Boston ferns are very hardy plants. They can look like they are on death’s door, and then come back to life quickly with a bit of care. This species of fern is a part of the Nephrolepis genus, popular after its discovery in 1894 within a batch of Sword ferns.
The Boston variety produces eye-pleasing fronds that arch gracefully, unlike Sword ferns whose leaves stand straight up. Compared to other types of ferns, the Boston offer gardener’s easy maintenance and good growth during the spring and summer season.
Boston ferns grow well in a variety of lighting and soil conditions, and they’re easy to propagate and plant around your garden. While some species might never recover from neglect, the Boston fern is very hardy, and some water and fertilizer are all you need to return it to its former glory.
The fronds of the Boston fern grow up to 3-feet in length, and the arching effect of the leaves gives a feather-like appearance in the garden.
In this guide, we’ll give you all the information you need to grow fantastic ferns inside your home or outside in the garden.
|Plant Type||Boston Fern (Nephrolepis)|
|Maintenance||Easy to moderate|
|Light Preference||Indirect sunlight or shade|
|Soil Preference||Light, loamy, and airy|
|Watering||Once or twice a week during growing season|
|Ideal Temperature||Indoor between 60-75ºF|
|Fertilizing||Half-strength all-purpose liquid fertilizer every other week from April to September|
|Re-potting||When outgrown or for root pruning|
|Propagation||By division of roots or separating the runners|
|Pests and Diseases||Can be affected by spider mites, white powdery mildew, or root rot.|
|Overwintering||Needs to be moved indoors in frost-prone areas during winter.|
|Displaying||Ideal for hanging baskets, patios, or small pots in humid bathrooms.|
How Do I Display My Boston Ferns?
The size of your plant is the most significant factor you need to take into consideration when planting and displaying your Boston fern. A popular display choice is a hanging basket. In this arrangement, the long fronds of the fern arch from the basket, giving the plant the appearance of levitating in the air.
The fronds get up to around 1-foot in length in hanging baskets, so make sure that you account for the height when planting your fern.
Potted Boston ferns also look fantastic on patios and balconies. The luscious green foliage brings a touch of nature into a modern apartment. Place the pot on a pedestal, and let the long fronds fall over the sides for a fantastic visual effect.
Boston ferns also do well in the bathroom in small pots on the window sill. This location is the ideal room in your home to adjust your ferns after propagating, as the plant loves the humidity in the air after showers and baths.
How Do I Overwinter Boston Ferns?
If you live in colder regions of the United States, it’s a good idea to bring your fern inside if conditions get icy. Frost can kill Boston ferns, so make sure you don’t leave them exposed outdoors if you get frost in your area.
If you plant your fern in the garden, and you live in a region of the US that gets moderate winter conditions, then the plant will enter dormancy period during the fall and wintertime. The fern will return to grow and produce more fronds the following spring.
How Do I Care for Boston Ferns?
Boston Ferns prefer indoor temperatures between 60-75ºF. If you live in a region of the United States where the mercury falls under 55ºF in the winter, then you’ll need to grow your plants in pots and move them indoors when it starts to get cold outside.
Avoid placing your pots near vents or in drafty areas of your home, as the temperature fluctuations will affect the health of your Boston fern.
Boston ferns prefer regions of the garden or yard where they receive indirect sunlight. Planting your fern in an area that gets strong direct sunlight during the peak hours of the day will cause the fronds to burn. If you’re planting them outdoors, make sure you do so in the shade around the base of a tree.
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Boston ferns like moist, rich, loamy soils that offer excellent drainage. During the growing season, water your ferns once or twice a week, depending on the climate conditions.
If the fern starts to look less green, and you notice yellow leaves on the fronds, you need to increase your watering schedule. As new fronds start appearing at the end of the spring, increase your watering.
Don’t water the fern during the winter, give it time to remain dormant and recover from the stress of the growing season.
Boston ferns prefer soils that are light, loamy, and airy. We recommend adding amendments to your potting mix or compost for best results.
Add some peat moss and perlite to the soil to improve airflow to the roots and ensure proper drainage after watering. Look to get a good balance in your soil amendments, and don’t use too much peat moss.
Mix an all-purpose liquid fertilizer at half-strength, and feed your Boston ferns every other week. Start your fertilizing protocol in April, and keep feeding the plant through to September. Don’t feed your fern after repotting until the roots have time to establish themselves.
For a great organic fertilizer that brings your fern to life in the early springtime, mix 2-tablespoons of Epsom salts with a gallon of water, and feed it to your fern. The magnesium and effervescence of the salts boost the plant’s growth.
