Boston Fern Growing and Care Guide: Learn About Sword Ferns

  • jack Officer
  • May 30, 2023

Nephrolepis exaltata

The Boston fern, aka the sword fern or the Boston swordfern, is the poster baby of the fern world. When the common individual imagines this sort of plant, likelihood is they conjure up photos of this widespread species.

A close up vertical image of a large, lush Boston fern plant growing in a hanging basket outdoors on an overhang. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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And who can blame them? It’s a quick-growing choice with feathery, blade-shaped fronds and a chic arch to its development behavior.

This species can provide an on the spot improve to anybody’s dwelling, including an air of sophistication and a contact of prehistoric curiosity wherever it’s positioned. What’s to not love?

Whether or not you’re a fern knowledgeable or a pteridophyte neophyte, this text will present the required know-how to develop Boston ferns like a professional.

Buckle up, fern followers. Right here’s what’s forward:

N. exaltata might be the gateway plant to a fern dependancy, nevertheless. Many Jurassic Park-esque, frond-filled rooms bought their begin with the addition of a single Boston swordfern. Be warned.

A close up horizontal image of Boston fern plants growing outdoors in the garden.
Don’t let it get this dangerous!

Simply (half) joking, in fact. Onward!

Cultivation and Historical past

Regardless of its widespread title, the Boston fern really hails from tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas, which explains its affinity for humid situations.

This tightly clumped plant has a mature peak and unfold of two to 3 toes, with arching fronds tapering into factors that give them a sword-like look.

A close up horizontal image of a hand from the right of the frame holding the label of a plant with a Boston fern in the background.
Photograph by Joe Butler. If a significant dwelling and backyard retailer marks a Boston fern with the generalized label of “fern,” then that simply reveals how a lot this species represents the group as a complete.

This thirsty plant thrives in oblique gentle and dappled shade, which makes it supreme for planting on porches, beneath awnings, or within the shade of bigger cover/understory bushes and shrubs.

It additionally tends to develop considerably invasively, particularly in hotter climates. Total, a reasonably simple plant to take care of… when it’s grown outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 12.

Extra attentive care is required when grown indoors. Since N. exaltata lacks winter hardiness, bringing the vegetation in for the winter is a necessity, and plenty of gardeners discover that every one theirs can do indoors is merely survive.

N. exaltata wants oblique gentle and humidity to thrive, and the customarily darkish and dry situations of wintertime properties might be tough on these vegetation in the event that they don’t get some additional assist.

A vertical image of a large Boston fern growing in a concrete container set outdoors in the shade of a tree.

As for its origin story, this plant can hint its horticultural historical past again to its namesake: Boston.

The story of the Boston fern begins with F. C. Becker, a Victorian-era Massachusetts florist who acquired a specimen in a plant cargo from Philadelphia.

Becker observed that one fern had a larger rising pace, frond width, and drooping behavior compared to others within the cargo. As any plant nerd would do, he started to propagate it.

Two years later, in 1896, London botanists recognized the variant and advised that Becker bestow upon the plant its Boston moniker. The Boston fern quickly exploded in trade reputation and success.

Why? Effectively, again within the Victorian period, ferns had been a preferred selection for show in parlors, i.e. the flowery entrance rooms present in upper-middle class properties used to obtain visitors.

The short development, broad fronds, and swish droopiness of N. exaltata gave it an edge over the slow-growing, narrow-fronded, obstructively upright competitors, and thus turned the species of selection to be used in these parlor rooms.


True ferns don’t make seeds, as they reproduce through spores. Propagating spores generally is a tough endeavor, however since Boston ferns are sterile and produce non-viable or deformed spores, it is a nonissue.

You’ll must propagate this plant through division or by layering runners as a substitute.

Through Division

Divide N. exaltata when it outgrows its container or when the center patches begin to die. Sword ferns needs to be divided in late winter or early spring, ideally each few years with the intention to preserve the plant sturdy and never root certain.

To divide, gently take away the plant from its container, then divide the basis ball in half or quarters, relying on dimension.

Attempt to preserve as many leaves as doable intact whereas doing so, and you’ll want to loosen and pull aside the roots a bit to allow them to set up themselves readily into the brand new soil.

Transplant into appropriately sized containers. Keep away from pots and hanging baskets which can be too huge, to forestall excessively moist soil, and containers which can be too small, so that you received’t must repot straight away.

Hold the medium moist through misting for the primary few weeks of development. After that you could transition to an ordinary watering can.

From Runners/Stolons

Propagation may also be accomplished through layering. Merely take a runner (nonetheless connected to the mom fern) and affix it into a close-by patch of soil or potting medium in a separate container.

After just a few weeks of retaining it moist, as soon as the affixed runner takes root, the brand new daughter plant might be indifferent from its guardian plant and transplanted wherever you want.


If you find yourself shopping for a Boston fern from a nursery or backyard middle, you’ll ultimately want a container bigger than the pot that it got here in, with the intention to repot it because it grows.

You should definitely fill the container with a well-draining medium consisting of equal elements peat moss, sand, and backyard or potting soil.

