How To Care for a 35 Year Old Fern

by | Sep 15, 2011 | 2 comments

When I was married in1985, I inherited a family heirloom- a fern. My mom gave me a piece of her fern she received from my great-grandma, Alice Gustafson Eldred, at her bridal shower in 1957. After all these years, she still has her fern and has given countless pieces of it away to friends and family. I’m not sure how many are still out there, but mine and hers are going strong.

This was not the case a few years ago. I’m not sure how long ago I divided the fern or even moved it to another container. I do know it had been at least been 13 years, as I’ve lived in this house that long and have never touched it. Below is the before picture.

My fern in 2011 before re-potting it

Before re-potting in January of 2011

Up-potting the fern

I decided it was so overgrown and so unhealthy that it would die if I didn’t do something soon, but it took a long time for me to get up the courage to repot it. I finally did it because I knew Mom still had her fern and I could get a piece of it. There are no “during surgery” pictures but I wish I had taken some. Using a  sharp serrated knife, I cut it up into multiple pieces. The roots only filled 1/2 of the container and the top 1/2 was brown dead fronds and I didn’t know how it was even alive at this point as there wasn’t much salvageable fern left. All of the green, living parts of the fern were growing on top of old, brown growth. I took slices of the root ball and buried all the brown parts with some roots attached. I transplanted it into a green ceramic pot and below is the “after surgery” picture.

fern repotting

This is the fern after surgery in May 2011

It almost died

It looked sad, more of the fronds died after this picture was taken, and I was sure I had killed it. I started thinking that returning it to such a large pot might not have been such a good idea, but I watered it sparingly and used Superthrive in the water with some Jack’s Classic 20-20-20 mixed in for good measure. I think there might have been a couple of prayers thrown in.I was pleasantly surprised when new fronds started appearing. It did great and here is a picture below in September of 2011. (Apologies for the bad quality of the pictures)

Here it is 4 months later on 9-9-11

Interesting fronds

As you can see, the interesting thing about this fern is the fact that it has fronds with regular Boston fern leaflets and also ones with very finely cut leaflets and quite often, they are on the same frond. It’s very unusual and I’m not really sure of the cultivar name. It is a beautiful fern and I’m so glad to have something that has been in our family for so long. The picture below was taken in 2012 and it is still doing great today.

Boston Fern

Here it is in January of 2012


The picture below was taken in May of 2015. It is still going strong, but I think this spring, I will re-pot it again and give it some fresh potting medium.

Boston fern

The fern in May of 2015


Many people wonder how I have kept a fern alive for almost 36 years and now I have mom’s fern too, which is 64 years old. First, these ferns are inside and always have been. I think when certain plants are taken outside for the summer, they pout extensively when brought back inside, and Boston ferns seem to be one of those plants. They drop leaflets like it’s their job and it usually doesn’t end well. That isn’t to say that I don’t lose leaflets and sometimes whole fronds. I do but am willing to put up with some messiness because these plants are heirlooms. I keep the dead fronds clipped and make sure they are moist all of the time (they have dried out a time or two…). They are fertilized a few times in the summer and both are doing great. I gave my daughter a piece of it at her bridal shower in 2018 to keep the heirloom going.

Boston fern

Here is my Mom’s 1957 fern in August of 2020

Do you have an heirloom plant? Tell me about it in the comments.

Have a great week, plant friends!


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  1. Shampan

    Hi Lisa, i am a great fan of fern too. Just came across your blog. where are you based? Its a beautiful fern. Can i please get this fern? I live in the UK. Thank you

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Shampan,
      Thanks! I’m in the United States near Detroit, MI. I don’t sell or send plants at this time. Sorry. Lisa



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