Further Boston-fern questions

joel_bc(z6 BC)March 1, 2011

I've got a Boston fern that I've had for about a year and a half. I noticed both last winter and this winter that growth slows and the plant looks less vital during the winter. I've got it in a west window - I realize it is not getting direct morning sunlight (it gets ambient light, and when the cloud cover is less it gets direct winter sunlight in the afternoon). But in this spot it looked quite glorious from spring into late fall last year.

I know these are essentially understory plants, and I believe they're thought of as shade-loving. But when I bought it, I got it directly from the local nursery that propagates houseplants. It had been in a sunny greenhouse there.

I'm thinking that I'd want to at least root-trim it. I have no special interest in dividing it, as I don't want two of them - but I will divide it if this is the only way to restore it to full vigor. I'd wait until the snow and cold are over outside, since outdoors is the best place for me to do this kind of work.

The fern is, at this point, still sending up new shoots that unfurl into fronds, though at a slower rate than in the sunnier months. I've given it soluble, balanced indoor plant food (dilute) in its water every couple weeks.

Any comments or suggestions?

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Joel..during winter months, most plants either slow down or go dormant..stop growing entirely.
Quite normal.
Boston Ferns are no different.

Is your fern kept indoors year round??

What about pot size? Have you ever repotted in a larger container, is it, by chance, root bound?
Boston's need growing space.' If too rootbound, it's growing rate will slow down. Roots need room to spread. Since new fronds are unfurling, you're Boston is waking from its winter nap.

Pruning roots might help, but if you intend keeping your Boston in the same pot, separating and cutting divisions is the way to go. Since you don't want duplicates, your best bet would be to repot in a slightly larger container or, the thing you don't want to do, divide.

Is your Boston a big plant?
Most people who inquire about ferns here on GW, have problems keeping them alive in winter, 'mostly becuase of humidity issues,' or dealing with brown fronds.
That's what I was expecting to read when I opened your thread. Your problem isn't half as bad as I expected.

Large fern specimens are lovely. Especially in an open spot where it can be seen..'if healthy,' lol.

It's your decision. Do you have a pic to share? Toni

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 3:05PM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

Thanks, Toni. It's not easy for me to send a photo as I'm in a semi-remote area, and we still have dial-up internet connections here... SLOW data transfer!

The plant looks pretty big, just because of the Boston fern's bushy growth habit. I do keep it indoors year round, though I could give it some outdoor time if that is a very good or a standard idea with Bostons. It gets quite sunny in my part of western Canada, so I suppose I'd have to find it some partial shade(?) You think it would do better?

Yes, I have had to trim away some browned fronds both last winter and this winter.

Pot size: I did pot it up to a somewhat larger (porous clay, hole-in-bottom) container about 10 months ago. At that point, it had been in the same platic container (albeit with drain holes) I'd bought it in. At that time, it was not very root bound, if at all. I've used a "soil-less" mixture of coir, grit, and perlite to keep the growing medium airy (and this 'fast-soil' seems to have meant that the fern wants about one cup of water each day - any less and it quickly droops and starts to lose leaves at a rapid rate!

Why is root division better than substantial root trimming?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 3:37PM
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Joel. Oh yes, I remember Dial-Up..lol..Don't worry. I was just curious what your fern looked like..I enjoy viewing others' plant pics.

If you decide to place outside, make sure you start in a very very shady spot..even if your west window has direct sun in summer, it doesn't compare to outdoor light. Outdoor shade is equivlant to bright light plus, indoors.

Plants enjoy fresh air and humidity. A mini vacation. lol.
IMO, a few months of fresh air and humidity would do your fern a world of good. Plants love rainshowers. Natural water.
My ferns, 'smaller,' are tucked on a shelf on the third tier. Other plants, on upper shelves, prevent ferns from direct sun..BTW, they face east.

Do you mist or shower your fern in the sink/tub in winter. Brown leaves are inevitable when grown indoors during winter months. Showers help somewhat, and perk fronds up, too.

