Why do ferns turn brown?

Brown Tips On Garden Ferns – What Causes Brown Tips On Fern Leaves

Ferns give a garden a lush, tropical appeal, but when they don’t have the right conditions, the tips of the fronds can turn brown and crispy. You’ll learn what causes brown tips on fern leaves and how to correct the problem in this article.

Ferns Turning Brown at Tips

Most ferns have three basic needs: shade, water, and humidity. You need all three of these conditions to grow a healthy fern, and you can’t make up for one by giving more of another. For instance, extra water won’t compensate for too much sun or not enough humidity.

The plant tag will tell you to plant the fern in a shady location, but it may not stay in the shade. As it grows, the tips of the fronds may find themselves sitting in bright sunlight, and they may bleach out, turn pale, or turn brown and crispy. When this happens, you can either transplant the fern to a shadier location or add plants or hardscaping to create more shade.

Likewise, outdoor ferns with brown tips may be due to cold damage. If you live in an area with harsher winters, you may want to grow your fern in containers that can be moved indoors to prevent this type of injury.

Ferns suffer less transplant shock if you move them in spring. Dig around the fern, keeping as much of the root mass as possible. Lift the fern by sliding the shovel under the roots and prying up. You can damage the plant by trying to lift it by the fronds. Prepare a new hole a little wider than the root mass and exactly as deep. Place the plant in the hole, and fill in around the roots with soil. Position the fern so that the line between the above and below ground parts of the plant is even with the surrounding soil.

You may see brown tips on garden ferns if the soil becomes too dry. When it feels dry to touch, water slowly and deeply. Stop watering when the water runs off instead of sinking into the soil. The water will run off quickly if the soil is compacted. In this case, work in some organic matter, which will help loosen the soil and help it hold more moisture. A couple of inches of mulch around the plant will also help the soil hold moisture.

Have you ever wondered why hanging a fern in the bathroom helps it turn lush and green? It’s because of the high humidity in the bathroom. Although you can fix a humidity problem for an indoor fern by setting the plant on a tray of pebbles and water or running a cool mist humidifier, there isn’t much you can do outdoors. If your fern has brown tips because the humidity is too low, it’s best to choose another plant for the location.

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Have you ever had a fern that you loved, then all of the sudden one day you noticed that it has tons of brown leaves and the moment you touch it, it sheds all over your floor? Oh my goodness…it’s infuriating and sad at the same time. Well, I have finally figured out how to keep ferns from turning brown and shedding!

Every year, I buy ferns for our patio, then when it starts to get cold outside, I bring them in. They last about a month, then I have to throw them out and vacuum the trail of dead leaves that it leaves. Well, I have finally figured out why those stinkin ferns do so well outside and not so great inside…it’s the humidity. Huh? Well, outside, they aren’t only getting watered, but the humidity in the air is helping to keep the fronds moist as well, which keeps those leaves from drying out! So…other than watering only when the dirt is getting a little dry, you need to spray the fern fronds with water every few days to keep them moist as well! Just a few spritzes of water will keep your ferns happy and healthy!

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Cats and dogs especially young animals often nibble on houseplants. Boston ferns in this situation will typically develop brownish leaf tips because they are literally burning.

The Houseplant Diaries How I Learned To Stop Worrying And

The boston fern or the nephrolepis exaltata plant is among the most commonly grown of landscape and potted plants.

Why are my outdoor ferns turning brown. Whether you grow them for a dramatic focal point in the shade garden or mass them together to create a woodland effect ferns add beauty to low light areas of the yard. Caring for a fern takes a little knowlege but can be easy and enjoyable once you understand what your plant needs to succeed. Boston fern browning may be caused by poor soil inadequate drainage lack of water or humidity too much light excess salt or simply mechanical injury.

You may also see brown. Although your ferns typically cause you few problems its alarming to see the deep green fronds turning brown. Well i have finally figured out how to keep ferns from turning brown and shedding.

The owner of north coast gardening she is also a contributing writer at garden design magazine and has written for numerous. If your boston ferns are turning brown investigate the probable causes and understand the possible cures. The chewed edges will turn brown or otherwise become.

Ferns are among the most popular houseplants and come in a wide variety of types. Youll learn what causes brown tips on fern leaves and how to correct the problem in this article. They can make a great addition to just about any room or outdoor area with the right light.

Oh my goodnessits infuriating and sad at the same time. I have a huperzia squarrosa and the runners are starting at the base of the plant and turning brown about half way down the. Most ferns have three basic needs.

