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Learn to Propagate Boston Ferns


Learn to propagate Boston ferns with these simple instructions. Yes, It’s easy! You just need to know where to cut, when to cut, and what kind of cutting material to use. This article will answer learn to propagate Boston ferns!


Florida Sword Ferns. Sword or Boston ferns growing around a large bald cypress tree in Southwest Florida royalty free stock image
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Tools Needed 

To propagate your Boston ferns, you’ll need some tools. A sharp knife or razor blade, sphagnum moss, a glass container with a plastic lid (such as Tupperware or Rubbermaid), and toothpicks. If the container is clear plastic, you may wish to keep it out of direct sunlight so that algae won’t grow in it.


Cutting Time

 Propagation works best only twice a year. It is right after flowering and right after the plant has received a good drenching from a rainstorm.


Propagating Boston Ferns after Flowering

If you want to learn to propagate your Boston ferns right after flowering, wait until the flowers have faded and begun wilting. This will mark the beginning of dormancy for your plants.

Then cut three to six 2-4 inch sections from each rhizome using a sharp knife or razor blade. Be sure that each section has one terminal bud on it.

Never concern yourself with wounding the parent plant — cutaway! Since there’s no new growth starting up, you won’t hurt it any further by cutting it back to its roots. In fact, it will probably grow healthier with less foliage! If you’ve been watering it regularly, it should be almost as moist as a freshly watered plant.


Propagating Boston Ferns After Rain


If you choose to propagate your Boston ferns during their dormant period, wait until the plants have had a good drenching. Then cut three to six 2-4 inch sections from each rhizome using a sharp knife or razor blade. Be sure that each section has one terminal bud on it. Again, don’t worry about wounding the parent plant — cutaway! If you haven’t been watering your plants regularly, now is a perfect time!


How to Grow Boston Fern from Cutting


If you’ve chosen to propagate your Boston ferns during dormancy, wait until the parent plant resumes active growth (the terminal bud becomes green and plump) before planting it up. This will help the new plant get established before the hot weather of summer arrives.

 When you’re ready to begin growing your Boston fern from cuttings, start by watering the cutting thoroughly. Then, place it in a bright location but not direct sunlight. A south-facing window with good air circulation works well for this. Avoid exposing and placing plants to drafts or cold spots — keep them warm! Water sparingly at first so that the soil doesn’t become soggy. Then increase frequency as necessary.

You may wish to propagate your new plants “in place” if you’re growing them in a container. But transplanting is also an option. Increase pot size as necessary with fresh potting soil to give roots room to grow.

As for fertilizing, boston ferns are not heavy feeders. Most can be grown without supplemental fertilizer. You can do so by simply giving them regular water during the growing season (spring through fall) and withholding fertilizer all winter long. 

If you do choose to use liquid or slow-release pellets or powder, pet stores sell special formulations made especially for ferns. Follow package directions carefully since overfertilization can damage fern foliage! A controlled release pellet will slowly provide nutrients for several months.

If you wish to propagate more plants next year, increase the amount of fertilizer slightly between early spring and late summer. This will have a positive effect on growth. However, if you are planning on dividing your Boston ferns into smaller pieces, do so during dormancy. You will see new growth has begun in spring.

When growing indoors, remember that Boston fern needs bright light but not direct sunlight. A south-facing window with sheer curtains provides ideal conditions for successfully cultivated Boston ferns.


Creating Potting Compost for Propagation Cuttings

Insert toothpicks into the bottom of your container so that they stand upright. These will raise the bottom of your cutting off the bottom of the container.

Choose your soil mixture. The ideal potting compost for Boston fern propagation should be slightly acidic (pH 5-6). It should have excellent drainage, so you can use either milled sphagnum moss or a peat moss/perlite mix.

Moisten your mixture to near-saturation. It shouldn’t drip when you squeeze it, but should still feel moist underneath your fingers. This is especially important if you’ve used milled sphagnum moss. This is because dried sphagnum tends to hold water in its cells for a long time before releasing them again. Mix thoroughly with a spoon or your hand until there are no dry patches.

Insert your cutting into the mixture. It should stand upright, with the leaf nodes buried in the soil. The top bud should stick out of the soil (the terminal bud). The toothpicks can serve as markers if you like. Poke them next to each section of the rhizome before burying it.

Note that Boston ferns are typically propagated “in place” rather than by dividing or separating their rhizomes. This means you will plant entire sections of rhizome (including some roots) rather than separate pieces of rhizome with some leaves attached. If one piece grows well but another does not remember that you can always try again next year!


