How to Grow a Boston Fern (Sword Fern) Indoors or Outdoors

Updated on February 5, 2020
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


Boston ferns, the staple of the Victorian parlor, make excellent modern day houseplants. They lend a tropical air to your home without a lot of fuss or bother on your part.

What are Boston Ferns?

Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) are members of the sword ferns family that are native to tropical areas of the world. Sword ferns have upright fronds. Boston ferns have fronds that arch downwards. The original fern was discovered in a shipment of plants from Philadelphia to Boston in 1894, hence its name Boston fern.

The ferns are hardy in zones 9 – 11. North of zone 9, they are grown as houseplants. They are quite large when grown outdoors, growing to a height of 7 feet. Indoors, they only grow 2 to 3 feet tall. Boston ferns grow best in rich, well-drained soil. Outdoors they prefer full shade or partial shade, while indoors they do best in filtered sunlight. Like other ferns, they do not have flowers nor do they produce seeds. Instead, they reproduce by spores that grow on the undersides of the fronds that are released in the summer.

Boston ferns can be used as an edging along a walk.
Boston ferns can be used as an edging along a walk. | Source

How to Grow Boston Ferns Outdoors

In growing zones where Boston Ferns are hardy and can be grown outdoors, choose a shady or semi-shady spot in your yard for them. Their natural habitat is very humid so be sure to choose a sheltered spot where they are less exposed to drying winds. They grow best in rich, well-drained humus soil. The plants need to be fertilized. Use a balanced slow release fertilizer to prevent over-fertilizing. Ferns that have been fed too much fertilizer will develop brown ends to their fronds.

In the landscape, Boston ferns are often planted in groups or around the base of shrubs or trees.

Boston ferns are usually displayed indoors on pedestals or in hanging baskets.
Boston ferns are usually displayed indoors on pedestals or in hanging baskets. | Source

How to Grow Boston Ferns Indoors

Most of us grow our Boston ferns indoors, only putting them outdoors during the summer. Their preferred temperature range is 60⁰F - 75⁰F so refrain from moving your plant outdoors until the night time temperatures reach 60⁰F. In the fall, move it back indoors when the night temperatures start to fall below 60⁰F. Place them in a shady or semi-shady spot in your yard.

Indoors Boston ferns need filtered sunlight rather than the shade they prefer outdoors. An east facing window is ideal because the plants will only get morning sun. The rest of the day they will be in the shade. If you only have west or south facing windows, hang a sheer curtain in the window to cut down on the amount of sun your plant receives.

Humidity is also critical. Our homes are much dryer than their natural environment. Be sure to place your plant well away from heating and air conditioning ducts which will blow dry air on them. Bathrooms and kitchens, which are more humid than the other rooms of our homes, are great places for Boston ferns.

You should plan on providing extra humidity for your plant. You can mist it regularly. Or you can construct a humidity tray which is simply a gravel filled tray that is filled with water. The plant is placed on top of the gravel. As the water evaporates from the gravel, it provides humidity for the plant. You will need to refill your humidity tray regularly.

Use well-drained potting soil and keep it moist but not soggy. Soil that is too wet will cause root rot.

You will need to fertilize. A balanced slow release fertilizer is the easiest way to fertilize your plant. If you prefer liquid fertilizer, add it full-strength on a monthly basis. You can also dilute the fertilizer and apply it every other month instead. You will know if you are over-feeding your fern because it will start to develop brown tips on the ends of its fronds.

Thanks to their arching fronds, Boston ferns are stunning when displayed on pedestals or in hanging baskets.

How to Divide Boston Ferns

Boston ferns are propagated by division. Dividing them is easy. Simply lift the plant out of it pot. Using a sharp knife, cut the root ball into four pieces making sure that each piece has fronds. Then repot the divisions into separate pots.

© 2019 Caren White


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      7 months ago

      Rebecca, your ferns could be sword ferns or Boston ferns. Both are native to tropcial areas. How lucky for you to be able to find and transplant them.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 months ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      These are so pretty! I transplanted ferns from the woods into my yard a couple of years ago. They look so much like these! Great article!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)