Boston Fern: A Classic Beauty that Cleans the Indoor Air

Boston fern, also known as the sword fern, is one of the most popular cultivated varieties for growing indoors.

It is easy to care for and adds charm, elegance and interest to a room along with health benefits of purified air.

It was discovered in Boston in 1894. Its long, drooping spear-shaped fronds make it the perfect plant to cascade down the sides of a large hanging basket or a pedestal.

The plant has a reputation for being messy because of all the shedding.

This can be prevented by creating the ideal indoor environment. Supply the plant with proper moisture conditions and plenty of indirect sunlight and it will thrive.

Air Cleaning Quality

The Boston fern is a natural defense tool against indoor air pollution. Many of the items that we use every day such as plastic wallpaper, carpeting and rug pads, insulation, laminated counters, veneer furniture, plywood, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, adhesives, printers and copy machines are composed of synthetic materials that "off-gas."

VOCs cannot be avoided because they are found in such a wide variety of the products in our indoor environment; however, you can take steps to make your air healthier with air cleaning plants.

How to Care for a Boston Fern

Light: Indirect lighting (near a bright east-facing window) works fine during winter months. A north-facing window is ideal during the season when the sun is more intense. This helps to prevent leaf scald and dried-out leaves. They can also live in low-light areas such as hallways, bedrooms, or bathrooms.

Water: Water thoroughly and empty excess water. This is necessary to prevent root rot which can kill your plant. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. A well-draining potting mixture should be used.


Humidity: This plant likes high humidity and does well in bathrooms. Plant will flourish with 50 % relative humidity. If it is hot and dry, spray plant with a fine misting of water several times a day. Be sure to use room-temperature water because cold water may spot the leaves.

You can place plants on a pebble tray. Add water to the pebbles, making sure the bottoms of the pots do not touch the water in the tray. The evaporation will raise the humidity around the plants. Even better, use a room humidifier and place it near the plants. This will benefit you as well as the plants.

Temperature: Cool to average, 65 to 75 degrees F during the day and about 10 degrees cooler at night.

Fertilization: All purpose fertilizer once every months except during winter when the plant remains dormant. Ferns require only light feedings of fertilizer from April through September which is the growing season. Apply liquid houseplant fertilizer at about one-half the recommended rate because too much fertilizer will scorch the foliage.

Potting Soil: A well draining mixture that contains sterilized potting soil, perlite, peatmoss, and some horticultural charcoal.

Pests: your plants may become infested with scale insects, mealybugs, and mites. If present, Pick bugs off by hand or spray them with water. This is the safest way for control as pesticide sprays may injure ferns.

Monitor plants weekly to check for pests. Check on undersides of fronds and at leaf axils; if present, spray with the least toxic product for the pest and read the label carefully before applying.

If ferns are infested with scales, the easiest way for control is to cut off affected fronds. If infestation is too severe, you may need to get rid of the plant before the rest of your houseplants become infested.

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