Overwintering Ferns

102/365: Fern

Photo by The Playful Librarian

One of the things I really love about the Frugal Upstate house is our lovely wide wrap around porch.  This year I finally bought the hanging geraniums and Boston ferns I’ve always wanted to hang from the eaves of the porch.

They looked lovely.

And no, bad blogger that I am, I forgot to take pictures.

As wonderful as they looked, the idea of shelling out over $100 each spring to buy more makes me shudder.  I started thinking-there has to be a way to keep these things alive through the winter.  But how?

After a little research on Boston Ferns I learned several things:

1-Boston Ferns are happy in cool environments.  Between 62 to 65 degrees F.

2-When indoors Boston Fern grows best in bright filtered light.

3-Although relatively drought tolerant for a fern-Boston Ferns still require a much higher humidity than the average heated home during the winter.

4-Fronds will die and drop off during the winter, making it a rather messy houseplant.

Here is the plan I came up with:

1-Water the plants well then bring them inside soon-before frost hits-to start getting them acclimated.

2-Give both ferns a “Haircut”.  One article I read suggested cutting all the fronds that droop down and leaving only the ones that are pointing up. That seems pretty drastic to me.  I am going to go a bit more conservative on the trimming, mostly because I’m chicken.

3-Hang one fern directly in front of a lace covered window in the front entryway (which is pretty much unheated in the winter) and the other on a plant stand that is about 4 ft away from an uncovered window-they should get pretty decent light that could still be considered “filtered”.

4-Buy a mister and put an alert in my google calendar to water weekly and mist 2X a week to try to keep the humidity up.  Hopefully the fact that the ferns are right near the door the kids have to head out of for school will help me to remember-I may even leave the filled mister near the door as a reminder.  There is a slim chance that I might think to bring a humidifier out there and run it. . . but then again I probably won’t.

Honestly, I’m not sure how this is going to work out.  If it’s a complete failure I’m no farther behind than I would be if I had just chunked them into the compost heap.

So have any of you ever overwintered your Boston Ferns? What worked for you? I’m open to any and all pointers!

University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture: Plant of the Week, Boston Fern.
GardenGuides.com: How to Care for a Boston Fern
Garden Web Forums: Successfully Overwintering Ferns Thread
University of Rhode Island Landscape Agriculture Program: Indoor Fern FactSheet

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  1. says

    Granted I do live in Georgia, but I overwinter my ferns. I place my ferns in front of windows (open blind, no curtain) and water about 1C each 1x a week. I try to remember to rotate my ferns 1/2 turn each time I water them, which helps them maintain even growth.
    I’ve never heard of trimming ferns to help with shedding, but it’s worth a shot. I don’t imagine it would hurt them much, as I have cut my ferns into pieces before to start new ferns and they’ve done just fine.

    • Jeanne says

      Tell me more about over wintering Boston ferns. In mid-March, I bought 6 for the church where I work, located just south of Savannah. We keep them outside in the shade of the courtyard, where they have been very happy all through the spring, summer, and fall. We bring them in each Sunday morning to decorate the sanctuary, and they go back out on Monday morning. They are watered at least 3-4 times per week, and fed with Epsom salts regularly. One of the secretaries here actually takes care of them, and has mentioned that with colder weather, we need to do something else with “our babies” if we want them to survive and thrive through the winter. I planned to build a small greenhouse (pvc hoops and plastic, unheated and no lights) in the courtyard close to where they are currently kept, but I have read so many articles about bringing them in, that I am unsure what would work best. We would like to be able to still use them for church during the winter, but the custodian is not going to clean up after them all winter. Suggestions?

    • John says

      I prune my Boston Ferns as well as Kimberly Queen ferns each winter. I water the plants very well then take a clear trash bag and set the pot in the trash bag. It acts like a greenhouse (and I have a homemade greenhouse that I put them in for the winter). Putting them in the clear plastic trash bag keeps them moist all winter and I don’t have to worry about watering them too little or too much. Also, I prune the ferns quite sparingly because I am chicken that I may do too much. But this year I plan to prune a lot and see how they do. We’ll see.

  2. Sam says

    I put one of my favorite garden/winter houseplants in my foyer last year and the cold blast of winter air almost killed it. The plant was not directly in the air that came in the door, the chill was indirect. Anyway just thought I should mention something so you know ya might want to keep an eye on the fern by the door.
    I have no idea what the name of my plant is – I just call it “the one in the green pot” so it could very well be different from your ferns.

    Last year I successfully over wintered about 80% of my annuals. I didn’t do it to save money per se – it was so wet, cool & gloomy in summer of 09 many of my heirlooms didn’t bloom till Sept/Oct and didn’t go to seed till December and I didn’t want to loose those seeds! It was refreshing to have marigolds, snap dragons, geraniums & such blooming as the blizzards blew. They all stopped blooming after News Years & were fading fast when
    spring came – I got them outside just quick enough to bounce back! I can’t believe how big they were this year since they didn’t die off over the winter. I’m seriously tempted to do it again just for the cheery-ness it bought us.

  3. says

    I don’t know what kind of fern it is, but we have one that grows just outside our ground level laundry room window. We don’t do anything special to it (I think it’s called “benign neglect”), and it comes back every year — in Minnesota, after being buried under several inches of snow.

