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How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

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Grow a Boston Fern in your Home 10 Reasons to Love it! – Video

About Boston Ferns

Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata), also known as sword fern, are popular fern species that grow in many tropical areas worldwide. They’re a classic houseplant in North America and easy to care for, as they don’t require a lot of sunlight. 

Outdoors, this plant thrives in swampy, humid, and forested areas and makes a good choice for partial-shade gardens in places like Southern California or Florida.

Their sword-shaped, blue-green foliage contains tiny leaflets and grows erect, arching only when fronds grow larger. Like several other fern species, Boston ferns are slow growers. With proper care, they can live for many years and reach a height of 6 feet or more. They might have a reputation for being fussy, but they are truly very hardy plants.

There are numerous types of these ferns that differ in appearance, and care is the same whether you choose a dwarf type, such as the lemon button fern, or any of the following options.

Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Compacta’ is a dwarf, compact, and upright form of the standard Boston fern. This kind is more resilient than others and can tolerate some heat and dryness.

Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Florida Ruffle’ is a medium-sized cultivar with airy, ruffled fronds that grow in a dense clump. This plant can be cultivated both indoors and outdoors; however, it flourishes in an atmosphere with extreme humidity.

Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Golden Boston’ produces golden leaves and can be cultivated outside in a container before being brought home for the winter and replanted the following year outdoors. This type is considered low-maintenance and is an excellent home air purifier.

Similar to ‘Golden Boston,’ ‘Rita’s Gold’ Nephrolepis exaltata produces yellow, almost chartreuse fronds. It shimmers in the sunlight in a container setting and complements impatiens and begonias.

Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Fluffy Duffy’ is a tiny, compact fern with a delicate texture. This variety’s feathery fronds look fantastic in hanging baskets, and it thrives with daily sprinkling throughout the year.

These beautiful plants make an excellent addition to any home or garden. Additionally, research has shown that having plants in your house will have amazing benefits for you! Visit our article Amazing Psychological Effects of Nature in Pet-Friendly Interiors to find out more!

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Boston Fern 2-Pack Live Indoor Outdoor Houseplant in Hanging Basket 22-26″

Selecting the Best soil for Boston Ferns

They are one of the most elegant and beautiful plants that you can add to your home. They have long, flowing leaves that create a stunning display. But in order to keep it healthy and thriving, you need to make sure that you are giving it the right kind of care. 

Make sure you provide a rich, loamy, well-drained soil. Before planting your garden, add compost and peat. Use a peat-based mix with perlite in your pot. Root rot from poorly-drained soil will destroy this plant.

Make sure the soil is moist because dry soil kills it. If the soil feels dry, water it daily. Make sure to plant it in high-peat moss potting combinations; thus, it’s important to water the pot once a month to hydrate the peat moss. Drain well thereafter. 

Selecting the right pot for Boston Ferns

Boston ferns prefer plastic or glazed terracotta pots with large drainage holes. When you observe roots emerging from the dirt in the spring, it’s time to repot your plant. Choose a pot that is slightly larger than the root ball, or increase the size of your pot by 2 inches.

Remove the fern carefully from its previous container and replant it at the same depth using a new potting mix. Carefully bury the fern’s roots and then provide it with ample water. Place the container in a warm place in your home that is out of direct sunlight. 

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Boston Fern 2-Pack Live Indoor Outdoor Houseplant in Hanging Basket 22-26″

The Best light for Boston Ferns

These plants need just the right amount of light, and their needs vary depending on the season. In the fall and winter, Boston ferns prefer indirect sunlight. This means that they should be placed in a perfect spot where they will receive at least two hours of sunlight per day, but it should not be too bright or direct.

The ideal spot for it in the fall and winter is a northern-facing window. However, the plant needs a semi-shady spot in the spring and summer. This means that it should be placed in an area where it will receive some indirect sunlight throughout the day, but it should not be in direct, bright sunlight.

