What Is A Frosty Fern Plant – Learn How To Care For Frosty Ferns

What Is A Frosty Fern Plant – Learn How To Care For Frosty Ferns

By: Liz Baessler

Frosty ferns are very misunderstood plants, both in name and care requirements. They frequently pop up in stores and nurseries around the holidays (probably due to their wintery name) but many buyers see them fail and die soon after they come home. Keep reading to learn more frosty fern information, including how to grow a frosty fern correctly.

Frosty Fern Information

What is a frosty fern? Common consensus seems to have trouble on this front, because the frosty fern (sometimes also sold as a “Frosted Fern”) isn’t actually a fern at all! Known as Selaginella kraussiana, it is actually a variety of spike moss (which, confusingly enough, isn’t really a kind of moss either). Does any of this matter for knowing how to grow it? Not really.

What’s important to know is that a frosty fern is what’s known as a “fern ally,” which means that even though it isn’t technically a fern, it behaves like one, reproducing via spores. The frosty fern gets its name from the distinctive white color of its new growth, giving its tips a frosted appearance.

In optimal conditions, it can reach 12 inches in height (31 cm.), but in homes it tends to top out at about 8 inches (20 cm.).

How to Grow a Frosty Fern

Care for frosty ferns can be a little tricky, and gardeners who don’t know a few simple growing requirements are often frustrated by plants that quickly fail. The most important thing to know when growing frosty fern plants is that they need at least 70 percent humidity. This is much higher than the average home.

In order to keep your plant moist enough, you’ll need to raise the humidity by keeping it on top of a tray of pebbles and water, or in a terrarium. Frosty ferns actually perform very well in terrariums since they’re small and require little light. Water frequently, but don’t let your plant’s roots sit in standing water.

The frosty fern does best in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F. (15-27 C.) and will start to suffer in temperatures much hotter or colder. Too much nitrogen fertilizer will turn the white tips green, so make sure to feed sparingly.

As long as you treat it right, your frosty fern will grow reliably and beautifully for years.

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Frosty Fern Information: Learn About Growing Frosty Fern Plants - garden

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Frosty Fern Information: Learn About Growing Frosty Fern Plants - garden

How to Care for Frosty Ferns

So-called Frosty Ferns have been popping up at retailers this Christmas and selling like gingerbread hotcakes. The bad news is that they probably came with no care instructions whatsoever, but the good news is that they're exceptional plants that will look great in your home or garden year-round. Here are 6 things you should know about this luscious new holiday houseplant.

1. Frosty Ferns aren't Ferns
But they are related to ferns, at least. Frosty ferns are actually spikemosses in the Selaginella genus a variegated form of Selaginella kraussiana to be precise. I had the luxury of seeing these in production at Central Florida Ferns while writing my book Plant by Numbers, but before they were even released to the general public. Check out my Six Shades of Selaginella post for the scoop on some other pettable varieties.

2. Frosty Ferns need Moist Soil
The number one way to kill a houseplant is by overwatering, but frosty ferns and other spikemosses are the exceptions to the rule and you'll probably need to water thoroughly every 2-3 days. If the soil is starting to feel a little dry, it's time to water. If the whole plant feels lighter than usual, it's also probably time to water. If your plant starts to wilt, water immediately. Do it now. Go, go, go!

3. Frosty Ferns need Drainage
In other words, get it out of that gawdawful red cellophane wrapper so that water won't sit and rot the roots of the plant. Instead, place the pot on a saucer or use a decorative pot instead, dumping any excess water that puddles up. This doesn't mean you should let the soil dry out, though, because they like it nice and moist. Selaginella can tolerate soggy soil outdoors, but not indoors - especially since hard minerals can accumulate in the soil. Which leads me to my next point.

4. Frosty Ferns Hate Hard Water
If you frequently see hard water spots on your dishes, you have hard water. This means that your tap water carries a hidden slurry of minerals that, while harmless to us, are damaging to sensitive ferns and clubmosses. You can either use water in jugs (pricy) or filtered water, or rinse out your potting mix periodically so that the minerals don't form a yucky crust on the surface.

5. Frosty Ferns like Bright, Indirect Light
In other words, they like it bright, but shaded from the sun. Bright Indirect Light is the kind of light that most houseplants crave bright enough to comfortably read a book, but not so bright that it hurts your eyes. If you look out the window from the plant's POV at the sunniest time of day, you should not see the sun itself. Sunburned Selaginella plants get white and parched wherever the direct sun hits - kind of like the white variegation already on the plant, but worse.

6. Frosty Ferns need Humidity
Houses are dry places, especially during winter. These humidity-loving plants can quickly turn crispy and brown in a heated home, but you can combat dry air in a number of ways. Spray the plant a few times a day with water, using a mister from the cosmetics aisle. This is great boredom buster if the plant is on your office desk. Growing it on a water-filled tray of pebbles is another option, but it works better in the company of other plants. The easiest and most attractive option is to grow it under glass using a cloche or a wardian case to keep moisture in place.

Frosty Ferns are Worth the Trouble
They sound finicky, but spikemosses are really easy when you understand their requirements: Moist soil, humidity, drainage and soft water. Few houseplants offer the tactile appeal of Selaginella, and its soft, fluffy texture on your office desk is enough to soothe your nerves until the clock strikes five.

If you don't want to commit to caring for a houseplant, don't toss it in the trash! As long as you live in USDA climate zones 6-10, frosty fern and other Selaginella kraussiana cultivars will happily occupy a moist and shady spot in your garden.

Selaginella, Club Moss 'Frosty Fern'


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual

Suitable for growing in containers


All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From herbaceous stem cuttings

Seed Collecting:


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Fuquay Varina, North Carolina

Gardeners' Notes:

On Feb 18, 2017, Dragonothe from Raleigh, NC wrote:

This plant is poisonous to cats. Since we have 6 cats, I make sure that is not where they can't get hurt.

On May 12, 2011, Retsbew from Carterton,
New Zealand wrote:

This is a national pest plant in New Zealand and is highly invasive. This species invades the forest floor, inhibiting the establishment of native plant seedlings and opening the way for succession by more aggressive weeds, especially vines.
It grows on the ground or in trees, and disperses widely and quickly, tolerating a wide range of conditions, including hot or cold and light to deep shade. However, it needs damp ground to survive.

On Jan 29, 2011, forensicurator from Ann Arbor, MI wrote:

This plant is actually a club moss family Selaginellaceae. No flowers, reproduces by spores. From South Africa, it is grown as a houseplant in the North US, may be used outside in the South US. Also used as a groundcover in greenhouses.
I just purchased one today, will share growing info once I have more experience with it.

On Jan 6, 2007, Snowrose from Frederick, MD (Zone 6b) wrote:

Grow in medium diffused light and keep evenly moist.

Native to Madeira, the Azores, Canary Islands, and parts of Africa as noted on the plant tag.

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