The brake fern plant is an attractive houseplant that can be found in homes all over the country. The Pteris genus is the origin of this plant and most in the family are called brake ferns. They do not look like a traditional fern in that they feature pinnate fronds that are flat.
In general, the brakes ferns cultivated for use indoors are made to be very tough. They have vivid variegation that makes them a popular choice among homeowners and businesses alike.
Caring for the brake fern is relatively simple. They mainly need to be protected from dry air and watered on a regular basis. There are larger species that work well as corner floor sitting plants and mini versions that are more suited to tables and countertops.
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About Brake Fern
- The brake fern is from the Pteris genus which is host to a wide variety of plant species.
- Brake ferns have flat fronds that are pinnate in nature which separates them visually from traditional fern plants.
- You may be surprised to know that there are almost 300 different Pteris species worldwide. The most common is the Cretan brake, which is what is found in most homes and offices.
- Commercial breeders have created many new variations of the brake fern in a variety of sizes and colors.
- These plants are considered tropical and subtropical which means that they will thrive in humid climates.
- Pteris use spore to propagate, but can also be split at the root.
- This plant thrives in indoor conditions so long as there is ample humidity.
- It is important to place the plant in a well-lit area, but not in the direct sun.
- Brake ferns prefer to live in pots and should always be housed in pots with drainage holes.
- Pteris cretica plants have a long lifespan that can range from four to seven years.
- The brake fern is shaped similar to a fountain with equally unusual foliage.
- There are close to 300 varieties of brake fern and they all have slightly different colorings and leaf shapes.
- The most popular brake fern is the P. Cretica ‘Victoriae’ that has silver-white stripes on the leaves.
- The second most popular brake fern is the P. Cretica ‘Cristata’ which features leaves with whimsical frilly tips.
Brake Fern Overview
- The Pteris cretica, or evergreen brake fern is a native plant in Africa, Europe and Asia.
- Most plants in the Pteris genus are subtropical and tropical with a few temperate thrown in for good measure.
- The brake fern typically grows to a height of 18 inches with the miniature plants topping out at six inches.
- The leaves of the brake fern are oval or lanceolate in shape.
- The divided leaves feature a light green color that has white variegation in the middle of each leaf.
- The brake fern has southern Mediterranean origins.
- It thrives in most subtropical areas which are why it is distributed pantropically.
- The average height of a mature break fern ranges from six inches to two feet.
- Break ferns are considered evergreen plants and generally keep their color all year long.
- A few deciduous varieties of break ferns wilt and shed in the winter.
- Brake ferns are fast-growing and generally temperate in their desire to expand.
Growing Brake Fern
Pteris Cretica grows best when given access to bright light. Their main growing season is the summer where they should receive large amounts of filtered light. In the winter when there is typically less sunlight, you can ensure it gets proper vitamin D by moving near a window or positioning a sun lamp to provide ambient light.
Most brake ferns are evergreen and will not shed during the winter months, but a rare few of the species, specifically the deciduous varieties, will shed a small amount. Use a weak liquid fertilizer during the summer, which is the main growing season for healthy plant development.
Transplant or repot once a year, but only if the roots have filled the current pot. Avoid placing the rhizomes any deeper than just under the soil surface or you risk plan failure. Overall, this is a pretty low maintenance plant that is easy to grow in most locations. Pruning is simple, if there are brown edges or droopy leaves, simply clip them at the base to make more room for fresh fronds.
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Watering Brake Fern
Watering brake ferns is not complicated at all. Similar to traditional ferns, they need a generous amount of humidity and moist soil. A high-quality potting soil that is fast draining will ensure that the plant does not develop root rot while also ensuring it is properly moisturized.
You should also make a point of spraying your brake fern with a water mister at least once daily to maintain proper humidity around the plant. The potting mix should be well-draining and remain slightly damp at all times. A 50% humidity rate is the best climate for the plant, though a cool-mist room humidifier can be used in dryer climates.
The roots do not tolerate dryness even though the plant can thrive in moderate temperate. Make sure to use a mister and quality potting soil to prevent dehydration. In the winter, allow the soil to get slightly dry before watering again and use a liquid fertilizer that has been diluted to half strength every three weeks. A peat-based soil is best for all climates.
Propagating Brake Fern
Many Pteris cretica are commercially cultivated, which results in fronds of varied different shapes and colors. Regardless of their commercial cultivation, they all share many of the same characteristics. The brake fern is also known as the table fern, the Cretan Brake fern, and the Ribbon fern. It takes three to four years from planting for a brake fern to achieve its full maturity.
While the plant does need ample sunlight to grow well, direct sunlight can be harmful. When splitting or propagating the plant, make sure to only expose it to indirect sunlight for proper growth. Propagation of the brake fern can be achieved with spores, root ball separation, or dividing.
The spring is the best time to split the plant, just ahead of the main summer growing season. When propagating, make sure to collect a portion of rhizome in addition to healthy leaf buds for a sturdy new plant. Brake ferns are fast-growing and will need to be repotted at least once per year. It is a good idea to repot in the spring so that the plant can be divided for propagation.
To propagate during spring repotting, simply divide the plant at the root. Gently shake loose old soil and the place each portion in a new pot of fresh soil. When propagating or repotting, make sure to house the plants in an area that offers plenty of humidity and warmth. This will help the new roots to bond with the soil for a strong, healthy break fern.
The best way to care for your brake fern or table fern is to give it plenty of light, a moist environment, and space to grow. Filtered light is much better than direct sunlight and it always should have a regular supply of water in its soil and mist on its leaves. It thrives in humid and average temperatures but is prone to failure in dry climates.
You can tell if your plant is stressed or not thriving by sagging leaves, slow growth, and brown edges. In general, the leaves of the brake fern can be delicate, so it is best to place them out of high traffic areas.
Smaller varieties of the brake fern come in different colors and are perfect for desks, tables, counters, and window sills. Their colorful foliage makes them an attractive and affordable option for decorating any room in the house. They are not overly prone to infestations, but make sure to check them for scale bugs, aphids, whitefly bugs, and mealy bugs. If caught early, an infestation is easy to treat with non-toxic houseplant bug killers.
Though most often used indoors, the brake plant can also be placed in capsule gardens and other outdoor areas. If you live in a humid climate, your brake ferns will thrive both outdoors and indoors equally. It has been proven that brake ferns are effective in removing arsenic from the soil and even from water naturally. The leaves are able to absorb a high concentration of the chemical safely without releasing it back into the environment. If you have a concern about arsenic in your soil, planting this beautiful tropical plant is an effective way to cure the problem.