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Caring for Boston Ferns

Boston ferns are an extremely popular hanging basket plant sold by the billions this time of year (ok, I made up the billions part, but it may be a close guess). 

Boston ferns like warm, steady temperatures and humid conditions. They are an excellent way to dress up a shady porch or patio, but are not well suited for areas with much direct sun, especially in the afternoon.

Here are a few tips for caring for your Boston fern:

Regular Watering 

Boston Ferns will tolerate occasional dryness, but regular watering is the key to a happy fern. Most of the Boston ferns sold are already potbound in hanging plastic pots, which makes it difficult to feel the soil to see if it is dry. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the weight of the pot when it is well-watered so a quick lift will tell you if the pot feels light and therefore needs water. Potbound ferns need water often, maybe even daily during the heat of summer, so get in the habit of checking them regularly. 

Transferring Boston Ferns

You could also transplant your Boston fern out of the plastic nursery pot into a larger pot or hanging basket. They do particularly well in terra cotta pots or hanging wire baskets with coco fiber lining. Use a light potting soil with peat moss. Ferns are easy to divide: just cut the rootball into sections so that each retains a healthy chunk of roots. 

Fertilizing Boston Ferns

Occasionally (only 2-3 times during the growing season) fertilize your fern with a mild water-soluble or slow release fertilizer with numbers on the package like 5-5-5 or lower. Always err on the side of less fertilizer with Boston ferns, as they are sensitive and susceptible to fertilizer damage. Do not fertilize in winter.

Preventing Browning and Yellowing

If frond tips start turning brown, you are probably either over or under watering, whereas yellow fronds usually indicate a lack of humidity. Try misting your fern a couple times per week to help increase humidity. Trim off any fronds that look bad. 

Pest Control

Boston ferns are susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. If your plant is affected, try using soapy water (either dishwashing soap or insecticidal soap) to get rid of the bugs before trying any harsher insecticides, as these can harm the plant. 

Bringing Boston Ferns Indoors

Boston Ferns can be brought inside and kept as a houseplant over winter. They will usually drop a lot of leaves during this process, so it’s best to trim off the older fronds before bringing them indoors. Place them near a bright east or west-facing window away from heat vents. Either mist them regularly or place the fern on a pebble tray filled with water to increase humidity. 

Nephrolepis exaltata boston fern

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