Woodwardia orientalis Fern as house plant

tropical_thought(San Francisco)May 31, 2014

I am really upset that my Woodwardia orientalis is not making it outside. I posted in the fern forum, but I got no replies. I moved it to the front of the house because I thought it would be near the house wall, and I had read that was supposed to be good for tropical plants, but I was still not getting any results. So, I dug it up and now it is in a pot in the house. I ordered it a plastic tent thing to help increase humidity. But, I have never done this before. I am just wondering what experienced people with indoor ferns can tell me? The problem is San Francisco summers can be below 50 degrees in day or night. I think if I lived somewhere with hot nights it will grow fine outdoors. In the winter it would die back, but here it just never seems to want to grow in either summer or winter. It may grow a bit if the weather is warm, but then it will stop growing completely and I will swear it died, but then it grow a bit. It's just hanging on. I have a photo posted over there on ferns.

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Sorry no input so far. How's it going? Did an image search and that can get BIG! I'm not usually into ferns but now I think I want one too.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 5:40PM
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I'm not familiar with woodwardia at all, but I do grow a lot of (sometimes unusual) ferns indoors.

I just did a bit of a google search on your species and it's spectacular! Wow!
It doesn't seem like it would require too much humidity, but, from what I can gather, it is a fussy species when it comes to watering.
Also, from what you describe, it sounds like your fern is suffering from under-watering.

I think it'll make a great houseplant in the long run, but you might want to try a potting method which is sometimes used for maidenhair ferns. I have had absolutely awesome results with this method. It keeps the fern happy and makes watering much less hit and miss.
I've attached a diagram to explain it better. Sorry it's a bit messy, I just made quickly.

1. Plant the fern in a porous pot that water can travel through. A standard, unglazed terracotta pot is fine.

2. Get another tub about two inches wider than the pot. A tub without a drainage hole is better for indoors, but if you put the plant outdoors, it will need a drainage hole so it doesn't fill up with water during a rainstorm.

3. Put a layer of damp long-fibre sphagnum moss at the bottom of the tub and then place the pot inside it.

4. Fill in all around the sides with more moss, and you're done!

To maintain your plant, check the moisture levels in the moss (sticking your finger in is the easiest way). When the moss is starting to feel dry, water the plant. You may also want to water the surface of the moss to keep it moist.

You can use it on all sorts of plants which are fussy about water, and it works really well!
The idea is that when you water the plant, the excess drains into the moss, which sops it up like a sponge, protecting against over watering.
Keeping the porous pot surrounded by damp moss also helps keep the soil moist, which protects against under watering.
The presence of damp moss around the plant also increases the humidity.

I hope that was helpful!
Good luck with your fern!

- Sparkey

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 6:16AM
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This is a fern I've been growing using the pot-moss-tub method for about a year. Before that, it kept dying back because I found it hard to get the amount of water right :/
Instead of a terracotta pot, for my fern I've actually just wrapped the root ball in a couple of paper lunch bags! It still worked fine! LOL

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 6:25AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I don't under the reason to plant the fern inside another pot.
I have the fern in a plastic pot now and it seems to be starting to unfurl, but it was the cold temps and not underwatering when the plant was outside. I am just sort of keeping it alive until a get a green house or something else comes up. I have been watering the fern with spring water left over from my frog. I have a heating pad for reptiles underneath the pot. The plastic pot has peg leg and I add some water to the bottom. The humidity dome is kind of like an clear plastic umbrella, but I have not used it yet.
I think the umbrella dome would work better for outside use. Its not like I would forgot the water the fern. I have it near the computer. This is a big fern and terra cotta is pretty heavy and would add a lot of weight, but thanks for the suggestions. Your fern is beautiful and lush. House plants can be watered with bottled water. I had this teacher at community college who swore by bottled water for house plants.
The reason for bottled water is the Chlorine in tap water causes a build up of salts in the pot and eventually makes the plant sick. Chlorine made of salt.