Since sword ferns desire a pH of 5.0 to five.5, add a teaspoon of lime per quart of potting combination as nicely, with the intention to preserve the peat moss from making the soil too acidic. You’ll then need to dig out house on your sword fern in its new container.

Pinch the underside of the unique container as you gently pull out the fern by the bottom of its stems, working fastidiously to maintain the plant intact. Break up the roots a bit, for a neater transition.

Place within the ready container, and backfill any empty areas. Water within the plant, ensuring to present it a great soaking on the soil line.

Study extra about propagating ferns right here.

Learn how to Develop

Rising a Boston fern isn’t too tough, particularly when it’s grown outside, and we cowl the main points of this extra completely in a separate information to out of doors care. (coming quickly!)

N. exaltata loves well-drained, moisture-retaining soil comparable to a silt loam or a soilless peat and vermiculite combine.

This plant additionally loves water, so preserve the soil moist – however not saturated – always. Putting the fern’s container in a second, bigger container lined with damp sphagnum moss will help to keep up the required moist atmosphere.

A close up horizontal image of a small Boston fern growing in a wicker basket set on a wooden table with a collection of houseplants in soft focus in the background.

As a houseplant, the Boston fern does finest if you give it oblique daylight. In case you’re restricted to spots with brilliant gentle publicity, a sheer curtain helps in decreasing gentle depth.

Giving the pot 1 / 4 flip daily or so also can assist guarantee even all-around development.

N. exaltata thrives in containers that give it a little bit of room to develop, and it doesn’t like being root certain. However you’ll want to keep away from overly giant containers because the roots will undergo in giant portions of oversaturated potting medium.

This species thrives within the 60 to 80°F temperature vary, however establishing a damp atmosphere is of the utmost significance.

This may be accomplished by putting your Boston ferns close to kitchens or loos, or setting containers on high of a tray crammed with a mattress of moist pebbles. 

Sword ferns want much less moisture in wintertime, so don’t water them as a lot with the intention to forestall root rot.

Rising Ideas

  • Select an indoor location with oblique daylight.
  • A broad vary of indoor temperatures are tolerated, so don’t stress over your thermostat an excessive amount of.
  • You should definitely present moist situations!


N. exaltata often wants fertilization each month when actively rising, however you’ll want to reduce the frequency throughout winter dormancy.

That is particularly essential when rising this species indoors, as indoor vegetation don’t develop fairly as quick as out of doors ones, and having an extra of fertilizer can simply kill a houseplant.

The best fertilizer is a balanced slow-release or liquid product used at half-strength doses, like this liquid indoor fertilizer from Simple Peasy.

Simple Peasy Indoor Plant Meals

It’s vailable in eight-ounce bottles through Amazon.

However be cautious of over-fertilization – the ends of the fronds will brown and dry out on account of utilizing an excessive amount of.

Be at liberty to take away any older dying or lifeless fronds as wanted to maintain the plant trying sharp. If fronds begin to flip grey, improve watering. Enhance gentle publicity if fronds turn into lanky and weak.

You should definitely divide your Boston ferns each couple of years as described above to maintain them wholesome and correctly sized. As well as, repot your vegetation as they outgrow their containers and/or turn into root certain.

We cowl the ins and outs of overwintering Boston ferns in our information.

Cultivars to Choose

This species is kind of widespread, and there are a selection of cultivars to select from. Listed here are just a few favorites:


The traditional Boston fern, with all of the traits you’ve grown to like.

A close up square image of a small Boston fern growing in a pot set on a white surface.


You’ll be able to discover one in all your individual from Terrain, measuring a couple of foot in peak and 6 inches in diameter – an actual beaut!


Often known as ‘Dallas Jewel,’ it is a rapid-spreading, smaller selection that tolerates decrease quantities of sunshine and humidity than your normal N. exaltata.

It’s the proper houseplant for darkish, dry properties.

Fluffy Ruffles

A cultivar with a densely rising clump of sentimental, “ruffled” fronds, ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ provides a visually textured curiosity that’s positive to amaze.

Rita’s Gold

Rita’s Gold™, aka ‘Aurea,’ is a compact selection with fronds coloured a stunning chartreuse yellow.

Managing Pests and Illness

N. exaltata does nicely in opposition to herbivores – deer particularly – however it may be vulnerable to some insect and illness points, particularly when grown outside.


Fortunately, no insect spells whole catastrophe for a Boston fern proprietor armed with data.


Mealybugs seem as white, cotton-looking clumps on fronds, leaf axils, and roots. Mealybugs can result in general stunted development and the eventual dying of the infested plant elements.

To repair this challenge, drench the soil with an insecticide comparable to this pyrethrin focus from PyGanic Gardening, accessible through Amazon in eight-ounce containers. You should definitely dilute the focus in keeping with package deal instructions.

PyGanic Gardening Botanical Insecticide

Be sure that the insecticide can ultimately drain out of the pot through holes on the backside.

Because of the sensitivity of the fronds, a mild spray of water or natural insecticidal cleaning soap to the foliage will even assist with insect management with out damaging the greenery.

