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Why Is My Boston Fern Sticky? (Causes+How To Fix)

Boston ferns are popular indoor plants with bright evergreen leaves. But, you might be alarmed if you suddenly spot the leaves of your fern getting sticky and changing colors.

The primary reason your Boston fern feels sticky is pest infestation. Various pests and bugs can target your beautiful fern, feed on the plant, and leave behind honeydew while feeding. This sugary, sticky residue makes the fronds of your Boston fern sticky and attracts ants.

There might be other reasons behind your sticky Boston fern, and we will explore all possibilities in this article. So, keep reading.

Boston fern misting

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What makes Boston fern sticky?

If the fronds of your Boston ferns look bizarre and feel sticky, the most probable cause is that the fern is under pest attack.

The sticky residue is left by the pests and insects that feed on the plant sap.

The sap is the food source for the plant, and it runs through its stems, branches, and leaves.

Let us discuss this issue in detail in the following sections.

Pest infestation

Pests like aphids, mealybugs, scales, and other insects feed on the fern and draw out the sap affecting the plant’s overall health.

These pests consume the sap by sucking it from leaves or stems.

Plant sap, on the whole, is high in sugar but low in proteins.

So, pests consume a huge amount of sugar yet do not take it in completely.

They excrete extra sugar as honeydew.

The honeydew deposits may drip onto nearby plants, soil, furniture, or the floor.

If honeydew attracts sooty mold, it can obstruct the Boston fern’s ability to perform photosynthesis.

Honeydew is tasty, attracting ants, who feed and guard the honeydew-producing insects by climbing into the Boston fern’s leaf.

Spotting, browning, and leaf distortion can occur due to this feeding.

It is very important to clean the fern as soon as you spot such deposits on the plant’s surface or in the surrounding area of the fern.

Also read: Boston Fern Pests And Diseases: Common Bugs & Diseases+How To Fix


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How to identify which pest has attacked your Boston fern?

mealybugs identification

Whiteflies: You can observe little insects fluttering when dealing with or moving a Boston fern.

When the leaves are shifted, whiteflies fly above. 

Whiteflies, which resemble small moths, gather on the undersides of leaves.

They feed on the plant’s sap, leaving a sticky honeydew behind, which may be followed by a black, sooty mold.

Scales: Scales might be difficult to spot because they don’t always look like insects.

They appear as lumps on leaves and stems as they reach the immobile adult stage.

The female scale is pear-shaped, about one-twelfth of an inch long, and light brown.

The male is tiny, pure white, and thin.

Although sticky honeydew and sooty mold development can indicate something is wrong, this does not happen with all scales.

Mealybugs: Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that appear as white cotton on plant leaves, stems, and fruit.

They pierce the leaves with long sucking mouthparts and suck sap from the tissues.

At low pest numbers, the damage is rarely severe.

However, as the plant declines, higher numbers might cause leaf yellowing and curling.

Honeydew is commonly used to feed the plant, which makes it sticky and fosters the formation of sooty molds.

Spider mites: Spider mites look like small moving specks, and the symptoms are noted before the mites are discovered.

Webbing on the leaves indicates that the mites have drained the juices.

Leaves or young shoots may start dying if your Boston fern has a spider mite infestation.

Aphids: Aphids are little sap-sucking insects.

The most common aphids that prey on Boston ferns are black aphids, and they are often found under the fronds of the fern.

They operate as vectors for plant viruses and disfigure attractive plants with honeydew deposits and the consequent growth of sooty molds and weakening the plant by sucking sap.

They can rapidly multiply in numbers through asexual reproduction and telescopic development, thus posing a major threat if unchecked.

Ants: You may see an abundance of ants climbing all over your plants in addition to the pest, honeydew, and sooty mold.

Ants do not produce honeydew, yet it attracts them.

How to treat pest infestation on Boston fern?

Boston fern neem oil

As soon as you find the type of pest affecting your fern, try to apply the remedial steps.

You also need to clean the plant at first to remove the honeydew from it. 

Honeydew will attract additional harmful insects which like to feed on the sugary residue.

In the following part, I will explain the various treatment methods for getting rid of these pests from your Boston fern.

Treatment for whiteflies

For the best results, approach your whitefly problem in the early morning or evening, when they will be the most sluggish.

To ensure that the whiteflies don’t return, employ a mix of the procedures listed below, and you must repeat the treatments every few days until they’re gone.

  • Wash the plant: Bring your plant outside and spray it down to remove eggs and larvae and scatter adults. Pay attention to the undersides of leaves as well as fresh development. Then keep it away from your other plants while treating it, so the insects don’t jump to another plant.
  • Yellow sticky traps: Yellow appears to whiteflies as a bundle of tasty fresh leaves. You can also make a DIY sticky trap with a yellow index card and petroleum jelly. They will be drawn to the yellow, become trapped, and perish in any instance.
  • Use Vacuum: Vacuum the underside of leaves every few days with a handheld attachment on a low suction setting on your vacuum cleaner, collecting eggs, larvae, and adults alike. Make sure to empty your vacuum outside the house.
  • Insecticidal soap: These pests can be killed by using insecticidal soap. Spray in the early mornings or nights when it’s cooler for optimum results.
  • Make a solution by adding equal parts vinegar and water. Try on a single leaf first and dilute the solution as needed. As needed, repeat the process.
  • Neem oil is a natural oil that you can use to cure and prevent pests.
  • Pruning and treating: Keeping your leaves clipped can help keep your whitefly population under control. You can prune the leaves with visible eggs or larvae.
  • Natural repellent: Nasturtiums, zinnias, pineapple sage, hummingbird brush, or bee balm are all good options for repelling whiteflies; other options include nasturtiums, zinnias, cilantro, onion, or any other pungent plant.

