How to grow and care for Holly Fern Indoors

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Houseplant, Holly Fern

Botanical name: Cyrtomium falcatum
Family: Dryopteridaceae

Holly Fern also called House Holly-fern or Japanese Holly Fern bears toothed, sharp-tipped, holly-like leaves. It tolerates lower light and saline conditions than most indoor ferns. Holly Fern is a large fern which grows to a height of 2 ft with a spread of about 3 ft. The leaves are about 1.6 ft long and are made up of 6-10 pairs of shiny bright green leaflets. Each leaflet may be flat, wavy or slightly toothed along the edges. It bears a large light brown rhizome. The fern is easily propagated by spores or by division of the undeground rhizome. Holly Fern is native to eastern Asia where it grows from crevices in coastal cliffs, stream banks, rocky slopes and other moist areas.

How to Grow Holly Fern Indoors


Holly Fern thrives in light shade to deep shade. Keep it away from direct sunlight as it may scorch the fronds. Turn the pot regularly to ensure even growth. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.


For optimum growth of Holly Fern, keep the soil evenly moist at all times, never allow it to dry out. Reduce watering during cold months. Avoid waterlogging as it can lead to rotting. Learn more on how to water houseplants.


Average warmth between 15-240C is ideal for Holly Fern. Find out more on temperature for houseplants.


Holly Fern thrives under average room humidity. Employ these techniques to raise humidity for this fern is the air is too dry.


Feed Holly Fern with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer once a month during the growing period. Withhold feeding during the cold season as growth is reduced. Find out more on how to feed houseplants.


Remove dead and damaged fronds. As the plant ages, the older fronds turn brown. Cut them off at the base to maintain the plant looking neat and tidy.


Repot Holly Fern every 2-3 years at the beginning of the growing season to provide adequate room for the growth of the rhizome. One sign of an overcrowded fern is wilting leaves. Failure to repot an overcrowded Holly Fern can result in death of the plant. Use a pot that is 1 size larger and one that has drainage hole(s) to avoid waterlogging. Use loose, free-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. The plant can also be divided into several sections and potted individually.

How to Propagate Holly Fern

Holly Fern can be propagated by division at the beginning of the growing season or by germinating the spores.

Propagating Holly Fern by Division
Carefully remove the fern from its pot and divide into several sections. Ensure each section has adequate roots. Pot up these sections into individual pots. Place the pots in a warm shaded place and maintain the soil moist through out until the plants are well established.

Propagating Holly Fern from Spores
Spores are brown dots on the underside of the fronds. When the ripen, the cases ope and tiny dust-like spores fall out. Cut the frond and place it on a piece of paper with spores side down. Allow time for the spores to fall out of the cases onto the piece of paper. The spores can also be obtained by shaking the frond occasionally. Thinly spread the spores on moist soil and cover the set up with clear polythene to maintain humidity and warmth. Place the set up in a brightly lit area. The spores should sprout in 1-2 months. Allow the plants to be well established before transplanting.

Common problems in growing Holly Fern

  • Brown dots or lines on the underside of fronds
  • These are spores which can be used for propagation. They indicate that the frond is mature and healthy. These spores drop to the soil and grow into new plants.

  • Yellowing fronds, brown tips, no new growth
  • The cause of Yellowing fronds, brown tips, no new growth in Holly Fern is too dry air. Employ these techniques to raise humidity.

  • Yellowing leaves
  • Waterlogging is the reason for yellowing leaves in Holly Fern. Ensure the pot has a drainage hole and the soil is free-draining.

  • Wilting leaves
  • Wilting leaves in Holly Fern is an indication of overcrowding in the current pot resulting in underwatering of the fern. Repot the fern into a larger pot or divide it up for more plants.

  • Excessive leaf drop
  • Leaflets drop in Holly Fern is indicative of underwatering. Maintain the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Do not leave the soil to dry out.

  • Brown shells scattered on fronds
  • Brown shells scattered on fronds in Holly Fern is an indication of a infestation by Scales. Isolate the affected plant to avoid spread to other houseplants.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Holly Fern are Scales and Mealy Bugs. Isolate the affected plant to avoid spread to other houseplants.


Holly Ferns are non-toxic to humans and pets. The plants are safe to grow indoors.

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