Boston Fern

OFFICIAL NAME

Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis'

ALSO KNOWN AS

Sword Fern, Ladder Fern, Boss Fern

ORIGINS & CLIMATE

South America | Tropical & Subtropical

ABOUT THE
PLANT

One of the most popular ferns and for good reason - the delicately textured fronds create a particularly fluffy and lush look that is hard to resist and will certainly sit pretty in a hanging planter or high shelf. Not to mention those Jurassic forest vibes.

HOW MANY GREEN THUMBS?

moderate, bright indirect, drought averse, mid-size, wide load, clusters, bushy or dense, shelf, hanging, tropical, subtropical, pet friendly, fronds, ruffled

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Boston Fern

The basics

Water Needs

This plant prefers to stay fairly moist, but certainly not soggy sopping wet. Check the soil frequently in summer to determine if it's starting to dry out. In winter, you can be a little more lax, allowing the top inch or so to dry out before watering again.

Water

Preferred Light

To thrive, this fern prefers medium to bright, indirect light. The leaves are prone to burn in prolonged direct light. Avoid a low light situation as this moisture loving plant could succumb to root rot.

Light

Humidity Needs

Thrives in higher humidity—try to provide additional moisture by grouping your Boston Fern with other humidity lovers or placing in a humid spot, like the kitchen or bathroom. Of course, a humidifier will be your best bet for guaranteed humidity.

Humidity

Ambient Temperature

Adaptable to average indoor temperatures, but generally prefers the warmer side and may complain when exposed to cold drafts or dry heat from vents.

Temperature

Toxic or Not?

A non-toxic plant pal! You can introduce this plant to your whole family, pets and children included. While it'll be a sad day for you and your plant if someone takes a nibble, you don't have to worry about poisoning anyone!

Toxicity

Size Potential

Indoors, this plant can grow up to around 2-3 ft tall with a similar spread (when mature and with enough light)!

Size

Overall Look

Fluffy fronds grow in dense clusters that shoot straight up and then begin to softly droop down, creating a unique mane-like appearance. Will look best in a hanging planter or on a high shelf to display the full glory of this fern.

Format

Leaf Look

Tiny and lightly ruffled leaflets line up side-by-side to create a sword-shaped frond with a uniquely fluffy look.

Leaf Shape

Pro Tip

Usually brown spots are an unwelcome sight on your plant, but in the case of ferns, it's likely a reproductive spore that can be propagated (kind of like a seed). You'll know it's a spore if the spots are lined up in neat rows, look and feel like tiny round bumps, and are kind of crispy.

Pro Tip

Did You Know?

Despite their name, Boston Ferns do not originate from Boston. They were, however, popularized by a florist in Cambridge, Mass. The florist identified this particularly nice variety and selected it for propagation, creating the 'Bostoniensis' cultivar.

Fun Fact

Water

|

Keep soil just moist, but not soggy.

Water Needs

This plant prefers to stay fairly moist, but certainly not soggy sopping wet. Check the soil frequently in summer to determine if it's starting to dry out. In winter, you can be a little more lax, allowing the top inch or so to dry out before watering again.

Light

|

Medium to bright, indirect light.

Preferred Light

To thrive, this fern prefers medium to bright, indirect light. The leaves are prone to burn in prolonged direct light. Avoid a low light situation as this moisture loving plant could succumb to root rot.

Humidity

|

Sensitive to low humidity—keep in a humid spot.

Humidity Needs

Thrives in higher humidity—try to provide additional moisture by grouping your Boston Fern with other humidity lovers or placing in a humid spot, like the kitchen or bathroom. Of course, a humidifier will be your best bet for guaranteed humidity.

Temperature

|

Can adapt, but doesn't like sudden change.

Ambient Temperature

Adaptable to average indoor temperatures, but generally prefers the warmer side and may complain when exposed to cold drafts or dry heat from vents.

Toxicity

|

Non-toxic. Completely pet safe!

Toxic or Not?

A non-toxic plant pal! You can introduce this plant to your whole family, pets and children included. While it'll be a sad day for you and your plant if someone takes a nibble, you don't have to worry about poisoning anyone!

Size

|

An in-betweener. Not too big, not too small.

Size Potential

Indoors, this plant can grow up to around 2-3 ft tall with a similar spread (when mature and with enough light)!

Format

|

Cascading tendrils create a mane-like look.

Overall Look

Fluffy fronds grow in dense clusters that shoot straight up and then begin to softly droop down, creating a unique mane-like appearance. Will look best in a hanging planter or on a high shelf to display the full glory of this fern.

Leaf Shape

|

Fluffy green fronds.

Leaf Look

Tiny and lightly ruffled leaflets line up side-by-side to create a sword-shaped frond with a uniquely fluffy look.

Pro Tip

|

Spot the spores!

Pro Tip

Usually brown spots are an unwelcome sight on your plant, but in the case of ferns, it's likely a reproductive spore that can be propagated (kind of like a seed). You'll know it's a spore if the spots are lined up in neat rows, look and feel like tiny round bumps, and are kind of crispy.

Fun Fact

|

Are there really tropical forests in Boston?

Did You Know?

Despite their name, Boston Ferns do not originate from Boston. They were, however, popularized by a florist in Cambridge, Mass. The florist identified this particularly nice variety and selected it for propagation, creating the 'Bostoniensis' cultivar.

