With a bit of time and patience, your heart fern can grow to be a beautiful addition to your other home.
Whether it is your first plant or your 101st, it can never hurt to do some research before getting a new plant type.
Though the heart fern is a bit more challenging to care for, we have some things to help make sure your heart fern is the best it can be.
What Is a Heart Fern?
The heart fern is also known by several other names.
Some of these include:
- Hemionitis arifolia
- Tongue fern
- Heart leaf fern
- Heart shaped fern
- Heart’s tongue fern
- Dwarf fern
Native to southern Asia, this heart shaped plant was identified in 1859. However, you can find them at a nursery or garden store in your area or even online. The heart leaves are a distinct way to identify them.
Heart Fern Care Guide
As a tropical plant, your heart fern needs warmth and moisture, so it makes a great houseplant. The fern will also do well with small amounts of fertilizer once in a while and needs bright but indirect light.
– Light Requirements
Providing your heart fern with indirect sunlight from a nearby window is the best choice. They do need light but not direct sunlight as it will scorch the leaves. Growing in the tropics, they are partially shaded by the tree canopy, so it thrives with filtered light.
– Water Requirements
The heart fern likes to be moist at all times but never soggy. Letting your fern sit in too much water will cause root rot. Put water only when the first inch of soil is dry. This may be once a week or every other week, depending on the humidity in your home.
– Humidity Requirements
Speaking of humidity, as a tropical plant, your heart fern needs high humidity of at least 60 percent. Placing a humidifier nearby can help keep the air at the moisture level it needs. It could also help to use a pebble tray under the plant to create humidity.
Many people plant their heart fern in a terrarium. Not only does it help keep the fern moist, but it is also kept warm. And since it only grows a maximum of ten inches high, it will fit into a terrarium nicely.
– Temperature Requirements
Keeping your heart fern warm is essential to its health. It does not like any temperature below 60 degrees. The best temperature for a healthy fern is between 60 and 80 degrees. Since it does not like drafts, a terrarium is a good idea.
– Soil Requirements
You will need soil that drains well and is moist and rich with humus. A good combination is two parts garden soil, two parts humus, one part sand, and a bit of aquarium charcoal.
Adding bark to the mix is also a good idea since the heart fern is epiphytic. In other words, it likes to grow on trees.
Feeding your heart fern once a month or every other month is all it needs. Use ¼-teaspoon of fertilizer per gallon of water. A fertilizer of 15/15/15 is best. Do not overfeed because it can hurt your plant.
– Pot Size Requirements
The best size pot for your heart fern is about four to six inches. You do not want to crowd the roots, but too much space can dry out your plant. The best type of pot is clay with gravel or pebbles at the bottom.
Proper Propagation Techniques
So, we will go over both of these propagation techniques.
1. Propagating from Spores
Growing new heart ferns from spores takes a bit of time and patience. Spores are the tiny dots on the back of some of its leaves. They look like tiny furry domes, and you should be able to find some on several of the leaves on your heart fern.
Remove the leaf from the plant and put it in a Ziploc bag to dry out. Once it is dry, shake the bag to allow the spores to fall to the bottom. Put the spores in an unglazed pot with a peat moss mixture and set the pot in a dish of water.
Place the whole pot into a plastic bag in a sunny location. It has to stay warm and should not fall below 65 degrees. It can take months for the spore to grow, so do not expect anything to happen fast. Eventually, you will start seeing a slimy growth on the peat before the fronds form.
2. Propagating by Division
Division is the easiest, fastest, and most effective way to grow more heart ferns. As long as your fern is healthy, you should be able to divide it easily if you have ever divided a perennial before.
At the beginning of spring, remove your plant from the pot carefully and set it on a clean surface. Use a pair of sharp snippers to cut between the rhizomes. Make sure you leave several sets of leaves in each cutting.
Repot your new plants in an unglazed pot filled with a peat mixture. Place it in a dish of water so the plant can absorb the water from the dish. Keep the soil moist until your new heart fern is established.
Common Problems of Heart Fern
Your heart fern is susceptible to issues like root rot, dehydration, and pests. Root rot can be prevented by only watering your fern when the top inch of soil is dry. You can avoid dehydration by keeping your fern moist with a humidifier or a pebble tray. Pests can be removed and controlled with neem or insecticide soap.
The heart leaves that give the heart fern its name can often be a sign of an unhealthy plant or infestation. Keep an eye on the leaves’ color, shape, and texture to monitor your fern’s health.
Here are some of the leaf issues you may experience.
- Curling leaves are often a sign of being dehydrated. Moisture stress is what happens when the air is less than 50% hydrated. It may be that it needs water or a pebble tray. But you can also try a humidifier.
- Wilting leaves are a sign of not enough water. Your heart fern needs to stay hydrated and watered at all times. If your fern dries out too much, the cells will shrink and lose structure, causing them to wilt. It may also be a sign of overheating, but this is rare since they thrive on heat.
