Bird nest fern problems

Asplenium Nidus (Bird’s Nest Fern)

Feeding

The Bird’s Nest is not very fussy when it comes fertilizing (providing you don’t over do it), but over a long period the leaves will dull and growth will come to a halt if you never provide any feed. It’s best therefore to either feed very weakly once a month or so when in active growth, or at normal strength once every 3 – 6 months.

Temperature

Cool to average warmth is what you want to provide here. This is one of the few houseplants which can struggle in really warm rooms, so it might not be the best choice for a hot living room, snug or next to a radiator or open fire. A temperature within the following range is needed for it to do well, 10°C (50°F) – 22°C (72°F).

Repotting

It’s time to repot when the thin roots completely fill the existing pot, once this has happened it’s time to move it on into a slightly larger container. If you don’t, growth will stall before eventually stopping completely.

As a rule of thumb a young Bird Nest Fern plant will need to be repotted once every year until it reaches a good size, after which you will only need to repot perhaps once every couple of years.

These plants do really well in small pots, so repotting isn’t essential if you want a bigger plant

Bear in mind that even large plants can still do well in smaller pots (see photo above) so there is no need to repot into a significantly bigger pot each time. Just be prepared to water more often as a smaller container will store less moisture.

When you’re getting your hands dirty with repotting your fern, you don’t need to use or do anything particularly fancy. Standard potting soil is fine and if the roots are very compacted you might want to gently loosen them a little with your fingers.

When you’re packing everything into the new pot, it’s important that the crown is not buried – It must sit at the same level it sat at in the previous pot.

Propagation

Ferns, including the Asplenium, will form spores in time which can be used to propagate new plants. Although we will give most things a try, propagating ferns using this method is not one of them. It’s really difficult and you do need special equipment to pull it off successfully.

So instead we’d rather spend a little money (because they’re normally cheap plants anyway) and buy new ones if we want more.

Speed of Growth

Providing you are caring for your Bird’s Nest Fern correctly, growth will be quite rapid and regular during the growing seasons, new leaves will constantly emerge from the central “nest”. A word of caution however – you must not handle the delicate young fronds as they’re emerging because of how fragile they are. New fronds have a high chance of becoming damaged and deformed if you touch them, so try not to.

Growth will be slow if the roots have no space to grow into or when the temperature is very cold.

Height / Spread

A max height of 120cm / 4ft and a spread of 90cm / 3ft can be attained after many years but only in an environment that is very humid. Half these size estimates in a normal room.

Flowers

Does the Bird’s Nest Fern have flowers? The answer to this is no it doesn’t. Instead this houseplant is all about the lush tropical and tranquil looking foliage.

Is The Bird’s Nest Fern Poisonous?

No, this fern isn’t toxic to people, cats or dogs.

Anything else?

Ferns in general are quite sensitive to chemicals so you must avoid leaf shine products to prevent issues. The leaves are naturally glossy anyway, but of course if they start to dull from dust you can just pop the plant under a warm shower for a minute to wash the grime away.

Caring for Bird Nest Ferns Summary

  1. Average Light The perfect plant for those spots in your home that receive less light. No direct sunlight, but don’t hide it in a gloomy corner either.

  2. Average Watering It’s forgiving if you let the soil dry out occasionally, but for a thriving plant keep the soil “just moist” all year round.

  3. Cool to Average Temperature Provide temperatures between 10°C (50°F) – 22°C (72°F).

  4. Feeding Feed weakly once a month or at normal strength once every two or three months.

  • Do not use any type of leaf shine product (chemical or natural)

Bird Nest Fern Problems

Why are there are dark brown spots on the fronds / leaves?

In most cases these spots are actually spores, which are basically seeds. It’s perfectly normal and indicates you’ve a mature and healthy plant, just leave them as they are.

Make sure however the brown spots aren’t Scale Insects which can look awfully similar. Spores will be regularly spaced and only appear on older Bird Nest Ferns, whereas Scale will have a random pattern and can afflict a plant at any age.

If you do have a Scale Insect problem get rid of them quickly to prevent them from spreading to other houseplants. The link above will help you get to grips with doing this.

Why are there brown tips on the leaves on my Bird’s Nest Fern?

