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The Boston Fern has a great history of being one of the Victorian parlor room  tropicals. Along with the parlor palm and snake plant, it took its place on the front porch for the summer. Hanging in the  night's breeze and creating all sorts of romantic evenings on the porch swing.

Today we still see that same fern on front porches.

It originates from tropical and semi-tropical regions  of the world. Often covering rain forest floors, it quickly spreads. It can be  used in landscapes as great fill-in and backdrops for smaller  annuals.

Ferns, in general, thrive in rich humus soil, partial  shade, and high humidity. The Boston fern is no different. 

In baskets it hangs for several seasons before becoming pot bound.

Boston FernWith about 30 species there can be an interest for everyone.

Propagation can be done from spores, runners and divisions.

Clay pots are an excellent way to grow the plant.

Misting is ideal for it creates the tropical and semi-tropical conditions that the plant loves best.

Pay close attention for aphids, mealy bugs, or the red spider. Do not use pesticides for they are a tad strong on ferns. Use soap  and water, drenching and repeating the process several times.

Enjoy the era of days gone by with this  plant.

Q: I brought home my office Boston Fern to bring it back to life. The plant was not watered consistently, so there are many dead stems, making it difficult for the soil to get water and for new growth to  occur. I tried pulling the dead stems, but the plant is so root bound, that I could only clip them back. I put the plant into a slightly bigger pot, watered  and misted it, but I wonder if it would be better to divide it. What do you think?

A: Sounds like you are doing a good job. You are probably right about being root bound and should be repotted.

Boston ferns are known for getting dried out quickly, especially if it is pot-bound. Too many roots all crammed in the bottom of a pot is 'root bound'.  Potting it into a size 1- 1/2 times bigger will do just fine. It will thrive !! And love you for it.

Misting is always a good idea if you can afford not to ruin your floors and  carpet.

Do not fertilize in the winter months. Resume when spring  arrives.

Q: Hi. Yesterday I was given two Boston ferns and I have no idea how to care for these during the winter. I have them in my basement and I have a 40-watt bulb that I turned on them last night and plan to turn the  light on them at night. Otherwise, I have no idea what to do with these plants; I tend to kill every plant I have.

A: Yes, you can bring in the ferns to save them from the winter cold temperatures.

You will need some light but maybe a basement will be sufficient. I know in  the southeast people put them under their porches and cover them with pine straw and that seems to work. However, if you get below freezing temperatures you will need to bring them inside. I would try the basement. If they get especially dry,  water them every so often but do not get them wet or soggy. They will probably  drop many their leaves. That is ok.

When the last frost date has passed in the spring start acclimating them outside in the shade and slowly bring them to their new location for the summer moths.

Ferns like good bright light but not full sun.

Misting is always good and start to fertilize slowly as not to burn the  plant.

Q: Hi... I am wondering about how to bring a Boston Fern indoors after being out all summer. My Mother in Law doesn't want to bother with them and is going to let them die but said I could have them if I want to take care of them. I have heard that I can keep them in my basement and bring  them back out in the spring. My basement has no sunlight at all. What should I do?????

A: Yes, you can bring in the ferns to save them from the winter cold temperatures.

You will need some light but maybe a basement will be sufficient. I know in  the southeast people put them under their porches and cover them with pine straw and that seems to work. However, if you get below freezing temperatures you will need to bring them inside. I would try the basement. If they get especially dry, water them every so often but do not get them wet or soggy. They will probably drop many their leaves. That is ok.

When the last frost date has passed in the spring start acclimating them outside in the shade and slowly bring them to their new location for the summer moths.

Ferns like good bright light but not full sun.

Misting is always good and start to fertilize slowly as not to burn the  plant.

Q: I live in the Northeast of the U.S. so I understand  that my Boston ferns are going to "die" out there during the winter. However, aren't they a perennial that is supposed to lie dormant and come back next year? I have four huge Boston Ferns that I have kept outside all summer long on my back patio. They have done great out there. I know that if I try to bring them in for the winter they will make a mess inside the house with dropping leaves and besides I really do not have the space. But, I would love to see them come back again next year. Will they come back again next year if I re-pot and re-soil them next Spring?

A: I am afraid a Boston fern will not winter over in your zone. It is to much  of a tropical plant.

The ferns that come back are natives and those that grow well in your  zone.

