Everything You Need to Know About Watering Bird’s Nest Fern Plants Indoors

The Bird’s Nest Fern (aka Asplenium nidus) may be best known for its glossy, bright green fronds with lovely crinkled margins. But it’s also a relatively low-maintenance houseplant that instantly adds a lush, tropical vibe to any room. Along with well-draining soil, indirect light, and occasional fertilizing, watering your bird’s nest fern correctly is key to a thriving plant. Here’s how to water bird’s nest ferns.

When and How to Water Bird’s Nest Ferns – The Essentials

Bird’s nest ferns thrive in warm, humid conditions. Keep ferns uniformly moist, but never allow the soil to be soggy or wet. Water the plants around the perimeter rather than directly into the center of the plant’s crown, which may lead to rot. When the soil feels dry to an inch down, add water.

About Bird’s Nest Ferns

About Bird's Nest Ferns

Bird’s nest ferns, or Asplenium nidus, are popular houseplants for a good reason. Much of their appeal stems from their appearance; unlike most other ferns, the bird’s nest boasts glossy, apple-green fronds with a unique crinkled margin. The plants grow in an attractive rosette form, with fronds extending from a central crown or nest.

Bird’s nest ferns belong to the Asplenium genus, a group of about 700 species known as spleenworts. This unusual common name comes from an ancient belief that ferns were a treatment for diseases of the spleen, due to some species’ spleen-shaped spori, or clusters of spores, on the backs of fronds.

The Asplenium genus is part of the Aspleniaceae family, also known as the fern family. Plants in this family all grow from rhizomes and have fronds that may be undivided, like the bird’s nest fern, or have pinnae divided up to four times.

A. nidus are native to tropical regions of southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Australia, and Madagascar. In their native habitat, the ferns are epiphytic and often grow on tree trunks, logs, and structures. They thrive in the warm, humid climate and live in the dappled light and partial shade of the understory.

The Role of Water in Plant Health and Development

The Role of Water in Plant Health and Development

Along with light, air, and nutrients, plants need water to survive. The bird’s nest fern is no exception, and providing the right amount of water in the correct way is essential to this popular plant’s health. But why is water so key to all plant life?

Plants need water before they even sprout. Most plant seeds require some moisture to kick-start the germination process. After plants sprout and start to grow, they begin to take in water through their roots. The water travels throughout the plant, giving it structure and form. It also delivers essential nutrients to the plant.

Photosynthesis — the process through which plants transform light into energy — also requires water. After plants absorb water through their roots, take in the nutrients they need, they release the extra moisture into the air. This process plays an essential role in the planet’s water cycle.

When to Water Bird’s Nest Ferns

When to Water Bird's Nest Ferns

Bird’s nest ferns prefer consistently moist soil. However, they don’t like wet feet, and soggy, oversaturated soil may lead to root rot. Water only when the top inch of soil feels dry, avoiding any accumulation of standing water.

Under typical indoor conditions, this may be about once per week. The soil may dry out quickly if your plant is near a heat source or a bright light, such as a south- or west-facing window

It’s best to check soil moisture before watering rather than attempting to water on a schedule.

How do You Know When a Bird’s Nest Fern Needs Watering

Bird’s nest ferns prefer soil that’s moist but never soggy. Water the fern when the top inch of soil feels dry. If you notice drooping fronds, that’s a sign that it’s time to water.

How to Check When to Water Bird’s Nest Ferns

Before adding water to a bird’s nest fern, stick your finger in the soil. If the top inch feels dry, go ahead and water.

You may also use a moisture meter or insert a chopstick into the soil. If the top inch of the stick comes up dry, it’s time to water. Picking up the entire container is another way to check; if the container feels light, water your plant.

How Often do Bird’s Nest Ferns Typically Need Watering

In indirect light and average temperatures and humidity levels, a bird’s nest fern will usually need watering about once per week.

Environmental Considerations That May Impact Watering Cycles

If your fern is exposed to bright light and drafts or the interior of your home is dry and hot, you may need to provide water more frequently. If your fern is in a dark, cool spot, it may need less water. You’ll need to be extra careful with freshly propagated bird’s nest ferns as well.

