Growing Boston Ferns: How To Care For Boston Nephrolepis Exaltata Ferns

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Boston fern is an elegant, non-flowering tropical plant. It makes a lovely, year-round addition to a tropical garden or an excellent houseplant for a porch or a shady setting during spring and summer.

Abundant Boston FernsPin

This article describes this popular, attractive plant and shares advice on keeping it happy and healthy in your home, office, or garden.

What Is the Plant’s Origin?

This elegant fern hails from many tropical settings, including:

  • Central America
  • South America
  • West Indies
  • Polynesia
  • Florida
  • Mexico
  • Africa

To What Family Does The Boston Fern Belong?

The Boston fern is a member of the Nephrolepidaceae (nef-roh-LEP-id-AY-see-ee) family of plants.

Are Boston Ferns Annuals Or Perennials?

This plant is an herbaceous perennial in its native settings or protected as a houseplant.

Boston ferns can be grown outdoors as an annual in cold environments where they cannot survive the winter.

What Is The Botanical Name?

The plant’s botanical name, Nephrolepis exaltata (nef-roh-LEP-iss eks-all-TAY-tuh), originates from the Greek words:

  • Nephros (kidney)
  • Lepsis (scale)
  • Exaltata (tall)

What Are The Common Names?

The Boston Fern is sometimes referred to as:

  • Ladder Fern
  • Sword Fern
  • Boss Fern

Size and Growth

Sword fern is slow-growing.

Kept as houseplants, individual plants max out at a height and spread of 2′ or 3′ feet.

In their native settings, the plants may grow to 7′ feet high.

Flowering And Fragrance

Nephrolepis exaltata is a non-flowering fern.

Vertical green ferns hanging in a row against a white backdrop.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @yurko.olga


The plant’s tall, sword-shaped green fronds begin upright, but as they grow longer, they arch gracefully.

Light and Temperature

Boston ferns love protected locations that provide bright, indirect sunlight.

They do well near but not in an eastern window to receive indirect morning sunlight.

Place them out of the way of both hot and cold drafts, whether from doors, windows, air conditioners, or vents.

They cannot tolerate extremes of temperature and prefer a setting that provides consistent temperatures ranging from 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperatures lower than 35° degrees Fahrenheit or higher than 95° degrees Fahrenheit will kill a Boston fern.

These plants are winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12.

Watering and Feeding

Ladder ferns like consistently moist soil.

Never let the soil dry out completely, and never keep it too soggy.

Here are the following tips to remember:

  • Water deeply once a month.
  • Ideally, use lukewarm rainwater, tap water, or distilled water.
  • Check daily and add small drinks between deep waterings as needed throughout the spring and summer.
  • In autumn and throughout the winter, you may need to reduce watering.

However, the opposite may be true if your indoor air is quite dry.

These plants like high humidity levels, and placing the Boston fern plant on a pebble tray with water is helpful to increase the humidity surrounding the plant.

However, the bottom of the pot should not touch the water, and the plant should never sit in the water.

It’s also a good idea to mist your fern a couple of times every week.

During the growing season (spring and summer), provide a half-strength feeding of any general-purpose houseplant fertilizer or kelp liquid fertilizer once each month.

Do not fertilize during the autumn and winter.

Soil and Transplanting

Indoors or outdoors, Boston fern likes moist, well-draining soil.

In a container, use a good-quality potting mix.

Here are some tips for creating the mixture:

  • You may wish to amend it with organic compost or peat moss for better water retention.
  • Outdoors, amend the soil with compost, humus, and organic matter to ensure good drainage and appropriate water retention.
  • Mulch around the plants to conserve water.

Your fern will spread and grow to fill its container.

It’s best to plant Boston fern in a glazed ceramic or plastic container with plenty of drainage holes.

This sort of container will prevent the soil from drying out entirely while allowing for proper drainage.

You’ll know it is time to repot your fern when its roots have filled the container.

For repotting, do the following:

  • Remove the Boston ferns from its pot.
  • Massage the roots lightly.
  • Divide the plant if desired.
  • Repot the fern using a high-quality potting mix. A commercially prepared moisture control mix is ideal.
  • Water thoroughly immediately after repotting.
  • Be sure to allow excess moisture to drain off before moving the plant to its permanent location.

Grooming and Maintenance

Trim off damaged or dead fronds as needed.

Expect the plant to experience some leaf drop any time you move it.

Boston Fern TreePin
Photo Credit: Instagram @plants.with.benefits

Additionally, Boston ferns drop leaves vigorously throughout the winter months indoors.

If your plant becomes worn and battered-looking (or to prevent it from littering up your house with dropped leaves), you can trim it to an overall height of 2″ inches, fertilize, and water it.

It will grow back with entirely fresh, new foliage.

How To Propagate Boston Fern?

Propagate boss ferns by division when you repot your plants.

You can divide a large plant in half or into many small plants.

With proper propagation and care, each division will soon begin to spread and grow.

You can also grow your ferns from spores and cultivate them.

Boston Fern Pests Or Diseases

The plant’s fronds may turn yellow and become brown and dry at the tips if the ambient humidity level is too low.

If this happens, you may try to do the following:

  • Trim away the affected fronds.
  • Try misting and adding water to your pebble tray.
  • You may need to place a humidifier near your plant.

Your plant may also encounter root rot problems due to overwatering. Examples of signs include roots turning brown and fern fronds turning grey.

The best treatment is discarding the diseased soil and repotting your plant. Proper drainage and watering will also help prevent this.

Incorrect watering and humidity levels may weaken your plant and leave it susceptible to the following pest infestations:

  • Whitefly
  • Scale
  • Mealybugs
  • Spider mites

Assess and correct your care practices if you see signs of these pests on your plants.

You may treat it with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil as needed.

Suggested Uses Of Boston Fern

The Boston fern is a lovely addition to a shaded porch as a container plant or in a hanging basket.

Place it well out of direct sunlight and wind.

It makes an excellent houseplant in a comfortably warm room with ample bright, indirect sunlight.

It looks lovely when placed on a pedestal and does quite well in bathrooms and kitchens, where it can experience bright, indirect light, lack of drafts, and naturally higher humidity.

Houseplants love to spend the spring and summer outdoors once all danger of frost has passed.

Be sure to transition your plant gradually to a protected setting that receives bright indirect or dappled sunlight.

When nighttime temperatures begin to drop lower than 55° degrees Fahrenheit, bring your plants back indoors.

It can live outdoors under high shade in sheltered settings in warm climates.

In this sort of setting, Boston fern makes a nice ground cover.

It makes a good understory plant around trees and bushes in a tropical setting.

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