Adopting a Boston Fern from a family member who almost killed it was not on my list of priorities last year, so when I read up on the finickity nature of this plant I was a little worried. But I needn’t have been. Caring for my Boston Fern has been fairly straightforward and with a little nurturing, it is growing strong and happily.
If you have a Boston Fern, Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’, you can follow these five tips to help the plant flourish. Don’t forget the basics, however. The Boston Fern likes warm temperatures, humid aid, moist soil, and bright indirect sunlight. With that in mind, here’s what you should do next.
1. Give Your Boston Fern a Hair Cut
The fronds of the Boston Fern are not permanent and they do die from time to time. Don’t panic when this happens. Whether you have just one or two brown fronds or a whole head of them, just trim them off.
Use some garden scissors (sterilised, in case any plant pests or diseases are transferred) to cut them off. Either cut right back to the soil or just the brown part of the frond. Once you do this, you might have a fern with huge gaps in, but that’s okay.
Every time I give my Boston Fern a haircut, it grows back with a vengeance and is just as lush as before. Although the green feathery leaves seem delicate, this plant can handle pruning. I actually found that this pruning process was just as easy as my fool-proof guide to planting supermarket garlic.
2. Humidity Is Important
Getting the humidity up in the air was key to getting my Boston Fern to grow bushy and lush. Those wiry strands you see emerging from my plant are aerial roots that the plant has sent out to gather moisture and nutrients from the humidity in the air. You can trim these off if you don’t like them, but I think they give the plant character.
To keep the humidity up, I start each day by spraying the Boston Fern in a good mist of water. Depending on the dryness of the air, you might need to mist more or less frequently. I use an empty, washed-out, facial toner bottle. The fine mist it provides is perfect for humidity – you don’t want to use a general spray bottle.
If you can’t upcycle a mister, I recommend shopping on Amazon for the Tennedriv Plant Mister Spray Bottle. Make sure you fill it with rainwater or filtered water, not tap water. The Boston Fern does not like the chemicals in household water so if you can’t collect rainwater from outside, you will need to buy some bottled water from the store for both watering and misting.
Moist Soil and Pests
Along with misting, you probably already know that the Boston Fern likes moist soil. The trick is to water it in small amounts, but quite often, to prevent the soil from getting too dry. Of course, moist soil is a magnet for pests like fungus gnats.
I managed to control the outbreak before it got too bad and adjusted my watering habits by:
- Misting the foliage from a distance so the moisture lands on leaves rather than dripping onto the soil,
- Watering by filling the outer pot with water and letting the roots soak up what they need from below, as this allows the top layer of soil to dry a little and deter pests,
- Draining away any excess water that the plant doesn’t absorb after watering.
3. Light Comes Next
Getting the light right for my Boston Fern was tricky. Although many guides, including the reputable Gardeners World, firmly state that this plant should receive NO direct sunlight… I still keep my plant on the windowsill.
With an East-facing window, my Boston Fern receives direct bright sunlight at sunrise for a few hours before it fades in the late morning. For the rest of the day, it has bright light but not direct. I have found this to be a much better option for my Boston Fern.
If you notice the fronds of your plant getting pale, it often needs more light. If you notice too many brown fronds, it might have too much light or not enough humidity. Don’t be afraid to ignore the rules and place your Boston Fern in direct sunlight if it indicates that it needs it.
4. Fertilise Gently
I have fertilised my Boston Fern twice in the past year and only when the plant is visibly and actively growing with new fronds emerging. This plant does not need regular feeding to flourish, so long as the water and light conditions are correct.
The soil for a Boston Fern is typically a 50/50 mix of potting compost and all-purpose soil, which holds all the nutrients the Boston Fern needs. Make sure to maintain this if you are re-potting your plant (once every couple years, if needed). Re-potting is also a good time to propagate your Boston Fern. To do this, you can simply divide the plant by separating the roots into multiple smaller plants. This is the easiest way to propagate Boston Fern.
Once re-potted, give it a good water and just a little food. Too much fertiliser can damage the roots, so I would even go so far as to dilute the fertiliser more than recommended. It’s hard to go wrong with Miracle-Gro.
5. Move with the Seasons
Whether you have your Boston Fern in the bathroom, living room, or even outdoors if your climate allows it, you should still move it around. The humidity and temperature levels change throughout the seasons and your Boston Fern might not always be comfortable in the same place.
Typically, in the UK, our indoor air is dryer in the winter months so more humidity might be needed. This is partly due to radiators keeping our homes warm and drying the air out.
In the summer, with longer daylight hours and a harsher sun, you might want to move it a little further away from the window.
So, my last tip is really to observe your Boston Fern and move it according to what the foliage tells you. If you have any other tips to share, I would love to hear them! Leave a comment below or send me a message on Instagram.