When and How to Fertilize Bird’s Nest Ferns

In this guide, we’re going to take you through the key points of how to fertilize bird’s nest fern plants at home. If you adore a tropical aesthetic, you’ll love the bird’s nest fern. Also known as Asplenium nidus, these rainforest dwellers look quite different from many other ferns, with their glossy, bright green fronds with distinct crinkled edges. Bird’s nest ferns make an attractive addition to the indoor garden and will thrive with the right growing conditions, such as water, soil, light, and fertilizer. They’re also relatively easy to propagate.

When and How to Fertilize Bird's Nest Ferns (Asplenium nidus)

Fertilizing Bird’s Nest Ferns – The Essentials

Bird’s nest ferns grow slowly, so they don’t need much fertilizer. In fact, overfertilizing is worse than under-fertilizing. Every three to four weeks during the growing season — spring and summer — apply a 20-10-20 fertilizer, diluted to half strength. Do not fertilize during the rest of the year.

The Role of Fertilizing In Plant Health and Growth: Why it’s Important for Bird’s Nest Ferns

The Role of Fertilizing In Plant Health and Growth: Why it’s Important for Bird's Nest Ferns

All Bird’s Nest Fern plants need the same things to survive: appropriate light conditions, a suitable watering schedule, rich soil, and nutrients. In the plant kingdom, every variety needs different amounts of these essential components. For plants to thrive, they must get the right mix. It’s especially important to meet houseplants’ fertilization needs.

Why? When plants grow in nature, they get the minerals and other nutrients they need from biomass or decomposing plant and animal matter in the soil. When plants are grown indoors, they don’t have access to that biomass, so indoor gardeners must provide other nutrition sources, such as fertilizer.

What Nutrients do Fertilizers provide Bird’s Nest Ferns?

Commercially available fertilizers contain a blend of the different nutrients plants require to survive and thrive. Plants require the largest amounts of three primary macronutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). Plants need secondary macronutrients, such as sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg), in smaller amounts.

Plants also require micronutrients. These include:

  • Boron (B)
  • Chlorine (Cl)
  • Copper (Cu)
  • Iron (Fe)
  • Manganese (Mn)
  • Molybdenum (Mo)
  • Nickel (Ni)
  • Zinc (Zn)

Each plant species requires a specific mix of macro-and micro-nutrients for optimal growth. That’s why different fertilizers contain different mixtures of these elements. Fortunately, fertilizer manufacturers make it easy to tell what’s in each brand; just look for what’s called a “nutrients analysis” on the outside of the packaging.

The Basics of N-P-K Nutrient Ratios:

The Basics of N-P-K Nutrient Ratios

How do you read the numbers in a nutrients analysis? Each set of ingredients must be listed by weight or ratio in the same order, starting with the primary macronutrients N-P-K. That means if you see the numbers 20-10-20 on the bag, the fertilizer’s ratio consists of 20 percent N (nitrogen) to 10 percent part P (phosphorous) to 20 percent K (potassium.)

The key lies in finding a fertilizer ratio that most closely meets your plant’s specific nutritional needs. To do so, it’s essential to know that there are a few common types of fertilizer, including:

  • Complete fertilizer, which delivers all three of the primary macronutrients N, P, and K.
  • Granular or dry fertilizer, which can be spread, sprinkled on, or mixed into the soil.
  • Soluble or quick-release fertilizer comes in liquid or powder form; combine with water and apply to the base of the plant or the leaves.
  • Slow-release fertilizer may come in the form of coated particles, tablets, or spikes that can be added to soil to release nutrients over time.

Most houseplants require more fertilizer during the growing season — spring and summer — and need less fertilizer during the winter. Check your plant’s specific needs when making a feeding schedule. For instance, the bird’s nest fern doesn’t need any fertilizer during the winter.

When and How Often Should You Fertilize Bird’s Nest Ferns?

When and How Often Should You Fertilize Bird's Nest Ferns?

The best time to fertilize a bird’s nest fern is during the spring and summer. These warmer months are the plant’s growing season, so extra nutrients are necessary to help your fern thrive at this time.

But even during their growing period, bird’s nest ferns don’t need much feeding. Every three to four weeks, apply a 20-10-20 fertilizer that you’ve diluted to half strength every three to four weeks. 

