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Friday, October 8, 2010

How Do I Take Care of My Boston Fern?

“I’m getting ready to bring my houseplants back inside for the winter, and I’m not sure how to take care of a large Boston fern. Do you have any books that will help me?” The staff of the Newton Falls Public Library enjoys plants, as can be seen by the ones arranged throughout the library, and understands how important it is to know how to properly care for them.

Our search began in the section filled with books about houseplants. The Pitiful Gardener’s Handbook: successful gardening in spite of yourself by Connie Eden & Tracy Cheney had an appealing title, but did not deal with the problem at hand. In many of the books the Boston fern is listed not by its common name but as Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis.’ Ortho’s Guide to Successful Houseplants and The Complete Guide to Indoor Gardening by Jenny Rawforth and Val Bradley respectively have sections about the care of this type of fern. It requires indirect sunlight or moderate light, and normal room temperature and humidity. The two differ in reference to how wet to keep the soil. Ortho’s Guide to Successful Houseplants [p.270] recommends allowing the “plant to approach dryness before watering, then water thoroughly and discard drainage.” The Complete Guide to Indoor Gardening [p. 134] says to “keep moist at all times.” The RHS Encyclopedia of House Plants Including Greenhouse Plants [p. 359] by Kenneth A. Beckett seems to take a slightly different perspective with the admonition to “allow the surface of rooting medium to dry out between watering.”

The Ortho’s Guide also advises the home gardener to groom the fern by picking off the yellowed fronds and to shape the plant with “light pruning or clipping at any time.” When moving the plant back into the house after a summer spent outdoors, the owner may notice that its leaves are dropping or it becomes spindly because of low light. The Complete Guide to Indoor Gardening notes that dry air can cause browning. If that happens it is suggested that the plant owner set the pot “on a tray of moist pebbles to increase humidity.”

Armed with this information our patron seems prepared to maintain a healthy fern until it can be returned to the outdoors.

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