I would at least try and put them in a cellar or somewhere where at least 50 degrees will protect them.

Q: I have several large ferns and no place to keep  them through the winter. I live in Central North Carolina. If I cover the ferns at night when it gets below 34 degrees will they make it? I have taken them off  the hangers and have them on a table on my front porch next to the house. Help!!!!!

A: I suspect you are talking about Boston ferns. I doubt the ferns will look very good with temperatures of 34 degrees. Perhaps if they were protected more in a cellar of garage for the winter would be better.

Boston ferns are tropical and really tolerate temperatures of 50 degrees and not much below that.

Depending how cold your winters get. With a mild winter you might get by.

Q: I would like to winter over my Boston ferns, but hate the mess that it will create. What would happen if I were to whack off all  of the green and store them in a lighted basement for the winter?

A: I would just put the Boston Ferns in the basement and let them die back naturally if they might do that. Do not cut back. They may get a little messy by shedding but that is normal. They may just go a little dormant. You are  fortunate to get some light and I would just water them lightly through the  winter season.

Q: I purchased yesterday a fern (10 inch pot) Jumbo Fern Boston Massaii. I have been unable to find out how to care for it (with that name). I am in zone 6 -Pittsburgh,  Pa. The plant is indoors now. Can it be put outdoors next season?

A: The care for a Boston fern is pretty much the same. Good bright light but not full sun. They love misting. Also water well...keeping through the winter will be a tad difficult because of all the dryness. Cut back on the fertilizing  for the winter. Gear up again in the spring.

If you want to place the fern on a humidity tray, that will help. Take a shallow saucer container and fill with gravel (pea gravel will do) and then keep a level of water in it to evaporate up around the fern fronds.

Do not over water.

If the plant sheds do not worry - new growth will continue in the spring.

Q: I am hoping you can help. I purchased two ferns for  my porch at the beginning of the week. The gardener, whom I purchased from, told  me I could leave them outside already, except for nights that are below 3-4 degrees. Is this correct? Also, should I be misting daily and watering weekly? Also, the one plant has little tiny ball like things on the bottom of some fronds only, is the some kind of insect?

A: No, those tiny balls are part of the root system. They are not insects! Just make sure they are in the soil.

Boston Ferns are tropical and probably will tolerate your porch if the nights  are warm, like 40 or 50 degrees. Below 34 or so degrees, take them inside.

Mist every so often. Fertilize on a monthly basis, and water everyday if need  be........you might want to soak in a large pail to make sure all the roots are  taken care of. Water sometimes just finds the fastest route out of the pot. By  soaking in a large pot every so often, if you see air bubbles coming up, you are  getting the roots (the most important part)

Q: My husband and I bought a Boston fern. It is beautiful, huge. He took it out to transplant it and discovered that the pot was crammed with roots. Is that called root bound? We would like to know if it would  make it if we just put it in a much bigger hanging pot, or will it cause it damage leaving it like that? We want it to thrive, we love it.

A: Yes, too many roots all crammed in the bottom of a pot is 'root bound'. Potting it into a size 1- 1/2 times bigger will do just fine. It will thrive !!  And love you for it. After potting it wait a couple of weeks and then fertilize  your fern.

Q: I've searched high and low for an answer  to my question and having no luck. Hope you can help... Last year I planted two large Boston ferns. . I replanted them in the ground outside and they took off, runners coming up everywhere. When the plant started  dying back for winter, I covered them with mulch to winterize them and didn't water.. When the plant was completely brown and dried, I cut off all the dead  stems . It's already April and since I haven't seen any new growth, I went  outside and peeked under all the mulch... I'm seeing some green (what look like)  viable roots, and this almost bulbous sac attached to them. What is that? Do I leave the fern alone, or is it a goner? PLEASE HELP!!!!! I enjoyed them so much  last year, and if they'll come back i don't want to make the mistake of pulling them up to early if I'm just being impatient .. One more thing, what would you  suggest for a fertilizer if my ferns make it? Thank you !! (Central Oklahoma)

A: There is a clue in what zone you are living in.

Boston Ferns only grow in the ground in zones 9-11. I suspect you are in a colder zone. That is why your fern is not wintering over. You can however grow them through your spring and summer season in a container in good bright light and summer them outside. However, I am afraid your winter temperatures are just  too cold.