In most cases this is a result of dry air, or allowing the soil to dry out too much before re watering. On occasion it can also be an indication you’re overwatering. Remember that the soil should be moist for much of the time, not really dry or really wet.

Why are the leaves on my Bird’s Nest Fern turning yellow?

If the yellowing starts at the ends of the fronds this is probably normal aging. If the yellow is starting from the base of the fronds then the temperature is likely on the high side, find a cooler place in your home for it to live. Other causes could be from using hard cold water, exposure to draughts, or chemicals.

About the Author

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

Credit for the Asplenium nidus photo in the green – Gallery – KENPEI
Credit for the Bird Nest Fern by a fireplace – Article / Gallery – Zell

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Common Problems with Bird’s Nest Fern

The Right Environment

Bird’s Nest Fern is a tropical jungle plant, native to rainforests. As you might surmise, this means it needs:

  • Bright indirect light
  • High humidity
  • Warm temperatures both day and night
  • Moist but not soggy soil
  • Rich soil that drains well.

The plant also prefers to be under-potted and naturally grows in cramped conditions.

Problem: Pale Leaves

Normally, Bird’s Nest Fern fronds are a bright apple green. The leaf surface should be shiny. If the fronds start to look pale, the first thing to do is check the light conditions. Too much bright light damages the leaves and makes them look pale instead of bright apple green. An east- or north-facing window is best, with full sun only in early morning.

Problem: Plant Doesn’t Grow

There are two possible explanations here. The first is inadequate fertilizer. Bird’s Nest Ferns do better with frequent small feedings. A liquid fertilizer diluted to one-half or one-quarter strength is a good choice in the active growing season – feed once a week. Too much sunlight can also hamper growth. If that’s the problem, fronds will be pale; decrease light exposure.

Problem: Poor Growth, Root Rot

Although Bird’s Nest Fern needs moist soil soggy, waterlogged soil promotes root rot. It can handle an occasional dry period, so if the roots have an odor or look brown and mushy, stop watering for a few days. When you resume, water every other day. Make sure the container drains well. If drainage is the problem, repot in a mix of two-thirds perlite to one part peat moss.

Problem: Brown Fronds

This jungle plant cannot handle low temperatures – meaning anything much below 60°F (16°C). It prefers a temperature range of 70°F (27°C) to 80°F (21°C). If the fronds begin to brown along the edges or the whole frond turns brown, check the temperature. Too little water is another possibility. Soil should be evenly moist but not soggy. Mist plants twice daily to increase humidity.

Problems: Insects

Any time your Bird’s Nest Fern doesn’t seem to be doing well, examine it carefully for signs of insects. Those brown dots on the leaf undersides are spores, which is normal. Cottony masses are mealy bugs, while foliar nematodes cause translucent spots on the leaf tops that turn black. Scale isn’t obvious, but can stunt the plant. Ask an expert to confirm identification and recommend treatment.

What is Wrong With My Plant? Asplenium nidus

I’ve got a sad looking Asplenium nidus (birds nest fern) that needs some extra care and thought it would be a good subject for a blog post following it’s progress. In fact I think it could be a great starting point for a series on how to revive poorly plants.

House plant clinic

I get given a lot of poorly plants. And I take home unclaimed plants from plant swap. And sometimes I even buy sick plants because I feel sorry for them.

My daughter’s over-watered succulent

Oh and occasionally I slip up and do something silly, neglectful or just plain idiotic…like the time I drowned my succulent.

There is something strangely addictive in bringing back plans from the dead so I thought it might be a good topic for a blog series. You get to see my successes and my failures, and it might encourage you to try a few plant rescues too. These are great all round skills for improving your plant parenting skills.

Oh and hone these skills and the plant bargain shelf will become your playground with ever more extreme challenges to pit yourself against!

Plant Clinic No. 1: Asplenium nidus

This Asplenium nidus aka the birds nest fern is a nice easy one to start with.

I have had the plant for a while now; it hasn’t grown any new leaves and the existing leaves are looking dull and starting to brown and shrivel up.

It needs some TLC and is clearly just one step away from being very unhappy.

Being alert to your plants means that you can take action before your plant declines too far and becomes too sick to fix. This is definitely one of those preventative plant rescue stories rather than a Lazurus arisen from the dead!

