I’ve purchased various ferns many times over the years, some for outdoor shade garden growing such as the Maidenhair Fern, and some as fillers in my container gardens, such as the adorable small round leaved Button Fern. I love Maidenhair Ferns for their delicate stems and unique growing style, and I liked Button Ferns for their contrasting bright green color against the darker tones of other plants in mixed container arrangements. I also have rather enjoyed Staghorn Ferns, grown on boards or other hanging structures, for their unique display. I also love using various smaller ferns in hanging baskets mixed with other green foliaged houseplants, as shown in my gallery on Smugmug. However, typical Boston Ferns were not on my personal fav’s list, until last year.
Photos above (left to right): Gray hanger with mixed houseplants and a button fern; Outdoor Barrel planter with rubber tree and button fern; Hanging basket top view with button fern and other houseplants.
Typical Boston Fern
I purchased a typical Boston looking fern on a whim as I was entering a grocery store when I saw a bulk of them recently delivered and sitting outdoors at the front of the store. (Tip: Look them over – Do they look healthy? Was it a recent delivery? Or are they stressed? Also remember to look under the leaves, or in this case, under the fronds to see of any rot or insects (look for white fuzzy looking spots which could be mealy bugs), or in the case of ferns, don’t panic with ferns if you see brown symmetrical dots on the undersides of the fronds – those are naturally occurring spores on “some types” of ferns and are not insects! However, overall, these looked great at that moment of spotting them.)
Jumbo Boston Fern
Looking closely at the label in this photo, it indicates it is a Jumbo Boston Fern. I didn’t realize that until later as this fern grew rather large in one summer season. The reason I thought I should get one is because I had read that someone overwintered them easily in a low-temp greenhouse so I thought this is a good candidate for overwintering, similar to my Agaves, which don’t mind some lower temps for a few months and can ride it out till summertime in my low temp greenhouse (Note: I live in Connecticut Zone 6b).
Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) are a commonly known plant and people typically display them in hanging baskets inside the home or on porches in the summer. Because ferns like humidity, they can be tricky to keep healthy over the winter inside a home, but so far, the one I purchased last season which is hanging in my low-temp greenhouse, is looking pretty good and well, “hanging in there” for the time being.
I decided last year I would hang it from a big maple tree in my backyard when I scored this super big hanger at a nursery. Using standard potting mix and adding some balanced slow-release fertilizer in the potting mix, I planted it and cranked it up via a cable system my husband installed for birdfeeders from the tree’s branches. We hadn’t been using it for feeders anymore due to pesty squirrels, so now it was the perfect set-up for my new Jumbo Boston Fern.
Because ferns prefer filtered light, and many come from a natural habitat of shady forests or trees in moisture loving places, growing under a tree was a good location. Plus, it was so large, along with the hanger, it was enjoyable to view this big hanger and plant from my deck. At one point, a bird tried to create a home on the side of the planter, creating an entrance in the moss, but soon the bird realized this was not going to work because of the watering. I felt badly but I figured he or she would get the message and move on which he or she did.
During the winter, the location of this fern has been inside my low-temp greenhouse. Fortunately, the hanging baskets hanger and chain is strong enough to support it – it grew two-three times the size of the original plant by the end of the summer.
Grew Fast and Larger
The plant grew from a standard hanging basket size to a monster size. I had forgotten it was labeled as a “Jumbo” Boston fern so true to its name, it got jumbo size for sure. It is so heavy I feared the hanger would not support it in the greenhouse, but my trusty husband assured me it was fine. I also read that ferns have shallow, fibrous roots that fill the surface of containers quickly, so pots should be as wide as they are deep (which is the case with the big hanger I scored – I think it is about 2 ft wide on the top and it is certainly large in the bottom. It has plenty of growing space and by the end of the summer, it almost filled this big hanger.).
Watering and Moisture
To water it as it hung from the tree was not too difficult. I would just take my hose from the deck and point a strong spray of water to it and do that at least once a month. Boston ferns like constant light moisture and I enjoyed watering it as needed. I could have added some peat moss to the potting mix, but I felt that may make the whole thing too heavy, so I only used regular potting mix (as noted earlier). During this winter, as it hangs in my low-temp winter greenhouse, I have been careful not to water it too often because I don’t want it to rot. I have not misted it but one day, when the sun was out and the greenhouse was very warm for a winter day, I showered it with water from the hose, wetting the fronds, inside the greenhouse knowing it would enjoy a mist of showering moisture which would dry by end of the day due to it being a sunny day. I would not have done that on a cloudy winter’s day. Otherwise, I have watered it only occasionally in the greenhouse, and water spills out the bottom draining well. Note that these ferns can be messy indoors, dropping or shedding bits of the drier fronds, and plus watering it makes a big spill so in the greenhouse, that hasn’t been an issue for now. I will have to clean up shedding from the floor before spring, so it doesn’t create other problems in the greenhouse but otherwise, it has been fine. Some common places to hang this type of fern indoors may be a bathroom which is usually cooler and has some humidity but again, hangers can make a mess when watering, etc.
Temperature Inside and Out
I read the temperature preference of Boston ferns is below 60 degrees F at night indoors and during the day about 70 degrees F indoors. In the summer, they adapt to a range of temperatures of 80-85 degrees F during daytime outdoors. My winter greenhouse is kept at about 50 degrees F and so far, it has adapted well. Note though however we have had a mild winter so far. Some of the fronds have dropped a bit of dry pieces, but otherwise it is showing signs of life and is staying healthy. I will have to watch out for when temps ramp up in the greenhouse when spring arrives so I do not burn the leaves and may have to move it to a shadier spot (maybe under a shade cloth in the greenhouse, or under a protected shelf) before transitioning it outdoors in late May or early June. Right now, it is hanging fairly close to the ceiling, and I realize this may be too hot when we gain more sun in the springtime. Again, references indicate most ferns grow best in normal or cool room temperatures (difference of about 10 degrees F between day and night mimics the conditions they experience in the wild). Dry heat, which occurs in homes during the winter, is not preferred by ferns.
Fertilizer and Propagation
References in some of my garden books indicate that Boston ferns should be fed every two weeks with a balanced house plant food mixed at half the normal strength. I did not do any feeding of that nature last year, but we will see how it does this year, and perhaps will do so. I don’t believe in over feeding plants and try to determine their needs based on conditions, experience, and growth. Also, from what I read, divisions of the plant from the parent clump may be done in springtime so I will look to see if I can divide it then as needed.
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Date of this post: 3/1/2023
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The photo above is what this Jumbo Boston Fern looked like when I first got it. Then it grew two to three times larger!