Q: My fern is simply drying up. I had it up on a wall hanger near the ceiling and it started to turn brown. So, then I moved it next to a window. I did see some growth. This morning I started pulling the dead stem, leafs,  what ever I saw that was apparently dead. I love the fern, but have little luck with them

A: Ferns need and require indirect good bright light to grow well. Although  there are always exceptions to this rule. They also like humidity. Misting will help along the way. I would also summer them outside for the season.....

Drying fronds means exactly that. They are getting too dry. Try watering a little at a time to let the water absorb and then second time a little at a time and then a third time...... By dong this the roots will absorb more, perhaps the water is flowing right through.

It also may need repotting. If you find you are having to water more frequently. There is no soil left for nutrient care. Divide and repot, or pot up to a larger container.

Once the frond is dry and brown trim it out, it will not come back. Dead is  dead.

Do not fertilize at this time. One thing at time. Get it growing again.

Q: My Boston fern's fronds are turning yellow - am I  over or under watering.

A: You could be doing either because those signs match both practices. However, stick your finger in and if it is moist about 1 inch to 2 inches down you are over-watering. Let the fern dry out  a bit and start a new schedule of watering. Mist if you can. I know that it is  messy but soon you will be able to take your fern out for the summer and all  that Mother Nature rain will do wonders. You can also use some ironite to 'green' your plant up.....and then start a once a month fertilizing with a  20-20-20 . That should help.

Q: I live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX area and have always had great success with anything I've grown. My frustration comes from my  Boston fern.
I've purchased Boston's over the last couple of years and  this same thing keeps happening. Please help me so that I can make sure I'm doing it right. I leave my plants outside on the West side of my house in the shade and water them almost daily because of our summer heat. During the winter (I wait until there is a freeze warning) I bring them into the house. I get  these spindly little fronds, while the rest die and it never comes back the same  once I put them out in spring. Is this a classic case of needing to divide or repot, or am I doing something wrong once summer ends? PLEASE HELP!!

A: Boston ferns (nephrolepis exaltata): Winter sun is  not too bright for many of these ferns but it should be remembered that diffused  light and not direct sunlight is always best for them. I prefer east light  myself.

You are indeed taking care of your Boston correctly. Since ferns really like moisture and humidity, your inside conditions barely meet those needs, even with  lots of misting.

Your pot may need repotting if there is a mass of roots. Gently tap and pull out.....if the bottom is very curled with roots you may divide in the  springtime.

If your Boston fern is requiring frequent watering and wilting quickly between watering that is another indication you may need to divide.

Fertilize only once a month with a water soluble fertilizer. Miracle Grow is good.

Q: I have a few Boston ferns that are growing very  well. But they are producing a few runners that are hanging over the sides of the baskets. They have no leaves, some are brown, etc. Some have told me to  leave these alone, while some have pruned them away. Will these runners produce or do they need to be removed?

A: The ""fronds"" that are 'popping' out the sides of your hanging baskets only indicate that the plant is  becoming pot bound. They are neither harmful nor will they produce fronds-they  are roots. You can trim if they become
unsightly to you. Or you can repot into a larger handing basket, or make it a container plant at some point.

The plant is saying to you I am very healthy and growing very  well.

It also will mean that the plant will require more watering, since it is becoming very compact and crowded.

Q: Help please. I have a Boston fern that is very dry even though it gets watered and misted quite often. It has developed a white fungus looking gunk on most of the fronds. Please let me know what to do as it  looks like the once beautiful fern is slowly dying.

A: You MAY have mealy bug on your fronds. If this is a cotton-looking bug  take cotton Q tips of alcohol and eradicate individually.

It is hard to  ID without seeing the insect up close.

You may just want to shower your plant with some dishwasher detergent. This will not hurt the plant at all and  all sorts of insects are deterred in this manner.

Hope this helps a  little.

Soon you will be able to summer your fern outside and all will be  better.

Q: I've been reading  concerning  growing Boston Fern's. What is the ratio of water/detergent wash that you have  recommended?

A: I recommend 1-2 tbs. of liquid dawn to a gallon of water and that should  do it. A little more or less will be ok. Several applications may be needed and  always do in the early morning out of the direct sun as not to scald your plants.Do not fertilize 'til the spring.

