Learn to Propagate Boston Ferns

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Learn to Propagate Boston Ferns

Boston ferns continue to increase in popularity as house plants. And we understand why. They are easy to propagate and they add a touch of greenery to any room. Is Your Boston fern growing too large? Or do you want to share your lovely ferns with friends? Then learning how to propagate them is the way to go. In this blog post, you will learn to propagate Boston ferns using two different methods: division and rooting stem cuttings.

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!

Let’s get started!

Beautiful potted Boston ferns or Green Lady houseplant on floor by brick wall in living room. Nephrolepis exaltata, Beautiful potted Boston ferns or Green Lady stock photo
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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 or Watering

 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!

 Did You Know? Rainwater is the best choice for plants!

Yes, collecting rainwater for your indoor plants offers benefits for them, too. Municipal water often contains fluoride and chlorine, neither of which provides healthy water for plants. Water from your well does contain some minerals, but often too many. We consider this to be “hard water”. Yes, you might filter most of that out, but avoid using water run through a softener. The salts that the softener adds create problems for your plants. We suggest using rainwater whenever possible.

 

 

How to Grow Boston Fern from Cutting

 Avoid propagating during the dormant period. Wait until your grown plant begins to grow once again. Not sure how to tell? Look for the terminal buds to become green and plump. That’s the best time to begin propagating your new plants. 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.

learn to propagate boston ferns
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Taking Leaf Cuttings

Should You Fertilize?

As for fertilizing, Boston ferns are not heavy feeders. Most can be grown without supplemental fertilizer. Simply water them with a weak fertilizer regularly during the growing season (spring through fall). During the winter dormant season, don’t fertilize at all.

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.

Thinking Ahead…

But, 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.

Time to Plant the Cutting

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. But, don’t separate the pieces of rhizome with leaves attached. Instead, plant entire sections, including some roots. 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. Or, grow your fern indoors in bright light near a sunny window. Be careful to avoid 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).

Use non-chlorine water or allow the chlorine to dissipate

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

Boston Fern 822534. Healthy Boston Fern growing in planter outdoors on wrought iron table 822534 Nephrolepsis exaltata stock photos
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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
Lush, green Boston fern leaf. A close up photo of a lush, green Boston fern leaf with an out of focus background royalty free stock image
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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
Woman planting fern at white table indoors, closeup. Woman planting fern at white table indoors royalty free stock photos
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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.

 

Our Tips Help You Learn to Propagate Boston Ferns

Boston fern propagation offers a fun and easy way to share your love of these plants with others. By following our simple tips, you should be able to propagate healthy Boston ferns for yourself or as gifts for friends and family. Have you tried propagating Boston Ferns before? What tips would you add? Let us know in the comments below!

 

FAQs

Can you grow a Boston Fern from cuttings?  Can you propagate a fern from a leaf cutting?

Yes! As we discussed above, propagating Boston Ferns from cuttings is quite easy.

How do you divide a Boston Fern?

When repotting, divide the root ball into quarters. Repot each of the quarters into separate pots.

Can you propagate a Boston Fern in water?

Yes, just follow our instructions above.

How do I make my Boston Fern bushier?

Pruning a Boston Fern creates healthier growth. Pruning also makes a Boston Fern grow bushier and healthy.

How do you rejuvenate a Boston Fern?

Clean out all dead leaves and look for baby ferns, called offsets, before pruning. These offsets can be planted in a separate pot. Then cut any drooping fronds back to about 2 inches in length, using sharp pruning shears. This should give your Boston Fern new growth and brilliance.

Why is my fern so leggy?

The most common cause of leggy ferns is a lack of sufficient light. Follow the instructions above for how to rejuvenate a Boston Fern. Then move the plant to a place with better lighting. Alternatively, set a grow lamp near the plant.

What causes the Boston Fern leaves to turn brown?

Browning leaves in Boston Fern plants may be caused by poor or soggy soil, lack of water or humidity, too much light, excess salt, or some type of injury. Sometimes the injury is from a plant-loving cat! Follow the instructions for rejuvenating a Boston Fern we provided about. Most fern plants respond well to pruning and a better location.

Should I mist a Boston Fern?

