What To Do With Boston Ferns In Winter?

Boston ferns are not native to New England. They were introduced from Europe during the 1800’s. Because they have adapted well to our climate, they are very popular here in Massachusetts. However, their numbers continue to grow rapidly because of their attractive foliage and attractive coloration. There are over 200 species of boston ferns found throughout North America (and several other countries).

The most common species in Massachusetts is the Boston Fern. These plants thrive in warm climates such as those found here in Massachusetts. Most of them prefer full sun but some varieties do better under partial shade. Some varieties like the Eastern Massasauga or the Western Massasauga can tolerate temperatures down into the low 20’s F, while others like the Little Redferns and the White-faced Ferns cannot handle cold weather at all!

There are many different ways to care for your boston ferns in winter. Some varieties will survive the winter without any special attention at all. Others require extra time and effort to keep them alive through the cold months. For example, if you live in a colder area where it snows heavily, then you may want to consider bringing your boston fern indoors during the winter months so that they don’t freeze solid!

What about the types of boston ferns that can’t handle cold weather? How can they survive our brutal New England winter?

These boston ferns are able to enter a sort of “survival mode” during the fall and winter. This is called dormancy. During dormancy, the plant uses very little energy and it’s not growing at all (in fact, it may even look dead). But don’t throw it out into the yard just yet! Dormancy is a very protective mechanism for plants that enables them to survive in less-than-ideal climates.

Most boston ferns are able to go into this type of dormancy, but not all of them do. There are some boston fern varieties that will die if they experience a hard frost or freeze. The best way to determine whether your boston fern will survive the winter is to remember what climate it came from originally. If it came from a tropical climate, then it most likely will not be able to handle a brutal New England winter.

Most boston ferns thrive in warm, humid, and moist conditions. If you’re going to keep your boston fern outdoors, then you should mulch the soil around the plant deeply (at least 4 inches). This will help to keep the soil cool and retain moisture during the summer. You should also provide some sort of shelter for the plant so that it can avoid harsh winds and dry conditions.

You can also bring your boston fern inside during the winter months. The best time to do this is right after the first frost or freeze. At this time, the plant will be entering its dormant period naturally. Bring the plant inside and place it in a shady location.

Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

During dormancy, you should notice new growth starting to appear in late February or March. You’ll be able to move the plant back outside at this time, as long as nighttime temperatures are above 40 degrees F. You may need to fertilize it once new growth appears, but read the fertilizer labels carefully because most brands are not recommended for boston ferns!

Boston ferns prefer consistently moist soil, but the soil should never be soggy. Water it until the water runs through the drainage holes, then wait another 4 or 5 days before watering again. Always remove any dead or yellowed leaves by hand. Dead leaves left on the plant may become homes for pests such as spider mites.

Sources & references used in this article:

Economic history of ostrich fern,Matteuccia struthiopteris, the edible fiddlehead by P Von Aderkas – Economic Botany, 1984 – Springer

Evaluation of Three Insecticides for Control of the Florida Fern Caterpillar by CP Hesselein, DW Lickfeldt, OH Substation – sna.org

Growing ferns by PA Thomas, MP Garber – 2009 – esploro.libs.uga.edu

Coexistence and competition between overwintering Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus and local warblers at Lake Naivasha, Kenya by J Rabøl – Ornis Scandinavica, 1987 – JSTOR

Food availability, foraging ecology, and energetics of Whooping Cranes wintering in Texas by F Chavez-Ramirez – 1996 – edwardsaquifer.org

The behaviour of a wintering flock of whooper swans Cygnus cygnus at Rostellan Lake, Cork by PD O’Donoghue, J O’Halloran – … and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal …, 1994 – JSTOR

Post-construction effects of an urban development on migrating, resident, and wintering birds by M Hostetler, S Duncan, J Paul – Southeastern Naturalist, 2005 – BioOne

Fat cyclicity, predicted migratory flight ranges, and features of wintering behavior in Pacific Golden-Plovers by D Kappel-Smith – 1986 – McGraw-Hill Book Company

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