Fern in a pot

Boston Fern Repotting: How And When To Repot Boston Ferns

A healthy, mature Boston fern is an impressive plant that displays a deep green color and lush fronds that can reach lengths of up to 5 feet. Although this classic houseplant requires minimal maintenance, it periodically outgrows its container – usually every two to three years. Repotting Boston fern into a larger container isn’t a difficult job, but timing is important.

When to Repot Boston Ferns

If your Boston fern isn’t growing as rapidly as it usually does, it may need a larger pot. Another clue is roots peeking through the drainage hole. Don’t wait until the pot is badly root bound.

If the potting mix is so root-compacted that water runs straight through the pot, or if the roots are growing in a tangled mass

on top of the soil, it’s definitely time to repot the plant.

Boston fern repotting is best done when the plant is actively growing in spring.

How to Repot a Boston Fern

Water the Boston fern a couple of days before repotting because moist soil clings to the roots and makes repotting easier. The new pot should be only 1 or 2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot. Don’t plant the fern in a large pot because the excess potting soil in the pot retains moisture that may cause root rot.

Fill the new pot with 2 or 3 inches of fresh potting soil. Hold the fern in one hand, then tilt the pot and guide the plant carefully from the container. Place the fern in the new container and fill in around the root ball with potting soil up to about 1 inch from the top.

Adjust the soil in the bottom of the container, if necessary. The fern should be planted at the same depth it was planted in the previous container. Planting too deeply can harm the plant and may cause root rot.

Pat the soil around the roots to remove air pockets, then water the fern thoroughly. Place the plant in partial shade or indirect light for a couple of days, then move it to its normal location and resume regular care.

Judith Asked

I have several LARGE Kimberly Queen ferns that need repotting. What is the best method and potting material?

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The Gardener’s Answer

Hi, Judith: Kimberly Queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterata) are beautiful sun-loving, upright sword ferns. I assume you are growing your ferns in containers, although they may not be considered tropicals in your part of the country. After a few years of growing in the same container, they will benefit from re-potting into a larger container or being root pruned and placed back into the existing container. The general rule of thumb for replanting any container plant is not to bump it up any more than 2 inches from what it is currently growing in. Root pruning is an option that will not involve purchasing all new containers. This process can be daunting for some gardeners, but it will invigorate your pot-bound plants and make them much happier in the long run. It will also prevent them from drying out so fast. Remove the ferns from the containers and shake away any excess soil. If they have a lot of excess soil, they may not need to be repotted. If the roots are on the outside of the soil ball, then it is a good thing you are giving them attention. With a clean and sharp pair of pruners, remove the smaller thread roots. You do not want to remove any of the large roots in the process, only the small thin ones. Do not remove more than one-third of the roots during this process. Then replant back into the existing container and the plant will be much happier with additional root space and less competition for nutrients as well as moisture. You may want to freshen your soil using a peat-based soil made specifically for containers. You can also give your ferns a small dose of either slow-release granular or liquid fertilizer at this time. One other option is to divide your ferns. This is exactly what is sounds like: remove them from their containers and literally make two plants out of one. Use your fingers or a pair of pruners and separate the plant from the bottom of the roots all the way up through the foliage. This will require smaller containers to replant them, but this process will also invigorate your ferns.

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Kimberly Queen Fern

Bold and beautiful, Kimberly queen fern (also called sword fern because the fronds are straight and narrow) is easy to grow. The dark green fronds are perfect for adding tropical texture to shaded decks, patios, and other outdoor living areas. It’s particularly striking in large containers as a specimen plant, but also plays well with other shade-loving tropicals including gingers, heliconias, and caladiums. Or, pair it with traditional shade-loving annuals such as New Guinea impatiens, golden sweet potato vine, or begonias.
Low-maintenance Kimberly Queen fern grows well both in containers and planted in the ground. It grows 3 feet tall and the mature fronds develop attractive spots (spores) on the undersides of each leaf. Hardy from zones 9-11.
Kimberly Queen Fern Questions?
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Looking for more?
> Get ideas for decorating with beautiful ferns indoors and out.
> Use fabulous ferns for summer container gardens.
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> Add texture from Kimberly Queen fern in your pots. Get tips with our container gardening ebook.

