As fussy as some people make them out to be, it is pretty easy to propagate Boston fern. With the correct materials, clean tools, and knowledge of the most practical methods of propagating these lovely ferns, you’re sure to multiply a single pot in no time!
Boston ferns can be successfully propagated at home through 1) division and 2) runner propagation. These are the easiest and quickest ways to propagate Boston fern. It’s also possible to propagate Boston ferns from spores or tissue culture but this is not practical, easy, or even possible for most home gardeners.
Honestly, it only really takes a few hours for one big pot of Boston fern into several smaller ones. Do this once they outgrow their containers instead of up-potting. Ensure that your newly propagated ferns survive by keeping a few things in mind!
How to Divide Boston Ferns (3 Steps)
Propagate a potted Boston fern through division by 1) taking it out of the pot carefully, 2) dividing the root ball into sections, and 3) moving each division into its new smaller pots with a fresh potting mix.
If you’re looking for the easiest way to propagate your potted Boston fern, division is your answer.
Based on historical accounts, Boston ferns have long been commonly propagated by simple division since the 1990s.
No special tools or materials are even necessary for dividing your gigantic container Boston fern. This could explain why experts call division the best way to propagate Boston fern.
Materials needed for dividing Boston ferns include
- Repotting mat (here on Amazon)
- Disinfected spade or knife
- Clean pots or hanging baskets
- Potting mix
- Watering can or hose
1. Take It Out of the Pot
Lay down the repotting mat on the table or work surface you’re going to be using and position your plastic pot sideways and gently press on it to dislodge the Boston fern in it.
If you have your fern in a more rigid container like a clay pot, run a spade or knife around the walls to separate the soil and plant from the pot.
Carefully take out the Boston fern from the pot by taking hold of the base of the plant and tugging it out slowly.
2. Divide It Into Sections
Once your Boston fern is free from its pots, cut it into at least 2–4 sections. It’s also pretty easy to get 8 new Boston fern sections from a very large potted specimen.
Don’t worry about nicking some roots here and there while portioning off the root ball with a knife or spade.
Unlike many other plants grown in American households, Boston ferns can definitely take much more of a beating. But you still want to keep as much of the root system intact for each portion to thrive after the division.
Try to leave as many fronds undamaged as well to help it adjust and get established.
3. Move Divisions to New Pots
Prepare your potting soil and pots for the newly divided Boston ferns. This hardy fern will grow best with a well-draining and aerated mix that also retains water quite well.
Learn about the different options you have in terms of growing mediums!
Most reputable soilless potting blends for houseplants fit such requirements. So if you don’t have enough time or don’t want to deal with all that mess, get something like this from Amazon.
For the pot size, it will of course depend on how big each Boston division is. In general, though, look for shallow containers that are only a few inches bigger than the root ball.
Pat down the soil a bit and just water the soil until all the excess water drains out of the pot’s drainage holes. Then place it in a humid and sheltered spot with some indirect light.
How to Propagate Boston Fern Runners (2 Steps)
A Boston fern can be propagated by 1) cutting healthy runners and 2) planting each one individually. This is often done with Boston ferns grown as groundcover or cover plants as they often have more soil around them that encourage runner growth.
When you hear people talking about Boston fern cuttings, they’re actually talking about runners that are about to grow into plantlets some distance away from the mother plant.
Like before, this is also a pretty simple and fast way to propagate your big Boston fern. You don’t need things like a rooting gel or powder either.
Materials required for propagating Boston fern runners are
- Repotting mat
- Disinfected pruning shears or garden scissors
- Clean pots or hanging baskets
- Potting mix
- Watering can or hose
Apart from materials and tools you likely already have at home, all that’s really required is some time and effort on your part.
1. Cut Healthy Runners
When selecting which runners to trim off of your mother Boston fern plant, make sure to closely expect its fronds—you don’t want to inadvertently get infested or infected ones.
If you’ve got bad eyesight, I recommend wearing your glasses for this. Check it patiently so that you also don’t end up wasting time trying to establish an already deteriorating runner.
Once you’ve got all the healthy ones spotted, snip the stem connecting them to the stock plant. Gently tease their roots out of the soil. Discard all of the unhealthy runners.