Boston Fern plants flourish in a cool location with high humidity and indirect light. Misting them once or twice a week helps increase the humidity. Alternatively, consider using a humidity tray.

 

 

Read More:

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14 Comments

  1. Johnny

    Hello, thank you for this information! I really love plants and I think that they change the energy of the entire house. My sister has one of those, so I will take this guide to try to propagate it and make a few for the other members of the family, I think it is a really nice gift. It just flowered so I will wait a little bit a and follow your instructions and see how it goes. Thank you for this post.

    Reply
    • Diane

      I’m happy to have provided inspiration for you! Enjoy your new Boston Fern plants.

      Reply
  2. Bojana

    Very interesting and useful text for all those who deal with gardening and flowers. Honestly, I love flowers but i’m not exactly a connoisseur of transplanting. Fern is a very interesting plant and it is good that you have nicely explained how it is planted and treated in order to receive. 

    Reply
    • Diane

      I know others who don’t enjoy transplanting, either. But for those who do, it seems to be almost therapeutic.

      Enjoy the flowers!

      Reply
  3. Rebekah Kann

    I love this post! I haven’t read anything that goes this depth into how to take care of a Boston Fren, and I like how you have links to things you use in your place. 

    Do you use water from the snk or from a hose? That’s one of the biggest things I have wondered, which one is better for the Boston Fren?

    Reply
    • Diane

      Boston Fern love a light spray and when you can, rainwater is better than other options. Sink water is fine, if it’s not chlorinated. If using water from your garden hose, be sure to let it run a couple of minutes to clear the bacteria and adjust the temperature, especially if the sun has been especially hot on it. It’s easy to burn those delicate fronds.

      Reply
  4. Jerry McCoy

    My wife and I have tried repeatedly to grow and propagate Boston ferns with no success. I now understand what we were doing wrong. I feel that by following the techniques and tips you provided that we will be able to grow and multiply our ferns with great success. Thanks for the tips.

    Jerry

    Reply
    • Diane

      I’m glad you found the information helpful! Yes, Boston fern can be quite easy to care for and even propagate, if you follow their needs carefully. I wish you success with your fern!

      Reply
  5. Tatiana

    Boston Ferns are so beautiful! Specifically I love their bright green colour that immediately makes me think about a little spring in my house. Or as my boyfriend would say: the jungle feeling!

    I need to admit that I am not very handy with plants. Not because I forget to water them but because I simply cannot ‘connect’ with them. I only see that a plant is not happy when it is almost dead and all the useful tips in this article just sound slightly overwhelming for me. I just think that I am not a plant person. However, I can very much appreciate a beautiful plant such as Boston Ferns.

    Thank you for the article,

    Tatiana

    Reply
    • Diane

      I understand that feeling, Tatiana. In fact, I used to say that my plants didn’t speak to me the way my kids and dogs did. But when something finally clicked, I discovered that my plants do speak to me and we can connect. It’s just a different type of speech. You might find that true for you, as well.

      I wish you well in your endeavors with a Boston Fern or another plant.

      Reply
  6. only1hugh

    My mom has always loved plants but up until recently has not had the time to pursue her passion. Now that she has fully retired I am fully convinced that getting her a Boston Fern will do wonders for her spirit. With your advice on propagation. She will have adequate sunlight, I will get her the compost and we will clear the area of any weeds to get maximum growth. I am very certain that she can fill out many areas in the garden. I was wondering how hard are Boston Ferns to pests and what treatments are recommended?

    Reply
    • Diane

      The Boston Fern is a great choice for a beginning plant for your Mom. They are lovely and grow at a good rate. For pest control, check out our articles on the HousePlantJoy.com website. This one offers extensive information on types of pests and treatments: https://houseplantjoy.com/type

      Reply
  7. Jannette

    Boston ferns have always been my favorite hanging plant and have always just gone to a nursery every year to buy more! Now my daughter has taken up the green thumb and recently asked me how to Propagate her ferns! This will be great information for my daughter and will be sharing with her and other members of my family. 

    Reply
    • Diane

      We love Boston Ferns, too! And since they are easy to propagate when you know the right method, your daughter should have plenty to share.

      Reply

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