If you are looking to add a plant with a lush, tropical vibe to your houseplant collection, look no further than the kangaroo fern. This fern has the “rainforest look” mastered! Plus, they are easy to care for, especially when compared to some other fussier fern species. In this article, I’ll share everything there is to know and love about the kangaroo fern and offer plenty of tips for its care, from watering and fertilizing to repotting and propagation.
What is a kangaroo fern?
Also known as the kangaroo paw fern or the kangaroo foot fern, the kangaroo fern (Microsorum diversifolium) reaches a height of 1 foot tall and a width between 3 and 4 feet. It’s in the family Polypodiaceae. A native of Australia and New Zealand, it’s easy to grow outdoors in the ground if you live in a warm climate without winter freezes. Most people, however, grow the kangaroo fern indoors as a houseplant.
In the wild, kangaroo ferns spread by underground rhizomes to cover large areas. Indoors, it grows far more slowly, but its unique appearance makes it a real stand-out in the fern family.
The graceful arching leaves are not feathery like some other species of ferns. Instead, they are “chunky,” and some say, shaped like a kangaroo paw, hence its common name. Each frond varies slightly in appearance, with some producing extended “toes” that reach out beyond the rest of the frond.
The foliage of kangaroo paw ferns is leathery and tough, making it a far more resilient plant than some other ferns that are typically grown indoors. When grown in a semi-shady spot outdoors, kangaroo paw ferns have a dusty blue hue, but when grown indoors as a house plant, they are deep green with a glossy shine.
Small, round, spore-producing structures called sori form on the undersides of the leaves from time to time. Eventually, they mature and release their miniscule spores (the genus name – Microsorum – means “very small sori”). Indoors, you may see a fine dusting of powdery spores beneath the plant. They do not typically stain furniture or fabric and are easily brushed off with a clean paint brush or makeup brush. You can even use the spores to propagate this plant (more on this in a later section).
The best light for a kangaroo fern
Moderate, indirect light is best for a kangaroo fern. A north-facing window is ideal if you live in the Northern Hemisphere (it will be opposite if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). An east-facing window works too. Avoid the hot, direct sun of a south-facing window or the direct afternoon sun that comes into a west-facing window.
If you live in one of the warmer growing zones (USDA zones 9-11) and this plant exhibits full hardiness, plant it outdoors in partial shade where it receives indirect sunlight. I’ve seen a gardener in Florida with a large coir-lined hanging basket filled with kangaroo fern hanging on their porch. Just be sure to choose a big pot size for your basket to give the fern plenty of room to grow for several years.
Optimum temperatures and humidity
The ideal temperatures for a kangaroo fern are between 65 and 75°F both day and night. Thankfully, that’s within the average temperature range of most homes, hence the successful results many plant parents have with growing this fern.
Like many other fern species, the kangaroo fern prefers higher relative humidity than is found in most home environments. Fine-leaved fern species often drop their leaflets if the humidity is too low. While that won’t happen with thick-leaved ferns like the kangaroo fern, keeping the humidity level elevated results in healthier, more lush growth. You can place the plant on a humidity tray or use a plant humidifier (this tabletop plant humidifier is my favorite).
Misting is often recommended to elevate the humidity levels around houseplants, but it is only temporary and lasts for just a few minutes after misting them. Humidity trays and humidifiers are a more useful option.
All that being said, you can still grow a lovely kangaroo paw fern without any extra humidity. Bathrooms and kitchens are typically more humid environments, so try placing your kangaroo paw fern in those rooms if they also receive the right light levels. This is especially important in the winter when forced heat makes the air inside your home much drier.
How to water a kangaroo paw fern
This species of fern needs regular, even moisture all year long. In fact, most ferns prefer to be kept consistently damp and kangaroo paw ferns are no different. Do not allow them to fully dry out between waterings. On the flip side, you should also never allow standing water to sit in the bottom of the pot or in a pot saucer as it can promote root rot. Always make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot and empty the saucer soon after watering.
