How to Care for a Boston Fern Over Winter – Tips & More


A Boston fern on the article How to Care for a Boston Fern Over Winter

Every year in winter, people grapple with how to care for their plants, and the Boston fern is not an exception.

When I first got one, I read some reviews online and realized that some people did not overwinter their ferns.

Instead, they let them die when the temperatures got colder and bought new ones in the spring.

Knowing how particular I am about plants, I knew that was not an option. After all, the Boston fern is a perennial. So, there’s no reason to let it die in the winter and get another one the next spring. Did you know that?

The more I read about the fern, I realized I did not need to resort to the whole bury-rebuy trend I had come across.

Instead, all I had to do was care for the plant through all the seasons (not just winter), and it would serve me for many years. And how did I do it?

To care for a Boston fern over winter you need to be regulating a Boston ferns surrounding temperatures (ensuring it never fell below 35 degrees), cutting back on watering, and giving fertilizer a break. Yes, it’s that easy!

I still have the fern I bought three years ago! And I will show you exactly what to do with your plant to keep it alive regardless of where you live:

What To Do with Boston Ferns in Winter

A Boston fernAllowing a plant to die in the winter does not sit well with me. First, I care too much about plants. And secondly, it’s far too expensive to keep replacing all the plants in my home.

So, I had to consider how my ferns fit into this equation. And I found excellent ways to keep my fern alive:

  1. If you live in a region where the temperatures don’t fall below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and no hard frost hits your region, you can leave it outside. I will explain this later in this guide.
  2. If you live in an area where the winters are extreme and hard frost is the norm, you must move the plant indoors. I will also show you how to do this in the next section.

How To Care for A Boston Fern Over Winter

Taking care of your fern over winter is not that different from what you would do in the other seasons.

But as you may have already guessed, there are more considerations when the temperatures get colder. So, here’s what you must do:

1) Protect Your Fern from Frost

One thing to note about Boston ferns is that they do not enjoy extreme temperatures. Thus, you should always protect them from too much heat or too much cold.

Ideally, they should be in temperatures between 65- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures go above 95 degrees, the plant can die!

And the same happens when they drop below 35 degrees. So, if you live outside its ideal USDA hardiness zones (10 to 12), you should consider that temperatures might be an issue.

A bit of cold will not kill the plant. But if the temperatures go below 35 degrees, you will have to bid the plant adieu. So, how can you prevent this?

You should understand just how low the temperatures can drop in the winter. And if you think things will get bad, you will need to move the plant indoors for the winter.

Alternatively, you can move it indoors on nights when the weather is especially bad. The back-and-forth can be a tad too much. So, if you would rather avoid it, move the plant indoors during winter or late fall.

Can you save a fern affected by hard frost? Unfortunately, there is no turning back when you get to this point. Prevention is better than cure in this case.

So, if you have any doubts about what the weather will be like, move the plant indoors in late fall.

If you’re enjoying this article, check out our article on what is the ideal humidity for a Boston fern.

2) Overwinter the Plant

Have you ever overwintered a plant? The term might seem quite scary, especially to a first-time gardener.

I know I was petrified at the thought of keeping a plant safe in winter the first time I tried it. But it turns out to be an easy and fun experience. Here’s how you approach this when it comes to the Boston fern:

1) Pruning the Plant

During the summer, the fern grows quite big such that by fall, it’s pretty massive. So, when you move it indoors, it can take up more space than you would like.

I recommend cutting back on the foliage to create room around the plant. Don’t worry about losing out on the mass. As soon as spring starts, the plant will bounce back, resulting in healthier and more vigorous growth.

2) Inspecting the Plant

A Boston fern

Before moving the plant indoors, you should check to ensure that it’s free of pests. Otherwise, you will introduce new species to your home, wreaking havoc on the other plants.

If you come across any pests, now is the best time to deal with them using home remedies or relying on chemical eradication methods.

Ensure the pests are all dead before moving the plant. And to be sure, hose it down to eliminate any lingering pests. It’s also advisable to isolate the plant before introducing it to the home.

3) Positioning the Plant

Remember what we said about frost? Your plant could be indoors and yet still in danger of hard frost. Wondering how this can be?

Suppose you place it next to a window. It would be at risk of being in direct contact with cold winds that could damage it.

To avoid this, find a sheltered area in your home where doors and windows do not open to the harsh outdoors. A corner room would be a good choice.

3) Provide Essential Care

What does your Boston fern need during winter? Regardless of whether you leave your plant outdoors or move it indoors, the plant will need the following care routine:

1) Water

When the Boston fern is actively growing, it needs lightly moist soil. As such, you should water it once a week or as often as the climate dictates and only when the soil is mostly dry.

But can you do this in the winter? No. In the winter, the Boston fern goes dormant. Did you know that? And that means that it won’t need as much water.

So, you must cut back on watering to about every other week and only when the soil is mostly dry.

Don’t wait for the soil to dry completely as this can make the fronds dry out – but also don’t wet the soil as soggy soil is a catalyst for root rot.

Investing in a moisture meter can help you work out this balance. Or you can use your fingers to dig into the top inches of soil to check the moisture level before watering it.

2) Fertilizer

Does a dormant plant need fertilizer? Not at all. Your fern appreciates some feeding in the active growing months (spring and summer).

And you can amend its soil with light feeds like compost and mulch. The plant would still survive without any feeding if the soil were loamy and organically rich.

But in the late fall and winter, feeding will be a waste as the plant will go into dormancy. And in that case, the fertilizer can even damage the plant roots. So, as from late fall, hold back on feeding and let the plant be.

3) Light

The Boston fern prefers bright and indirect light. Thus, replicating this will not be hard even when you move it indoors.

Ensure it does not get too much sun as this can damage its leaves. But also provide it with adequate light because poor lighting can result in sparse fronds.

Even so, if you notice a change in the leaves or even dropping, it’s a part of the dormancy. Just go with the flow – your plant will look better in the spring.

When it’s finally time to move the plant outdoors, do it gradually to protect it from going into shock.

Yes, plants get that too! Start with leaving it outdoors for an hour each day, then gradually increase the hours before leaving it out all day.

You may also like: Boston fern light requirements

Can Boston Fern Stay Outdoors in The Winter?

A boston fernNot everyone has to move their plant indoors in the winter. Again, it comes down to a few factors.

The first is temperature. If you are sure that the temperatures will not fall below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, your plant can stay outdoors in the winter. It should be fine within this range.

The second is the humidity. The Boston fern does best when the humidity is at least 80%. Unfortunately, this is not always possible in the winter as the levels drop dramatically.

And it’s not entirely feasible (or even possible) to increase the levels much. You can place the plant’s pot over a tray filled with water and pebbles.

But as far as using a humidifier or leaving the fern in the bathroom, these options will not be available.

If you think that amending the humidity might be an issue, it might be good to consider moving the plant indoors. Else, the plant could turn brown, which is unsightly.

If you can confidently state that your fern can survive the winter with these conditions, it can remain outdoors.

However, if you know you cannot ascertain these conditions, you are better off playing it safe and moving your plant where it belongs in winter – the indoors!

Final Thoughts

Overwintering the Boston fern is all about giving it the care it needs to survive the winter. You do not need to go out of your way to do this.

As long as the plant has access to water every other week and is safe from frost, most of your bases will be covered. Happy Gardening!

Before you go, here are some more related articles I encourage you to read below to help solve more of your gardening issues:

What are the Benefits of a Boston Fern

How to Stop Your Boston Fern Leaves Curling

How To Save A Dying Staghorn Fern

How to Grow Asparagus Ferns from Tubers

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