How to Grow Ferns from Cuttings: Easy Steps for Success

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Growing ferns from cuttings is a rewarding and efficient way to multiply these beautiful plants in your garden or home. The process, known as propagation, can help you save money while expanding your collection of air-purifying plants. This article will introduce you to the basics of growing ferns from cuttings and guide you through the steps to ensure a successful endeavor.

Ferns are a diverse group of plants with over 10,000 species, ranging from delicate indoor varieties to hardy outdoor species. Whether you desire to create a lush outdoor garden or want to enhance your indoor space with their natural beauty, there’s a fern variety for everyone. Before we delve into the specifics of propagation, it’s essential to understand the unique characteristics of ferns and the factors that contribute to their growth.

Propagation of ferns can be done through spores or cuttings, but in this article, we will focus on the latter method. Fern cuttings usually involve taking a healthy piece of the root system, called a rhizome, and nurturing it in the proper environment until it produces new fronds. This method is often easier and faster than growing ferns from spores, making it a popular choice for both beginners and experienced gardeners.

What Are Ferns

Ferns are a diverse group of non-flowering plants belonging to the Pteridophyta division. They are well-known for their feathery, elegant appearance, and their unique reproductive system. Instead of producing seeds, ferns release spores, tiny reproductive cells that develop into new fern plants when they land in a suitable environment.

One of the fascinating features of ferns is their ancient lineage. These plants have been around for millions of years, with fossil records indicating their existence dating back to the Devonian period, around 360 million years ago. Ferns have adapted to a wide range of habitats, including forests, swamps, deserts, and even urban environments.

There are approximately 10,500 species of ferns worldwide, with diverse appearances and growth habits. Many ferns have delicately divided fronds, while others exhibit broader, undivided leaves. They can vary in size from small, ground-dwelling plants to massive tree ferns that tower overhead.

Taking cuttings is a popular method of propagating ferns. This process involves removing a healthy piece of the fern plant and placing it in an environment conducive to root development. Once the roots have formed, the new fern plant can be transplanted into its final growing location.

To grow ferns from cuttings, it’s important to start with a healthy parent plant and use the appropriate technique for the particular fern species. With patience and the right conditions, you can successfully propagate these attractive, resilient plants to enhance your own garden or indoor space.

Cutting Preparation

Choosing the Right Fern

When deciding on the ideal fern to grow from cuttings, it’s essential to select a variety that can propagate well using this method. Some popular ferns that can be propagated through cuttings include:

  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
  • Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus)
  • Staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.)
  • Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)

Ensure that the chosen fern appears healthy, with vibrant green leaves and strong growth patterns.

Identifying the Optimal Time to Take Cuttings

The best time to take cuttings from a fern is during late spring or early summer when new growth is emerging. This is when the plant has optimal energy for successful propagation, and cuttings are more likely to grow roots quickly. Follow these steps to prepare the cuttings:

  1. Use a sharp, sterile pair of scissors or pruning shears to collect the cuttings. Clean the tool with rubbing alcohol to prevent the spread of diseases.
  2. Look for healthy, mature fronds on the parent fern. Ensure they have no signs of damage or illness.
  3. Cut a 4 to 6-inch section of the frond, including the stem and some lower leaves. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle for the best results.
  4. Remove the lower third of the leaves from the cutting, leaving the remaining top two-thirds intact. This helps reduce moisture loss and encourages rooting.
  5. Dip the cut end of the cutting into a rooting hormone powder or liquid, if desired. This step can improve root development, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

With the fern cuttings properly prepared, you can now proceed with the propagation process. Place the cuttings in a well-draining potting mix, maintain adequate humidity, and keep them in a location with bright, indirect light. Monitor their progress, and with time and proper care, the cuttings will grow into healthy new ferns.

Step-by-Step Process for Growing Ferns from Cuttings

Taking the Cutting

To begin the process of growing ferns from cuttings, carefully select a healthy, mature fern with no signs of damage or disease. Choose a portion of the frond (leaf) that includes both stem and leaflets, ideally with a length of 4-6 inches. Using clean, sharp scissors or garden shears, carefully snip the cutting from the parent fern at a 45-degree angle.

Planting the Cutting

Before planting the fern cutting, prepare a potting mix of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. Fill a small container with the potting mix and thoroughly moisten it. Create a small planting hole in the mix to accommodate the fern cutting’s stem. Dip the cut end of the fern frond into rooting hormone powder and gently shake off any excess. Insert the treated end of the cutting into the hole, and gently press the soil around it to ensure good contact.

Planting Steps:

  1. Mix peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite
  2. Moisten mix, prepare planting hole
  3. Coat cutting with rooting hormone powder
  4. Plant cutting into mix, press soil around

Nurturing the Cutting

Once the fern cutting is planted, lightly mist it with water. It is essential to maintain a high level of humidity while the cutting is establishing roots. Place a clear plastic bag or a small, ventilated cover over the cutting and container. This will create a miniature greenhouse effect, keeping the moisture and humidity levels ideal for root growth. Ensure the container receives bright, indirect light and maintain consistent temperatures ranging between 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C).

