By Larry Hodgson
The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) is among the most popular houseplants and with good reason, as with its long, drooping, charmingly cut fronds, it creates a beautiful effect in the home.
However, its growth is very dense, almost too dense. After a while, therefore, it starts to look disheveled, with as many yellowing fronds as green ones.
In addition, it produces long hairy rhizomes that head off in all directions. Even green, they’re not that attractive. By the time they’ve turned brown, they look even worse.
Thus, to maintain a decent appearance, it is important to remove fading fronds and excess rhizomes.
But there is a limit to cleaning up. It’s difficult to reach the base of the yellowing fronds, hidden as it is among the newer ones. Yet, if left in place, fading fronds will give a yellowing, neglected effect to the whole plant. Plus, how do you remove the dust, which gets thicker and thicker over time, on a plant with such delicate fronds? Sometimes you just feel like shaving the whole plant back and starting over! And that’s exactly what you should do!
Indeed, every 2 or 3 years, you’ll find it useful to give your Boston fern a serious makeover by cutting it back severely. That is, by cutting all the fronds an inch or so (2 or 3 cm) from the soil. Yes, I did say “all the fronds”!
Doing this takes a lot of courage, because it’s such a radical trim. Quite honestly, you’ll regret your action at first, because the plant is so slow to react. Indeed, 2 or 3 weeks* after this severe pruning, the plant will still have barely reacted. But afterwards, what a difference! Indeed, 2 months later, your Boston fern will have fully rejuvenated, with a mass of new fronds arching up, out then towards the ground.
*2 or 3 weeks if you prune in the spring or early summer. If you do it in the fall or early winter, it may take 2–3 months before the plant starts to show signs of regrowth!
Take advantage of this pruning to repot your fern (it’s difficult to repot a Boston fern when it is covered with long, draping fronds) in fresh potting soil. That will give it extra vigor.
This is also a good time to divide it (when you cut the plant back, you’ll clearly see that it is made up of multiple rosettes, each a plant in itself) if you want to share your fern with friends.
All in all, this pruning/division will result in a strong and attractive plant, ready to offer another 2–3 years of beauty to your indoor decor. You just have to find the courage to carry it out!