How to Repot a Bird’s Nest Fern at Home

Bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) grow slowly and only need repotting every two to three years, in my experience. I find the best size for a new pot is one that’s at least 2 inches larger in diameter. The best time to repot is in the fern’s growth season, spring or summer. Ensure the new pot provides proper drainage and keep the plant’s crown at the same level it was in the old container. Here’s my process to successfully repot bird’s nest ferns at home.

When and How to Repot a Bird's Nest Fern at Home

Benefits of Repotting Bird’s Nest Ferns

Bird’s nest ferns grow slowly, and they tend to prefer a smaller pot instead of a larger pot. But, like all plants, A. nidus can eventually outgrow a container regardless of your pruning efforts.

If a bird’s nest fern grows too large for its pot, roots may fill the existing pot and become visible at the soil’s surface. If roots are left to grow tightly for too long, plants may become rootbound or pot bound. In such cases, roots fill a container and start to seek out room to expand. They may emerge from the top of the soil, pop through drainage holes, form a dense mat, or circle around the pot’s circumference.

Roots that are too tightly enmeshed can’t take up water, oxygen, and nutrients. And when roots can’t grow, the stem and foliage of the plant can’t grow, either. Repotting gives a bird’s nest fern new space for roots to expand.

Replenish Your Plant’s Nutrient Source

Repotting also provides your plant with fresh soil and replenishes nutrients. Over time, potted plants will use up nutrients in the potting soil mix. Repotting into fresh soil mix benefits plant health. Soil structure can also degrade over time, leading to compacted spots or too-loose areas. Repotting into new soil offers a solution.

If a plant gets a disease or a pest infestation, repotting often helps solve the problem. For instance, rootbound plants often show signs of stress, such as necrotizing leaf tips, yellowing foliage, wilting, or desiccation. Repotting allows you to loosen or cut tightly bound roots.

Issues such as root rot, fungus gnats, and mold may also be exacerbated by soil. Removing plants from their containers and repotting into fresh, clean soil can help clear up pest and disease issues without potentially harmful fungicides or pesticides.

How Often Do Bird’s Nest Ferns Need Repotting?

A large bird's nest fern plant in a decorative plant pot

Bird’s nest ferns grow slowly. They usually need to be repotted about every two or three years as a general rule. Younger plants and recently propagated bird’s nest ferns may need more frequent repotting.

Of course, a plant’s growth rate differs depending on environmental conditions. For instance, plants that live in low-light conditions may grow more slowly.

Take cues from your plant as to when to repot. If you see signs that a plant is becoming root-bound, it’s likely time to move up to a large container. Signs your bird’s nest fern may need repotting include:

  • Roots protruding from drainage holes.
  • Roots emerging from the top of the soil.
  • When lifting the plant, roots are tightly enmeshed or form a dense mat.
  • Slowed growth not due to environmental reasons.
  • Fern appears desiccated, despite regular watering.
  • Fronds with browning, necrotic tips.
  • Wilting or yellowing.

Best Times of Year to Consider Repotting

Repotting stresses plants, so it’s best only to do it when necessary. Try only to repot bird’s nest ferns during times of growth, when plants have plenty of energy to put toward recovery. The growing season is in spring and summer for a bird’s nest fern.

The Best Soil Mix When Repotting

In their natural habitat, bird’s nest ferns grow in the understory and on tree trunks in tropical rainforests. That means they prefer moist, well-draining, and never wet soil. Adding amendments such as perlite or vermiculite can help improve both drainage and moisture retention.

Bird’s nest ferns thrive in soil that’s acidic. A pH level of 5.0 to 5.5 is ideal. Adding pine bark to your soil mix can help maintain the proper pH.

If you’re making your own bird’s nest fern soil mix, consider two parts peat, one part pine bark, and one part perlite. If you’re purchasing potting soil, a mix designed for orchids may be a good choice.

Essential Repotting Tools

The repotting process for a bird’s nest fern doesn’t require many tools. However, gathering the following items will make repotting easier:

  • New container
  • New potting soil
  • Gloves
  • Sheets of newspaper or tarp to protect surfaces from soil
  • Plant snips in case you need to loosen pot-bound roots

Size & Types of Potting Vessel Considerations

A small bird's nest fern in a white plant pot

When choosing a new container for your bird’s nest fern, choose a potting vessel that’s no more than 2 inches larger in diameter than the current container and no more than a few inches deeper.

Many people choose much larger containers hoping that plants will grow much larger. But indoor plants aren’t like goldfish; they don’t grow to the size of their containers. In fact, a vessel that’s too big may cause problems. Roots can’t reach all the soil, so they may stay wet, leading to fungal growth or root rot.

As for the type of container, the most important consideration isn’t what the pot is made of. Plastic, ceramic, or terra cotta are all excellent choices. The most crucial factor is that the pot provides adequate drainage.

How to Repot Your Bird’s Nest Fern

Here’s how to repot your bird’s nest fern:

  1. Ensure your plant is healthy and that it’s the growing season (spring or summer)
  2. Gather supplies — new pot, new soil, newspaper or tarp, gloves, and snips (optional)
  3. Spread newspaper or tarp over your work space
  4. Grasp your fern around the rosette at the soil line and slide it out of its container
  5. Gently shake to remove excess soil; if your plant has any diseases or pests, rinse roots with clean water
  6. If roots are pot-bound, use snips to loosen
  7. Place a few inches of potting soil in the new container
  8. Set your bird’s nest fern on top, ensuring the rosette is at the height you want
  9. Fill with soil until the plant meets the soil at the same level it did in the original container
  10. Tamp soil lightly to stabilize
  11. Water sparingly

Post Repotting Care

Repotting stresses and shocks plants, so help your bird’s nest fern time to heal and recover. Put it back in the same place it was in before the repotting to minimize environmental changes.

Keep to your regular watering schedule, only adding water when soil feels dry to about an inch down. Avoid fertilizing your bird’s nest fern for a few weeks after repotting.

If you notice signs of stress, such as wilting or yellowing leaves, give the plant time to recover before making any more changes.

Repotting Bird’s Nest Ferns FAQs:

Should I soak my Fern before repotting? 

You do not need to soak your bird’s nest fern before repotting. Instead, water it lightly after repotting.

Should you water immediately after repotting? 

Yes, water your bird’s nest fern lightly after repotting it. Then, avoid watering again until the soil feels dry to about an inch down.

Do Bird’s Nest Ferns like big pots? 

Bird’s nest ferns do not like big pots. They grow slowly, and do better in smaller pots than overly large containers. A too-big container may make it difficult for the plant’s roots to properly access water, causing health issues.

Why is my Fern limp after repotting? 

The repotting process is stressful for plants. They may react by wilting or even yellowing after a container change. Allow them time to recover, and only repot during the growing season, when they have more energy to put toward healing.

Should I mist my Bird’s Nest Fern after repotting? 

Bird’s nest ferns are native to humid, tropical environments. You may mist after repotting to mimic the tropical humidity that they prefer.

Should I fertilize my Bird’s Nest Fern after repotting? 

Do not fertilize your bird’s nest fern after repotting; this can harm the plants. These slow-growers aren’t heavy feeders, and only need diluted fertilizer about one per month during the spring and summer, so keep to your regular feeding schedule.

Wrapping Up

Bird’s nest ferns are slow growers that, in most cases, only need repotting every two to three years. When it’s time to repot, choose a container that’s about 2 inches larger in diameter than the original and has adequate drainage holes. Repot only in spring or summer, and use a well-draining, acidic soil mix for the best results.

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