Natria Insecticidal Cleaning soap

Natria provides a fantastic product for this, and their insecticidal cleaning soap is accessible through Amazon.


It may be powerful to inform the place a scale insect ends and the Boston fern begins. Not as a lot of an issue when vegetation are grown indoors year-round, you could spot them in case your potted vegetation spend the summer time outdoors.

These brown, itty-bitty critters will typically mix into the foliage, making it laborious to detect their presence on the plant. When infested, vegetation turn into stunted, weakened, and may even begin to die.

Management of scale is identical as management of mealybugs: apply an insecticide to the soil and permit it to empty, together with a young spray of an acceptable however gentler product to regulate these pests, just like the insecticidal cleaning soap talked about above.

Study extra about coping with scale in our information.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are technically arachnids, not bugs. However since they’re additionally creepy-crawlies that may wreak havoc on the Boston fern, I’ve determined to say them alongside scale and mealybugs.

A close up horizontal image of spider mites infesting a tomato plant pictured on a soft focus background.

Spider mites are puny, and difficult to see with the bare eye. Bust out a hand lens for a better look and also you’ll discover the spider mites to be oval-bodied and lined in translucent bristles. Oftentimes, you’ll see their webs earlier than you see the precise pests.

An utility of natural insecticidal cleaning soap to the foliage will assist with spider mite management. And these pests are inclined to desire dry environments, so you’ll want to preserve N. exaltata watered nicely, and in a damp location.

For the entire above pests, a complete management method can go a good distance in retaining your vegetation wholesome. Study extra by studying up on built-in pest administration right here.


As inexperienced thumbs, most of us instinctually freak out a bit once we see our vegetation troubled with darkish spots.

Nonetheless, the darkish spots on the undersides of the fronds are the place the spores come from, so ensure you possibly can inform the distinction between mentioned spores and precise signs of illness.

A close up horizontal image of the underside of a Boston fern frond showing signs of pest infestation and disease pictured on a soft focus background.

Sadly, N. exaltata remains to be vulnerable to numerous varieties of illness. In the case of the next illnesses, an oz of prevention is price a pound of remedy.

Pythium Root Rot

When contaminated with Pythium root rot, Boston fern can present many various signs, starting from wilting and frond graying to necrosis or general stunted development.

Roots typically lose their outer layers, leaving only a weak interior core behind that may’t uptake water and vitamins correctly.

Beginning with pathogen-free soil or medium is your finest guess for stopping Pythium root rot, together with retaining the soil from turning into oversaturated. Chemical management is one other solution to fight this illness.

Rhizoctonia Aerial Blight

Hold a pointy lookout through the summer time, as that is when Rhizoctonia aerial blight sometimes happens.

This illness can come out of nowhere in lower than per week’s time, forming irregularly-shaped, brown lesions wherever on the foliage. Over time, the speedy unfold of the lesions can coat your entire sword fern with a weblike, brown mycelium.

Management of Rhizoctonia aerial blight ought to happen through the identical strategies used for Pythium root rot. To optimally management these ailments, each the foliage and the roots should obtain therapy.

Greatest Makes use of

The Boston fern is right to be used in hanging baskets, prominently displayed containers, or as accent plantings for different shade-loving vegetation. It’s a fantastic indoor specimen for the attentive gardener who can take correct care of it.

A close up vertical image of a large, lush Boston fern growing in a hanging basket.

Being the versatile vegetation they’re, sword ferns work nicely each as solo specimens and as companions to colourful tropical vegetation comparable to coleus, begonias, and impatiens.

Fast Reference Rising Information

Plant Sort: Herbaceous evergreen perennial Upkeep Low
Native to: Tropical and subtropical areas of North, Central, and South America Tolerance: Heavy shade, deer
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 9-12 Soil Sort: Silt loam
Publicity: Dappled or oblique daylight to low gentle or heavy shade Soil pH: 5.0-5.5
Time to Maturity: 4-5 years Soil Drainage: Effectively-draining
Planting Depth: 1-3 toes Companion Planting: Shade and moisture tolerant vegetation, colourful foliage and flowering vegetation like begonias and impatiens
Peak: 2-3 toes Makes use of: Accent plantings in shaded preparations, houseplants, hanging baskets, containers
Unfold: 2-3 toes Order: Polypodiales
Development Charge: Average Household: Nephrolepidaceae
Water Wants: Excessive Genus: Nephrolepis
Frequent Pests and Illnesses: Mealybugs, scale, spider mites, Pythium root rot, Rhizoctonia aerial blight Species: Exaltata

The Boston Fern: Your New Greatest Frond

In a dangling basket or in a container, out within the open or tucked away, the Boston fern will look completely beautiful wherever you select to point out it off.

A close up horizontal image of a Boston fern growing in a hanging basket under the eaves of a home.

Skilled within the methods of rising this much-loved species? Nonetheless have extra questions? Share your ideas within the feedback part beneath.

In case you’re craving extra data on houseplants, deal with your self to those fascinating guides subsequent:

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