Tips for Growing Boston Ferns

Boston ferns have become a plant of choice for savvy shade-loving gardeners. This fern will consistently give stunning results with minimal effort, no dead – heading and a calming resting place for the eye to settle.  Their welcoming beauty is repeatedly utilized year after year in the arsenal of tools homeowners’ access for their main front entrance or porch due to its reliability and gracefully impressive impact.

Originating from South America these ferns gained their name when from their first known sighting in North America in the city of Boston. One of the oldest plants in the world, Boston Ferns like bright but indirect sunlight and optimum temperatures of 60°F – 75°F /15°C – 24°C but will tolerate temperatures as low as 50°F /10°C.

Here are a few useful tips that will helpful for both first-time and seasoned gardening enthusiasts:

  • Tip number one is these ferns LOVE water! Many people fear they will overwater their fern but Boston ferns crave water and need daily watering when outdoors, especial on hot summer days. On really hot days it’s a good idea to water your fern twice a day. When you consider that their natural environment is lush rainforests with lots of humidity moisture and shade it is easy to see what climatic conditions they crave for to get best results.
  • An easy way to check if your hanging basket needs watering is to gently lift up the basket and gauge its weight as an indicator of its need for water. Light means it needs water, heavy and it is not ready yet to be watered. Ferns like to be moist but not overly wet. This is a great tip for all hanging baskets as variation in plants’ size, varieties and weather conditions vary their water requirements.
  • When it comes to fertilizing ferns it is best not to overdo it. Loss of their dark green colour means it is time to fertilize (20-20-20 foliar fertilizer).  A little granular slow release fertilizer in the spring will give a boost for about 6 to 8 weeks if you think you might overlook this step.
  • Ferns pests are slugs, snails and grubs. The good news is that none of these are an issue with hanging baskets or container gardening. For the first two, slug bait or crushed dried egg shells help and nematodes assist in the later or a powdered insecticide works better as there is less burn to the foliage.
  • The size of the container that your fern is in will determine the size of your plant. If you want your fern to become even more immense in size you can re-pot the fern once it fills out its’ container into a planter that will allow for more growth. More soil for roots to expand into means more available water for roots to take up. Our 12” hanging baskets will give a plant up to 3 feet wide by mid-summer. If you plan to pot your fern into a larger container keep this aggressive growth in mind if your hanging a basket off a support hook – the added weight could be a challenge.
  • If you under-water your plant and it starts to drop leaves and brown off, it can be easily brought back to optimum plant health.  A ‘hair-cut’ to get rid of dead foliage will allow the new healthier green fronds to grow through and fill-in the plant. But always remember tip #1, ferns love water! Water will be your best friend to revive this trusty plant!

If you plan to keep your fern for the next gardening season it will need to be overwintered in our climate. During the winter, when the plant isn’t growing, you can reduce watering compared to outdoor needs, but your ferns’ root ball should never be allowed to completely dry out. A saucer underneath your indoor plant will help with water uptake and be an easy indicator of when it requires watering.  Houseplant ferns require indirect medium light levels, 4-7 feet from a sunny window. They do not appreciate being blasted by air, warm or cold, from outlets or vents. Remove dead fronds and occasionally rotate the plant to keep it growing evenly both indoors and out. They also require higher humidity than most homes have and they benefit from regular misting of room-temperature water or a closely positioned cool, fine mist humidifier works well. Tips or edges of leaves turn brown if the air is not humid enough. Grouping indoor plants together so they will emit moisture helps to raise the humidity in the air around them. Setting your fern in the shower for a nice gentle warm shower can also help.

When transitioning your overwintered fern outdoors in the spring gradually introduce it to the outdoors (for more information on this process, read How to Harden Off Your Plants here), and not too early so that it is not shocked in the spring and drop its leaves. This also can happen in the fall when they are brought indoors once the temperatures begin to drop. If there is leaf drop, cut out old dead growth, careful not to cut new growth. More light and air circulation will allow for new growth and it will rapidly fill in again.