Boston Ferns

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Ever since the Victorian heyday in England, Boston ferns have been popular as house plants on both sides of the Atlantic. Think about the tall ceilings, cluttered decor, and heavily curtained dark interiors of that time. It's not hard--is it?--to appreciate how hardy and long-suffering they are.

Fast forward to the 21st century, however, and drive up the lane of a Victorian farmhouse in the Chesapeake Bay area. The shutters are dark green, the clapboard a crisp white, and the floor of the wrap-around porch pale gray. The Boston ferns hanging in the semi-shade from hooks under the eaves are vibrant and green and lush, a lovely focal point.

Now as then, Boston ferns thrive outside for perhaps eight or nine months of the year, and inside the rest of the time. There are about 30 species of this hardy Nephrolepis exalta, as it is scientifically known. Typically about two feet high and broad at full maturity, Boston ferns prefer damp soil, mild to tropical temperatures, indirect light, and high humidity.

Caring for Boston Ferns

As hardy as these ferns are, they're not impervious to certain conditions. The insect pests most likely to cause problems are aphids, mealy bugs, and mites. Overmoist soil can cause root rot, and good drainage is thus critical. At the same time, Bostons should be watered regularly. Antifungal sprays help prevent mildew from taking hold. It's good practice as well to fertilize regularly throughout the growing season. Removing dead fronds and dropped leaflets is also a good idea.

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