Q: We bought two Boston ferns last spring for our front porch. This fall we brought them into the house. About a week ago one of them started turning brown and the leaves are dying off. It has new growth but  they are even turning brown at the tops. The other one looks just fine. They get  light from a patio door when the blinds are opened during the day. The one that  is dying off is about a couch's length away from the patio doors. Is it not  getting enough light?
Any help you can give me I would greatly appreciate. These ferns were so full and beautiful out on the front porch this past  summer.

A: Ferns are humidity lovers, good bright seekers and are keen on moisture but not wet feet.

It is always difficult to move plants in for the winter  season. It is sometimes a micro climate shock. Although one thinks it is a  pretty good location.

Moving plants in before the winter heat is turned  on is always a good idea. This way the plant can acclimate a little better.

Boston ferns are known for getting dried out quickly, especially if it is pot-bound. Do not repot at this time. Misting is always a good idea if  you can afford not to ruin your floors and carpet.

Good bright light is ok. Not full sun.

Water and let drain through and then do it again.

Sometimes a shower in the shower or bathtub will help.

Do not fertilize in the winter months. Resume when spring arrives.

If the fronds turn brown, you can take off. This is natural and normal and will not hurt the plant.

I often had ferns completely lose all their fronds for the winter from neglect in the basement and yet they came back outdoors in the summer.

I have created humidity trays under the ferns when on a stool  instead of being hung. A tray with pebbles to raise the pot off the level of  water of the tray. There is constant evaporation taking place around the plant  that they like and will respond to.

Q: I have made  my annual purchase of two Boston ferns for my exterior entry way. Both are  fairly large and with any growth will create access to entry difficult. Can these ferns be pruned?

A: If you choose to prune, only do so by taking the side fronds off. Never 'crop the top'. Maybe potting up to the next pot size will do the trick also,  although that should probably give you less room to walk the entry.

It will be increasingly difficult to keep them watered with a massive root ball. Soon all the soil will be taken up by root and several slow drip applications of water will be needed to keep them fresh.

Good luck

I love Boston Ferns. They are so cool and summery.

Q: I live in Denver and have two Boston ferns on my front porch. As the cool weather approaches, is there anything special I need to do to prepare them for the indoors? What is the best place for them  inside?

A: Boston Ferns can be brought in for the season and do very well until  springtime again. I would make sure I place them in good bright light but not necessarily full sun or afternoon sun. Make sure there is a good drip tray underneath. Boston Fern may like a misting every so often. If they are pot bound  they may require more watering than normal. If they grow a lot thru the winter  you can divide in the spring with ease. Do not fertilize during the winter months - resume fertilizing in the spring.

Q: Please tell me how and when to divide my Boston  ferns.

A: Dividing a Boston Fern is quite easy. Soak the container to loosen up the root ball and to get an easier divide. I always like to do things fresh and  early in the morning to give the plant some recoup time.

Pop the plant out of the container and then use a serrated knife and divide  in half, or possibly in quarters if it is large enough. Have fresh new potting  soil and new clean container ready for the planting. If some of the fronds break or get bent just trim at the base. Water well. Do not begin to fertilize until  the plant has acclimated into the new pot and shows signs of new growth. Keep in  the shade 'til the shock of the divide is over. It may wilt and then it may  not.

Q: A friend wants her Boston Fern to look like mine.  She brought it to me. I trimmed all the dead material, and there are about six  sickly fronds on it. I sprayed the soil with insecticide and isolated it from my  plants. Today I noticed little flies that swarm about when disturbed. I have  sprayed the soil again with pyrethrin insecticide spray. Is there anything else  I can do to get this fern growing and healthy? My own fern is a piece of one  that has been in our family since about 1931 - a Mother's day present to my grandmother from my parents before they were ever married!

A: It sounds like you have done just about everything you can do to help the sickly fern around. Be sure to relocate the fern in some morning sun and shade  for a bit while it is recovering and do not fertilize. I suspect the infestation  is in the soil as you suggested. You might try misting to keep the humidity up. Maturity and age of a plant helps in recovery. If the 'new' plant was grown very fast and is thick and luscious, it is a prime target for insects. They love new growth and juicy stems.

There is a lot of season left for that fern to make a comeback.