This post was edited by tropical_thought on Sun, Jun 8, 14 at 12:25

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 9:21AM
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jack, i think your growing method is great!
i grow my ferns on self-watering water-wicks to prevent drying up. but for very young plants i have to water by hand since the root mass is too small and can get too wet. i'll try your method instead - it should work very well for vacation time too.
tropical, you need to note the temp nite/day of when your fern is growing.
i searched a bit for temp range - not so easy to pin-point.
but going below 50F day and nite even in summer can't be good for growth. i'd say you need at least 60F nite-65F day for good growth.

This post was edited by petrushka on Sun, Jun 8, 14 at 12:40

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 11:16AM
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Tropical_thought - Thanks for the complement about my fern.
I'm sorry I couldn't help you.

The reason for the two pots is so that the plant will be surrounded by damp moss.
This provides humidity without needing a greenhouse and also regulates the amount of water going to the roots.
You don't need to use a heavy terracotta pot. As I mentioned, my fern is not planted in a pot at all, but in a paper bag!
You can also use a plastic pot and the moss will still help, but it won't be quite as good. I have used this method with African Violets in plastic pots and they're growing well!

However, if you don't think watering is the problem, then it probably isn't! You know your fern better than anyone!
If it's starting to grow again, then what you are doing is probably right.

If your home/office has central heating, it is probably not necessary to use a heat pad, but the fern may grow quicker at the higher temperatures provided by the pad. I'm not sure, because I'm not familiar with this species.

At the end of the day, you have to find a way of caring for your fern that works for you. Everybody has a different style of caring for their plants.
If you've found something that works, I say go with it!

All the best!
- Sparkey

This post was edited by PatchyJack on Sun, Jun 8, 14 at 11:27

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 11:18AM
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Petrushka - thankyou!
I'm glad you think it's a good idea!

And you'd be surprised what a good inner pot a paper bag makes too!

- Sparkey

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 11:22AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I am sorry I did not fully explain, the heating pad will increase the humid as the water under the fern is slowly heated, but I think this heating pad is too weak, and I don't think it's working. I had read to place pot with water all around the fern to make it more humid. I added a photo of the fern now. It seems to be unfurling, I can see five new fronds, but I don't know if it is out of woods yet. I thought I could grow it because I used to have on in a fern garden between another house in the same area. It was like a square of dirt in between two houses closed on all four sides. It's a San Francisco feature, some times these old houses have this as a way to get to the pipes when a second house is build next to a first house with no in-between space. But, this fern does not like to ever go below 50, and it would refuse to make new fronds and the old ones are dying.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:32PM
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well, why don't you keep indoors then when it's too cold?
at least for a couple of months - so it has a chance to regrow some?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:44PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Yes, I am going to keep indoors. I learned my lesson. It is hard fern to buy. I spend years just trying to find a source. I hope to have green house at some point and put it in that. On the fern forum someone was growing it in a green house. It just does not like temp below 50 or a cold wind, and we have that in the summer here.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:50PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Jack, I am thinking your plan could work, I could get a bigger pot and put the main pot in the bigger pot, and put sphagnum peat moss in that, but the pot the itself is very big. I can see the point of that now. If I had a smaller fern, like a lemon button fern.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 2:16PM
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Wow! Looking at the photo, I can see why you love this fern. It's very special!

I was thinking... If the pot is too big, you could try just mulching the surface of the soil with sphagnum moss. Water will evaporate faster off something like moss than it will just from a tray of water.

If you use moss, just make sure it's *long fibre sphagnum*, and not peat moss. Peat moss can become compacted easily.
Long fibre sphagnum is the kind used for growing phalaenopsis orchids and lining hanging baskets.

Hey, have you thought of buying an ultrasonic humidifier? I've got one, to keep the humidity up during the winter and it's great. If it's just for one plant you'd only need a small one placed nearby.
You can get them off eBay.

- Sparkey

This post was edited by PatchyJack on Sun, Jun 8, 14 at 20:20

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 8:17PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Yes, I know the difference between sphagnum and peat moss. I was just thinking to myself, I know the plant was not underwatered before because I have a drip system and I would also water it by hand. I have been putting it outside when the weather is warm and I saw the one frond grew an inch today! But, I think I want the pot not stay wet, because I have it in coir and it is really not drying at all, in fact, I think it more likely to end up with root rot from not dying out enough. The fern used to look much better in the past. At one point it was looking great. This photo was from Sept. 1, 2013, after a warm spell. Now, it just looks awful to me.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 9:59PM
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Hmm, that's a good point.
Maybe the problem is too much moisture in the soil!
That can cause lots of problems!
If the fern has been dying back, it may not have as many roots as before, so it could have become over potted. It's much easier for plants to be too wet when the pot is too big.
Maybe you need a smaller pot?