A South- or west-facing window covered by a sheer curtain or surrounded by tall trees is a good option in the spring and summer. When choosing a spot for your Boston fern, it is important to consider they don’t like sun or shade. First, direct light can scorch the fronds. Without sunlight, the plant won’t thrive and may drop its leaves.

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Boston Fern 2-Pack Live Indoor Outdoor Houseplant in Hanging Basket 22-26″

How to Water Boston Ferns

Spring and summertime are the perfect opportunities to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather. For those with a green thumb, it’s also the time to really care for your plants. This includes giving them the appropriate amount of water so they can grow healthy and strong.

It’s important to keep the soil damp during this time – but not waterlogged. This means watering them about once a week or more if you live in a hotter climate. The best way to know when it’s time to water your fern is to hand-test the soil. And if you noticed that the leaves are falling, it might be a sign that you need to reduce watering to every other week.

But no matter what, try not to let the fronds dry out entirely. In addition, set the pot on moist pebbles to increase humidity if the indoor air is dry. Make sure you don’t overdo it with the misting, as wet fronds are more vulnerable to illness than dry ones. Make new growth by snipping off old fronds at ground level. You can ensure that your Boston fern stays healthy all season long by following these tips!

How to Fertilize Boston Ferns

They need regular fertilization to flourish. Enriching the soil with compost and mulch every year is essential, and during the spring and summer months, a 20-10-20 liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength should be applied once a month. In addition, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to one-quarter strength or organic fish emulsion should be applied every four to six weeks. 

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Boston Fern 2-Pack Live Indoor Outdoor Houseplant in Hanging Basket 22-26″

Best Temperature and Humidity for Boston Ferns

Every plant has specific environmental needs that must be met in order for it to thrive. The Boston fern is no exception, and this popular houseplant enjoys moderate temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and high humidity levels greater than 80 percent.

However, it cannot withstand extreme heat or cold, with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees Fahrenheit or dropping below 35 degrees posing a threat to the plant. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to create an environment that is ideal. Placing the plant on a tray filled with water and pebbles helps to imitate its natural habitat, and misting it frequently will help maintain the required humidity level.

If the tips of the fronds start to turn brown, this is an indication that the air is too dry. So, be sure to keep an eye on the plant and adjust the environment as necessary. If the temperatures drop into the low 40s in autumn, bring your Boston Fern indoors, preferably to a bright and humid area such as a bathroom.

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Boston Fern 2-Pack Live Indoor Outdoor Houseplant in Hanging Basket 22-26″

How to Propagate Boston Ferns

The Boston fern is one of those plants that can be easily multiplied through division. In fact, this is an excellent solution for ferns that have outgrown their pots or are taking over the garden.

Here’s how to divide and propagate:

  1. Gather a pair of sharp garden shears, an interior garden trowel, an outdoor garden spade shovel, a pot, and potting soil (for indoor plants only).
  2. In the spring, carefully detach a piece of healthy roots from your fern. A garden trowel can be used to separate interior plants, while a spade shovel can be used to separate outdoor plants. (Note: With careful care, even little parts can become established new plants.)
  3. Half-fill a pot with potting soil (for houseplants) or create a fresh hole in the garden (for outdoor plants).
  4. Carefully cover the roots when you backfill the hole with soil after planting the division in the mix or in the ground.
  5. Keep the soil mildly moist at all times and water the new division. Keep houseplants in a comfortable location, out of direct sunlight and away from drafts and temperature swings.
  6. After a few weeks, gently pluck the fronds’ bases. Your fern has taken root when you feel resistance.

Additionally, you can cultivate it from spores by following these simple steps.

  1. Collect a piece of paper, a jar, potting soil, and containers (for indoor plants), or compost and peat (for outdoor plants).
  2. Hold your paper beneath an adult fern’s fronds. Shake the fronds gently to encourage the spores on the underside of the leaves to fall.
  3. Collect the spores in a jar and plant them in a warm location.
  4. Prepare your container with potting soil or an outdoor area with a compost and peat combination.
  5. Soak the soil and distribute the spores around the surface of the container or plant plot. Mist or lightly wet the soil to maintain its constant moisture content.
  6. Check the pot or garden for a thin green haze (prothallia) that holds the sperm and egg in approximately one week. Continue spraying in order to accelerate fertilization.
  7. Mist often until the prothallia begin to sprout, and then water the seedlings on a regular basis to maintain a wet soil environment.