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The size of the pot determines the space the roots have to grow, and thus the size of the plant. If your fern is in a small pot and looks like it’s about the split the sides of the container, repot it into a bigger pot.
If you don’t want the plant to grow and larger, then remove it from the pot, shake off the spoil, and trim back the roots. Boston ferns will recover from the stress of a root pruning in a few days with the right care. Always ensure that your container has plenty of drainage holes.
Ferns originate in rainforests all around the world. The humid conditions underneath the canopy provide the ideal growing conditions for all types of ferns, including the Boston. Therefore, if you want your plants to grow to their full potential, you’ll need to add humidity into the air for the best results.
You can create a micro-climate around your Boston fern using a drip tray and a few pebbles. Place a layer of pebbles on the drip tray and then place the pot on top of the stones. Fill the drip tray with water, but don’t let the water level reach the bottom of the tray.
If the waterline does reach the bottom of the tray, the soil will absorb the moisture, starting the development of root rot in the plant. At the correct water level, the water evaporates around the fern, providing more humidity to the fronds.
If you’re struggling with maintaining the humidity in your home, we suggest you invest in a hygrometer from an online retailer. This instrument measures the relative humidity in the air, allowing you to make the necessary adjustments to stabilize a favorable climate for the plant.
All ferns love humid conditions, and it’s for this reason that they do very well around lakes and shorelines.
How Do I Propagate My Boston Ferns?
Gardeners can propagate their Boston ferns using the division method, or by separating the runners. Runners are the tiny new shoots that grow out of the plant. You can spate these new runners, and grow them into a new Boston fern.
However, the division of the roots is the most popular method for propagation of Boston ferns. Dig up the fern, and then separate the roots from each other. Divide the plant until it’s the required size, and then re-pot all of the new plants separately.
Carry out your dividing work in the early spring, and give the roots of the plant the entire growing season to recover, making them stronger the following year.
What are the Pests and Diseases Affecting Boston Ferns?
There are a few pests and diseases that affect Boston ferns. Diseases will occur if you plant the fern in an area of the garden that doesn’t provide the plant with sufficient airflow between the fronds. When conditions get damp, the lack of airflow can cause the growth of pathogens like white powdery mildew.
Overwatering can also lead to the development of root rot in the fern. If root rot occurs, you’ll notice that the tips of the fronds start to turn yellow and die off. If the air is to dry, the plant will also begin to burn.
Fortunately, Boston’s are hardy plants, and they recover fast after you adjust the climate conditions and your watering schedule.
Boston ferns don’t attract pests, but you might have to deal with a case of spider mite from time to time if the soil gets dry around the base of the plant. You’ll notice the signs of spider mite infestation because of the small webs they spin in the center of the fern.
When bringing a new fern home from the nursery, give it a few days to adjust to its new climate. It’s common for the fronds to droop a bit for the first few days after moving it into your home.
Boston Ferns FAQS
Do Boston ferns like sun or shade?
Boston ferns prefer indirect sunlight or shade. Direct sunlight, especially during peak hours of the day, can burn the fronds. If you’re planting them outdoors, it’s best to do so in shaded areas, such as around the base of a tree.
How do you take care of a potted Boston fern?
Taking care of a potted Boston fern involves keeping it in indirect sunlight, maintaining indoor temperatures between 60-75ºF, and avoiding drafty areas. The soil should be light, loamy, and airy, and it should be watered once or twice a week during the growing season, ensuring the soil never dries out completely. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so balance is key. Use a half-strength all-purpose liquid fertilizer every other week from April to September. If the fern outgrows its pot or if the roots need pruning, re-potting is necessary.
How do you make a Boston fern bushy?
Keeping Boston ferns bushy involves regular watering, maintaining high humidity levels, and consistent feeding during the growing season. You can also promote bushiness by trimming back the fronds in the spring just before the growing season starts. This stimulates growth and results in a bushier plant.
How often should I water Boston ferns?
During the growing season, water your Boston ferns once or twice a week, depending on the climate conditions. Be sure to avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot. Always use lukewarm water and keep the soil moist, but not soaking.
Where should I place my Boston fern?
Boston ferns can be placed in various locations, such as in hanging baskets, on patios, balconies, or in small pots in bathrooms. They need a location with indirect sunlight and prefer a humid environment, which is why they do well in bathrooms.
Do Boston ferns like hanging or pots?
Boston ferns can thrive in both hanging baskets and pots. Hanging baskets are particularly attractive as the long fronds of the fern can arch out from the basket, giving a lush, levitating appearance. Potted Boston ferns can also look fantastic on patios, balconies, or placed on a pedestal with the long fronds falling over the sides. Both arrangements are suitable as long as the care guidelines are followed.