- Yellow leaves can be a sign of root rot. If you give your plant too much water, the roots will drown. It can also be a sign of too much fertilizer or pest infestation. If the roots are dry and you have not fed your plant in a while, look for pests’ signs.
The heart fern can be infested with different insects or pests just like any other plant. The main ones to look for are aphids, mealybugs, and scale bugs.
Aphids are a common pest of the heart fern. The ¼-inch greenish-yellow bugs may be hard to spot. But you will probably notice the leaves of your fern are turning yellow and falling off. They can also cause the leaves to wilt or curl up.
A quick hard spray of cold water is good to get rid of the pesky bugs. But do not let your heart fern get too wet or cold because it could cause even more problems. If the infestation is not bad, you can also squish them with your fingers, which is oddly satisfying.
Once you get rid of them, keep them away by protecting your plant with insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also use an organic treatment like garlic oil, chili pepper, or catnip. Other options include acetamiprid and imidacloprid.
If you see white cottony or powdery spots on the back of the leaves of your heart fern, you may be seeing mealybugs. The pink mealybug is only about 1/20th of an inch, so you will probably not see them directly, just the white waxy coating.
The first indication of mealybug infestation is the leaves turning yellow or wilting. Or the leaves may start falling off. If you do not treat the infestation quickly, the mealybugs can drain the life out of your heart fern.
Because mealybugs are so hard to get rid of, it helps if you catch them early. Then you can just cut off the infested leaves before they spread. Treat the rest of your heart fern with neem oil or insecticide soap.
Another option is to scrape the white coating off your plant and then wipe it down with an alcohol solution. Mix a tiny bit of mild dish soap with three parts water and one part alcohol. Spray it on the entire plant and let it sit for several days before repeating.
3. Scale Bugs
Scale bugs come in two types, the soft scale, and the armored scale. Both types are equally damaging because they suck the nutrients out of your heart fern. Let’s look at the differences between the two-scale bugs.
Soft scale bugs are about ¼-inch long and have a white or camouflaged shell. It can be challenging to tell the soft scale from the armored, but the soft scale bugs excrete sticky sap while the armored ones do not. If you see ants around your plant, you may have soft-scale bugs because they eat the sap.
The armored scale does not leave the sap-like soft scale, but you can identify them using the round bumps they use to protect them. If you remove one of these bumps, you will find a small bug underneath about the same size as the soft scale bug.
You can use neem oil or insecticide soap to get rid of either of the scale bugs. The armored scale bugs can be harder to get rid of because of their shell. But as long as you continue to spray your fern every month, the scale will eventually die out.
How to Revive a Heart Fern
If your heart fern is wilting, dropping leaves, or is just unhealthy, don’t just give up on it. You may still be able to save it. It may just be overheated, overwatered, underwatered, or dehydrated. Or maybe it has a pest infestation.
No matter the issue, you can usually give your heart fern a second chance at life by fixing the problem. If it is suffering from root rot, remove it and rinse the soil from the roots. Trim away the dead roots and clean the pot before replacing it in fresh loamy soil.
You can solve other problems by just rectifying the situation. In other words, if your plant is overheated, move it to a cooler spot. And if you have underwatered or dehydrated your heart fern, give it some water, a pebble tray, and a humidifier.
We have gone over quite a bit of information about your heart fern. You may be feeling like an expert on the subject.
But we should recap what we covered to remind you of the most important parts of caring for your heart fern.
- The heart fern is a compact evergreen with glossy heart-shaped leaves that can grow up to 10 inches tall.
- Other names for your heart fern include Hemionitis arifolia, tongue fern, heart leaf fern, heart-shaped fern, heart’s tongue fern, and dwarf fern.
- You should keep your heart fern in a warm area between 60 and 80 degrees.
- Do not expose the plant to direct sunlight but give it a lot of indirect light.
- Keep your heart fern watered but never overwater, or it will get root rot—only water when the top inch of soil gets dry.
- You can feed the heart fern a small amount of fertilizer once a month.
- The heart fern needs humidity of at least 60 percent at all times. A humidifier or pebble tray can help keep it hydrated.
- A terrarium is a great place to grow a heart fern since it retains warmth, moisture and has indirect light.
- You can propagate the heart fern by division or spores.
- Watch the color and shape of the leaves for signs of pests or other health problems.
- Heart ferns are susceptible to aphids, mealybugs, and scale bugs.
- You can revive your heart fern by rectifying the problem.
Whether you have a whole house full of heart ferns or you have one, you will love the glossy heart-shaped leaves that stay green all year long. As long as you do not overwater or underwater your fern, it will grow like a weed. Try growing one in a terrarium with other terrarium plants to keep it hydrated and warm.