  4. says

    I haven’t done ferns but I have spider plants that we hang on the front porch every year and we overwinter them. We just bring them in before the first frost and then put them in a window where they can get some sun. I don’t really do anything special to them, I just water them about once a week. I did it last year and they have lasted all summer again. So, I’ll be overwintering them again soon!

    • Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says

      Apparently ferns need a lot more humidity than other plants to look good-but I’ll be happy if I can keep them alive enough so that they will perk up in the spring :)

  5. says

    I’ve heard that plants are good for keeping the air in your house clean. I, however, am not good for plants. I have a purple thumb–everything I touch turns radioactive.
    No, seriously, I have no talent for them. My mother looks at a tomato plant and it bears 1,000 tomatoes. I walk by one and it dies.
    But plants sure are pretty!

  6. says

    Heather-yes, you’ve got significantly better weather in the winter than I do in upstate NY! Good to know that about 1 C a week is adequate for the watering. . .

    Sam-Good point about the cold air from the door. I’ve actually been thinking-one of the problems in the master bathroom is that it is too humid-we run a dehumidifier in there all the time. Maybe I should move the ferns up there-no wind, ok sun, and plenty of humidity! As for the rest-I am going to try a couple methods with the geraniums (that’s another post!) and I plan to dig up some marigolds & pot them for the front stoop. Maybe I’ll try taking them inside and seeing how long they will live as well!

    Topaz-wow! I would never have thought that a fern would make it outside in Minnesota! Maybe the fact that it was in the ground, near a wall & had the snow cover had something to do with it? I think that in the hanging pots, even set on the ground, my ferns are probably less protected.

    M2F-Yes, plants are supposed to be very good at purifying the air. I know that philodendrens (those ones that make the huge vines and can even live in offices under just the flourescents) are supposed to be really good-and I just bought a snake plant because it is supposed to be a good purifier as well.

  7. says

    Hi… thanks for the great tips on the Boston Ferns. For years I allowed the beautiful plants to frost and die. This year I wanted to try and save two of the four plants. I even might call the greenhouse flower shop, because they are so beautiful. Here is the tip my mother-in-law practiced when she was living in Detroit. Just before frost, she would water, trim the dead leafs and stick them in a unused bathtub on the 3rd floor of her condo. They stayed nice, as she watered them and vacumed the tip for fallen leaves. She also watered only to the touch of the finger and they were dry. This area was cool, but never freezing. Thank you for your info..Jo

  8. amielynn says

    I love my ferns the “boston fern” is a staple in the south. Living in Alabama you see them on almost every porch that has a place to hang a plant. I over winter one on top of my refrigerator and another on top of the cabinets in my kitchen. I find that there is always the perfect amount of humidity. And right as the leaves start to fall off I pull them all up and snip them in one big swoop, they do great every year. Mine are going on 5 years old now.

  9. says

    Wanting to do the same thing, for the same reason, this winter. Just wondering how it turned out for you. Did the ferns survive the haircut?

    • says

      They did-I’ve had the same ferns for 3 years now. I found they did best in my upstairs bathroom where there was quite a bit of moisture in the air and a good south facing window. They do keep dropping leaves all winter, but as long as I occasionally water them and kept rotating them (so the window side didn’t grow most) they did fine.

  10. laura says

    I have just repotted my boston ferns and my spiders. I went from a few hanging baskets of each…. To 13 of each… NOW my hubby wants to know how in the world Im going to winter them all over?????
    Ive had te plants for a couple of years. I just brought them in and left them on the floor of my laundry room. Watered once in a while when I thought of it. Some did better than others but all seemed to live threw the winter here in Shreveport LA.
    Do you have any suggestions as to how to winter so many plants? I hate to admit but Im thinking my hubby was right with I should of waited till spring to repot!

    • says

      Wow-that was quite ambitious! I’ve only overwintered the two hanging baskets & was just considering splitting them next spring. Your plants still need water, light and humidity–so maybe you could distribute them around to different rooms near windows? Do you have a friend or relative with a sun porch or something like hat who’d be willing to take a bunch? Could you give some away? Maybe call your cooperative extension office & ask how much protection they’d need to survive outside in your climate–since you are southern maybe you could build a smal cold frame out of some bales of hay placed in a box with an old window etc on top & place the ferns inside? That wouldn’t work here in NY but might for you. Good luck!

  11. Jan says

    My wife and I have wintered most of our outdoor summer plants. Will be on second winter of our boston ferns – in the lower level at a west facing window, water as needed and do turn them, I am thinking about trimming them this year as they were a little messy last year, they will need to be repotted this spring I’m sure; asparagus fern overwinters well – lost count of how many years we have had this plant in and out, trim back and water as needed; spider plants do well too; even keep herbs and such going over the winter, keep those upstairs in a south facing window; most plants brought in need to be cut back a bit because of space considerations inside; good luck with yours.

    • Jan says

      A couple other thoughts – we put them in the garage a few days to transition just in case we get a warm up after the first cold snap and can keep them outside a little longer; we spray them with soapy water to control any insects and let them dry off before we bring them in for good; those plastic boot trays make a good place to set the pots and control any water that leaks out of the bottom of the pots.


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