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How To Save Overwatered Boston Fern? (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Overwatering is a common issue that almost every kind of houseplant faces. Poor drainage, frequent watering, and incorrect soil can be the reason behind overwatering issues.

To save the overwatered Boston fern:

  1. Avoid watering it and allow the topsoil to dry. 
  2. Relocate the Boston fern to a brighter area, which will help the soil dry out faster.
  3. Check for any pests, diseases, fungus, and molds.
  4. Prune off all the yellow, crisp, wilted, and damaged foliage.
  5. Take out the roots to check their condition. 
  6. Trim them off quickly and transplant Boston fern into a new pot with fresh soil if you see any infected roots.
  7. Keep the plant under bright indirect lighting.

In this article, we will go deeper into understanding how you can save your overwatered Boston fern. I will also explain why it gets overwatered and how you can prevent it.

Boston fern overwatering

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What are the signs of an overwatered Boston fern plant?

Signs help you to identify the problems that your plant might be suffering. 

If you detect the early overwatering signs, it will be easier for you to recover your Boston fern.

The signs of an overwatered Boston fern plant are:

Some signs are similar to underwatering, so give some attention to identifying the exact problem.

To identify these signs without any confusion, check the soil moisture using a moisture meter or inserting your index finger.

If you notice that the soil is soggy and the plant is overwatered, you should start taking action to treat this issue. 

Risks of overwatering your Boston fern

Sometimes, people take overwatering pretty casually as they think providing more moisture to their plants will encourage faster growth.

But on the other hand, overwatering damages the entire plant and kills them.

Let us see the risks you put your plant into if it gets overwatered.

Overwatering damages the roots

If the Boston fern is overwatered, the oxygen level in the soil lowers.

Because of lack of oxygen, the roots fail to breathe, which causes suffocation.

This destroys the entire root system, due to which they fail to supply water and nutrients to the plants. 


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Overwatering causes fungal infections and diseases

When the oxygen supply stops inside the soil, it creates an anaerobic situation for fungal diseases and infections that damage the entire plant.

Providing proper watering, well-draining soil, and good aeration to Boston fern will give proper moisture and nutrients to the roots. 

Overwatering invites various pests

Pests usually need a wet environment to thrive, so if you overwater, the plant becomes prone to pests such as thrips, spider mites, mealybugs, fungus gnats, etc.

These pests feed on the plant’s stems and leaves, making it completely weak.

If this issue is not recovered on time, your Boston fern can die.

So as soon as you notice any pest, try to get rid of it.

What are the causes of overwatering in Boston ferns?

If you think frequent watering is the only cause of overwatering, you are wrong.

There are other issues too.

Let us discuss each of them in detail.

Frequent watering

Boston fern watering

Watering the plant frequently without checking the soil’s moisture is one of the most common overwatering causes.

Boston fern loves to stay in moist soil, but that doesn’t mean you will water excessively.

You should never water the plant unless the topsoil is at least 25-50% dry.

Otherwise, it can easily cause overwatering.

Water the plant only after checking the moisture level of the soil.

Use a moisture meter or your finger for it.

Never water blindly by ignoring the watering routine of Boston fern.

Also read: How To Water Boston Fern? (How Often, How Much & More)

Incorrect soil mix

Boston ferns need a soil mix with proper drainage.

If the soil is too heavy and tight, it will retain more moisture than required, leading to the waterlogging condition.

Soil mix that contains a high amount of clay soil is likely to experience overwatering issues frequently. 

To improve the soil drainage, add sand or perlite.

Otherwise, you can simply repot and use a fresh potting mix containing proper retention and drainage.

Also read: What Kind Of Soil For Boston Fern? (Ideal Soil Mix+How To Make)

Poor drainage system

Boston fern root bound and poor drainage

A pot that contains no drainage holes can lead to overwatering.

Because of a poor drainage system, the excess water fails to drain out of the pot, and the roots will get saturated with water.

When excess water remains in the soil, oxygen flow stops, leading to root rot disease.

Always select a pot containing drainage holes and clean the cache tray frequently to keep the plant away from overwatering.

Pot material

Overwatering also depends on the type of pot material you use.

For example, pots made of porous substances absorb the excess moisture from the soil.

Terracotta pots or clay pots are porous.

These also promote proper air circulation.

Pots made with plastic, glass, and ceramic can’t absorb the excess water and don’t let proper air circulation among the roots.

It can lead to overwatering issues if you don’t understand this difference.

Watering the plant differs according to the potting material.

If Boston fern is growing in a plastic pot, it will need less water.

Whereas, if the plant grows in a clay pot, the water will dry up quickly.

The pot material plays a huge role while watering, so choose the pot accordingly.

Also read: What Kind Of Pot Is Best For a Boston Fern? (Size, Material & More)

Pot size

Boston fern pot types

If the pot size is too large, it can easily cause overwatering.

The larger pot holds more moisture than the smaller ones. 

A larger pot contains more soil which requires more water.

Therefore, it takes time for the water to dry out.

Because the soil holds moisture for a longer time, it gets soggy and wet, causing overwatering.