Don’t over look using ferns in container gardens. One of the most versatile foliage plants, there are over 12,000 varieties of ferns. They have been around for millions of years and come in all kinds of colors, textures and sizes. Ferns can be delicate plants with lacy leaves or a broad-leafed type which grows several feet tall.

Use ferns in single planting containers on their own, or mix them with other flowers or foliage plants.

I generally like ferns in a single planting – part of their beauty is in the reach or curve of their fronds (leaves). I like to give them plenty of room in their own pot to do this. Then, I raise them up a level or two behind flowering containers to provide a backdrop for them, or I use them alone as a single container accent.

The importance of soil for ferns in container gardens

Probably one of the reasons that ferns in container gardens do well in single plantings is that they have a somewhat different soil requirement than many other plants.

In nature, ferns grow in woodland areas where the soil is rocky and sandy, but also contains a lot of organic matter from dead leaves and moss. If you live in an area near woodlands, take a walk and scoop up some dead leaves with mold and moss and add that to a soilless potting mixture. Most of us probably can’t do this, so use a soilless potting mix and make sure if has a peat component. If not, add some. Experiment a little to see what works best for you.

There is also a potting mixture that recommends one part garden soil, one part coarse, washed sand and two parts of organic matter like peat moss. I have not personally tried this one, but I did find it recommended in more than one place when researching.

So – make sure your potting mix will hold moisture, drain well and contains a substantial organic component – peat, leaf mold, and sphagnum moss are good.

The container

Ferns generally grow in rocky soils, and their roots don’t need deep soil in which to grow well. Shallow containers are best for ferns in container gardens. Containers no deeper than six inches are bes. The fern should fit in the pot with an inch or two to spare around the edges for growth. If the pot is too small or too big, it will be hard to maintain the moisture level that your ferns need.

As always, make sure your container is clean before you plant and has adequate drainage.


When you plant, fill the pot with part of the soil mix. Set the root ball on top of the soil and spread the roots out freely. Then, fill the pot with the rest of the soil, making sure you don’t cover up the crown of the root ball (the point where the leaves start to grow out from the main plant). Fill to within an inch of the top of the pot

When ferns in container gardens grow enough that they need to be repotted, divide the fern and start new ones. You will be able to recognize new crowns in the roots of the plant and these can be started in their own pots. Just don’t cover the crowns when potting.

Snails and slugs like many types of ferns. To keep them from becoming a problem, plant ferns in hanging baskets. You can also put Vaseline or petroleum jelly around the top of the pot, just under the rim. Make the band of Vaseline about an inch wide and make sure it encircles the entire pot.


One of the main reasons that ferns in container gardens may not do well is improper watering. Too much or too little water either one is bad for ferns. We tend to think of ferns growing in wet, humid areas and so we think they need lots of water. Ferns do not like to be kept wet. Some actually prefer that their soil dries out before they need water again. Check the growing directions on your ferns to see what their moisture needs are.

Water the soil and not the foliage of a fern. Don’t water from above – water at the soil level and around the edges of the containers. Try not to water the crown of the plant directly. If you think you are watering too much and the plant is “shedding”, check the roots – too much water will be indicated by dark roots. Healthy roots are an off white color.

Should you mist ferns? There is no proof that misting ferns is necessary. They take water in through their roots, not their fronds. It can’t hurt though, so if you like to mist your ferns, that’s fine – just be sure you don’t mist instead of watering.


Use a water soluble fertilizer at about half the strength you use for other plants when you water. Also, maybe once a month, add 2 tbsp of Epsom salts to a gallon of water and use that to water your ferns. The minerals in the salts will help the plant stay green. I have tried this and it does keep your ferns greener. Just make sure you don’t do this more often – salts can build up in the soil.

Container placement

When placing ferns in container gardens, most will prefer a shady location. If you have had ferns indoors for the winter, they will need a hardening period before moving them outdoors for the summer. For a couple of weeks after any threat of frost is over, leave them outside in a shady, sheltered area for a while each day to see how they do. If they droop or change color, they may need a little sun for a while but eventually they can stay outdoors all the time until you bring them back inside in late fall.