Regularly check the moisture level of the potting mix, and mist the cutting as needed to keep the soil and environment moist but not waterlogged. After 4-6 weeks, check for root growth by gently tugging on the cutting; if you feel resistance, it is likely that the fern has developed roots. Once the root system is established, gradually remove the cover and acclimate the new fern to its surroundings. Begin to care for it as you would an adult fern, with regular watering and fertilizing based on the specific fern species’ needs.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When growing ferns from cuttings, some common mistakes can hinder your success in cultivating healthy plants. Let’s talk about these pitfalls and ways to circumvent them.

Overwatering or underwatering: Ferns typically require consistent moisture, but too much or too little water can cause issues. To avoid this mistake, ensure the soil remains slightly damp, never soggy or bone dry. Use your finger to feel the moisture in the soil before watering, and always remember to use a well-draining potting mix.

Poor lighting conditions: Ferns thrive in indirect or low light environments. Providing too much or too little light can stunt their growth. Place your ferns in a location where they receive filtered, dappled sunlight, as direct sunlight can cause leaf burn. If your ferns are not receiving enough light, their growth will be slow, and the fronds may appear weak or spindly.

Using unsuitable soil: Many ferns prefer slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Planting your cuttings in unsuitable soil can lead to root rot or slow growing plants. A blend of peat moss, perlite, and organic matter works well for ferns. Ensure proper drainage in the pot by adding a layer of pebbles or coarse sand at the bottom.

Improper cutting: When taking cuttings, it’s important to use a sharp, clean tool and select healthy, mature fronds. Cut at a 45-degree angle near the base of the frond, ensuring that you include a portion of the rhizome (underground stem). Taking improper cuttings can reduce the chances of successful propagation.

Lack of humidity: Ferns love humidity, and without it, their fronds may turn brown and dry. To maintain suitable humidity levels, place a tray filled with water and pebbles beneath the pot, ensuring the pot doesn’t sit directly in the water. Alternatively, you can group ferns together or use a humidifier.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you’re more likely to have success in propagating and growing healthy, thriving ferns from cuttings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ferns be grown from cuttings?

Yes, it is possible to grow ferns from cuttings. While the process might be a bit more challenging than propagating other plants, with proper care and the right environment, ferns can successfully be grown from cuttings.

What is the best time to take fern cuttings?

The optimal time to take fern cuttings is during spring or early summer when the plant is actively growing. This will ensure the highest chance of success, as the cuttings will have enough energy to focus on rooting and establishing themselves.

How to take a fern cutting?

To take a fern cutting, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a healthy parent plant with no signs of pests or diseases.
  2. Look for a mature, healthy frond that has fully unfurled.
  3. Using a clean and sharp pair of scissors, cut the frond at its base.
  4. Trim the frond to a length of 4-6 inches, leaving only 2-3 leaflets on the cutting.

What type of medium should I use to root fern cuttings?

A well-draining, sterile potting mix is essential for rooting fern cuttings. A mixture of 50% peat moss and 50% perlite or vermiculite provides the right balance of water retention and aeration.

How to care for the fern cuttings during the rooting process?

To care for fern cuttings during the rooting process, follow these guidelines:

  • Maintain high humidity by covering the cuttings with a plastic dome, plastic bag, or misting them regularly.
  • Ensure bright but indirect light exposure.
  • Keep the rooting medium consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Maintain temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C).

How long does it take for fern cuttings to root?

Fern cuttings may take a few weeks to several months to root, depending on the fern species and growing conditions. Generally, most fern cuttings will show signs of rooting within four to eight weeks. Patience and proper care are essential during this process.

How to transplant rooted fern cuttings?

Once the fern cutting has developed a robust root system, it’s time to transplant it into a permanent container. Gently remove the cutting from the rooting medium and plant it in a pot filled with a high-quality potting mix suitable for ferns. Keep providing the appropriate light, humidity, and temperature and gradually acclimate the new plant to its surroundings.


Growing ferns from cuttings can be a rewarding and enjoyable process for both novice and experienced gardeners. By following appropriate methods and taking care of the cuttings, it is possible to cultivate healthy ferns with impressive foliage.

To ensure success, suitable growing conditions must be maintained, including proper temperature, humidity, and light exposure. Using sterilized tools and containers can also minimize the risk of infection, ensuring that the cuttings have the best chance of thriving.

Throughout the process, patience is essential, as ferns may take some time to establish roots and grow. However, by adhering to the recommended procedures and providing ongoing care, the resulting fern plants can bring beauty and biodiversity to both indoor and outdoor spaces.

In summary, growing ferns from cuttings is a worthwhile undertaking for gardeners looking to expand their plant collections. Armed with the right knowledge and techniques, anyone can successfully propagate these elegant plants and enjoy their graceful presence for years to come.