Why Does My Maidenhair Fern Have Small Leaves: Key Factors Explained

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Maidenhair ferns, scientifically known as Adiantum raddianum, are known for their delicate, lacy appearance and elegant arching fronds. These beautiful plants, also referred to as Venus hair ferns or Delta hair ferns, are prevalent in households for their decorative appeal, making them a popular choice for indoor plant enthusiasts. If you’re a proud owner of a maidenhair fern, it’s essential to understand the factors that can contribute to smaller leaves and how to maintain the plant’s long-term health.

There are multiple reasons why your maidenhair fern’s leaves might be smaller than usual, such as insufficient sunlight, inadequate humidity, or improper watering techniques. Ensuring your fern receives indirect sunlight and maintains a consistent temperature is crucial, as these plants thrive between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16-21 degrees Celsius) and in well-watered yet not waterlogged soil.

Another important aspect of maintaining an optimally growing maidenhair fern is providing it with a humid environment, akin to its natural tropical habitat. Misting the leaves regularly or placing the plant on a pebble-filled tray with water can help create the desired humidity. By addressing these factors, your fern should start producing larger and healthier leaves in no time.

Understanding Maidenhair Ferns


Maidenhair ferns have delicate, small leaves that can be quite sensitive to environmental conditions. These lovely plants showcase light green compound leaves composed of tiny leaflets. Several species and varieties even exhibit new growth in shades of pink or red that eventually turn green as they age. Additionally, most maidenhair ferns feature striking shiny black leaf stalks (petioles) that contrast beautifully with the green foliage.

Growth Requirements

Caring for maidenhair ferns involves meeting certain key requirements. These plants thrive in:

  • Indirect sunlight: Place them in an area that receives bright, yet indirect sunlight to prevent scorching their gentle leaves.
  • Well-watered soil: Ensure the soil is consistently moist but not waterlogged, as saturated soil can lead to fungal growth and plant diseases (Plantophiles).
  • Humidity: Aim for a humid environment, reminiscent of the tropics. Too little moisture can cause leaves to curl up, dry out at the tips, brown, and fall off (The Spruce).
  • Temperature: Maintain a temperature range between 60-70°F (16-21°C) to promote healthy growth (Plantophiles).
  • Water: Water your maidenhair fern with room temperature rainwater or spring water, as they can be sensitive to certain chemicals found in tap water (Bob Vila).

Providing the appropriate conditions and meeting their growth requirements will greatly enhance the wellbeing and appearance of your maidenhair fern. Keep in mind that these ferns are delicate plants that need attentive care and may show signs of distress if their needs are not met.

Causes of Small Leaves

Inadequate Watering

One of the primary reasons for small leaves in a maidenhair fern is inadequate watering. Unlike other plants, maidenhair ferns require a careful balance between too wet and too dry. It is crucial to water your plant with room temperature rainwater or spring water, and the soil should be consistently moist but never waterlogged. Overwatering can cause the roots to rot, while underwatering can lead to wilted or dead leaves source.

Incorrect Lighting

Another factor that contributes to small leaves is incorrect lighting. Maidenhair ferns thrive in indirect sunlight and should never be exposed to direct sun. A well-lit room with some diffused light, such as behind sheer curtains, is ideal. If the plant does not receive enough light, it may struggle to grow, leading to small leaves source.

Poor Nutrition

Poor nutrition can also result in small leaves. Maidenhair ferns need a well-draining soil mix that is rich in organic matter. Regularly feeding your fern with a balanced liquid fertilizer can provide it with essential nutrients needed for growth. However, be cautious not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to brown leaves and other issues source.

Lack of Humidity

Lastly, lack of humidity may contribute to small leaves on maidenhair ferns. These plants thrive in humidity levels above 50%, and insufficient humidity can cause the leaves to curl up, dry out at the tips, and eventually fall off. To maintain adequate humidity around your fern, consider using a humidity tray, misting the plant daily, or placing it in a naturally humid area like a bathroom source.

