Never let white rabbit's foot fern sit in water.

These tropical beauties warm up a room in no time flat.

Winter's bite: It has you wanting to change your latitude. So add a tropical fern to your favorite room, and you'll have an immediate change of heart. Here are some you'll really love.

1. Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi 'Brentwood')
Need something lush to fill that empty spot? Here's your answer. This fern's formidable stature and upward-arching fronds say, "Look at me." It's a great choice for sunrooms and foyers.

Keys to success: This guy loves regular moisture and won't forgive you if you forget. Bright light is a must, but if the frond edges start to brown, find a shadier spot. Mist the trunk and fronds frequently.

2. Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
This is the easiest fern to grow. Its fronds coil tightly in the center prior to opening, resembling a nest. Pictured is curly 'Victoria' Japanese bird's nest fern (A. antiquum 'Victoria'), prized for its wavy leaf margins.

Keys to success: Tolerant of low light, low humidity, and missed waterings, this fern will surpass your expectations. Just show it a little love by following the instructions described in "Fern SOS" on page 76. Fertilize every six weeks, and mist occasionally if the air is dry.

3. Elkhorn Fern (Polypodium punctatum 'Grandiceps')
Also known as the cobra fern, this easy tropical is a must-buy. If you can't find it at your local nursery, an Internet search will reveal several sources. The glossy, upright fronds can reach 3 feet in length.

Keys to success: Bright light is preferred, but partial shade is okay. Avoid direct sun. Allow it to dry out slightly between waterings. It grows quickly once established.

4. Crocodile Fern (Microsorium musifolium 'Crocodyllus')
If your tastes run exotic, you'll love the leaves of this South African native, which mimic the skin of a crocodile. Group several together in a large container in the family room, or use a single plant in the bath, where it will love the extra humidity.

Keys to success: Bright, indirect light and regular water are best, but this fern will tolerate short periods of drought, especially during winter.

5. White Rabbit's Foot Fern (Humata tyermannii)
Often sold in hanging baskets, this fern can be repotted into any container that shows off its fur-covered feet, which are really rhizomes. This plant does not mind being pot-bound, as long as you water more frequently.

Keys to success: Do not let this fern sit in water, or it will rot. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Fertilize only when new growth is present with a 20-10-20 formulation at one-quarter the rate recommended on the package.

 

Fern SOS
Help! Why do ferns look great in the store but then wilt and drop leaves when I bring them home? Maidenhair seems to be the worst.

Barry Frustrated
Brownsville, Texas

Sounds like root burn is the cause. If a fern dries out in shipment to the retailer or in the home, the drop in moisture concentrates the fertilizer, burning tender roots. To avoid this common problem, Dallas-based Casa Flora, the nation's leading producer of fern liners, offers this advice.

Turn your new fern upside down, and gently shake it to remove the timed-release fertilizer pellets. Next, hold the plant under tepid running water to flush additional nutrients from the soil. Resume a normal feeding schedule with a 20-10-20 water-soluble fertilizer at half the rate recommended on the package. "Once a month is fine for most," says company representative Emily Mason. Water regularly, and place it in bright, filtered light.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum sp.) requires high humidity, no heat, no drafts, and bright light. Never let it dry out, but don't keep it wet either. Place the plant atop a pebble-filled saucer, water from the top, and empty the saucer once the plant has drained.

"Five Great Indoor Ferns" is from the January 2008 issue of Southern Living.

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