2. Plant Each Cutting
For landscaping, you can simply plant your Boston fern “cuttings” or plantlets a few inches from each other in your place of choice. (Ideally, a shadier area that’s slightly elevated.)
Then, in a few months, you’ll have a thick portion of your yard overrun with this wonderful fern!
But if you prefer having it on your porch, patio, balcony, or indoors, go for smaller shallow pots of sturdy hanging baskets. I personally find that they’re easier to maintain this way.
Either way, they need soil that can provide them with good moisture retention, aeration, and drainage. You can use pre-mixed potting blends or create your own then water them well.
Can You Propagate Boston Ferns With Spores?
Although it is possible to propagate other ferns like the kupukupu fern using spores, this is not recommended for Boston Ferns. Even commercial growers rely on propagation through tissue cultures, runners, and/or division for practicality.
In theory, it is possible to propagate Boston ferns from a single leaf or stem since they produce spores underneath their leaves. But doing so is easier said than done.
Traditionally, propagation was done by way of division. More recently, however, the use of tissue cultures has even gained popularity over runner propagation for Boston fern so that the desirable traits of cultivars can be retained after!
Besides that fact, the process is pretty troublesome—at least to me, it is. You’d need to wait for at least a month to successfully collect all the spores from underneath the fern fronds.
Even when you do it all properly, the establishment will a much longer time—anywhere from several months to a couple of years.
Then after all that time and effort, the fern may not even look anything like the mother plant!
More importantly, Boston fern along with many other varieties are considered sterile so it’s virtually impossible to propagate them using spores.
How to Care for Boston Ferns After Propagation (7 Tips!)
Caring for Boston ferns after propagation isn’t all that complicated either—as long as you keep in mind their ideal growing conditions.
After planting or potting newly propagate Boston ferns make sure to
- Protect it with some shade, away from the afternoon sun
- Water it consistently to keep the soil adequately moist
- Let its soil drain readily to avoid waterlogging
- Maintain moderate to high humidity of 30–50% for it
- Keep the temperature within 55–95°F or 13–35°C
- Fertilize it after 2 months or so to help promote growth
- Overwinter outdoor potted ones gradually
These simple tricks can help establish your Boston fern propagation much better and faster.
Having said all of this, it’s no surprise that failure in propagation generally revolves around these factors as well.
Common problems when propagating Boston fern include
- Not disinfecting tools beforehand
- Using garden or field soil
- Using overly larger pots
- Exposure to overly dry air
- Direct sun exposure
- Insufficient light exposure
- Freezing temperatures
When is the best time to propagate a Boston fern?
The best time to propagate Boston fern is in late winter or early spring, this gives the plant enough time to grow actively for the rest of the season and establish a robust root system. In tropical and subtropical areas such as Florida, they can also be propagated in summer and fall but doing so can result in weak or stunted ferns.
Why is my Boston fern cutting yellow?
Several unfavorably growing conditions can cause Boston fern cuttings or plantlets to become yellow but the most common reason is root rot due to overwatering, poor drainage, and/or excessively large pots. Root rot in ferns also leads to stunting and wilting. Other reasons for yellowing in ferns include lack of light and cold temperatures.
Summary of Propagate Boston Fern Successfully
The most practical and viable way to propagate Boston ferns at home is either through division or runners. For potted ferns, division is recommended. Meanwhile, outdoor ferns planted for landscaping, are easier to propagate using their healthy runners or stolons.
Newly propagated Boston ferns will benefit from protection against direct sunlight, consistent watering, sufficient drainage, humidity levels around 30–50%, temperatures of 55–95°F (13–35°C), occasional fertilizer feeding 2 months after propagation, and overwintering.
- “Boston Fern Production Guide” by R.W. Henley, L.S. Osborne, and A.R. Chase in the University of Florida, IFAS Central Florida Research and Education Center
- “Plant of the Week: Boston Fern, Latin: Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’” by Gerald Klingaman in The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
- “Growing Ferns” by Paul A. Thomas and Mel P. Garber in The University of Georgia Extension
- “Greenhouse Production Of Boston Ferns” by J. Raymond Kessler, Jr. in the NC Cooperative Extension Horticulture Document Library
- “Propagating House Plants” by David E. Lott and Dale T. Lindgren in the University of Nebraska—Lincoln Extension