Preventing Small Leaves

Proper Watering Practices

Maidenhair ferns require a careful balance when it comes to watering. Too little water can cause the leaves to curl up, dry out, or brown at the tips, while excessive moisture might lead to fungal growth and diseases. Water your plant using room temperature rainwater or spring water, ensuring that the soil remains moist without waterlogging it.

Providing Adequate Light

These ferns grow best in indirect sunlight and may suffer from small leaves if exposed to too much or too little light. Position your maidenhair fern in a spot with bright but indirect sunlight. Avoid placing the plant near windows that receive direct sunlight, as it may scorch the delicate leaves and stunt their growth.

Nutrient Management

Like all plants, maidenhair ferns need proper nutrients to thrive. Ensure the soil has a good mix of organic matter and nutrients. Use a slow-release balanced fertilizer to provide the essential nutrients and promote healthy leaf development. Avoid over-fertilizing as it can cause damage to the plant’s root system and hinder its growth.

Managing Humidity

Maidenhair ferns thrive in high humidity environments, with a minimum of 50% humidity. Low humidity could cause the leaves to become brittle and small. To maintain the ideal humidity level, you can place the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water, or use a humidifier in the room where it is placed. Remember to regularly check the humidity levels to ensure your fern stays healthy and develops larger leaves.

By following these guidelines on proper watering, lighting, nutrient management, and humidity control, your maidenhair fern should grow larger, healthier leaves. Just remember to be patient and consistent with your care routine, and your fern should reward you with its beautiful, delicate foliage.

Reviving Your Fern

Addressing the Root Cause

To revive your maidenhair fern with small leaves, it’s essential to identify and address the root cause. Small leaves can be a sign of inadequate care or environmental factors.

  • Humidity: Maidenhair ferns require high humidity levels; at least 50% humidity is ideal. You can increase humidity by placing the fern on a tray filled with water and pebbles or using a humidifier.
  • Watering: These ferns also need consistent moisture in their soil. Ensure that the soil is evenly moist but not too wet, as this can lead to root rot. Watering with room-temperature rainwater or spring water is preferable.
  • Light: Provide your fern with indirect sunlight, as too much or too little sunlight can cause problems. Direct sunlight can cause the fronds to scorch, while insufficient light can result in sparse growth and small leaves.
  • Temperature: Maidenhair ferns thrive in moderate temperatures, between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid placing them in spots with temperature fluctuations, like near an air vent or a drafty window.

Pruning Techniques

Pruning your maidenhair fern can promote healthy growth and help the plant recover.

  1. Start by removing any dead or damaged fronds. This will allow the plant to focus its energy on growing new, healthy leaves.
  2. If you find that the fern is overcrowded, consider dividing the plant. Gently separate the rhizome, the underground stem from which the fronds grow, into smaller sections. Each section should have a healthy portion of roots attached. Replant these divisions in separate pots with well-draining soil.
  3. After pruning and dividing your fern, ensure that it remains well cared for by maintaining proper humidity, watering, temperature, and light conditions as described above.

By addressing the root cause of small leaves and using proper pruning techniques, you can help your maidenhair fern thrive, producing beautiful, lush foliage.


Maidenhair ferns are known for their delicate, small leaves and are a popular choice for houseplants. It’s important to understand that the size of the leaves may be influenced by various factors such as light, humidity, and overall care.

Ensuring your maidenhair fern receives adequate indirect sunlight can contribute to healthier growth. Additionally, maintaining a temperature between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit will promote the right environment for the plant to thrive.

Humidity plays a crucial role in the well-being of your maidenhair fern. If the leaves curl up, dry out at the tips, or fall off, it could be an indication that the air is too dry. To solve this issue, consider placing a humidifier nearby or adjusting your watering routine.

Moreover, keep the soil well-watered but not waterlogged. Excessively damp soil can lead to the growth of fungus and plant diseases, which may affect the size of the leaves.

Finally, ensure you clean the leaves gently using a microfiber cloth, as dust can prevent photosynthesis and cause the plant to lose its color.

In conclusion, focusing on proper care, such as providing the right light, temperature, and humidity, can contribute to the optimal health and appearance of your maidenhair fern’s leaves.

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