Sphag moss can also help, because it will soak up extra water so that the roots don't get soggy.
Sometimes I bury clumps of moss near the bottom of the pot when I'm planting, just in case I over water.

I really hope you can find a way to help your fern!
It looks like it could be really beautiful.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 10:42PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

It is not over potted, it is just a big fern. I just put it in the pot a few days ago. It's too big to be big a house plant, but what happened was after I brought it from:
It seemed to be dying and I divided it and one of the divisions died in the winter, so the plant lost half of it's size at that time. But, eventually I want to put it in a green house.
This is the progress it made in just one day. I put it out in the full afternoon sun on a warm day. I read somewhere this fern likes full sun and it really grew, so it must like the full sun. But, our sun is a cool sun, not a blazing hot sun.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blog about this fern not my blog

This post was edited by tropical_thought on Mon, Jun 9, 14 at 20:14

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 8:07AM
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That looks like a really healthy rhizome to me, and the soil looks fine, certainly on the surface.
If the fern is growing, you should probably just keep on doing what you're doing.
You probably know this, but make sure you don't give it too much water until it grows some more leaves. Regardless how big the plant is, if it has few leaves it will not need very much water.

I know you can get (reasonably) cheap greenhouse kits online. Maybe one of those would help?
I really have no idea.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:17AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

A cheap green house still may not be warm enough. I would like to have a large heated green house, a long term structure. There was someone in the fern forum who was keeping his Woodwardia orientalis in a green house, but the pot he had it in was too small. I don't know what happened, maybe it died?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 8:43AM
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I dunno, but at least it sounds like your fern is doing alright at the moment!

Yeah, you're right. A cheap greenhouse probably would get too cold.
But until you can get a heated greenhouse, just try to keep the humidity in the room where you keep your fern up. I grow greenhouse plants indoors by using a humidifier to keep the humidity above 50% in the room with most of my plants.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 9:00AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I bought humidifier once and in spite of costing 100 dollars, it would do not go anything.That was another piece of junk that I threw away.

I think I would have a buy a serious system and I don't want to raise the house humidity as it will encourage mold. I hope this plant will take dry area. Its really humid outside anyway, often here, but it's a cold humid.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 9:37AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

update: It is making new fronds. I went to Half Moon Bay Nursery and they do not have them there anymore, if they had them before. For some reason they are very hard to find. I got a different and stronger heating pad for underneath and I have water in a second tray and that seems to have improved it. It does not sit in water because the pot is on peg legs. But, I am not that good with house plants, as I hardly ever grow them. I am strictly outdoors for my gardening.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 7:44PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

It grew two new fronds and I cut off the old ones.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 12:01AM
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Oh, nice!
Hopefully it'll continue to grow and get really big and beautiful!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 1:00AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I moved the plant to a window area and the sun came in and burned the leaves. I thought it was dead. I moved to another window that is frosted and it looked like a small part of it is going to live. But a large part of it, just looks stone cold dead. I don't know I should unpot the fern and cut away the dead part and replant the living small bit in a smaller pot? Woodwardia orientalis is the most challenging plant I have ever grown. I don't why they are so difficult. It may be why they so hard to find. I think I could replace it on Oct. 11, at the big fern sale in golden gate park again, but I don't know if I will due to the fact, it just wants to die, and I really need a green house first before proceeding with Woodwardia orientalis.

This post was edited by tropical_thought on Sat, Aug 9, 14 at 16:14

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 6:29PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

The fern might make it after all, it seems to pulling through. I only moved it because the dog was peeing on it. I never should have moved it to begin with, now it's back in the western exposer on a table now. I gave it distilled water this time. I think the quality of water makes a difference. Plants don't like chlorine tap water. It has one big frond, one smaller frond and what looks like could be the start of a third frond.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 8:48PM
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