What is a Table Fern?

Barbara Bean-Mellinger

A table fern is a fern that is small enough to grow in a pot that can be placed on a table, and that tends to thrive in an indoor environment. In spite of its name, a table fern can grow to be approximately 24” (61 cm) tall. Its scientifitc name is Pteris cretica, and it is commonly called a table fern or brake fern. Common examples of table ferns are Boston ferns and Dallas ferns.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Like most ferns, the table fern can be difficult to care for. It will likely grow best if planted with the soil approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the rim of the pot. This gives the water room to pool so the soil will not become dry. In fact, table ferns do best if they are watered until the water flows out of the drain holes in the pot. The soil should not be allowed to dry out between watering.

Table ferns prefer locations with ample indirect light, some shade from the midday sun, and high humidity. To increase the humidity, place the pot on moist pebbles and group several pots close together. If the tips of the leaves begin to brown, the humidity is too low. In spite of the ferns’ reputation for being difficult to grow, table ferns are more cooperative than most ferns. If the conditions of high humidity, indirect light, and moist soil are met, table ferns can thrive.

Typical houseplant pests such as aphids and spider mites can affect table ferns. Ridding the plants of these pests is best done by organic means so as not to damage the soft leaves of the table fern. Scales—tiny, sucking insects that often resemble a disease rather than an infestation—can be another problem for table ferns. A reliable indication that scales exist on a plant is the sticky sap-like residue on the plant stems, the underside of the leaves, and sometimes even dripping off the leaves. A diluted solution of rubbing alcohol, water, and hand soap, applied with a soft cloth or sponge, will usually eliminate scales, although the solution may have to be reapplied regularly.

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