Christmas is a time when every house is adorned with pretty plantations that gel with the vibe of the holiday season. One of such plants that sell like hotcakes at this time of the year is the frosty fern. This petite fern grows just a few inches tall, and its bright and lush green fronds with silvery “frosted” tips make for the perfect festive foliage accent.
Frosty fern (botanical name Selaginella Kraussiana “Variegatus”) is originally found in South and East Africa, the Azores, and the Canary Islands. Contrary to its name, this plant enjoys a warm and humid climate and thrives well indoors as a terrarium plant. It also sustains well outdoors in the warmer southern and central coastal areas of the US.
Many fern enthusiasts search “how to care for frosty fern” because even though this plant is easy to maintain, its care requirements are highly misunderstood. It is for this reason people often find their frosty fern die soon after they bring it home. So, if you want to buy one for yourself, learning how to take care of a frosty fern can help you enjoy its beautiful foliage all year round. But before you learn how to care for it, let us understand its characteristics and why it needs proper care.
Frosty fern is a low-growing plant whose most striking feature is its beautiful variegated foliage with whitish new growth at the tip and older dark green leaves. It features a dense clump of stems at the base that arch outwards and spread pretty fast with the help of underground stems called runners. If provided the right environment, this plant can grow up to 1 foot tall; however, its average size ranges between 6 to 8 inches.
People, who search online “how to care for frosty fern” get confused about this plant type, asking if it is a fern or a moss? Though called a frosty fern, it is not a fern per se. This plant has been designated this name more for its appearance than for its nomenclature.
On the other hand, avid gardeners call it a spike moss, which again is not a moss technically – confused much? Allow us to end this confusion once for all. The frosty fern is indeed a type of spike moss that is related to mosses. But unlike a real moss that absorbs nutrients through its leave, spike moss has roots and leaves. Frosty fern is more closely related to club mosses (lycopods) that are a fern ally but not really a true fern. Another reason this plant is called a fern is for its ability to reproduce like typical ferns, i.e., using spores and not seeds.
Learning how to care for frosty fern is essential to give this plant its optimum growing environment. Whether you want to grow it in a small pot indoors or want it to be a part of your garden landscape, we will cover how to take care of a frosty fern in terms of the soil requirement, watering frequency, temperature, and other parameters.
If you wish to grow the frosty fern indoors, choose a spot that receives bright but indirect sunlight. However, this plant can also adjust to low-light settings. On the other hand, outdoors, this plant requires a shaded area as the direct sunlight can scorch and shrivel up the leaves.
Frosty fern requires well-drained but moist soil. The ideal soil pH for this fern is 5.5 or 6. To plant it indoors, use a mix of nutrient-rich compost and a handful of sand to allow the soil to retain moisture, but at the same time, keep it porous. Since the frosty fern cannot tolerate soggy soil indoors, you can place the pot over a tray to make sure that the roots do not sit in water and rot the roots. Also, the hard water minerals will not accumulate in the soil.
For outdoors, if you have dense and slow-draining soil in your garden, you may want to alter the soil bed first before transplanting this fern outdoors.
The ideal temperature range for the frosty fern is between 60°F and 80°F (15-27°C). The plant can get stressed and even die with sudden fluctuations in the temperature.
You will probably have to water this plant 2-3 times a week during the spring and summer as inadequate moisture can lead to stress damage or even premature death. If you feel that the plant feels lighter than usual, do not hesitate to water your fern. Also, if the soil feels dry or you spot a leaf or two wilting, water it ASAP. A good way to gauge if you are watering it enough is to continue pouring water in the pot until some water percolates from the base. While the frosty fern needs to be watered heartily during the growing season, you should reduce the frequency to half during the colder months.
Also, frosty fern does not do well in hard water. It is best to use filtered water for this plant or try rinsing your potting mix once in a while to prevent mineral deposits.
Frosty fern is the happiest in a humid environment and thrives in 50% humidity or above. Since it is difficult to maintain such high humidity levels indoors, you can try misting the plant once or twice every day. Using a humidifier can also help to a certain extent. You can also place a pebble tray filled with water below the pot. However, the best way is to grow this plant in a terrarium to keep the moisture intact even when the room is dry, especially in winters.
To learn how to care for frosty fern, you need to feed the plant right. This plant does not require heavy feeding as long as you maintain the right acidic environment and organically rich soil. But, if you have an older plant at home, a weekly dose of fertilizer during the growing season can invigorate the foliage. You can use a liquid 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 houseplant fertilizer for your indoor frosty fern. The recommended dosage is 1/4 teaspoon per 1 quart of water.
But, avoid using too much fertilizer as it can lead to root burn or put the plant under stress. Also, avoid fertilizing the frosty fern in the fall and winter to allow the plant to adjust to the falling temperatures.
The frosty fern requires minimal to zero pruning. If needed, use a sharp pair of scissors to snip off any dead leaf or uneven growth. However, do not go overboard. Heavy pruning can lead to trauma and can also permanently ruin the beautiful natural shape of this fern.
People searching for “how to care for a frosty fern plant” may want to know if the plant works better indoors or outdoors. While there is no definite answer, the fern does thrive better in a shaded outdoor setting. However, it can also grow well in a small pot indoors if provided with the right growing environment.
This fern is quite resistant to diseases and infestations. But plant growers who search “how to care for a frosty fern plant” should be aware of the other common problems that are usually associated with improper growing conditions.
Exposure to harsh sunlight or the soil turning dry is the most common cause of dry or browning leaves. A drop in humidity can also result in the leaves turning brown. Exposure to harsh sunlight or excessive use of fertilizer can also turn the leaves yellow. Try shifting the plant to a less sun-exposed area and water the plant sufficiently with filtered water.
The frosty fern can get affected with fungal growth if the temperature drops below 50°F. Shift the fern to an area where the temperature constantly stays above 50°F.
If you wish to grow this plant outdoors, choose a shaded area in your garden. To prepare the planting bed, add rich organic compost to the soil along with some coarse sand. Watering the fern once a week should be enough during the growing season, that is, spring and summer. However, you can water it more often if you feel the need.
Maintaining high humidity is the key to a healthy frosty fern. So mist the leaves regularly, even a couple of times a day when the air outside is dry. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer for this fern once a month in the growing season to keep the leaves green and healthy.
Water the fern 2-3 times a week during the growing season and only when the soil is dry during the winters.
As long as you maintain the right growing environment, you can enjoy their lush green foliage all year round.
A sudden change in temperature or humidity or direct exposure to the sun could put your fern under stress. Try moving the plant to a more shaded area, and increase the soil moisture and humidity around the plant to help it revive.
Ferns do enjoy bright but indirect sunlight and can do fairly well in moderate or low lighting. If you live in a colder climate, you can occasionally expose the ferns to direct sunlight in the winters.
No, the frosty fern is not poisonous and is safe to grow as an indoor plant if you have kids or pets in your home.
The growing requirements for this fern variety might seem stringent and people searching “how to take care of a frosty fern?” may feel that it is quite a fussy plant. But if you happen to live in a warm and humid climate, this fern can happily occupy a shaded spot in your garden and keep the area lush green all year round. As an indoor plant, it can be an excellent addition to your terrarium. This fern is small in size, and the closed greenhouse environment will require minimal upkeep. So, if you ask, is the frosty fern worth the trouble? We would certainly give it a big YES.