1. Symptoms: What is wrong with my Asplenium nidus?

The signs my plant is less than fully satisfied with life are that it has:

  • Yellow patches on leaves
  • Brown, crispy leaf tips
  • Dull and narrow leaves
  • No new growth

Overall, it is just clearly less lush, less green and less happy than I’d like it to be. Sometimes we don’t realise that our plant is looking unhealthy unless you see a picture of what a healthy plant should look like so it’s always worth googling your plant. The plant on the right below is a healthy specimen thriving in a botanical gardens.

  • My sad Asplenium nidus (Birds nest fern)
  • Thriving Asplenium nidus thriving in a botanical gardens

2. Diagnosis: What is causing this?

First things first is to have a really good look over it. Initial indications are good, no signs of pests or diseases and the soil is moist but not sopping. This is about right for a fern that enjoys lots of moisture and doesn’t like drying out.
The brown leaf tips are probably a symptom of a general lack of humidity. This plant lives on a bookshelf in indirect light in my bedroom which is not particularly humid so probably is not really meeting it’s needs.
It can survive but it will not thrive without more humidity. Light levels and water levels are probably about right.

Next I ease the pot down to take a look at the roots and it is immediately apparent that the plant is severely pot bound. As in probably never been repotted.

Ever.

Whoops!

There is so little soil left in the pot that you can see the imprint of pot actually in root ball!

Pot imprint on rootball

It also feels incredibly light and spongy to the touch and although it is slightly moist feeling, there is no soil to actually hold any moisture so the only moisture I’m feeling is really from the plant.

3. Treatment: How do I rescue my Asplenium nidus?

So now I think I know what is wrong with my Asplenium nidus, I can start fixing it.

If you find yourself with a similar situation these are the steps to help the plant recover.

Roots shaken out

The first priority is to release it’s roots by repotting it. This will give it space to grow, increase the amount of moisture available to it from the soil and

  1. Ease the plant out of the pot entirely
  2. Run your fingers through and tease out roots – pretend you are giving a scalp massage!
  3. Be gentle but don’t worry about a few roots breaking, the key is to break them out of their self-made cage so when you repot the plant its roots can grow outwards.
  4. Repot into new larger pot (about 1-2cm bigger) with fresh organic-rich soil.

Appearance and health tracking

Next is to improve it’s appearance so that you don’t have to hide it away! It also is much easier to follow your plant’s health trajectory if you can spot new discolouration because you’ve removed all the previous discolouration. Tracking whether leaves develop brown tips or start yellowing is your first indicator as to whether your treatment has helped.

  • Remove yellowing, brown, damaged or any other sad looking leaves
  • Where just the tips are browning, trim with a pair of clean nail scissors. Most plants are perfectly happy with this. The benefits are that it removes unsightly brown tips without sacrificing the whole leaf.

Leaf trimmings

Pro-Tip: If you trim to a point it masks the amputation!

  • Brown tips!
  • Trimmed to a point

Right plant, right place

Asplenium nidus are ferns and as is the case with many ferns they thrive in damp and humid environments. Native to tropical southeastern Asia, eastern Australia, India and eastern Africa they can survive as epiphytes or as terrestrial plants. Their basic needs are for humid, moist shaded forests.
In contrast my poor plant has been languishing in my bedroom with cool, dry air. I’ve definitely not found the right plant for the right place. My fern is going to have to find a new, more humid home.
Bathrooms are ideal as they have the exactly right kind of moist warm environment that these ferns thrive in. Sadly my bathroom is also windowless so that is a wee bit too dark for it. The next best room is the kitchen as that can get pretty humid from cooking, laundry and lots of kettle boiling as we both work from home and drink copious cups of tea!
For now to give it a humidity boost, I water it and sit it on a pebble tray inside a covered glass tank. This is temporary solution for now to give it a boost of humidity and when I see some new growth appearing it can take up permanent residence in the kitchen.

Progress tracking

So this is just the start of my plant’s recovery, no miracles will happen overnight so the next part is lots of patience and careful watching. I will post progress pics of this plant on our Instagram so you can follow it’s recovery.

Your plant recovery stories

I’d love to hear about the plants you have brought back from the dead and any tips of tricks you have learnt.
Also any plants that you particularly struggle to keep alive and thriving that you’d like a plant rescue clinic for?