Ferns are hardy in certain hardiness zones but will die if they are exposed to temps in colder ones. They become dormant in winter and start growing again in spring. Ferns in containers can be kept from year to year by bringing them indoors over the winter.

Try these ferns in container gardens

Autumn fern (dryopteris erythrosora) – – – – shown above

East Indian Holly fern (arachniodes simplicior variegata)

Hart’s Tongue fern (asplenium scolopendrium)

Holly fern (cyrtomium spp)

Korean Rock fern (polystichum tsus simense)

Maidenhair Spleenwort fern (asplenium trichomanes)

Royal fern (osmunda regalis)

Scaly Male fern (dryopteris affinis)

Soft Shield fern (polystichum setiferum)

Sunset fern (dryopteris lepidopoda)

Western Maidenhair fern (adiantum aleuticum)

Types especially good in hanging baskets

Common staghorn fern

Hayscented fern


Shield fern

Southern maidenhair fern

Squirrel foot fern

Western sword fern

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Growing Ferns At Home

Try mixing different types of ferns in your home display to create a lush soothing landscape.

With their lush green leaves and low maintenance, ferns are popular with people looking for a plant to green up their homes.

Ferns are also suitable for homes because they can survive in shaded areas. However, they reproduce by releasing spores into the air and so they should be grown in areas which are well-ventilated such as the balcony or corridor area, but not too windy and dry as it will dry up the fronds.

Did you know that ferns also have other uses? They have been used for food, medicine, erosion control, and removal of toxic material from contaminated soils.

The distinctive features of ferns are that they reproduce through spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. Leaves of ferns are often referred to as a frond. New fronds are called crozier or fiddlehead, which is a tight spiral that unrolls as it grows. Ferns can be identified by the spore sacs (packed with spores) on the lower surface of fertile fronds. They grow in long lines, in rounded groups or even extend across the entire surface.

Hang baskets of ferns within your home to add greenery to bare walls and ceilings.

Some ferns can be grown in the ground or in pots, and there are some that grow on branches of trees. These are termed as ‘epiphytic ferns’ they grow on trees for support and they make their own food rather than tapping nutrients from their hosts.

Growing Tips

Depending on the species, most ferns are shade-tolerant and can grow at about 70% shade, while some species grow well in brighter light.

A well-ventilated location with high humidity is needed. Humidity can be raised around the ferns by regular misting or spraying of the fronds with water or placing their pots on a tray containing pebbles and a small amount of water. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water in the tray, as otherwise, root rot would develop. In order to prevent mosquito breeding, the water needs to be changed regularly. Ferns are also suitable for terrariums.

A soil mix with good drainage and high organic matter content is recommended for ferns.

Suggested soil mixes

  • Peat moss plus perlite
  • Fern root slabs (broken up into pieces) and general potting mix
  • Matured compost plus well-burnt earth
  • Sphagnum moss

Most indoor ferns die from drowning than from thirst. Allow the soil surface to dry out between watering. However, most ferns will wilt if the soil is completely dried out. Should the soil dry out quickly, it may mean that the fern is getting pot-bound (a situation where the roots have grown so densely that there is no room for further growth) and needs to be re-potted into a larger container. Fronds turning blackat the root tips indicate overwatering. Fertilising: Ferns can be fed with dilute liquid fertiliser of 15–5–15 (15% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous and 15% potassium) at half the manufacturer’s recommended strength once a month, as most ferns do not store nutrients well and they grow in soil with good drainage. Reduce the dosage if ferns look ‘burnt’ or unusual. Alternatively, organic fertilisers could be used.

Ferns can be easily propagated by division.

Trim off all lower and older fronds. Remove the fern from its pot. Using your hands, a pair of secateurs or a thin-blade saw, divide the plant and root ball vertically in halves, thirds or quarters. Put the divided plants in pots just a bit larger than the plant’s rootball, and fill spaces with a soil mix that is the same or similar with the one the fern was growing in.