I've never grown a fern in clay..doesn't it dry out fast plus being in a soil-less medium? My guys are potted in fertile soil plus soil-less mediums..Some need watering every 3-4 days, larger pots 7-8 days.

About trimming..I meant if you wanted to keep your fern in the same container, divisions would provide extra space, opposed to only trimming roots. Unless you do a lot of trimming.
If you decide to pot in a larger pot, trimming roots is fine. 'if it needs a larger pot.'
Of course, it doesn't hurt trimming unhealthy roots. It's actually a good idea.
It depends how many roots you decide to trim..lol..Toni

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 4:41PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Joel, there is no law (that I know of) that states that if you divide a Boston Fern in half to give it more
breathing' room to grow and develop, that you MUST keep the the other half. Think of it as disposable. Or...give the discarded parts to a neighbor or friend so that the onus falls upon them to toss or keep! ( I do that all the time, lol.)

Dividing the root ball is simply an easy, efficient method of rejuvenating the root system!

But you certainly can trim down the sides and clip the bottom of the roots, too.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 4:42PM
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I would also like to add to the good advice given, you could add some sphagnam moss to the surface of your mix to help keep some moisture around the roots. Your mix might be too dry. It is not good for a plant to keep wilting between waterings.

If you repot, you could add a bit of a moisture retentive material to your mix such as sphagnam or peat.

Boston Ferns are not the easiest plant to grow inside a dry house in winter.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 7:38PM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

Hi, Jane. Thanks for the input.

I used to use sphagnum for all of my soil-less mixtures, but got out of the habit due to two things: a) the resistance of peat moss to water if the peat itself (in the plant container) has dried out - it cakes and is hard to "re-wet", and b) the extreme acidity of sphagnum peat. I started using coir instead as the ingredient, which is similar in some ways but does not have those particular characteristics.

My current soil-less mix works extremely well with all my other house plants (heart-leaf philodendron, Christmas cactus, and others) - all of which are on an 'every fourth day' watering regime. It's only the Boston that wants a cup of water each day, religiously. And normally it doesn't wilt unless I neglect it for a day.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 9:10AM
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I completely agree. I grow orchids and deal with sphagnam daily. I use it in two ways. I tear it into small pieces and mix into whatever mix I am using. Of course, I am looking to keep the mix open and aerated as most orchid roots like to get wet/dry. I do use it, during winter months as a top-coat on some plants to hold humidity around the surface of the plant. Although it dries and gets crunchy, it does help prevent the surface from drying before the rest of the mix does.

I have used coir and continue to but in smaller amounts. I do not use it with dirt plants as I find it stays too damp. I use it with certain orchids depending on how open I want the mix to be.

I do have concerns about salt content of coir. I soak/rinse it for a week before using, yet I still worry it leaches salt over time. I have cut back on its use for that reason.

Your bottom line is to carry your plant over winter until conditions improve in spring.

It is coming!


    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 11:38AM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

Jane, again thanks. You mentioned: "I do have concerns about salt content of coir. I soak/rinse it for a week before using, yet I still worry it leaches salt over time. I have cut back on its use for that reason."

This is something I haven't known about. So far, by looking at the whitey stuff that exudes out onto the exterior of unglazed clay pots, I seem to be seeing no more of that than I did in the days before I used coir. Before coir, I was using peat moss instead. My notion has always been that the white coating on the pots was formed by salts that come over time from the Miracle Gro or other plant food that I sometimes put (in modest dilution) into the water.

Tell me about coir and salt, please.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 12:13PM
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Hi Joel. I have used coconut chips and coir with my orchids.

Certain countries, which supply coconut products, soak the coconuts in pits of salt water for a long time to ease separating the husk and softening the shell. One vender told me they soak for over a year in huge pits.

It has always been known that you should soak and rinse the coconut chips or fiber repeatedly to remove the salt. Some companies will state on their bags, that their product was prerinsed and only requires one rinse before using.