Boston Ferns Common Pests and Diseases

This classic plant is often targeted by pests, specifically whiteflies, mealybugs, and various eating insects like snails, slugs, and caterpillars. Whiteflies feed on the undersides of leaves, leaving behind a sticky mold that can quickly damage foliage. Mealybugs leave a similar trail of destruction, making it important to take action as soon as you spot these pests.

Insects can be controlled with garden hose blasts or by spot-treating with isopropyl alcohol; however, several treatments may be necessary. It’s also important to make sure your solution won’t burn the plant’s leaves. In addition to insect control, handpicking or creating a rough surface around the plant (with gravel, eggshells, or coffee grounds) will help prevent slugs, snails, and caterpillars from climbing onto the foliage.

Additionally, they are susceptible to a type of fungal infection known as blight. Blight causes the plant’s leaves to develop brown web-like patches, and if left untreated, it can eventually kill the plant. The best way to treat blight is to repot the plant in sterile soil and remove all of the infected soil from around the roots.

If this does not work, you may need to use a fungicide. However, be sure to follow the instructions carefully, as fungicides can be harmful to humans and pets if used incorrectly. With proper treatment, most ferns will recover from blight and continue to thrive indoors or out.

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Shrub Boston Fern, 10 inch, Rich Green Foliage

When should I repot my Boston Ferns?

If your Boston fern isn’t growing as quickly as it used to, it may require a larger container. Another indicator that it’s time for a larger pot is when roots are visible through the drainage opening. Don’t wait until the plant is severely root-bound. If the potting mix is so root-compacted that water flows right through the pot, or if the plant’s roots are growing in a tangled mass above the soil, it’s time to repot the plant. When you do repot, choose a pot that is only slightly larger than the current one.

How to prune Boston Ferns

One important part of caring for a Boston fern is periodic pruning. Pruning helps keep the plant looking its best and promotes bushy growth and corrects concerns with legginess. The best time to prune a it is when you are repotting it, and simply remove any leaves that have turned brown and trim back any bare runners.

Next, give your fern a trim by removing the side fronds at the base of the plant with sharp shears. Instead of cutting off the top of the plant, trim the borders to the desired form. Outside plants can be trimmed to four inches above the ground for the winter. They may produce new growth gradually during the winter but will flourish in the springtime once they are trimmed back.

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

Shrub Boston Fern, 10 inch, Rich Green Foliage

Care for Boston Ferns – FAQ

Is Boston Fern Care difficult?

No, Boston Fern care is not difficult. With the proper amount of moisture and humidity, they will thrive in any environment.

Can I bring my Boston Fern Indoors during the winter?

Yes, you can bring your plant indoors.

Are Boston ferns indoor plants?

Yes, care is easy, and you can have your plant indoors.

Do Boston Ferns like direct sunlight?

No, while Care is easy, they don’t like too much direct sunlight.

My Boston Fern has Brown Leaf tips; what should I do?

If you see brown leaf tips, it is most likely due to the potted fern being too dry. Try to increase the humidity around the plant and keep the soil moist at a good level.

Do Boston Ferns Grow indoors?

Yes, these can be indoor ferns or outdoor ferns.

Can I add peat moss to my Boston fern?

Yes, just don’t add too much peat moss, or the water can become clogged.

Can I mist my Boston Fern?

Yes, you can mist it every few days to help with the humidity.

How to Care for Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis)

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M.Arch. Julio Arco
M.Arch. Julio Arco

Bachelor of Architecture - ITESM University
Master of Architecture - McGill University
Architecture in Urban Context Certificate - LDM University
Interior Designer - Havenly
Architecture Professor - ITESM University

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