How to Water Bird’s Nest Ferns

How to Water Bird's Nest Ferns

When adding water to your fern, always pour it around the perimeter of the plant. Don’t add it directly to the crown, as the rosette shape can hold water, leading to root rot.

Instead of watering on a strict schedule, check the top inch of soil. If it’s dry, it’s time to water.

The Fundamental Importance of Good Drainage

Even though bird’s nest ferns prefer moist soil, they don’t like to sit in water. Excess water prevents your plant from taking up the nutrients and oxygen it needs. Insufficient drainage will suffocate your plant’s roots, leading to disease, root rot, and plant death.

That’s why good drainage is essential. Always plant your fern in a container that drains quickly through adequate drainage holes. 

What Type of Water is Best for Bird’s Nest Ferns

Distilled, room temperature water is best for a bird’s nest fern. They can tolerate tap water if you let it sit overnight first. 

Watering Bird’s Nest Ferns

Options & Techniques

Use the saturation method to water your fern. Slowly pour water from the top around the plant’s perimeter until it flows out the container’s drainage holes. Avoid wetting the crown. Finally, tilt the container to ensure excess water flows out.

Step-by-step Guide for Top Watering:

  1. Pour water from the top around the perimeter of the plant and pot.
  2. Avoid watering the foliage or crown.
  3. Wait for excess water to drain.
  4. Repeat until the root ball is uniformly moist.
  5. Tip the pot slightly to ensure all extra water drains.

Your container must be able to drain freely, so remove excess water from the tray. If you want to increase humidity, you may place the container in a tray filled with pebbles and water.

Signs You Might be Overwatering Your Bird’s Nest Ferns

Signs You Might be Overwatering Your Bird's Nest Ferns

Though bird’s nest ferns like moist soil, they don’t like to be overwatered. If you notice wilting or yellowing fronds, you may be overwatering. Stop adding any additional water until the top inch of soil dries out.

If the wilting and yellowing worsens, you may have root rot. You may need to repot your bird’s nest fern.

 Signs You Might be Underwatering Your Bird’s Nest Ferns

When your fern needs water, fronds may droop, or frond tips may start to brown or look crispy. Add water immediately if you notice these signs of underwatering.

What to Do In Between Watering Cycles

Should you consider misting Bird’s Nest Ferns in-between watering cycles?

Bird’s nest ferns are native to the tropics, where the air tends to be humid year-round. You may consider misting between watering cycles to mimic this environment.

Will Bird’s Nest Ferns Benefit from sitting on a humidity tray?

Sitting your plant pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water may increase humidity. Just be sure your pot can still drain.

Main things to keep an eye on

Look for drooping, brown, or crisping fronds as a sign of underwater. Yellowing, wilting fronds may be a sign of overwater or root rot. You’ll want to consider pruning your bird’s nest fern as well to remove past-prime foliage and encourage healthy new growth.

Watering Bird’s Nest Ferns FAQs:

What are the most common signs Bird’s Nest Ferns need watering? 

When a bird’s nest fern needs water, it may look droopy. Frond tips may turn brown or crisp.

What is the best way to water Bird’s Nest Ferns? 

Water from the top and pour only around the plant’s perimeter. Don’t water directly into the crown of the plant.

How much water do Bird’s Nest Ferns need? 

Bird’s nest ferns prefer moist, but not wet, soil. Water when the top inch of the soil is dry.

Is it ok to get water on Bird’s Nest Ferns leaves? 

Try not to get water on the fern’s fronds when watering. It’s essential not to water the crown or rosette of the plant.

What do I do if I overwater my Bird’s Nest Ferns? 

If you overwater, don’t add any more water until the soil feels dry an inch down. If you see signs of root rot, you may need to repot your fern.

Can I water my Bird’s Nest Ferns with tap water? 

You can use tap water, but let it sit out overnight first.

Wrapping Up

With their apple-green color, glossy fronds, and distinctive crinkled margins, bird’s nest ferns are an attractive and popular indoor plant. Keep these lovely plants moist, but not wet, for the best results.


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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