase the humidity levels around your plant.
The ideal humidity range is between 40-60%. If you find that your air fern leaves are starting to dry out, try adding a humidifier to your home. There are many small and portable humidifiers available online that can be easily placed in any room of your house.
If you’re looking for something more permanent, there are many whole-house humidifiers available as well. Another option is to simply fill a large bowl with water and place it near your plant. The evaporation will help increase the humidity around it.
When caring for air ferns, it’s important to prune them regularly, so that they don’t grow out of control. You may notice some brown spots on your air fern. These aren’t signs of a problem, they are normal, just places where new fronds are growing from older ones.
The best time to prune is in spring or summer when you can see all of your plant’s leaves at once. Simply snip off any dead or damaged fronds with scissors and discard them in a plastic bag or trash can outside.
Don’t compost these! As you continue to trim back leaves, you will begin to expose small nubs called fiddleheads. They look like small green curls at first but will soon unfurl into full-fledged fronds.
When to repot
In nature, air ferns grow in bark crevices. To mimic their natural habitat, repot them every 2-3 years. When you repot, don’t simply dump it into a new pot with new soil; do so carefully by first separating some of its roots and gently placing them into a new pot filled with a mixture of sphagnum moss and perlite.
After you’ve done that, fill in around your plant with more sphagnum moss and perlite.
Finally, water well to settle everything down. After repotting, keep an eye on watering—air plants need to be kept moist but not soaking wet or they will rot. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry to touch or once a week if you have lots of time on your hands!
If you’re looking to grow air ferns as a houseplant, one of the biggest challenges will be keeping them alive. The air fern likes to spend most of its time in dormancy, meaning it won’t sprout new fronds very often if at all. When they are not growing, they can be kept at normal room temperatures, and bright light is highly recommended.
They should also be kept moist at all times during dormancy periods. In fact, letting your plant dry out for too long could cause it to die altogether.
If you’re going on vacation or just have other obligations that will keep you away from home for an extended period of time, try placing your plant into a larger container with damp peat moss or sphagnum moss so that it doesn’t dry out completely while you’re gone.
Flowers & Fragrance
Air ferns produce little white flowers that smell like honey. Some say it’s a strong scent while others describe it as light.
The best part is, they last only one day, so you don’t have to worry about scented air! Just enjoy their small but pleasant fragrance and keep your eye out for pollinators, especially during spring and summer.
These ferns grow exceptionally quickly as long as they have adequate humidity, moisture, and air circulation in their growing space. It’s also recommended that you keep your fern under bright light, such as fluorescent bulbs or natural sunlight. If planted outside, air ferns need shade during the winter months. A south-facing window is ideal.
The Air Fern is commonly known to be one of the most forgiving and easy-to-care-for houseplants. However, like all plants, it can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. Keep out of reach of children and pets. If ingested, induce vomiting immediately if possible.
In case of eye contact, flush with plenty of water for 15 minutes or until irritation ceases. In case of prolonged skin contact, wash thoroughly with mild soap and water as soon as possible.
USDA Hardiness Zones
Air fern thrives in USDA hardiness zones 8-11. This means it will survive temperatures between -10 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you live outside of these zones, don’t worry! You can still grow air fern as long as you provide proper care. It will just be a little more difficult to do so.
Pests and diseases
Air ferns are extremely resistant to pests and diseases, so don’t let their unusual appearance trick you into thinking they’re delicate.
To keep your air fern healthy, simply avoid watering it with cold water (this may cause root rot), and don’t leave it in a shady spot (this may encourage fungus).
Apart from that, there isn’t much else to worry about! If you see any leaves turning yellow or brown, remove them immediately. They can be clipped off with scissors or plucked out by hand—just be careful not to damage any of the remaining leaves. That’s all there is to it!
Air ferns are a fun, easy way to add color and life to your home. A small amount of effort can produce surprising results. Use these care tips and propagation guide to keep your air fern thriving!
We hope you enjoyed reading our air fern care and propagation tips. Take care of your ferns to ensure they grow big and strong! The tips above are just a starting point for your own research.
We love learning about new plants and we know you do too, so if you have any questions or tips to share with us, please leave a comment below.