My preferred method of watering kangaroo ferns is to take the pot to the kitchen sink or bathtub and run tepid water through the soil until it freely runs out the drainage hole in the bottom.
Kangaroo ferns also respond nicely to bottom watering, a technique that allows the water to be absorbed up through the bottom of the pot and to the plant’s roots through capillary action. You’ll find more information on exactly how to bottom water a houseplant in this article.
Fertilize your kangaroo fern once every four to six weeks from mid-spring through early fall. Do not fertilize in the winter when the plant isn’t actively growing. I like to use a liquid fertilizer formulated for houseplants mixed at half the recommended strength into the irrigation water in my watering can. If you over-fertilize, foliage burn could occur.
Another option is to use a granular organic fertilizer once a year in the early spring. This kind of fertilizer for kangaroo paw ferns is sprinkled on the surface of the potting soil and lightly mixed in with a fork or a terrarium rake. Only one application a year is necessary. Fertilizer spikes are another option that requires only a once-a-year application. Simply poke the spike into the soil a few inches away from the base of the plant. Every time you water, nutrients are released to the plant as the spike breaks down.
Repotting a kangaroo paw fern
Repot crowded plants in need of a larger pot every few years. Since kangaroo ferns like rich soil, blend a standard houseplant potting soil half and half with peat moss, coco coir, or leaf mold (decomposed fall leaves). The idea is to have a porous growing medium that drains quickly but is rich in organic matter, just like the soil in their native habitat.
When you repot, you should also evaluate your plant to see if it needs to be divided. If you don’t want to repot it into a larger pot because you don’t have enough room, simply divide the plant in two and repot one of the sections into your original container. Then you can give the other division to a friend or put it in another pot elsewhere in your home. The best time to repot a kangaroo fern is in the spring. That is a great time for the plant to generate lots of new roots and for new plants to become established in the potting mix.
Kangaroo fern propagation tips
As mentioned in the previous section, rhizome division is the best method of propagation. It is super easy and only needs to take place every few years, depending on how quickly your kangaroo fern grows. Use a sharp knife to chop the plant in two after removing the root mass from its pot. When repotting the divisions, use fresh potting soil (again mixed 50/50 with peat moss, coconut coir, or leaf mold).
If you want to attempt a super-fun and extra plant geeky method of fern propagation, try your hand at spore propagation. We have detailed instructions on how to collect and grow ferns from spores in this article.
Additional kangaroo fern care advice
Kangaroo ferns are seldom plagued by pests or other problems, but there are a few issues that could crop up.
- Issue: Burned foliage
Cause – Too much light; too much fertilizer
Solution – Find a location without direct sunlight; reduce fertilizer applications and flush water through the pot with each watering to keep salts from building up in the pot
- Issue: Lower leaves turning yellow/rotting
Cause – overwatering
Solution – Make sure there is no standing water in the pot or saucer; reduce watering and make sure soil is never waterlogged
- Issue: Fine webbing on the leaf undersides; stippling on the upper leaf surfaces
Cause – Spider mites
Solution – Horticultural oil or insecticidal soap (make sure the brand you choose is labeled for use on ferns)
- Issue: Hard irregularly placed dark bumps on leaf stems; discolored leaves; weak growth
Cause – Scale insects
Solution – Don’t confuse scale with the spore producing sites on the leaf undersides. Scale insect placement is irregular while spore sites are positioned in a patterned fashion (see photo above); neem oil, horticultural oil, or insecticidal soap (make sure the brand is labeled for use on ferns).
- Issue: Total plant collapse
Cause – Lack of oxygen to the roots
Solution – Reduce watering; make sure the soil is never waterlogged
I hope you’ll find a space for this fabulous fern in your houseplant collection. It won’t disappoint.
For more great houseplants, please visit the following articles:
- Blue Star ferns
- Plumosa ferns
- Pilea peperomioides
- String of dolphins
- Venus fly traps
- Low-light succulents
Patricia B. says
This is one of my favorite ferns to grow as a houseplant because it doesn’t seem to need the extremely high humidity others require. Great article!