Keep it alive, stop killing it!
Keep a fern alive. Now really impress me and keep it alive in an enclosure where a gecko will walk all over it! Let’s point out the obvious before we get started… Ferns will only survive in tropical, high humidity enclosures. And even then, it will still likely die. There. Now that’s out-of-the-way, let’s discuss my favorite reptile safe fern the Maidenhair fern. I’ve purchased these ferns countless times and ended up killing the poor plant. The one small plant I got to thrive, died when I went away on a trip and the care taker didn’t realize the importance of water and plants. However, I’ve learned from my mistakes and am here to share the secret to keeping ferns alive in your reptiles enclosure.
Here’s a simple check list to see if ferns suite your reptiles enclosure:
- High humidity tropical enclosure, 75% and higher
- A location with no direct sunlight or heat stress (prefer shade with very light exposure to light)
- Available space for a water dish for plant to sit in
- Lack of ventilation enclosure (not mesh or well ventilated enclosure that looses humidity)
- Room temperatures (no extremes)
It’s essential to perform all these steps to keep your fern alive, let alone providing an environment for your fern to thrive and grow!
Everything have a check box beside it? Great! Let’s talk about soil. Ferns do not handle frequent re-potting well and should only be re-planted every 2 years. This is difficult for transferring this plant to reptile safe soil. Normally, in any other plant I would rinse the original soil (soil plant was in at nursery/store) completely off the plant right down to the roots, and re-plant it in peat moss and tropical potting soil (sold at pet stores) mix. BUT ferns are a sensitive plant so we have to work with what we got to keep that lush green plant alive and thriving. I remove most of the soil off the fern with my fingers lightly leaving the soil entangled in the plants roots alone (if you see slow release fertilizers in the soil you have no choice but to remove all original soil off the ferns roots and re-plant it in peat moss). I re-plant the fern surrounding the original soil completely with the peat moss tropical soil mix and ensure there’s 3″ of top layer of peat moss that will be exposed to your reptiles
(keep in mind they may dig).
So, now your soil is reptile safe, lets talk about water requirements. Now here’s the key: The ferns potting dish will sit in a dish of distilled or chlorine free water. Add coco chunks or reptile safe bagged wood chunks to this dish of water to not only prevent the plant from sitting directly in water, but prevents any drowning for reptiles and their food items. Keep this water dish topped up. This method allows the water to be brought up from the bottom of the soil to the top of the soil (the opposite of how most plants are watered). This is the key to ferns water requirements. Misting is also appreciated by your fern.
Lastly, here are some tips for identifying what your fern is saying about its health:
- Frond tips are browning: The environments air is too dry, increase your humidity
- Pale or scorched marks: Being exposed to too much sunlight or direct heat