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successful overwintering of Boston Fern

Posted by cateyanne zone 5/6 Northern Oh (My Page) on
Mon, Sep 15, 08 at 14:44

I bought my mother a Boston Fern this summer, she has always wanted one. It has flourished on her front porch (facing NE)and is healthy and huge! She loves it and wants to bring it inside to prevent it from dying in our Northern Ohio winter. I have been looking online to find out the best approach to a successful move. We have formulated a plan, but I would like to appeal to anyone who lives in a similar climate who has had success with keeping a Boston Fern healthy throughout the winter.
Here is our plan:
Mom has a sun room right next to the front porch where the fern has resided all summer. windows on three sides, we figure this is the spot most like the conditions it has enjoyed in the past, lots of light. The sun room does not have it's own heat source but is open to the living room, therefore it is a bit chillier than the rest of the house. Mom keeps her temps down anyway, usually around 68F. She does like to sit in the sun room in the winter and read, she usually uses a space heater to keep warm in there on really cold days or evenings. She is buying a tall plant stand to keep the fern off the floor, the floor is ceramic tile, so misting shouldn't do damage to floor. I read humidity is an issue, so besides the misting (once a week) the fern can be placed on a humidity tray. I think this is just a shallow tray of some sort filled with pebbles or stones (decorative?) and filled with water? set plant on top not into water? We should bring plant in before heat is turned on in the house and before temps dip below 55f. That should be pretty soon around here, we've already had temps in the 60's. I am also wondering about what to expect the plant to look like over the winter. Will it lose a lot of leaves even if the conditions are all met? Should we expect bugs?
Have I missed any tips or tricks? Anything wrong with our plan?
Thanks so much for reading!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: successful overwintering of Boston Fern

As you have laid out your plans for the Nephrolepis. exaltata....Boston Fern, it does sound like you have given careful thought to its continued good health.

A couple points: Ferns do like water, lots of water, but as the light levels begin to wane until the winter solstace, December 21st, the need for so much water will drop. After the 21st, light levels begin to recover and about mid February we assume it is high enough then to begin to think our plants will revitalize.

The lower temps at nighttime is ideal. Houseplants do appreciate low nighttime temperatures in the 60's.
The only think I can see is the amount of light that comes through the window glass---even in winter, a plant put close to it can burn its leaves. A diaphonous curtain might be put in between to shade somewhat.

Ferns are notoriously dirty...they drop much debris and this is a good reason to continue to moisturize by misting occasionally.
The tray, as you outline it, is exactly what a humidity tray is, a shallow tray of water over pebbles on which the plant is placed --barely not touching the water.
Just maintain the level.
As the plant is not growing, fertilizer is not needed. Only when it begins to grow when light levels return is the plant fed.

The heater you describe, will of course, send out moving air across the floor. You have chosen to raise your plant--that's a good idea, more light can be made available doing that and the heater will not have such a drying effect on it.

Do allow your fern to drain after every watering. The type of pot will determine whether you are letting it drain into a saucer. It is perfectly alright if you wish to let your plant sit for a short time in the drainage to ensure the soil at the roots are receiving sufficient water. Ten, fifteen minutes....then dump the excess.

If the pot your plant is in is plastic or ceramic, it will hold water longer. Repeated waterings will be less.
If clay, then you can expect increased water times.
If perchance, you have your Boston in a pot, then in a sleeve pot, make sure the water so drained doesn't catch up with the plant's bottom.

RE: successful overwintering of Boston Fern

I think you've got the basics of successful Boston Fern overwintering, though I'll make a few suggestions.

Your sunny location will be ideal and I'd not worry about using a sheer curtain in front of the window to protect it from burning. But remember that bringing the plant inside greatly reduces the amount of sunlight no matter how close the location to the fern's summer home. So be sure to reduce the watering FREQUENCY, but not the amount of water used each time.

Did you know that ferns love cold temperatures? That's the especially great thing about your plan. The cooler the better. But please reconsider the need for misting. Explain to your Mom that misting does very little to raise the humidity for a plant, and that she could actually cause and spread foliage diseases in a fern. There is really not much evidence in fact that those humidity trays work, unless you install one around every plant in the room plus more for added effect. A small humidifier would be most helpful. Some people like to use thos little ornamental water fountains as a way to get more moisture into the air.

Don't use the space heater excessively. Even though heat rises to the highest point in a room, it could lower the relative humidity a bit.

Without a doubt, she can expect some leaf shedding during this transition. However, I think her fern will be happier than most (due to temperature and sunlight). If it does become excessively ratty, she could take some scissors to it and give it an all-over hair cut! The new growth that will slowly but surely emerge will be healthy and happy. Chances are, though, that an occasional trimming will be all that is needed.

In the spring, the fern should be exposed slowly to the sunlight of it's outdoor location. Do this early...remember ferns can take very cold temperatures (frosts and light freezes). She can expect that it will need to be divided in the spring. I like to simply cut them into two and re-pot them.

RE: successful overwintering of Boston Fern

  • Posted by
    Martha NC Mountains
    ( on
    Tue, Sep 13, 11 at 21:45

Do you think my Boston ferns would do well in my small unheated basement for the winter? Should they be hung or can they be put on stands?

Thank you

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