Treatment for Scales

Scales identification
Scales identification
  • Prune: If you catch the infection while still light, pruning affected branches is frequently the simplest and most reliable remedy. Make a careful inspection of the plant and any nearby plants to confirm that any contaminated stems have been removed. 
  • Use Rubbing Alcohol: If the infestation is minor, rubbing alcohol will kill the scale insects. The best method is to use a cotton swab to rub alcohol directly on the scale bugs. You can also use a solution of one part rubbing alcohol to seven parts water and spray it directly on the infested areas.
  • Apply Insecticidal Soap: Scales can be killed with insecticidal soaps while they are still larval, but once they are anchored and fed beneath their protective shells, they are less effective.
  • Use Neem Oil: Neem oil, or any pesticide containing azadirachtin, a key element in neem oil, provides great scale prevention while killing the adults, not only the larva.

Treatment for Mealybugs

mealybugs identification
Mealybugs
  • You can prune away light infestations or remove the bugs carefully with the help of rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.
  • Do not add excess water or fertilizer as high nitrogen levels and soft texture will attract mealybugs.
  • To remove mealybugs naturally, you can use ladybugs and lacewings that predate on them.
  • Neem oil is another natural oil to treat the mealybug problem. Its strong smell and antibacterial property keep pets away while not harming other useful pollinators. 
  • Use a diluted soap solution to rinse the entire fern. Repeat the process once or twice a week.
  • Use organic pesticides as a last resort. These natural insecticides, derived from plants with insecticidal qualities, have fewer side effects than synthetic chemicals.
  • Washing foliage with a leaf shine regularly will assist in preventing new infections.


Treatment for Spider mites

  • The first step in treating a plant for spider mites is to spray it out under the sink or shower faucet to dislodge the parasites.
  • Apply Neem oil, a natural insecticide used on crops and houseplants for hundreds of years. It’s also non-toxic to birds, mammals, and various helpful insects. Mix the Neem oil with water and use a microfiber cloth or a spray bottle to apply it to the plant, washing it down afterward.
  • Insecticidal soap is a powerful treatment option for significant infestations resistant to neem oil. Apply carefully to all of the plant’s surfaces when the insects are present, and repeat every 10 days until no bugs are visible. 
  • Separate the damaged plant from the rest of your collection while it recovers, making sure that none of the plant’s leaves contact those of other plants. Wipe the leaves with water and mist to keep spider mites from returning in the future.

Treatment for Aphids

Aphids identification
Aphids identification
  • Spray affected parts with a strong stream of water. You can sometimes get rid of the aphids with just a blast of water. In most cases, they will fail to return to the plant.
  • You can control aphids with Neem oil, Insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils, but they must come into touch with the aphids to be effective. Always follow the instructions on the bottle before applying the product.
  • You can use a solution of a few drops of liquid soap and water and spray it on the pests. You need to do this 2-3 times in the following two weeks.

How will you clean the sticky leaves of Boston fern?

Pests such as scales, aphids, mealybugs, or other similar kinds of sap-sucking insects are the reason for the sticky leaves of your Boston fern.

Honeydew is the by-product left behind by such sap-sucking insects. 

When they cannot digest all the sugar content of the plant sap, they excrete the excess in the form of a sticky liquid.

Too frequently, people simply stare at the leaves on the top of the tree. 

Look for small lumps of tan, black, or brown hue with a waxy coating on the leaves’ undersides and the plants’ stems.

When dealing with a mold infestation in its early stages:

  • 1 teaspoon dish detergent dissolved in 1 quart of warm water
  • Dip a cotton ball into the dish soap or warm water solution and completely clean the infested area.
  • Pour the mix into a spray bottle and spray the entire plant, covering the affected parts.

How to prevent Boston fern from becoming sticky?

You may notice many pests crawling on your Boston fern, while many are not visible.

They have the power to damage your plant invisibly or weaken its roots, causing it to die.

You can follow certain steps to prevent pests from attacking your Boston fern.

  • Carefully monitor your Boston fern and check for abnormal or unhealthy signs, like leggy growth, foliage color changes, and damaged leaves.
  • Before winter, prune and wash the entire fern and spray with Neem oil. This will prevent any pest or disease.
  • Use diluted soap water and spray on the fern at least once a week.
  • Use natural pest repellents like baking soda, chili powder, or Neem oil on the Boston fern to keep it safe.

Reference: University of FloridaThe University of Arkansas DivisionTexas A&M University SystemThe University of GeorgiaUniversity of New HampshireWikipediaThe Royal Horticultural Society.