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Which Tropical Fern is Right for Me?

Updated: Dec 12, 2023


Boston Fern fronds

Ferns come in many shapes and sizes! We grow a wide selection including native and semi-evergreen perennial ferns (such as Cinnamon Ferns and Autumn Ferns), houseplant ferns (including the popular Bird's Nest Fern, Blue Star Fern, and Staghorn Fern), and tropical ferns that you typically see adorning southern porches (including Boston Ferns, Macho Ferns, and Kimberley Queen Ferns). While we grow ferns of all types, we are famous for having the largest, healthiest, and most affordable tropical ferns around - let's talk more about them!


WHAT IS A TROPICAL FERN?

Technically a tropical fern is any fern that will not survive the winter outdoors in your climate. Ferns grown as houseplants are often tropical ferns, but for the sake of this article, we are using the term 'tropical fern' to talk specifically about three varieties commonly used outdoors in our warmer months: Boston Ferns, Macho Ferns, and Kimberley Queen Ferns. What makes these ferns special? All three LOVE humidity, can grow to immense size, and thrive outside on a covered patio/porch in warmer months. These varieties can be brought indoors over winter, but some do better than others (more info below).


What else sets them apart? We spend 6+ months growing these ferns from tiny plugs into giant statement pieces to have them ready for customers each spring! You may be surprised to learn that our production team starts the process in July when they transplant almost 5,000 1-inch baby ferns! There is something special about being involved in each step of the growing process - we can tell you everything that has touched these ferns, can guarantee they were grown with love, plus, locally grown means a smaller carbon footprint (no transporting fully grown plants). Though getting thousands of ferns to maturity and hanging from the greenhouse ceiling is no easy feat!


But how do you know which tropical fern to choose?



WHICH TROPICAL FERN IS RIGHT FOR ME?

Boston Ferns hanging from the greenhouse ceiling

BOSTON FERNS


Common Names: Boston Fern

Scientific Name: Nephrolepis exaltata

Mature Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Sun Exposure: Partial shade/dappled shade

Soil Type: Moist, well-drained

Hardiness Zone: 10 to 12 (USDA)

Native Area: Americas, Africa, Polynesia


These are by far our most popular ferns and what we have become known for! If you've ever seen a photo from Painters Greenhouse with endless rows of ferns on the ceiling, you are most likely looking at Boston Ferns - we grow over 4,000 of them each year!


A Boston fern larger than your head!

When you think of hanging porch ferns, these are probably what comes to mind. They like to remain evenly moist, cannot tolerate direct sun but do well in medium/bright indirect light, can grow 2-3 wide, and while they have been used in decor since Victorian times, their tendency to shed means we prefer to keep them on the porch during the warmer months and treat them as annuals rather than bringing them inside.


Hundreds of Boston Ferns

These ferns are well suited to hanging baskets and plant stands; their bushy nature and the gentle 'weep' of their fronds will eventually envelop their container. Don't be fooled, this variety of fern is not native to Boston. It is native to tropical regions of South America, Mexico, Africa, and Polynesia. Thriving in humid forests and swamps, it definitely would not survive a snowy New England winter!




Macho Fern

MACHO FERNS


Common Name: Macho Fern, Broad Sword Fern

Scientific Name: Nephrolepis biserrata

Mature Size: 3-4 ft. tall/long, up to 6 ft. wide

Sun Exposure: Partial sun to shade

Soil Type: Moist but well-draining

Hardiness Zones: 9a-10b

Native Area: Florida


The name says it all! These big guys like bright morning light and can grow up to 4 ft long and 5-6ft wide! Their fronds have a thicker, leathery appearance and glossy shine, which combined with their size make quite the statement.


Macho Fern fronds that are 3' or longer!

Compared to a Boston Fern whose smaller leaflets have a shaggy appearance and serrated edges, Macho Fern leaflets are smoother, shinier, and do not have serrated edges. They can also tolerate more sun than a Boston Fern (but still do not like direct, intense sun). They are slightly less likely to shed but still may be tough to overwinter in your house without supplemental humidity.





Kim Queen fern in a porch pot

KIMBERLEY QUEEN FERNS


Common Names: Kimberley Queen Fern, Kimberly Queen, Kim Queen Fern

Scientific Name: Nephrolepis obliterata

Mature Size: 2–3 ft. tall, 2–4 ft. wide

Sun Exposure: Sun to part shade

Soil Type: Moist, well-drained

Hardiness Zones: 9–11 (USDA)

Native Area: Australia


Row of Kim Queen Ferns


This fern has more of an upright growth habit and is especially well-suited to porch pots. Out of the three ferns, this is the best choice for an indoor fern, as it sheds little and will over-winter nicely indoors. Additionally, Kimberley Queen ferns can tolerate the most light of those listed (and also survive in very low light!).


Kimberley Queen Ferns have more rigid, upright fronds and are perfect in pots flanking a pathway or entrance.


CHOOSING THE RIGHT FERN BASED ON LIGHT

  • SHADE TO PART SUN: Boston Ferns

  • PART SHADE TO PART SUN: Macho Ferns

  • PART SUN TO SUN: Kimberley Queen Ferns



TIPS FOR GROWING FERNS

  • ROTATE: Whether your fern is hanging on your porch or sitting in a porch pot, it is a good idea to rotate it occasionally. This provides all parts of the plant with equal sun and encourages even growth all around the plant.

  • FERTILIZE: Fertilize your fern once a month throughout the spring, summer, and into the early fall. We like a water-soluble, nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

  • WATER REGULARLY: No fern likes to dry out completely. If your fern is in a hanging basket, remember that baskets tend to dry out more quickly and will therefore need more frequent watering. Our giant ferns are gorgeous, but do typically need daily deep watering to maintain all of that foliage!

  • OVER-WINTERING: Location, humidity, and water are essential for an attempt at overwintering. Remember that even a dormant fern likes moisture, and a heated home can dry out a plant quickly. Give your plant a good soaking in the shower a few times throughout the winter months and consider adding more humidity to the environment with a humidifier. You can also cut back your fern to limit shedding.

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