Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), also known as Sword Fern, is a popular houseplant native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and Africa. It has thin, long fronds lush green in color. Each individual frond is divided along the midrib into alternating pinnae. They are medium-sized, with long, arching leaves becoming droopier and droopier as they mature.
This fern is primarily grown as a houseplant prized for its ornamental value. It is a brilliant accentuating plant that looks gorgeous when paired with hanging baskets. It can also be planted beside tall trees outdoors in winter-hardy zones.
- Boston Fern Main Characteristics
- Boston Fern Care
- Cultivars of Nephrolepis exaltata
- Propagating Nephrolepis exaltata
- Potting and Repotting Nephrolepis exaltata
- Common Pests
- Common Problems
- The Complete Guide to Caring for Your Boston Fern Plant (Video)
Boston Fern Main Characteristics
|Common Name||Boston Fern, Sword Fern|
|Botanical Name||Nephrolepis exaltata|
|Native Range||South America, Mexico|
|Cultivars||‘Teddy Junior”Bostoniensis”Sonata”Montana”Green Lady”Marissa’ (a dwarf variety)’Todeoides”Whitmanii Improved”Rooseveltii”Elegantissima’|
|USDA Hardiness Zones||9 to 11|
|Mature Size||Height: 2-3 feet; Spread: 2-3 feet|
|Propagation methods||by spores, by division|
Boston Fern Care
Boston Ferns are native to the tropics, so they need a warm humid environment to thrive. They are one of the most popular plants for indoor use. They are easy to care for, and they add a touch of greenery to any room.
Light and Location
Nephrolepis exaltata need bright, indirect light and cannot tolerate direct sun. They are somewhat tolerant of deep shade but will not grow as well and may lose their color. Don’t overcorrect on either side of the spectrum, and you should be fine.
Traditionally, these plants are used as indoor plants in hanging baskets or pots. They prefer bright, indirect light and high humidity, making them a perfect choice for bathrooms and kitchens.
Boston Ferns are reliant on having a consistently moist soiling medium year-round. It needs to be kept moist but not wet. Watering them every day or two is usually sufficient, but you may need to water more often during the hot, dry summer months. Reduce the watering frequency slightly in winter, dormant plants don’t need as much water, and too much can result in root rot.
Boston Ferns prefer standard house temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they are tolerant of slightly colder temperatures (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit). But don’t let it fall lower than that, or you’ll start to see problems.
Nephrolepis exaltata are tropical ferns that require high humidity. If not naturally humid, misting them regularly is a must. Many gardeners have found success standing the pot in a water-filled tray of pebbles to keep the moisture level high. The evaporating water helps keep the humidity levels high.
Boston Ferns require a monthly dose of diluted liquid fertilizer (half-strength) in the growing season. Keep the compost filled with rich nutrients for the best results. Don’t overfeed, especially in winter, or the fronds will start to show clear signs of browning.
Cultivars of Nephrolepis exaltata
Each cultivar of this fern bears unique characteristics that set them apart. These cultivars are widely cultivated, especially Bostoniensis, which earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit alongside Elegantissima. Here are the more popular ones.
- ‘Teddy Junior’
- ‘Whitmanii Improved’
- ‘Green Lady’
- ‘Marissa’ (a dwarf variety)
Propagating Nephrolepis exaltata
You can propagate Boston Ferns from spores and division. The division is the most common method and can be carried out in late winter. When dividing, make sure to break the plant into sections with at least two leaves attached to the rooted runners. Although smaller sections can also become established, larger sections have a higher chance of success and mature faster. You can use scissors to cut off desired sections neatly. Afterward, replant the divisions in fresh, moist soil and wait for it to become established.
To propagate Boston Ferns from spores, place the spores in a soil mix and keep them moist until they germinate, which can take several weeks. Although propagation via spores can work, it is harder to accomplish with little chance for success. Therefore, division is the preferred process.
Potting and Repotting Nephrolepis exaltata
When potting a Boston Fern, use a well-drained potting mix rich in organic matter. As discussed in the watering section, this plant requires frequent watering. If the soil isn’t fast-draining, that results in standing water that ends with root rot. Maintain drainage holes in the sides of the pot and ensure the potting mix is peat-based to solve all potential problems.
You can repot these ferns any time during the year, but it’s best to do it during the spring or summer when they are actively growing. Roots become congested every few years, so check before committing to a new pot. Repotting is the perfect time to divide the plant by carefully separating it into smaller sections. Ensure the presence of drainage holes in the pot before replanting.
Boston Ferns are non-toxic to both cats and dogs, making them a popular choice for plant lovers with pets. If ingested, it will cause no more than an upset stomach. On the contrary, this lush plant purifies indoor air pollution.
Nephrolepis exaltata can be susceptible to several pests, including mealybugs, spider mites, and scale insects. You can treat these pests with standard pesticides, including horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Check the fronds frequently to detect any signs of an infestation early.
Are the fronds turning pale?
Ensure that you’ve fed the plant with appropriate feed if it’s growing season. Also, check its location; if it’s receiving too much light, move it somewhere slightly shadier and see if the fronds don’t go back to normal. Either way, you’ll have to wait a bit to see improvement.
Are you detecting brown frond tips? Are the fronds dying?
One or two fronds browning and falling off is natural. However, if multiple fronds exhibit the same signs, the plant probably needs more moisture. Mist the leaves daily and increase the watering frequency until the plant recovers. Recovery should occur soon after the watering routine is fixed.
Are the fronds turning Yellow?
Check if the room isn’t too warm. If the temperature is above the recommended limit, lower it. It could also be a result of dry air. Mist the leaves daily, and your plant should go back to normal.
The Complete Guide to Caring for Your Boston Fern Plant (Video)
How to care for a Boston Fern indoors?
Boston Ferns do best when given plenty of light but place them away from direct sunlight. They also need high humidity, so mist the leaves regularly or place the pot on a tray filled with water. Fertilize the plant every month with a balanced liquid fertilizer in the growing season. Also, remember to maintain an average room temperature of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to propagate Boston Fern?
Boston Ferns can be propagated by division or spores. For division, remove sections of the plant from the parent plant, making sure each has roots and some soil attached. Then, replant the divisions in fresh potting soil. For spores, place the fern on a damp paper towel and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Store in a warm place and often check for signs of germination.
How often to water a Boston Fern?
You should water Boston ferns often in summer, spring, and autumn. Keep the soil consistently moist (but not soggy!). In winter, lessen the watering frequency as the plant goes dormant and doesn’t need as much water.