Boston Ferns Are the South's Favorite Porch Plants
Whether in hanging baskets or containers, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pretty Southern porch without a Boston fern or two. They're favorite indoor and outdoor plantings for Southerners across the region, and they're as familiar as peach cobbler and seersucker suits. Down here, you'll find ferns waving in the breeze from their perches on summertime porches, often swinging beneath a haint blue ceiling or nestled beside a row of wooden rocking chairs. The deep green fronds and shade-loving natures of Boston ferns make them picture-perfect plantings South of the Mason-Dixon line. Read on to learn more about tending your own.
About Boston Ferns
Boston ferns are known by the scientific name Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis'. This species is a type of sword fern known for its hardiness. It's widely planted in the U.S., and it can be found both indoors (as a houseplant) and out (as a container plant, as a ground cover, or in a hanging basket). This fern's calling card is its lush green fronds. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, Nephrolepsis exaltata "is a tropical species, but it grows larger (to 7 ft. high and as wide) and has broader fronds (to 6 in. wide)" than other Nephrolepsis species. The named selection ‘Bostoniensis' grows to 3 feet high. The Garden Book describes it as "the classic parlor fern, with spreading, arching habit and graceful, eventually drooping fronds broader than those of the species."
Caring for Boston Ferns
This plant loves plenty of shade, well-drained soil, and regular watering. Careful on the water, though: Evenly moist, not overly soggy, is the way to keep your ferns thriving. It's a hardy planting, but it can benefit from the occasional application of fertilizer, such a general-purpose liquid formula. In the cold months, frost will kill a Boston fern, so they should be appropriately overwintered.
Overwintering Boston Ferns
While some let their ferns die in winter, others choose to care for the plants year after year. Overwintering a Boston fern requires bringing the plant indoors when the cold weather descends. The Garden Book recommends, "In fall, use sharp scissors to cut back all side fronds to the rim of the pot, leaving the top growth about 10 in. high. Place the pot indoors next to your brightest window, and keep the soil fairly moist. By spring, your plant should be bushy again and ready for its return to the porch."
WATCH: Shade-Loving Fall Planter with Buffy Hargett
Do you have ferns on your Southern porch? What's your favorite fern for hanging baskets and outdoor spaces?