Learn to Propagate Boston Ferns, the Fluffy Truffle Ferns

For the soil mixture, use equal parts of milled sphagnum moss and peat moss. Moisten to saturation with distilled water only — rainwater is too high in minerals for this type of fern! Use a spoon or your hand to mix thoroughly until no dry patches remain.

 Insert toothpicks into the bottom of your container so that they stand upright (this makes them easier to find!). These will raise the bottom layer of potting mixture off the bottom of the container.

Moisten your planting mixture again lightly. Then insert whole sections of rhizome (with at least one leaf node attached) vertically into it. You can always mark each section with a toothpick if you like, poking it next to the rhizome.

 Proper Depth

For each section of the rhizome, plant it deep enough so that at least half of its leaves are beneath the surface of the soil. The more leaf nodes you have on your new plants, the better your chances for successful growth! You can always divide them up later if one does exceptionally well.

 Place your container in a shaded outdoor location with indirect sunlight during daytime hours only. Too much sun will cause leaves to brown and wither or turn yellow. If this is not possible, you may grow your fern indoors in bright light near a sunny window without direct sun exposure (a south-facing window works best). Remember though, Boston ferns do not tolerate hot conditions well!


Learn to Propagate Boston Fern in Water

First, choose a glass container that holds at least 4-5 liters or 1 gallon of water. You’ll need enough room to hold the roots of the fern. One option might be an old fishbowl!

Second, prepare your “water” solution by adding 20 drops of all-purpose liquid fertilizer to 1 liter or a quart of distilled water. You can also use rainwater instead of distilled if this is available to you. Some people also recommend using slightly acidic tap water (pH 5-6).

Fill your container with this mixture and allow it to sit overnight so that any chlorine will dissipate. If you do not have access to rainwater or water, you can leave your tap water sitting out overnight to evaporate the chlorine.

Third, place your fern into the water so that it is completely submerged except for its leaves and stem. This keeps algae from growing on the leaves. Do not worry about your fern having roots yet. Many types of Boston ferns will root themselves without attachment to anything! If one section of rhizome grows exceptionally well but another does not simply leave that section in the soil mix. Remember that you may divide them later if desired.

The propagation process is complete when you notice that roots are beginning to grow at the base of each leaf node. These tiny white “hairs” called adventitious roots are a good sign that your fern is doing well! If your fern does not start to put out roots within approximately 2 months, it might be getting too much or too little light.


Boston Fern Care Outdoors

If you choose to grow your plant outdoors in temperate climates, keep it protected from strong wind or drafts. You can do so by covering it with burlap or other cloth material. Be sure to remove this during warmer weather.


How to Grow Boston Ferns Outdoors in the Garden

First, choose a site outdoors that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun each day (south-facing is best). Most Boston ferns prefer moderate temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F. You can grow them outdoors in climates that are warmer. But ensure to keep them shaded from the hot afternoon sun if you do. It’s very important that you plant it in an area where they stay protected from strong winds all year round.

Second, prepare your garden soil by adding organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to the top 6 inches of soil. Dig it in with a pitchfork or shovel to mix it well into the existing soil.

Third, dig an 18-inch wide hole for each fern that you wish to grow in your garden. This is if you’re growing them together in one hole. Remove any grass or weeds along with the bottom 2/3rds of the hole. Make sure that the surrounding soil is moist before continuing.

Fourth, place your Boston fern bulbs in their holes and position them at least 1 foot away from other plants. This is to avoid root competition. Ensure it is deep enough so that you bury half of their leaf height.

Don’t forget to refill

Finally, backfill the hole with soil. Also, add a 2-inch layer of mulch such as pine needles or dried leaves thickly around the base of your ferns. This is very important for weed control. The best way to avoid weeding in Boston ferns is by keeping their roots covered and shaded from direct sun! 

Keep them well watered and fertilized throughout the growing season (spring through fall). However, you should reduce water during cold weather to light frost protection only. This will prevent leaf browning.

If you live in an area that receives moderate rainfall, you’ll probably only need to water them once per week. Do so more frequently during dry spells with 1 tablespoon of all-purpose houseplant fertilizer mixed into 1 gallon of water.

 In climates that receive less rainfall, you may have to water them 2-3 times per week with the same amount of mixture as above each time. Remember not to overwater your ferns and always allow their soil mix to dry out a bit before rewatering!


Boston Fern Care Indoors

Many Boston ferns can be successfully propagated from a single leaf rather than from the rhizome itself. When trying to propagate your plant this way, choose leaves that are plump and healthy-looking with plenty of veins showing. 

Avoid those with large holes or tears. To prevent rotting, place them in a glass bowl or jar filled with fresh rainwater overnight before planting. If they do not sink the next day, your leaf is too old to use.


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