Q. I have two Boston ferns in hanging baskets on my porch. I would like to take them indoors but they have always looked awful after awhile and seemed to die on me. What should I do to keep them alive over the winter months so I can hang them outside next year?
A. Boston ferns Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensi are a cultivar of a wild fern grown in Florida. As well as certain other ferns that are grown in tropical zones, they are often considered to be invasive.
Due to their rampant growth, gardeners have to use herbicides to keep them under control.
It is hard for us to imagine having to do that because our cold winters eliminate even our perennial ferns from getting out of control – but here, as with many other tropicals, we value these graceful green plants and enjoy using them in any season to enhance our homes, inside and out.
Because ferns prefer low light conditions, there are several cultivars that make great houseplants, but the Boston fern is the most popular for indoor use in our area. So, to ensure that your ferns continue to be healthy instead of going through the slow “messy” death indoors that you've experienced in the past, here are a few tips to help them survive in your home:
•Boston ferns prefer to be kept moist and in a room temperature of 65-75 degrees.
•Avoid setting them near forced air registers or other types of heating. This causes the plant to dry out too quickly and the fronds will become dry and brittle.
•A good daily practice throughout the winter months when indoor air is dry is to mist the fronds to the point of drip.
•Water the whole plant at least once a week.
•When watering the plant, set it in the sink and fill with water to the top of the pot. Allow to drain well.
•Occasionally put the plant in the shower and let the spray wash the fronds and soak the root ball. This is a great way to keep house dust off the plant and water it at the same time.
•Use a plastic pot instead of clay to repot in — this will help hold in the moisture. Fill the bottom with small stones or foam peanuts or other similar material to aid in drainage. This is important because even though ferns like to be moist, they do not like to sit in water. Also make sure the pot has drain holes and protect your furniture by using a tray to catch any excess drainage.
•According to directions on the label, work a small amount of slow-release fertilizer (8-8-8 or 10-10-10) through the soil when you repot or take the plant indoors. Wait until spring to reapply — late March, early April. Do not over-apply fertilizer as this can damage the plant.
•Many potting soils today have moisture beads and slow-release fertilizer already in the bag. If you purchase that type, do not add more fertilizer.
•If the plant has been outside all summer and you aren't planning on repotting, be sure to wash thoroughly and use a safe-for-humans-and-pets spray for insects before taking indoors.