Caring for Ferns in the Winter: A Complete Guide

As the cold weather approaches, ferns require special care and protection to survive the winter months. Unlike hardy perennials, tender ferns need to be brought indoors or properly sheltered outside to prevent damage. Follow this complete guide to learn the best practices for overwintering your ferns and keeping them thriving into spring.

Reasons Ferns Require Winter Protection

Ferns are not cold hardy like some perennials. Freezing temperatures can damage or kill ferns in several ways:

  • The water in plant cells expands when frozen, rupturing cell walls
  • Ice accumulation on leaves causes physical damage
  • Frozen roots are unable to take up water
  • Consistent cold prevents new growth

Even cold hardy ferns can sustain damage if not properly protected That’s why special winter fern care is crucial.

Winter Care for Outdoor Ferns

For ferns planted directly in garden beds here are tips to help them survive winter

  • Mulch heavily – Apply a deep layer of bark mulch, leaves, or pine straw over the root zone to insulate the soil.

  • Cover with burlap – Wrap plants with burlap and tie in place to create a tent that holds in warmth

  • Add heat cables – Electric cables under mulch prevent ground from freezing completely.

  • Improve drainage – Make sure beds drain fully to avoid water pooling as it freezes.

  • Add wind barriers – Use stakes and burlap to block prevailing winds that can dry and damage fronds.

  • Delay fall cleanup – Leave spent fronds in place through early winter to protect crown.

Caring for Potted Ferns

Potted ferns are even more vulnerable to winter damage. You have two main options:

Bring Ferns Indoors

  • Select a bright, cool spot indoors away from drafts
  • Prune back long fronds to reduce size and stress
  • Water sparingly, allowing soil to dry between waterings
  • Mist often to increase humidity around the plants
  • Keep away from heating vents that blow hot, dry air

Store Ferns in a Sheltered Spot

  • An unheated garage, cellar, or enclosed porch work well
  • Group pots together and cover with burlap or heavy fabric
  • Water very lightly once a month if needed
  • Avoid letting ferns freeze solid for long periods

No matter where they winter over, keep ferns away from direct sun to prevent leaf scorch. And don’t fertilize dormant ferns – wait until spring growth resumes.

Signs Your Ferns Require Adjustments

Check ferns regularly for any signs they need improved care:

  • Wilting or dry fronds – Increase watering frequency

  • Yellowing fronds – May indicate overwatering or insufficient drainage

  • Leaf drop – Can signal too much or too little water

  • Mold – Improve air circulation and reduce humidity

  • Declining health – Move to better lit or warmer area

When to Resume Normal Care in Spring

Once spring arrives, you can take the following steps:

  • Move outdoor ferns back out after chance of frost passes

  • Prune away any dead or damaged fronds

  • Repot root-bound containers into fresh soil

  • Place indoor ferns back outside in shaded, sheltered area

  • Resume normal watering as growth appears

  • Apply balanced fertilizer when new fronds emerge

  • Monitor for pests like aphids that may appear with warmer weather

Key Tips for Winter Fern Success

Follow these best practices when overwintering ferns:

  • Research your specific varieties – some are more cold tolerant than others

  • Prune ferns before bringing indoors or covering outdoors

  • Select sheltered, cool spot with indirect light for indoor storage

  • Water minimally during dormancy – maybe once a month

  • Make sure outdoor pots and beds drain fully before winter hits

  • Monitor ferns and adjust care as needed during winter

With proper care, your ferns can survive the winter ready to thrive again in spring. Just provide a little extra protection during the coldest months.

Cutting Back Ferns for Winter

Ferns don’t need to be trimmed back for the winter unless you bring a potted fern inside to grow during the winter. Your fern has most likely grown fairly large during the summer. It is a good idea to cut back the plant before you bring it indoors.

Cut any back long stragglers that are making the plant large in size. You can cut up to several inches of fronds, as the plant will certainly grow back. Trimming for shape is also a good idea. After trimming, give the plant a good hose-down to get rid of any pests that may have been around.

Fern Winter Care in Pots

It’s easy to bring a fern inside for the winter as long as you get it ready before the ground freezes. Give your fern a good prune, cutting off several inches of outside fronds. Leave the center of the plant alone. Allow the plant to dry out before bringing it indoors.

Choose a cool location such as a basement or garage to store the plant. It is best to keep the plant out of direct sunlight. The plant will be dormant for the season and will only need watering once a month.

How care for a Boston Fern over the winter.


How do I keep my ferns alive during winter?

Allow the plant to dry out before bringing it indoors. Choose a cool location such as a basement or garage to store the plant. It is best to keep the plant out of direct sunlight. The plant will be dormant for the season and will only need watering once a month.

Should ferns be cut back for winter?

Pruning evergreen ferns To avoid a mish-mash mess, cut all of the fronds from your fern to the ground late each winter or early each spring. Once all of the fronds are cut down, each plant should look like a tiny, curled fist on the ground.

Do ferns do well outside in winter?

Bring Your Boston Ferns Indoors To Overwinter Don’t make the mistake of leaving your fern on the porch or patio this Fall as it gets nearer to the first frost. Freezing temps can not only damage the fronds but can also stunt and or damage the root system.

How to keep a fern alive outside?

Light: Ferns prefer a dappled shade canopy. Dense shade or bright sun will stress ferns beyond their comfort level. Watering: If nature doesn’t furnish an inch of rain weekly, watering will be necessary, especially during the first growing season after transplanting.

How do ferns survive winter?

Ferns survive with ease with simple occasional ambient light from a garage window, or even a basement well window. Less light is always better than too much. Ferns do not require much at all to survive the winter indoors. There is no need for fertilizing – really all that is needed is an occasional watering.

How do you care for ferns in winter?

Ferns prefer bright, indirect light, so place them near a window with filtered sunlight. Maintain a consistent temperature between 60-70°F (15-21°C) and avoid placing them near drafts or heating vents. Caring for ferns indoors during winter requires attention to their specific needs. One of the most important factors is providing adequate light.

Do Boston ferns need winter care?

Read on to learn more about winter care for Boston fern. Winter care for Boston fern starts with finding the right location for overwintering them. The plant needs cool nighttime temps and lots of bright, indirect light like that from a south window not blocked by trees or buildings. Daytime temperatures should not be over 75 degrees F. (24 C.).

How to care for indoor ferns?

One of the most important factors is providing adequate light. If your indoor space lacks natural light, consider using artificial grow lights to supplement the light requirements of your ferns. Maintaining proper humidity levels is also crucial for indoor ferns.

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