Although I buy my supplies from reputable dealers, I still soak and rinse before using. If you soak overnight, you can taste the soaked water to see if its salty. Good dealers state that they get their product from inland producers who only soak in river water pits.

No matter where you buy, it is recommended to soak coir and rinse at least once.

I have had problems using CHC with certain orchids. I think it was because it holds too much moisture. As a result, I use it less than I did before. When I use the chips, I only use with plants which like to grow mounted or bare root. I will throw a few pieces in a pot alone. This way, when I water, the chips are rinsed each time in case some salt is still leaching.

Again, gardening is so individual. What works for one person, will not work for another.

Hope that helps,

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 10:50PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi folks,

For a while I used some coir in some of my non-succulents, especially Hoyas. But I'd also used it w/ some Haworthias (yes, succulent, I know).

I had trouble w/ the way it broke down over time, I found some of my plants were losing their roots in it. That can be a particular problem w/ some Haworthias (root loss) over winter.

I share this to also add that I've discovered there are a number of different coir mix products out there, some are rinsed of salt, some may not be. Mine was like loose mix in a bag; I hadn't had to rinse the one I used. Yet a friend from here & Hoya forum uses dried bricks of it which I believe she rinses several times.

At one of the NY Orchid shows I had heard growers there swear by the stuff. Unfortunately, I forgot which exact stuff, it may have been the New Zealand coir.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 10:57PM
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joel_bc(z6 BC)

Hopefulauthor wrote: "If you decide to place outside, make sure you start in a very very shady spot..even if your west window has direct sun in summer, it doesn't compare to outdoor light. Outdoor shade is equivlant to bright light plus, indoors. Plants enjoy fresh air and humidity. A mini vacation. lol. IMO, a few months of fresh air and humidity would do your fern a world of good. Plants love rainshowers. Natural water."

Some people, instead of parking their houseplants outside in a very carefully chosen spot for weeks or months, talk about "sunning" their plants for an hour or so - then bringing them back inside. Doing this every so often. My question is whether the Boston would respond well to sunning, say, in morning sunlight? Maybe 8:00 - 9:00AM once every few days or so?

Anyone tried something like this with a shade-lover like a Boston fern?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 12:05PM
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Hi Joel. When you say Sunning, do you mean setting 'x' plant in the sun a little each day, bringing back indoors, taking out the following day, until plant adapts to brigher light?

Or, placing in a shady spot, then gradually moving the plant in brighter light a little each day?

Since Ferns are shade-lovers, acclimating or not, harsh summer sun, including north, (least brightness) can cause sun-burn. An outdoor eastern exposure is much brighter than you think.

Joel, I've placed Cactus in east light..the leaves burned within a two-hour period.

My plants go outside every spring..I usually take them out on cloudy days, 'rays are strong on cloudy days, too,' or cloudy days when rain is predicted. Sometimes at night. Even high light plants burn.

My shade plants are placed under a shelf tier or awning. Taller plants do okay under tree branches.

A neighboring couple hang beautiful, huge ferns on their front porch. The top of the porch is brick, so it obstructs light, plus the porch faces north. Their ferns do great outside, but these two guys hang them so direct sun doesn't scorch the leaves. Toni

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 4:34PM
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Boston ferns are about the easiest, most trouble-free of the many plants I grow indoors. The only (mildly) negative thing I can say about them is that they require regular attention to prune out dead and dying fronds. Sometimes I prune out so many fronds that they look really quite pathetic -- but, in very short order, they rebound, and are again resplendent, lush, thriving. From time to time, I yank them out of their big hanging pots, hack (or saw) off more than half of their dense root sytems, and repot them with whatever soil mix that's handy at the moment. Mine get lots of light from an eastern exposure & frequent watering (daily watering if they're rootbound).

IMHO, there's no reason to belabor or complicate the culture of what is a wonderful and very forgiving house plant.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 8:49PM
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