How to Repot a Fern

I’ve realized and accepted that I am a Martha-style gardener. I like to read about plants, look at them, buy them in garden centers, and picture where they will go at my house. I’m pleased with myself when I can name the plants I admire in other people’s yards.

Just like Martha, I would prefer to have a crew of gardeners do the actual work of gardening like remembering to water those plants.

There was a day this summer when the heat rose even hotter and all of my spring plants and flowers died on the very same day in one mass exodus. “Show’s over folks, we’re done here.”

The fern survived not by my care but by neglect. I left it next to the driveway on a little strip where only weeds grew, which just happened to have the right amount of sunlight and shade. The fern thrived and outgrew its first pot.

Dividing and repotting a fern is good for it so that it doesn’t become root bound and lacking in nutrients. It’s easy enough to repot a fern that even a Martha-style gardener can do it.

First you remove it from its pot.

Then cut the root ball with a big kitchen knife or a saw. (I use a Felco folding saw. I really like it.)

When you set the divided fern into new pots, use a well-draining potting mix with lots of organic material. Ferns don’t store nutrients well, so if your plants look lackluster it might be time to repot them.

The newly-potted ferns will grow as big as the original, and this way I’ll have more plants without spending more money.

Are you a Martha-style gardener too?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. That’s a great tutorial – I think the ‘extra’ fern would make a great (free) gift to give away!

    I enjoy plants and gardening, and on the farm we get our hands plenty dirty!
    Mooberry Farmwife´s last post…Thankful Thursday

  2. I am with you on the Martha-style gardening. I love planning beds and choosing plants, but upkeep, not-so-much. I’ve learned that spending time on the front end pays off. By this I mean, researching what plant will do well in what location (and then survive with complete neglect on my part). I created a huge bed in my front yard, I spend about two hours a year on it!
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s last post…Our Latest Family Vision Statement

    • Ha Ha Ha — me too! My tomato plants have taken over the whole garden (along with the weeds) and toppled over quite a bit. Well, at least we are getting lots and lots of yummy tomatoes. Now, I just need to bring myself to go get the food mill and make tomato sauce from all of the tomatoes sitting on my counter (for longer than I want to admit).

  3. Is this a Kimberly fern? Looks like it and I think these do better than Boston ferns?

    • It is a Kimberly fern. It seems like it can tolerate a lot, but it probably depends on where you live.

  4. It’s counterintuitive, but most plants with aggressive roots do better if you just hack off about 75% of the root mass on the bottom when you repot them. Those roots would be helpful in the ground, but in a pot they just take up space that could be filled by dirt, and ultimately keep the plant from getting the nutrients and water it needs. Rather than buying larger and larger pots, you rip off some root, add some fresh dirt, and call it good.

  5. Know what’s funny? I just posted something today about how my gardening skills are less than fabulous. And the only plants that survive here are the sort that don’t need much care or water.

    Great minds think alike, and all that. ;)
    Kristen | The Frugal Girl´s last post…You don’t have to be good at everything.

  6. Nicholle C. says:

    It’s time for my afternoone caffeine boost – I read the title of this post too quickly and thought it said ‘How to Report a Fern.’ *LOL* I was thinking ‘why on earth would you do that, are ferns now illegal??’ =)

  7. “I would prefer to have a crew of gardeners do the actual work of gardening like remembering to water those plants.”

    Exactly. I’ve been thrilled with myself for keeping potted herbs alive this summer. That’s all I’ve got in me for now…
    Steph´s last post…A Reminder for Kindness

  8. I had to laugh
    All my spring/early summer plants just died off too
    Thank you for the reminder to make something new!

    I actually like to point and tell people what to do ;-)
    SueTR´s last post…Happy August!

  9. That’s a great tutorial..
    I love plants and have a sun room full of them!
    I just pinned this :)

  10. Ha!

    Well, the dying tomato plant on my porch seems to say that I also am a Martha-style gardener. I hadn’t thought about ferns though… they look nice and easy, right up my alley!
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…Broken Harbor: A Synchro-Read Review

  11. I have never thought about splitting a plant before. What a great idea. Of course, that would require that a plant actually survives a season at my house!!

    I love ferns because they are pretty low-maintenance. However, I keep thinking ferns attract snakes. Has anyone experienced this? Is there any truth to it?
    Kristin´s last post…My Bestie’s having a baby

  12. I keep thinking I will learn to love gardening and discover I have a green thumb. Not so far! I had a fern die on me, but that was inside in a Northern winter, so I only mourned it briefly. Thing is, ferns look so great hanging on our Victorian front porch. Maybe I’ll try again next year.

    I’ve been successful with my grandmother’s very old jade plant, and even started 2 new little plants in case I killed off the mother plant.
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…The Tomatoes are Done

  13. Kim from Philadelphia says:

    This strategy also works well for Hostas; don’t know if you have those perennials in Texas.

  14. Bahahaha…I clicked on the link to this post thinking it said “How to Report a Fern”. And I was wondering just what infraction the fern had performed and who is in charge of the fern’s discipline and what sort of consequences do naughty ferns face…

    Just another reminder that my thumb is all brown.
    Michelle´s last post…FMF: Stretch

  15. And I would love to be one of Martha’s gardeners, with all that money and space at my fingertips, provided Martha stayed away. I suspect she is a difficult boss!
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s last post…Cerebral Homemaking Part 6 – We Like What We’re Good At: Developing Competency

  16. I always say, “I’m good with babies because they make their needs clear!” If you will just sit there and slowly die without making any fuss, alas I will let that happen!!

  17. Oh gosh, I have a big old fern outside that needs to be repotted and brought inside for the fall/winter. I am so happy I stumbled onto this post. Thanks for the great description and pics.
    Julie @ The Family CEO´s last post…One Question Survey