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Growing and Caring for Boston Ferns – An Essential Guide

a woman holding a Boston fern in a hanging basket

With their cascading green fronds, Boston ferns are one of the most elegant and popular indoor houseplants. When cared for properly, these beauties can grow quite large and lend a tropical feel to any indoor space.

Read on to learn all about growing and caring for the Boston fern to keep your plant thriving for years to come.

An Introduction to Boston Ferns

Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) are a type of sword fern native to tropical regions around the world. This includes areas in Mexico, South America, Polynesia, Australia, and Africa. They are not naturally found in Boston!

These plants earned the common name “Boston fern” because they were very popular in Victorian-era gardens and indoor spaces in Boston during the late 1800s.

Boston ferns are one of around 250 species of ferns in the Nephrolepis genus. Other common varieties include the Fluffy Ruffle fern, Lemon Button fern, and the Dallas fern.

Boston ferns are lush, gracefully arching ferns that grow in a mound shape. Their long, delicate green fronds can reach lengths of 3 feet or longer as the plant matures. The fronds emerge with a tapered end and then divide into multiple leaflets.

These beautiful ferns add texture and a tropical vibe to indoor plant displays. They also help filter indoor air and add humidity.

a boston fern in a white pot in the kitchen

The Benefits of Boston Ferns

  • Air Purifying – Boston ferns are excellent at removing indoor pollutants like formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air. The large, lush fronds help filter the air.
  • Humidity – Ferns release moisture into the air through transpiration which naturally increases indoor humidity levels. This can aid respiratory issues.
  • Low Maintenance – When given the proper conditions, Boston ferns are relatively easy to care for. They tolerate some neglect and rebound well.
  • Attractive Foliage – The long, graceful green fronds add beautiful, elegant texture to indoor spaces. They give a tropical, lush look.
  • Versatile Placement – Boston ferns can be used in hanging baskets, on pedestals, shelves or tables. Their cascading shape is very adaptable.
  • Temperature Regulation – The moisture ferns release helps cool rooms in summer and warm them slightly in winter for more comfortable temps.
  • Help Remove Mold – Boston ferns absorb and filter mold spores from the indoor air. Their presence reduces airborne mold.
  • Easy to Propagate – You can multiply your ferns easily through division or offsets for more plants.
  • Shade Loving – Ferns thrive in low to moderate indirect light making them ideal for shadier indoor areas.
  • Pet Friendly – Boston ferns are non-toxic to cats and dogs if nibbled. Their rough texture deters most pets.

How to Grow Boston Ferns

a boston fern on a shelf in the kitchen

Boston ferns need specific care and conditions to really thrive indoors. Here are the key factors to focus on:

Light Requirements

Boston ferns prefer bright, indirect lighting that mimics the dappled light of a tropical forest floor. They flourish with around 4-6 hours a day of gentle filtered sunlight. Keep away from hot direct sunlight which can scorch their foliage. Insufficient light will cause spindly, weak growth.

Ideal growing conditions include south or east facing windows, or bright spaces just out of reach of direct sun rays. Rotate your fern as needed to ensure even exposure to light.

Watering Needs

These thirsty ferns require frequent watering to maintain lightly moist soil at all times. Allowing the soil to dry out too much between waterings can cause yellowing or browning fronds. However, take care not to oversaturate the soil as Boston ferns are prone to root rot in soggy conditions.

Ideally, establish a regular watering schedule, such as every 2-4 days in warmer months. Reduce frequency in winter. Always check soil moisture before watering. Humidity trays or a pebble tray can boost humidity around your fern.

Temperature Preferences

Bostons thrive in average household temperatures around 65°F to 75°F degrees during the day and slightly cooler at night. Avoid drafty areas. Warmer daytime temperatures are appreciated as ferns originate in tropical zones. In winter, keep away from cold windows.

Soil Requirements

Use a rich, humus-y potting mix that retains moisture but also drains well. Potting mixes formulated specifically for ferns are ideal. Adding peat moss or compost improves moisture retention. Ensure pots have drainage holes to prevent soggy soil.