Beyond The Basics

Soil & Potting

Thrives in a rich, very well-draining potting mix—you can use a good quality potting mix labeled for indoor plants or make your own mix. You can try a 1:1:1:0.5 mix of potting mix, orchid bark, perlite, and activated charcoal. Ensure the pot has the appropriate drainage and don't forget to pour out any excess water collected in the drainage tray or cachepot.

Repotting

Try to repot every 2-3 years in the spring, especially when tending to a younger plant. Increase the pot size by about 2 inches each time or until you're satisfied with the size. It's still important to repot at this stage, but it'll be an exercise of refreshing to soil, keeping the pot size the same, and possibly doing some root trimming to restrict the plant's growth. More on repotting here.

Feeding

If you're not already planning to repot, you can fertilize during the spring and summer months. Once to every two months should be plenty. No fertilizer is necessary during the winter when plant growth naturally slows down. You can try a balanced liquid or water-soluble fertilizer—always diluted more than the recommended strength. More on using fertilizer here.

Grooming

While no specific pruning is required for this plant, it's always good practice to regularly remove yellowed or dying leaves and any fallen plant debris. Ensure your scissors or pruners are sanitized to avoid spreading disease or pests.

Propagation

Since Boston Ferns grow in dense clumps, you can always divide these into multiple plants when repotting. You'll simply pull apart the roots into your desired clumps. Or, if a bit rootbound, you may need to cut them apart. You can then pot each one up into their own appropriately sized vessel. More on propagation techniques here.

Variants

TrOUBlESHOOTING

Why does my Boston Fern have mold on the surface of the soil?

Symptom

A white mold covering the surface of the soil or full-on mushrooms sprouting in the soil or even popping out through drainage holes.

Cause

It can be frightening to notice mold or mushrooms growing on the soil. However, these fungii are usually benign and won't harm your plant directly. The real danger is that you're creating an environment that promotes fungal growth and is quite likely overly wet. Ultimately, these could be warning signs that you are overwatering.

Solution

If you want to eliminate the mold and mushrooms, you can simply remove and replace the top inch or so of soil. You can also try a soil soak of neem oil, which acts as a fungicide. But try not to overdo it, since you're delivering neem oil in a water-based solution, too much will do more harm than good. The most important factor will be to evaluate your watering frequency and ensure you aren't overwatering. While the visible fungii aren't problematic for your plant, sustained overwatering will eventually lead to a fungal infection at the roots, the cause of dreaded root rot.

More on watering here.
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Why are the leaves on my Boston Fern wilting and yellowing?

Symptom

Multiple leaves are wilting and turning yellow—particularly the older, lower leaves. You may also notice stunted growth and mushy stems.

Cause

The most likely culprit is overwatering and initial signs of root rot. When a plant's roots sit in waterlogged soil for too long, a fungal infection can quickly take over, causing the roots to rot (turning brown and mushy).

Solution

First, ensure that your plant has appropriate drainage (both in terms of well-draining soil and plenty of drainage holes in the plant's container).

If you think you've caught the overwatering early on, you can simply let the plant dry out more than you have been. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering again. Continue monitoring and only water when needed. You may also try using chopsticks (or something similar) to poke holes in the soil to help the roots get more oxygen. And finally, you can try to "wick" the excess moisture out of the soil by placing the whole pot (with drainage holes) in a tray or container with dry soil. This new layer of dry soil should soak up some of the excess moisture from the waterlogged areas around your plant's roots.

However, if you suspect a serious case of root rot, you'll definitely need to take a peak at the roots by removing the plant entirely from their container. If there are any black and mushy roots, trim them back completely before repotting with fresh soil in a new or sterilized container.

More on leaf changes here.
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Why are the leaves on my Boston Fern dry and shriveled?

Symptom

Multiple leaves are dry or shriveled, perhaps beginning to yellow or brown.

Cause

The shriveling of entire leaves is often a sign of dehydration from either too much light or not enough water. If accompanied by major wilting and any softness, this is more likely a sign of not enough light or too much water.

Solution

The key is a well tuned balance between the amount of light and your frequency of watering. Instead of going by a set schedule, check-in with your plant to see if they need the water or not. You'll want to allow around half the soil to dry out completely before watering again. While this may be on a consistent schedule for some months, as the seasons change, so will the amount of light and therefore your watering schedule must shift.

More on watering here.
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Why are the leaf tips on my Boston Fern browning?

Symptom

Leaves turning brown just on the edges or tips. These edges may gradually change from yellow to brown, crispy, and possibly a bit curled.

Cause

Browning just on the edges of tips is usually a reaction to low humidity. Since many of our houseplants have tropical origins, they also thrive in humid conditions. Our average indoor humidity is usually adequate, but some plants are simply more sensitive to changes in humidity than others. You may notice this more acutely when conditions are particularly dry—like when you turn on the heater in winter.

Solution

Try to accommodate your plant's needs by locating them in more naturally humid places, like the bathroom or kitchen, or grouping a bunch of humidity-loving plants together. But the only way to truly guarantee increased humidity is to get a humidifier!

Once you've addressed the problem: If the brown tips bother you, you can trim them back. Do your best to follow the shape of the leaf to help them look natural. Also, try to cut just short of the discolored edge so it doesn’t expand.

More on leaf changes here.
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