How to Care for a Bird’s Nest Fern

Use these instructions to care for a Bird’s Nest Fern. This guide will tell you how to water your Bird’s Nest Fern; its light, temperature, and humidity preferences; and any additional care it might need to help it grow.

LIGHT REQUIREMENTS

Your Bird’s Nest Fern will do best in medium to low light. The more light it receives, the more the leaves will crinkle and the less light, the flatter the leaves will be. Keep in mind, too much light or direct sunlight will cause the fronds on the fern to yellow and die.

WATER REQUIREMENTS

Under ideal circumstances, all ferns would like to have constantly moist, but not wet soil. However, the Bird’s Nest Fern will tolerate soil that dries out from time to time.

HUMIDITY PREFERENCE

This plant does not require the same level of humidity that many other kinds of ferns need, making the Bird’s Nest Fern more forgiving for the occasionally forgetful plant owner.

OPTIMUM TEMPERATURE

This fern will enjoy a warm area, preferably between 68-80 degrees, so maintain indoor temperatures above 60 degrees. Avoid cold drafts and sudden temperature changes.

PLANT FOOD

For best results, use a general houseplant fertilizer at half strength 2-3 times during the spring and summer. Too much food will cause deformed leaves with brown or yellow spots.

ADDITIONAL CARE

Try to keep the leaves of the Bird’s Nest Fern dry to avoid bacterial and fungal infections. Never put water in the crown (center) of a Bird’s Nest Fern since the crown rots easily. The fronds are fragile, so put this fern where passersby will not brush up against it.

TOXICITY

Bird’s Nest Ferns are non-poisonous plants and safe for humans, dogs and cats.

Bird’s Nest Fern

Bird’s nest fern has wide, shiny leaves (fronds) that slowly uncurl from the center giving it a nest-like appearance — and its name. This plant makes a lush addition to shaded, protected areas of the landscape, where it can shine as a specimen or a container plant. Unlike many ferns, bird’s nest makes a fairly reliable houseplant when provided indirect light.

Characteristics

The large, stemless, bright-green fronds of the bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) have a prominent dark brown or black midrib and unfurl from a tight, rosette center, eventually reaching 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. They do not produce flowers or fruits, rather, like all true ferns, reproduce by spores found on the undersides of fronds.

There seems to be some confusion when it comes to the names of various bird’s nest fern cultivars. We consulted with Marc Frank, an Extension botanist with the Florida Museum of Natural History. He explained that there are dozens of cultivars (variants bred or selected by humans) of Asplenium nidus. Some are crested, with forked tips or multiple lobes at the tips of the fronds. Others have wavy, crisped, pleated, or fringed margins or even small finger-like lobes along the margins. There are also dwarf varieties. Multiple forms exist within each group (crested, ones with funky margins, dwarf) and the names applied to the cultivars are not at all stable. In other words, horticulturists have not been consistent in applying cultivar names to the various forms, so the same name might be applied to plants that look very different.

This bird’s nest fern has an unusual split frond with fringed lobes at the tip. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Planting and Care

Native to tropical Asia, bird’s nest fern thrives in Florida’s humid climate in zones 9 to 11; plants in zone 9 will need freeze protection. Plant it in an area with partial to full shade and rich soil. When grown in sunnier locations, the fronds turn yellow and the plant stops growing. Like many ferns, this plant is not drought-tolerant, so don’t let it dry out. As an epiphyte, bird’s nest fern can grow either on the ground in moist, loose soil, or on trees or rocks with very little media. It can also be copper-wired to a fibrous slab. Container-grown bird’s nest plants that have outgrown their pot should be repotted in spring when the new growth begins.

While few pest problems exist, gardeners can experience issues with foliar nematodes, scale, slugs, and snails. Insecticides are typically damaging to ferns, and bird’s nest is no exception. Occasionally groom old brown or yellow fronds.

UF/IFAS Sites

  • Q&A: Dead areas on the leaves of my bird’s nest fern. What’s wrong with it?

Here you can see the brown spores on the underside of the bird’s nest fern frond.

UF/IFAS Publications

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Epiphytes
  • Fabulous Ferns
  • Houseplants for Classrooms

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