The new plants should not be fertilised until it exhibits new growth (i.e., new fronds). This may take one month or longer.

Ferns can also be propagated by spores.

Featured Species

Scientific name: Acrostichum aureum Common name: Mangrove Fern
Description: A native mangrove plant that grows well in waterlogged soils, this fern can grow up to 3 m tall and bears attractive young fronds that are orangey-red. It can be grown under full sun or partially shaded conditions. The young fronds are said to be edible.
Scientific name: Adiantum tenerum Common name: Maidenhair Fern
Description: This is an attractive household plant that bears laminae (leaf blades) that resemble that of a gingko leaf. The soil of this fern should be consistently moist, so the top of the soil should not feel dry.
Scientific name: Asplenium nidus Common name: Bird’s Nest Fern
Description: This common native fern is seen throughout Singapore growing on the branches of roadside trees or used as part of a gardening landscape. It can be attached to tree branches, or planted in the ground or in pots. A very easy-to-grow fern that can be grown in full sun or partial shade.
Scientific name: Blechnum gibbum Common name: Palm Fern
Description: This fern has a short trunk and resembles a small palm hence its common name. It can reach up to 1.2 metres tall and is suitable for shaded areas.
Scientific name: Davallia denticulata Common name: Rabbit’s-foot Fern
Description: The rhizomes of this fern have dense brown scales, causing it to look like a rabbit’s foot, hence its common name. The fronds are often used in floral arrangements as well. This fern can be grown on trees and in the ground. Established plants can tolerate full sun or shaded conditions.
Scientific name: Microsorum musifolium ‘Crocodyllus’ Common name: Crocodile Fern
Description: A beautiful fern with sword-shaped fronds, and a surface texture that resembles a crocodile’s skin. Exposure to more light encourages an upright growth form with shorter, stiffer fronds.
Scientific name: Microsorum punctatum ‘Grandiceps’ Common name: Fish-Tail Fern
Description: This fern has upright leaf fronds that resemble fish tails hence its common name. It can be grown in shallow media, but it needs to be kept moist as it may dry out quite fast.
Scientific name: Nephrolepis exaltata Common name: Boston Fern
Description: With a dense crown of pendulous fronds, this fern is often grown in hanging baskets. The Boston Fern and its cultivars are rather durable and widely used.
Scientific name: Phymatosorus scolopendria Common name: Wart Fern
Description: This native fern can be grown on trees as an epiphyte and in the ground. The fronds range from being oval to having three or four pairs of lobes. Its fronds contain a vanilla-scented fragrance and were used to perfume clothes and coconut oil.
Scientific name: Platycerium coronarium Common name: Stag’s Horn Fern
Description: This unique native epiphytic fern bears two kinds of fronds – the shield fronds which are large and fan-shaped and fertile fronds which are pendulous and resemble an upside-down stag’s horn. The plants can be grown by attaching them to tree trunks or tying them to fern root slabs.
Scientific name: Pteris ensiformis ‘Victoriae’ Common name: Victoria Fern
Description: This fern cultivar has variegated fronds as compared to the pure green fronds of the non-variegated species. It can grow in partially shaded areas.

For more information about these ferns and many other species, please visit NParks Flora & Fauna Web.

By Lim Choon Boon

Light, soils and moisture: the keys to growing ferns indoors

Most city dwellers have fond recollections and enduring impressions of woodland glades and mountain ravines where the green coolness was enhanced by ferns. The ferns flourished in soft spongy soil rich and fibrous through its annual renewal with falling leaves and twigs.

Not all ferns grow in cool, dark shade. Many are found on hillsides, in swamps and meadows; some live on the branches of jungle trees. Their degree of hardiness differs widely. Under cultivation the hardy ones are often grown in the garden. The tender ones are good houseplants.

Ferns are among the oldest known plants. Though their stucture and reproduction may seem complex, they are considered a primitive form of plant life. They have no flowers, hence set no seed. They are propagated by division, by runners, and also by spores, distinctive reproductive cells borne on the leaves.

