Boston Fern Outdoors: Can A Boston Fern Be Grown Outside

Boston Fern Outdoors: Can A Boston Fern Be Grown Outside

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Boston fern is a lush, old-fashioned plant valued for its lacy, bright green foliage. When grown indoors, this easy-care plant provides an air of elegance and style. But can your grow Boston fern outdoors? Read on to find out.

Can a Boston Fern be Grown Outside?

Although Boston fern is often grown as a houseplant, it thrives outdoors in warm, humid climates in USDA zones 9-11. With adequate moisture, the plant may tolerate drier climates. Frost may kill the fern to the ground, but it will rebound in spring.

Boston fern in gardens require partial to full shade, or dappled, filtered light. This makes the plant a good choice for shady, damp areas, providing a spark of bright color where few other plants will grow.

The plant prefers rich, organic soil. If your garden soil is poor, dig in a few inches of leaf mulch, compost or finely chopped bark.

Boston Fern Outdoor Care

Boston fern outdoors requires plenty of water and isn’t drought-tolerant. Provide enough water to keep the soil consistently moist, but never allow the soil to remain soggy or waterlogged. If you live in a dry climate, mist the plant lightly on hot days.

If your outdoor Boston fern is growing in a container, it will probably need water every day during the summer. Keep a close eye on the plant. On hot days, the fern may require a second watering.

Small amounts of fertilizer are best for Boston fern, which is a light feeder. If you notice the leaves are pale or yellowish, this is a good indication that the plant may lack nutrients. Otherwise, feed the plant occasionally throughout the growing season, using a dilute mixture of a regular, water-soluble fertilizer. Alternatively, provide a slow-release fertilizer in spring, and again six to eight weeks later.

Although Boston ferns are relatively pest-resistant, they are susceptible to damage by slugs. If the slug infestation is light, pick the pests off the plant early in the morning or in the evening and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.

You can also try non-toxic methods to discourage the pests. For example, sprinkle a coarse substance such as dry eggshells, coffee grounds or diatomaceous earth around the slug; the sharp substance abrades their slimy outer coating.

Use slug pellets if absolutely necessary. Read the label carefully, as only a light application is required. Keep the chemicals out of reach of children and pets. Non-toxic slug pellets are also available.

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How to Care for a Hanging Boston Fern

The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), also referred to as "sword fern", has been a popular houseplant since Victorian times. These lush, tropical perennials are the perfect choice for hanging baskets, whether gracing a front porch or a living room window. They do well outdoors during warm weather, but if the temperature in your area dips below freezing, they will need to be moved indoors before winter's arrival. They aren't very fussy plants, but they do require regular care in order to look their best.

Choose the right location to hang your Boston fern. These plants do best when they receive partial sun the majority of the day. If grown indoors, a north facing window works well. If you are placing the fern outside for the summer choose a protected area such as a porch or patio and keep the plant out of direct sunlight.

  • The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), also referred to as "sword fern", has been a popular houseplant since Victorian times.
  • They do well outdoors during warm weather, but if the temperature in your area dips below freezing, they will need to be moved indoors before winter's arrival.

Water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Add water at soil level taking care not to let the water pour over the fronds, as this can encourage fungal disease. Boston ferns require a lot of humidity, so unless your climate is exceptionally damp you will need to mist the plant twice daily with a spray bottle.

Fertilize once each month with a 10-10-10 fertilizer mixed at half the strength that is recommended on the package.

Remove brown or damaged fronds regularly with pruning shears, cutting as close to the soil level as you can.

Bring your Boston fern inside before the first frost is expected in your area. Water only when the soil begins to feel very dry during the winter months. The fern can be placed back outdoors in spring after all danger of frost has passed,

  • Water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Add water at soil level taking care not to let the water pour over the fronds, as this can encourage fungal disease.

Boston ferns do well in clay pots.

Boston ferns shed leaves freely, so be sure to place the pot in a place that can be conveniently swept.

Turn the hanging pot weekly to prevent the fern from being "drawn" in one direction toward the sun.


Boston Ferns Like To Be Crowded?

Begin to think about repotting Boston fern when it completely fills the pot it's growing in. If offsets are growing from the drainage holes or over the sides of the pot, and roots crowd out the potting mix, repotting is overdue. It's better to repot frequently rather than moving the fern into too large a pot. Given free root run in an outdoor bed, Boston fern can grow quickly and become crowded. It spreads by sending out runners and can become invasive. You can contain its growth by installing metal or plastic edging around the garden bed. Water each plant thoroughly.

  • Begin to think about repotting Boston fern when it completely fills the pot it's growing in.
  • You can contain its growth by installing metal or plastic edging around the garden bed.

Boston ferns can be planted under trees and shrubs or used as a ground cover.


Humidity is Important

Along with cool temperatures and diffused light, tropical forests have high humidity. Indoor air can be too dry for Boston ferns to thrive. Misting the fern daily can temporarily add moisture, but it does not last long.

Placing a humidifier in the room with the Boston fern is a good solution. To add humidity only around the fern or for outdoor ferns, place the pot on a tray or saucer filled with pebbles. Adding water to this tray and keeping at least 1/4 inch of water in it at all times adds humidity to the air directly around the Boston fern.


Growing Boston Ferns

Nephrolepis exaltata

'Aurea' is one of the most popular varieties of Boston ferns, whose fronds can grow up to 5 feet long.

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By now, if you haven’t moved your tropical houseplants indoors from the porch or patio, chances are you may as well forget it.

One plant I push the cold-weather envelope on every fall—and many times have lived to regret it—is Boston fern. Yeah, it’s a toughie, but like other tropicals, not cold hardy. The rest of the year, though, this fern is an easy-care, showy and versatile addition to any garden, terrace or indoor space. It makes a great foil in container gardens for annuals like impatiens, a cool companion plant for shade garden favorites like hostas, and quite a statement simply as a lush hanging basket or stand-alone potted plant.

With its long, graceful fronds that can reach up to 5 feet, the most common type of Boston fern is Nephrolepsis exaltata. Another less common species, N. cordifolia, features erect fronds up to 2 feet long. There’s also a variegated type, known as Tiger Fern, which offers interesting leaves of dark green and yellow-gold mottling.

Whether admired indoors or out, Boston ferns prefer a cool environment with high humidity and indirect light – though they can tolerate bright light better than most ferns. When indoors, they thrive on additional humidity because of the dry heat, so mist them with water a couple times a week and make sure the soil remains damp by checking it every of couple days. If their leaves turn yellow, the plants are not getting enough humidity.

Boston ferns thrive in temperatures in the 60s and 70s but can tolerate an occasional blast of cold air of 40 to 50 degrees for a few hours. Once a month in spring and summer, feed them a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. In spring, large plants can easily be divided and repotted.


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