Fertilizer

Boston ferns thrive when fertilized during their active growing season, which typically spans from spring through early autumn. Fertilize every 4-6 weeks and use a balanced, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer with a ratio like 10-10-10 or 20-20-20.

Potting and Repotting

Potting and repotting these ferns is essential for their health and continued growth. Select a pot that is 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the current one. and make sure the pot has drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil.

You’ll need potting soil mix (a blend of peat moss, perlite, and organic matter), a new pot, a saucer, and a pair of gardening gloves. Repotting is necessary when your Boston fern outgrows its current pot or becomes root-bound. It’s typically done every 1-2 years.

Simple Propagation of Boston Ferns

a hanging boston fern in the bathroom

Boston ferns are very easy to propagate at home. This allows you to multiply your plant collection or replace aging plants easily. Here are two simple methods:

  • Division – Carefully divide congested root balls into smaller sections, ensuring part of the fronds and roots are included. Replant divisions in pots using fern growing mix. Keep evenly moist while new growth establishes.
  • Offsets – Look for new baby ferns or plantlets emerging at the base of the mother plant, often attached by a small stem or rhizome. Detach these offsets and pot up separately. Keep humid and shaded until the new plants are established. Offsets are common in spring.

Tips for Caring for Boston Ferns

Once you have the basic care and growing conditions mastered, focus on these tips to keep them healthy and vibrant:

  • Prune off any dead, damaged, or yellowed fronds to encourage new growth. Make cuts near the base of the plant.
  • Mist Boston fern leaves daily to increase humidity and deter pests. Add pebbles under the pot to a humidity tray.
  • Repot ferns every 1-2 years in spring as the roots fill out. Don’t over pot. Divide congested root balls.
  • Keep ferns away from drafts from air vents, radiators, or exterior doors/windows in colder months.
  • Rotate plants periodically so all sides receive equal light exposure for even, bushy growth.
  • Boston ferns can be grown outside in shady areas during warm months if slowly acclimated first.

Troubleshooting Common Boston Fern Problems

boston fern in a ceramic pot on a bookshelf in the living room

When given proper care, they are not prone to many issues. But occasionally you may encounter:

  • Browning leaf tips – Usually a sign of low humidity. Increase misting and tray humidity. Also avoid tapping water.
  • Yellowing fronds – Can indicate over or under-watering. Check soil moisture frequently. Water when just slightly dry.
  • Leaf drop or decline – Results from exposure to cold drafts or dry air. Move plant to warmer area with more humidity.
  • Pale fronds/sparse growth – Insufficient lighting. Gradually move plant to a brighter location. Rotate for even growth.
  • Insects like spider mites – Mist leaves daily and hose off foliage to deter pests. Isolate plant if infestation is severe.

With the proper site, frequent watering, humidity and bright indirect light, a Boston fern is sure to bring lush tropical appeal to your indoor garden or patio for many years.

Why are the fronds on my Boston turning brown and crispy?

  • Brown, crispy fronds are often a sign of low humidity. Mist the fern regularly, use a humidity tray, or consider a humidifier to increase moisture levels.

Can I place my Boston fern outdoors during the summer?

  • Yes, they can be placed outdoors during the warmer months, but they prefer indirect sunlight and should be protected from strong winds and direct sun.

What is causing tiny dots or fuzzy growth on the fronds of my Boston fern?

  • These are spore cases, a normal part of the fern’s reproductive process. They release spores that can be used for propagation.

Can I grow my Boston fern in a hanging basket?

  • Yes, they are well-suited for hanging baskets. Ensure the basket has good drainage and provide proper care to prevent drying out.

Do Boston ferns attract pests?

  • While Boston ferns are relatively pest-resistant, they can occasionally attract spider mites or scale insects. Regularly inspect your fern and treat any infestations promptly.

Do Boston ferns require a lot of maintenance?

  • Boston ferns are relatively low-maintenance, but they do require consistent care in terms of watering, humidity, and occasional fertilization.
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