More Ferns

Q: I have a really large Kimberly Queen Fern that I need to get prepared for the winter. Can I divide it now since it is too big for any room in my house? If I do divide now, can I bring them inside now or would  that be too much shock? I love this fern and I have never had success with  winterizing ferns due to my cats who love to eat them. Any suggestions on how to get the cats to leave it alone?

A: Generally I would suggest dividing the fern in the spring but if it is hard to work with by all means  divide the fern now. It should do ok. Do it early in the morning and use new soils for each container. Yes bring in before you turn on heat for the fall and  winter season. It should acclimate before the heat is on.

Ferns like misting through the dry winter, and you could use a gravel-humidity tray to have the water evaporate up and around the plant.

Fertilize very little through the winter months if at all, then start up again in the spring. This is because of the limited light in the house.

Cats eventually will leave plants alone if they are scolded a little.....

I bring in close to 75 plants each fall an winter and my 2 cats love the new environment but the interest soon wanes with some hand clapping and a tiny growl when they go near the plants.

Q: I just recently bought a Kimberly Queen  Fern and was wondering if there are any helpful tips to keep this indoors. I  know they like a humid climate. I live in central Ohio and love ferns but I had one die about a year ago. Any advice would be greatly  appreciated!

A: Kimberly Queens are one of my most favorite ferns. Humidity is just about the best advice I can give. I suspect it is about time for you to bring that plant in for the season. I would place on a large saucer and fill it with clean  gravel. Then keep a certain amount of water to evaporate up and around the  fronds of the plant.

Your plant probably had a wonderful time outside this summer. I would water well but do not soak. Also, do not fertilize until  early spring. If the fronds do get brown and dry, just keep the mess to a minimum. This is
normal.

Q: I was given a potted plant and it was simply listed  as a 'Fern.' It is about 12-18 inches tall, has many stems and the leaves are 2-3 inches long and a little curly. I can find nothing similar to know the proper way to care for it. I have it planted in a large plastic pot with good  drainage. The stems seem to grow at will and curve around the plant itself at  times. I live in the very southwest corner of Louisiana. Any information will be  greatly appreciated.

A: Ferns are relatively easy to care for. Ferns love humidity. Some grow in  full sun but in general, most ferns prefer all levels of shade. They do like  moisture for the most part, yet there are some ferns that prefer the dry woods.

Native ferns give you clues for most of these.

If you are growing a fern that is not native to your area, of course, it would be nice to have an idea of its name.

There are literally hundreds of ferns in the world.

Having your fern in a nice large pot with good drainage sounds perfect to me.  If it starts to curl or burn, then it is in too much sun, if it sends out new green growth then shade is making it happier. Having your fern in a container  gives you the advantage of finding a happy home for it.

You probably can even fertilize it a little each month.

When you see little roots out the bottom of your pot, or the entire plant  seems to be growing out of the pot it is time to replant. Use only the next size  pot up in size.

Q: I'm having a problem keeping ferns alive. They will live in my home for approx. 4 months and slowly lose the leaves. Eventually all  leaves are gone and the plant is dead. I water once a week, sometimes every 8 to  10 days. The ground is always moist when I water. It sets in a corner and gets  light in the morning. What am I doing wrong?

A: I would love to know specifically what kind of fern you own.

In general, ferns need high humidity, good bright light (but not necessarily full hot sun-although there are a few that will tolerate that condition).  Misting is an ideal situation and keeping a fern indoors sometimes prevents this from happening. Yes morning light is the best condition.

Growing a fern on a pebble tray where there is constant evaporation is good.

Watering well with good drainage might be the answer as to keeping the soil  wet all the time.

If the fern is pot bound it is using the water up too fast.

Good circulation is a must.

When leaves fall off it is due to dryness.

Are you sure there are no minute insects?

Fertilize only about once a month.

I try to summer my ferns outside to give them that summer boost. They love growing under a large tree with some shade.

Hope this helps a little

Q: A friend of mine has asked me about some grape-like  growths around the bottoms of her ferns. What are they? They look just like green grapes, but they are hard and the inside has the consistency of stiff  foam.

A: the grape-like growths you are referring to are bulbils. This is asplenium  bulbiferum and in some hardy Polystichum (fern) species produce bullllbils or  small plantlets along the fronds. These can be used for propagation.by pegging  down that part of the frond with the bulbils. This is an ideal route to go. This  is fastest when the parent fern plant is actively growing. During the dormant season, the plant may take up to 6 months to
root.