You do not need to fertilize during the rest of the year. Over-fertilizing can also potentially lead to pests and disease problems.

The Best Fertilizer for Bird’s Nest Ferns

The Best Fertilizer for Bird's Nest Ferns

Bird’s nest ferns don’t need much fertilizer. In fact, overfertilizing generally leads to more problems than under-fertilizing. This underscores the importance of choosing the right fertilizer for your bird’s nest fern.

A water-soluble fertilizer is a good choice; this type of fertilizer is easy to dilute to half strength and helps you avoid the buildup of chemicals and salts.

A fertilizer should provide the correct balance of the primary macronutrients. Choose a formula with a 20-10-20 ratio. This gives your fern more nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) to encourage foliage growth and health. Because ferns don’t produce flowers or fruits, you don’t need as much phosphorous (P). Be sure to dilute the fertilizer to half-strength before applying.

Appropriate fertilizers choices for a bird’s nest fern include EZ Gro Orchid Food, which comes in a concentrated liquid formula. Elephant Ear Fertilizer comes in a 20-10-20 water-soluble blend, as does Gro More 7517 Orchid Fertilizer.

(Editors Note: Petal Republic participates in partnership programs with Amazon and other merchants to help connect readers with relevant products and services we may recommend).

You can also make your own fertilizer at home. Ingredients like banana peels, used coffee grounds, fireplace ash, used water from a fish tank, bone meal, and fish meal can be combined to provide nutrients to your fern.

How to Apply Fertilizer

Before applying fertilizer, dilute it to half strength. Pour the fertilizer slowly on the soil around the plant, taking care to avoid the foliage. Getting fertilizer on the fern’s fronds may burn the leaves.

Key Considerations 

Key Considerations

Because bird’s nest ferns need very little fertilizer, most problems come from over-fertilizing rather than under-fertilizing. That’s why it’s so important to dilute fertilizers to half strength and only apply once every three to four weeks during the growing season.

When bird’s nest ferns are over-fertilized, you may notice signs such as abnormally shaped fronds or fronds that turn yellow or brown around the edges.

If you use too much fertilizer, salts may build up in the soil. This can result in frond deformation. Specifically, fronds may appear to have multiple lobes and indentations. Frond tips may look crinkled, transparent, or even die. If you notice these signs, stop fertilizing and flush the potting soil. 

You may need to repot the plant in new soil and withhold fertilizer until the plant starts growing normally again. Additionally, consider pruning your bird’s nest fern to remove past-prime foliage, and encourage healthy new growth.

 Fertilizing Bird’s Nest Ferns FAQs:

Do Bird’s Nest Ferns need fertilizer? 

Bird’s nest ferns need fertilizer, but only during the growing season or the spring and summer months. During the rest of the year, they do not require fertilizer.

When should I fertilize my Bird’s Nest Ferns? 

Add diluted fertilizer every three to four weeks during the growing season or the spring and summer. Do not fertilize at any other time of year.

What is the best fertilizer for Bird’s Nest Ferns? 

Bird’s nest ferns thrive with a 20-10-20 fertilizer, applied only during their growth period of spring and summer. Dilute the fertilizer to half-strength before applying.

Is Miracle-Gro suitable for Bird’s Nest Ferns? 

You can use Miracle-Gro on your bird’s nest fern. Just be sure to choose a water-soluble formula and dilute it to half-strength.

Are used coffee grounds good for Bird’s Nest Ferns? 

Used coffee grounds may offer some nitrogen to your bird’s nest fern. However, these plants need little fertilization, so be careful not to over-apply, as coffee grounds can increase soil acidity and lower pH.

Wrapping Up

For that lush, tropical look, nothing beats a bird’s nest fern. Their bright green, glossy fronds with crinkly edges add texture and color to any setting. When provided with the right growing conditions — indirect light, consistent moisture, and the right humidity — these plants are relatively low-maintenance. That extends to fertilizing, as well; simply feed a half-strength 20-10-20 fertilizer every three to four weeks during the spring and summer, and leave plants alone during the rest of the year.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the meaning and symbolism of ferns.

Contributing Editor | linsay@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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