The indoor gardener interested in growing ferns should visit a well-stocked florist shop or greenhouse specializing in ferns to learn something of the wide assortment of species and their cultural requirements.

One of the first things to be learned is whether the chosen fern is terrestrial or epiphytic because there is a difference in the way the two types are handled. A terrestrial fern grows on the earth – in woods, fields, swamps, cliffs, mountains or lowlands. Boston fern and brake or table fern are examples. An epiphytic fern grows on tree branches, but it is not parasite; its roots are adapted to grasping support and absorbing moisture from the air and sustenance from fallen leaves and bird droppings that accumulate around the plant. Examples are Staghorn fern and Rabbit’s Foot (Davallia). A third type is aquatic; it lives in water and is not adaptable to cultivation.

Management of light, soil and moisture is the key to growing ferns in the house. Their preference for moderate temperature and shaded sunlight makes them ideal houseplants and good in terrariums. The tender ferns grown indoors grow best in natural light from north windows. Second best is an east window.

In other locations, curtained shading from direct sunlight is needed. Winter sun, which is of shorter duration and less intensity than summer sun, is not too bright for most ferns. They can be grown also under fluorescent light – 14 hours of light per day. Finally, the amount of light needed depends on the type of fern, and it definitely influences the rate of growth.

KNowing whether your fern is terrestrial or epiphytic is important in order to select a suitable growing medium. Basically, a loose mixture, rich in humus and fibrous material and well-drained is recommended.

For terrestrial fens, use a mix of peatmoss and perlite or sand; grow epiphytes in osmunda fiber or fir bark. Packaged mixes, such as Redi-earth, Pro-Mix or Jiffy Mix, may be used; just be sure that it is a type that is loose, well aerated and well drained.

Whichever mix you use, dampen it with warm water before you plant the fern to make it easier to mix nad pot and safer for the fern.

Start small ferns in small pots and shift to larger pots as the plants grow and crowd the pot. Most ferns like to be potbound. Ferns have shallow roots, so a shallow pot is preferred. Either plastic or clay pots may be sued; remember the difference in watering – the clay pot dries out faster. Some epiphytes, such as the popular Staghorn, are grown on wooden or cork slabs, or in wire baskets or “log-cabin” boxes, rather than in pots.

Learning to water ferns is critical. Growers acknowledge that watering is a difficult technique to master. Always use tepid water. Some ferns require more water than others; no fomula can be given because there are so many variables in type or size of fern, type of container and environment in which it is grown.

Most ferns should be kept moist but none should be allowed to stand in water or to endure soggy soil. Supply enough water to thoroughly penetrate the soil and allow the excess to drain away. Just as with other plants, over-watering will kill.

Large Boston ferns can best be watered by immersing the pot in a pail of water for an hour twice a week – depending upon the dryness of the house. They can be set outdoors in a gentle rain for a cleasing refreshing bath when the temperature is above 50 degrees.

Staghorns mounted on a plaque or in a basket should be immersed in water every five to seven days until bubbles no longer rise in the water. THis assures thorough soaking of the fiber in which they grow; once it dries out it is difficult to get the fiber moist again. Staghorns growing in pots frequently suffer from over-watering.

Moisture in the air is as important as moisture in the soil. Relative humidity of 50 per ent or higher is recommended. Dryness of the air is especially injurious to soft-leaved types, such as Maidenhair. Using a mist spray three or four times a day will help to maintain luxuriant growth. Misting is good for broad-leaf ferns and those of simple-leaf forms. Use less spray on crinkled varieties, which tend to collect moisture and hold it, contributing to development of fungus.

Humidity can be increased in the vicinity of the plants when pots are set on trays of moist pebbles or on damp sand. Installing a humidifier is a means of increasing humidity, which is good for other plants and for the human occupants of the house as well as for the ferns.

Fertilize monthly with a water soluble houseplant food. Use 20-20-20 or 20-10-10 diluted to half the strength recommended by the the manufacturer. Fish emulsion is also a good fertilizer for ferns. Do not feed from mid-October to the end of January, when the plants are not in active growth.

Be cautious about introducing new plants to your collection; quarantine new plants until you are sure than no pests have come with them.

