How to Divide a Boston Fern

My Garden Life
September 11, 2020
Table of Contents

Boston fern propagation is a great way to enjoy more of the most versatile plants around. They can be grown indoors year-round and outdoors during the warm seasons. They look great in containers whether they’re hanging, sitting on a table, or placed in a garden border. Boston ferns can also be planted directly in the ground and used as a summer annual. Boston ferns pair beautifully with flowering annuals of any color and make a nice focal point in larger mixed combination plantings. With all those possibilities, you’re going to need a lot more plants! And guess what? Propagating Boston ferns is easier than you think!

How do ferns reproduce?

propagate Boston fern in pot

In nature ferns can reproduce by spores that are produced on the undersides of leaves or they can spread by roots, called rhizomes, that grow away from the main plant to set new roots and form new crowns. (The “crown” is the area at the top of the roots, just at the soil line, where the new plant emerges .)

Commercial growers often use tissue culture to clone new plants. Tissue culture is a process where the cells from a single plant can be grown into many more – genetically identical – copies of the original plant. Fortunately, there’s a much simpler way for you to propagate your own fern plants at home; by cutting a plant apart at the roots to create several smaller plants.

Boston fern propagation – Here’s how to divide a Boston fern:

1. Start with a large, full Boston fern plant. Take the plant outside to work on it or lay it on paper, a plastic-coated tablecloth or a tarp to capture any mess.
propagate Boston ferns

2. Remove plant from its pot.
divide Boston fern rootball

3. Using a pair of garden forks, divide the Boston Fern root ball in half. If you don’t have forks, you can carefully slice through the roots with a sharp knife, or even gently tear the roots apart with your hands.
propagate Boston fern divide roots

divide ferns

4. Divide the fern root ball again into quarters. You can then continue to keep halving the roots into smaller sections as long as each has a healthy root mass with a crown of foliage.
repot and divide boston fern

5. Repot the plants into individual pots or place several in a larger container. Water them well to settle the soil around the plant roots.
propagate boston fern

6. Provide the propagated Boston fern plants with bright, indirect sunlight and it won’t be long before they grow into full, lush plants.

Why is it called a Boston fern?

hanging boston fern

People have been growing ferns for their ornamental use since 1793, when sword ferns were introduced to England from Jamaica. Over time the popularity of ferns as indoor plants grew throughout the world.

The Boston fern was discovered in 1894 by a Boston florist, Fred C. Becker, among a routine delivery of sword ferns. What would come to be known as the “Boston fern” was a single mutant plant, found among a shipment of 200 sword ferns. It had the distinction of having gracefully arched fronds – a noteworthy contrast to its parent species’ stiff, vertical fronds. Fred Becker nurtured his new find and propagated more plants. People loved the beautiful, soft look of the Boston fern and it quickly became the most popular fern for growing as a houseplant.

If you’re interested in propagating other kinds of plants, then you’ll love our article on propagating succulents.


  1. Connie Lawrence-Gantert

    Thank you for this information on how to care for my Boston Fern and I love the history behind this.


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