If you’re thinking about growing Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata), you might be surprised to hear that there’s more than one common type of boston fern you can grow. Also known as the erect sword fern, this houseplant is easy to grow and has lots of variations to suit any need.
An evergreen plant, it is native to tropical regions around the world. It has green foliage that remains bright and verdant around the year, with tiny leaflets that arch and become more erect as they get larger.
A slow-grower, this plant can grow up to three feet tall and wide. So which type of Boston fern is right for you?
Here are a few of the best Boston fern varieties you might consider growing. Each share similar growing requirements but all vary a bit in their appearance.
‘Bostoniensis’ is the standard type of Boston fern. When you hear people talking about Boston ferns, this is likely the houseplant to which they are referring. Grown as a houseplant since Victorian times, it is elegant and easy to grow. However, it’s not your only option.
Tips for Growing Boston Fern Indoors
Ready to grow Boston ferns that will make your visitors envious? Before we dive into the different types of Boston ferns, here are some general Boston fern care tips.
Potting and Ideal Soil
The first step to growing any plant, but especially the sword fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata), is to make sure that it is potted in the correct soil. Boston ferns like soil that is rich in peat moss and moisture-retaining.
When you plant your Boston fern, it’s important to use fresh potting mix, and never reuse old soil. This can lead to root rot of your sword ferns. You should gently loosen the root ball before placing it in the new pot, making sure to have enough soil to support the plant’s weight.
Giving the plant a good soak in water before planting will help to prevent dry soil and promote healthy growth.
Boston ferns are classified as a partial shade plant, which means that they need to be placed in an area that receives indirect sunlight. These plants thrive in dappled shade or a full or partial shade environment. They can even be grown in hanging baskets.
Direct sunlight can scorch the plant’s leaves, while low light and darkness can stunt their growth. The ideal temperature for Boston ferns is cooler temperatures of around 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) are native to humid environments, so they require a good level of moisture in the air to grow well indoors. You can simulate these conditions by misting your plant regularly with a spray bottle or placing a tray of wet pebbles beneath the pot.
This added humidity will help prevent their leaves from turning brown or falling off. However, you should avoid overwatering your plant, as this can lead to root rot and might attract fungus gnats.
Boston ferns are naturally grown seasonally outdoors, which means that they prefer cool and drafty environments.
During the winter months, you should be mindful of keeping your plant away from heaters and vents, as the heat can damage their fronds. It’s also important to cut back on watering during the winter, as their growth will slow down.
In the summer months, you may need to water more frequently to compensate for the warmer temperatures and drier conditions.
To keep your Boston fern looking healthy and vibrant, you will need to give it some tender loving care. Regularly remove any browning or dead fronds, as these can cause harm to the remaining foliage. You should also fertilize your fern every four to six weeks with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer.
Finally, inspect your plant regularly for signs of pests or diseases, such as the presence of aphids or rust spots.
Best Types of Boston Ferns to Grow
Now that you know what to do when it comes to Boston fern care, here are a few other types and varieties to consider.
1. ‘Compacta’ Boston Fern
N. exaltata ‘Compacta’ is, as the name suggests, a smaller, shorter, and more compact version of the Boston fern. It grows in a more upright fashion.
2. ‘Golden Boston’
This variety of Boston fern is known for its yellow-green fronds that are a bit lighter (yet still undeniably vibrant) than the main cultivar.
3. ‘Rita’s Gold’ Boston Fern
A compact Boston fern plant, ‘Rita’s Gold’ has chartreuse-colored fronds that are sure to grab your attention. Its foliage is especially bright on brand-new growth.
4. ‘Florida Ruffle’
This medium-sized Boston Fern cultivar has fronds that appear feathery and ruffled. Each frond divides into more fluffy ruffles and then overlaps with others to create the appearance of a full, dense plant.
5. ‘Fluffy Duffy’
‘Fluffy Duffy’ is a small, dense cultivar of the Boston fern. It has feathered, finely-textured fronds. It can withstand high levels of humidity in both the spring and summer months.
If you’re struggling to keep up with the high humidity needs of the Boston fern – something that can be difficult to maintain in many households, especially during the heart of winter – you may want to consider growing ‘Whitmanii.’
These Boston fern plants require less humidity than others and have medium green fronds that are fine and delicate, looking much like small green feathers.