Try to keep fernspest-free by other means than chemical sprays. If a plant is heavily infested with scale or mealy bug, it is best to destroy the plant. insecticides containing petroleum derivatives destroy fern foliage and roots and many harsh commercial and spray compounds are harmful to ferns. Read the label – it is required to list plants on which the product can be safely used.

Common pests of ferns are scale and mealy bug, and fungus may become a problem.

Soft brown scale, appearing as small round dots on the back of the leaves, can cause serious damage. If there are only a few scales present, pick them off. A soft toothbrush gently applied is also effective. Scales appear haphazardly on the back of fronds; sometimes they can be seen to move.

The small brown or black dots (sori) in which fern spores are produced are arranged in characteristic geometric patterns on the frond. If you remember this distinction it will save you needless worry and also perhaps prevent you defacing the fronds by unnecessary treatment .

Mealy bugs can be removed with an artist’s paint brush dipped in nicotine sulfate solution.

A fungus attack causes fronds to break and fall over. Is is usually the result of over-watering. Treat it by application of benomyl to the base of the plant.

The beauty of ferns is in the variety of leaf patterns and types of growth. Allow space around them for beauty and health. Crowded and brittle fronds become entangled and break. Ferns are easily damaged by people brushing against the tips of fronds. Damaged fronds should be removed.

Cleanliness and constant grooming are necessary to attractive and healty plants. Sometimes emphasis placed on growing plants that produce “constant” bloom obscures the pleasure of growing plants for their foliage alone which is the fern grower’s reward.

How to plant and grow Maidenhair Ferns


Plant Information – Maidenhair (332 KB)
Maidenhair fern is the most loved or at least it is the most grown of all ferns. People love them as much for their quaintly delicate leaflets, as for their soft shiny stems. The fragile appearance of a maidenhair fern with its gentle, green colour, adds a lushness and a cool look to any setting. Not only an indoor plant, maidenhair will naturalise beautifully in cool garden positions, between pavers or bricks. It is actually in hanging baskets that this fern gains its popularity.

Whether grown on its own or as a composite planting, you can be assured of a thrilling result if these following notes are observed. Good luck with your ferns – the efforts are always rewarding.


Maidenhair ferns will grow best inside in a well-lit position, out of direct sun or with some very early morning sun. They tolerate either a warm or a cool spot; however, growth is quicker in a warm position. They require humidity to grow well. This can be achieved by placing the plant on a saucer filled with pebbles and water that provides moisture in the air as it evaporates around the fern.


Repot from September to February. The best options are our PREMIUM POTTIING MIX or INDOOR/ OUTDOOR POTTING MIX. With varying degrees of slow release fertilisers, and water retaining agents your maidenhairs will grow very well. Be careful not to plant the crown below soil level, as it is the point from which the new fronds develop.
The biggest problem in growing these ferns inside is when the position fluctuates – e.g. a bathroom that is humid and warm after a shower and cold and dry the rest of the day. Maidenhairs prefer a situation that stays roughly the same in warmth and humidity. They do not like being moved as it often sets them back until they adjust to the new environment. Warm laundries, bathroom and kitchen windowsills are all good spots.
Maidenhair ferns grow well outside on protected patios, under pergolas, in shade houses or in the garden and are best protected from the wind. They do well in positions where they get some very early morning sun or some filtered sun.


Keep them evenly moist all year. From September to March feed them every 2 weeks with liquid fertiliser e.g. MAXICROP, NITROSOL, FISH EMULSION, OSMOCOTE FOR INDOORS, HARVEST, UPLIFT or FERN & PALM FOOD


One of the main problems is getting the right position for the maidenhair ferns to grow successfully. Mealy bug may be an occasional problem. Use CONFIDOR, WHITE OIL or PEST OILS lightly sprayed to control these problems.
Maintain your Maidenhair Fern with fortnightly applications of: SEASOL, POWERFEED or MAXICROP. Any of these products used will help provide everlasting results of a healthy plant.
Browse through our lovely range of Maidenhair Ferns at ANL Garden Centre in Terrey Hills or North Ryde.


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