Always choose a pot 1-2 inches larger than the plant’s size but not more than that.

Make sure the pot is not too small.

Otherwise, the plant can get root-bound. 



Watering during the winter months

If you keep watering the plant frequently during the winter months, it can lead to overwatering.

Boston fern remains in a dormant state during the winter because of less sunlight and low temperatures.

Since the plant takes a rest and remains inactive, it doesn’t need as much water as in other seasons.

Also, when there is less sunlight and low temperature, the soil takes too much time to dry, so you should avoid frequent watering during the winter season.

Also read: Can Boston Fern Survive Winter Indoors? (+Winter Care & Dormancy)

How to fix an overwatered Boston fern plant?

Boston fern pruning

The first step in recovering the Boston fern from overwatering is to stop watering immediately.

Before watering the plant again, wait until the soil gets at least 25-50% dry.

To check the soil moisture level, you can use the finger method. 

  • Insert your finger 1 inch deep into the soil.
  • Don’t water the plant if you feel that the soil sticks to your finger.
  • But if the soil feels dry, you can water it. 

Other than that, you can simply use a moisture meter to measure the soil’s moisture level.

Let us discuss the ways to fix an overwatered Boston fern:

  • Stop watering your Boston fern. If you continue to water an overwatered plant, its health will deteriorate.
  • Wait until the soil gets dry. If you are using any humidifier, turn it off to allow the excess water to dry out faster.
  • Keep the plant in an area where the humidity is a bit low. High humidity decreases the transpiration process, and due to this, the excess water will fail to come out from the plant, which can cause further damage.
  • To get rid of the excess water on the soil surface, tilt the pot.
  • If you notice any clogged drainage holes, clean them off. Otherwise, the excess water will not be able to drain out because of the blockage.
  • Provide bright indirect sunlight to the plant so that the soil will dry up quickly. But make sure you keep the plant away from direct sunlight if you don’t want it to get sunburned. 
  • Provide proper air circulation by placing the plant in a well-aerated area. This will help the soil dry out faster.
  • If the soil is too heavy, try to improve its texture by adding substances like sand or perlite. You can also simply change the entire soil with a new one that can hold enough moisture for the plant and allow the excess water to drain out.
  • You can take the plant out of its pot, spread the soil and roots on paper, and place them in a well-lit area to help them dry out.
  • Trim off all the damaged leaves as it is impossible to recover them again. The common signs of overwatering are brown and yellow leaves. If any of these leaves are visible, use a sharp and sterilized scissor to prune them off immediately.
  • Don’t fertilize the plant until it is recovered. Fertilization is important for providing nutrients to the plant but fertilizing an already damaged plant can be harmful.

In case Boston fern has root rot

Boston fern dry soil

It could develop the root rot disease if you overwatered your Boston fern for an extended period.

To find out whether the plant has root rot, check for these signs given below:

  • Musty soil
  • Soft brown or black roots
  • Leaves dropping
  • Stunted growth
  • Wilted leaves
  • Mold on the leaves and stems

How to fix root rot in Boston fern?

Don’t worry if your Boston fern has root rot, as you can easily recover it by following the steps given below:

  • Gently take out the roots from the pot to understand their condition. 
  • Remove the soil from the roots by giving a good wash to the roots with water. Be very careful while doing this and avoid causing any harm to the healthy roots. 
  • Bring sharp and sterilized pruners or scissors to cut all the infected and damaged roots. Make sure you disinfect the tools with rubbing alcohol before and after pruning.
  • You can spray fungicide on the healthy roots.
  • Use a new pot larger than the previous one and fill it halfway with a new soil mix. You can create an ideal soil mix for your Boston fern by mixing equal parts of coco coirorchid barkperlite, and soil.
  • After adding the new soil mix, carefully place the Boston fern in the pot.
  • Add soil from the sides and tap the pot to help the soil and plant settle down.
  • After repotting is done, provide proper water and bright indirect sunlight to Boston fern. Also, maintain a temperature between 65-75°F.

How to prevent overwatering your Boston fern plant?

Here are some tips to prevent overwatering the Boston fern plant:

  • Always choose a pot that contains drainage holes. 
  • Make sure you place the pot so that the excess water will drain out properly without any blockage. You can keep the pot above pebbles.
  • Keep checking the drainage holes to see if they are clogged. If yes, clean them. 
  • Keep the Boston fern in an area with good air circulation and bright indirect sunlight.
  • Don’t overcrowd by keeping many plants together as it can reduce the airflow.
  • Use a soil mix that is well-draining and supports moisture retention.
  • Avoid watering and fertilizing, and turn off the humidifier if you think the plant is stressed due to frequent watering. Let the plant recover first.

Final words

Overwatering is a common problem, but you can fix your plant if you provide them with the correct treatment and care. Never water without checking the soil’s moisture level.

If the situation is bad, don’t panic and try to fix the problem with a calm mind. Make sure you water Boston fern only when it is required. Overdoing anything to the plants will never cause any good to them. 

After retrieving your Boston fern, you should strictly keep the plant away from overwatering issues as it gets very difficult to fix, and you never know when the situation comes where the plant may even not survive.


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