Pruning Boston Fern - How And When To Prune Boston Fern

A Boston Fern Plant Ready To Be Pruned
(Image credit: grbender)

Boston ferns are among some of the most popular houseplants grown and common attractions found hanging from many front porches. While these plants come in various sizes and shapes, most can get quite full. Oftentimes, it is necessary to cut back Boston ferns in order to maintain their vigorous form.

Trimming Boston Ferns

When it comes to pruning Boston fern plants, you should always look towards its leaves for inspiration. It is not uncommon for this plant to exhibit old, discolored fronds. These fronds may be yellow or brown. Older leaves often get shaded out by new growth. 

The plant may also have leafless runners dangling down from the plant. These are all good indications that trimming may be needed. Unsightly plants with erratic growth can always benefit from pruning to maintain an attractive shape as well.

How & When to Prune Boston Fern

While routine trimming of discolored and unattractive foliage can be performed at any time, severe pruning is best accomplished in spring or summer. An ideal time for pruning is during repotting, when plants can be dramatically cut back. In fact, Boston fern responds well to severe pruning, which encourages more prolific, bushy growth and corrects dull, leggy growth. 

When pruning Boston fern always use clean, sharp pruning shears or scissors. Since pruning can be messy, you may want to move the plants outdoors or place an old sheet in the area to catch the cuttings. You don't want to crop the top of the plant when pruning Boston fern. Instead, trim off the side fronds at the base. Also remove old, discolored fronds near the soil to allow new growth to come through. 

Remove the unsightly stems to the base as well. The remainder of the plant can be clipped along the outer edges to the desired shape. Likewise, you may choose to cut the entire plant back to the base if necessary.

Boston Fern Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves can signal a number of things. For instance, stressed out plants can develop yellow leaves, especially when they are adapting to a new environment. Improper watering can also lead to yellowing leaves. Boston ferns should be kept consistently moist but not soggy. 

Dry air can be a factor as well. Misting plants and providing additional humidity can often alleviate this problem. Pot bound plants will sometimes turn yellow. In addition, it is not uncommon for fronds to turn yellow and then brown as they age. Simply remove any yellow leaves that may be present.

Boston Fern Prune Brown Leaves

Brown leaves are another common occurrence in Boston fern plants. As with yellowing, there may be multiple reasons. Brown edges or tips could be due to uneven watering or too much fertilizer. Generally, Boston ferns should only be fed twice a year (spring/summer). 

Compacted soil or overcrowding can lead to brown leaves as well. Finally, too much contact with the plant can affect the foliage. Touching plants with your fingers can actually cause brown spots to form on the leaves of Boston fern. Prune brown Boston fern leaves at the base as they appear.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.