7. ‘Hawaiiensis’ Boston Fern
As you might be able to gather just from the name alone, this Boston fern variety is native to the Hawaiian islands. It is easy to recognize and differentiate from the other Boston ferns you can grow – it has black dots scattered among its fronds that give the plant a kiwi-like appearance.
This variety of Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis is similar to the main variety of Boston fern in every way but one. Its fronds are a deeper, darker shade of green.
‘Dallas’ is compact and easy to grow – yet it tolerates lower humidity levels than most other Boston ferns, just like ‘Whitmanii.’ It can also perform well in indirect light, making it a good option for growers who just don’t have the right conditions to help their Boston ferns thrive.
This variety of Nephrolepis exaltata grows rapidly and in a spreading, sprawling fashion, even when it has minimal light and humidity. That said, its fronds only grow to about half the size and length of the typical species.
10. ‘Kimberly Queen’
‘Kimberly Queen’, or N. obliterata, is a species that is sensitive to low humidity – don’t try to grow this variety if you struggle with not having enough humidity in your home! That said, it’s attractive, compact, and easy to grow.
11. Tiger Fern
A variegated Boston fern, this variety has foliage that is erratically marbled in shades of green and gold. Its large leaves are known for getting exceptionally long.
This indoor plant grows super tall when grown outside in warmer areas. It has beautiful, broad fronds that grow to six inches wide, with the plant ultimately reaching five feet tall. This is a classic Victorian parlor fern!
‘Marisa’ is a compact dwarf variety of the Boston fern with striking green leaflets. These appear almost legacy at first glance. Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Marisa’ grows especially well – and is most gorgeous to behold – when grown in a hanging basket. It can also thrive in a terrarium.
14. ‘Roosevelt Ii’
The Roosevelt fern is another name for this variety, which can produce exceptionally elongated fronds as much as four feet in length. This frilled plant was once named ‘Norwoodii,’ so you might see it sold by that name as well.
This variety of the Boston fern isn’t as common or easy to find as some of the others. However, it’s a spreading cultivar similar to ‘ELegantissima’. It is hardy and has a graceful, arching habit.
‘Montana’ grows much more slowly than other Boston ferns, yet it’s still extremely popular. It has an impact growth habit that is uniform and strong, It remains green and retains its foliage better than other cultivars, making it an easy-to-care-for cultivar for most growers.
17. ‘Green Lady’
‘Green Lady’ is an elegant variety of the Boston fern, with graceful fronds that have a ruffled appearance. It grows in clumps and looks best when displayed on a stand or hanging basket – anywhere its fronds can cascade and tumble out over the edge!
18. ‘Teddy Junior’
‘Teddy Junior’ is a plant that grows quite large in an outdoor setting – up to seven feet tall, in fact! When grown in a container, though, it is much easier to keep this plant growing in a compact form. In fact, it is one of the most compact varieties of the Boston fern around when grown in a container.
It is a mutation of ‘Roosevelt,’ with fronds that start out light green and then become dark green as the plant gets older. It has fronds that are pinnate, ruffled, and wavy, and it can be grown even under more challenging circumstances.
‘Sonata’ is an easy-to-care-for plant that is ideal for beginners. It has a bushy growth habit and performs best in a home that has adequate levels of humidity with indirect, diffused light.
20. ‘Lemon Buttons’
This is a Boston fern variety that goes by many names, including ‘Duffii’ along with ‘Lemon Buttons’.’ The plant can be grown as a houseplant or a terrarium planting, since it is one of the smallest varieties of the Boston fern you can find.
It’s adorably compact, with tiny green and gold button-like leaflets that are produced on dark green, arching stems. These stems rarely reach more than a foot high. It can be grown in an atrium, terrarium, or a hanging basket – the choice is yours!
Boston ferns aren’t fussy, but making sure you meet their unique growing requirements will help them grow healthy and strong.
These houseplants perform best in bright, indirect light. Too much shade will not only stunt their growth but can result in fronds that are faded and dull-looking.
These plants prefer soil that is rich and loamy with excellent drainage. If the soil doesn’t drain well, you may find your plant suffering from issues such as root rot. Keep the soil lightly moist at all times, watering whenever the top inch of soil is dry.
Want to learn more? You can get all the details on how to grow and care for Boston ferns in our comprehensive growing guide here.
What are you waiting for? Boston ferns are easy to grow and the perfect accent to any home’s decor. Plant a few today!