November 1 2011 by genevieve. Have you ever had a fern that you loved then all of the sudden one day you noticed that it has tons of brown leaves and the moment you touch it it sheds all over your floor. Ferns give a garden a lush tropical appeal but when they dont have the right conditions the tips of the fronds can turn brown and crispy.

If so try moving it a foot or so away from the window. In most cases the change is. Luckily boston fern isnt toxic to them but their chewing can damage leaves and fronds.

Brown leaves on ferns. The biggest obstacle to growing healthy ferns indoors is the dry air found inside most homes. Use the following information to revitalize your boston ferns.

Once this happens clip out the damaged fronds they wont recover and keep the air around the fern as moist as possible. Why is my boston fern turning brown. Shade water and humidity.

Ferns turning brown at tips. If your cat tends to chew on the leaves the tips will turn brown and die. Whats wrong with my fern.

From your picture i see sunlight on the leaves of the plant so it apparently has enough light unless of course its too close to a window and is getting sunlight all the time. Without adequate humidity the fronds turn brown and dry.

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Does your fern have shriveled, brown fronds or a bleached, discolored appearance? We know that people are susceptible to sunburn, but we don’t think of plants as being able to get sunburned as well.

It’s a common problem. When shade-loving plants like ferns are put into a sunny situation, their fronds shrivel around the edges, and their leaf color may become pale and bleached. This may be because you misjudged the amount of light the location gets, or it could happen as a result of a tree being pruned and letting in more light than the plant is used to.

This can also happen with new plants. If a plant’s been under cover in a greenhouse and hasn’t been properly “hardened off”, it can get sunburnt, even if that variety would ordinarily do well with that amount of light.

Here are some photos so you can compare and contrast healthy with sunburned ferns:

Tassel fern with sunburn:

Happy autumn fern:

Autumn fern with sunburn:

Now, this browning due to sunburn isn’t to be confused with the normal shedding of leaves. Ferns usually retain their leaves for 1-2 years, and then the oldest leaves usually turn brown and die back. You know you have a problem if your fern fronds start looking funky sooner than that. The new growth should stay looking green and attractive for at least a year.

Normal browning of fern fronds usually occurs on the oldest fronds that are closest to the base. When dealing with sunburn, the fronds that are browning are the ones at the top of the plant that are exposed to light. If you shift a brown frond, the ones beneath it are usually nice and green.

You can see in this photo of sword ferns in the wild, that the natural die-off of fern fronds happens on the lowest fronds only:

So, what do you do if you suspect your plant is sunburnt?

First, make sure it’s not a watering issue. Too little water as well as too much can cause the same issue of leaves going brown before they are supposed to or shriveling at the edges. Is the soil soggy, or very dry? If so, fix that issue before assuming sunburn is the problem, and wait to see whether the new leaves that unfurl over the next six months or so develop the problem as well. If they do, it is likely sunburn and the plant will need to be moved to a shadier location.

Second, if it’s a newly purchased plant, sometimes just giving it time to settle in and get acclimated is enough to solve a mild case of sunburn. While the plant can’t repair any leaves that have already been damaged, any new fronds that unfurl should stay healthy and green. If they too become damaged either right away or over the course of a few months, you probably need to move the plant.

Once you move the plant to a new location, it should settle in quickly. After the first month, any new fronds that unfurl should come out looking healthy and green, and should stay that way for at least a year.

Ferns are low-maintenance, easy-care plants that rarely suffer from pests or disease. If you give them the light and water they prefer, they’ll perform well for you for years to come.

Read about my favorite ferns here.

Check out a great book about diagnosing garden problems easily, What’s Wrong With My Plant? by Deardorff and Wadsworth.

Lemon Button Fern

a.k.a., Lemon Fern – Lemon Buttons – Erect Sword Fern
Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’

The Nephrolepis, or Lemon Button Fern, is one of the most pleasant small ferns an Indoor Gardener can grow. Once it finds its place in your home, and you establish its care cycle, it’s pretty much care-free.

A small fern that grows to about a foot high and not much more across, it boasts tiny arching stems. Leaves are round with very small serrated edges that alternate up the stem.

When handled, there’s a lemon scent, which – in addition to its yellowish gold color – gives the fern its name.
The Nephrolepis is the smallest of the Boston ferns and good for the beginning Indoor Gardener. The plant usually starts off in a small pot of no more than 4 inches, and never progresses much out of a 6- to 8-inch container.

Eventually, you might need to pot up to a 10-inch, but that’s for an older plant. The Lemon Button Fern does well in terrariums, also.

Be careful not to confuse it with the Button Fern, Pallaea rotundifolia, which has glossier leaves and requires very different care. From a distance, it’s easy to make the mistake.

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Batya’s Personal Notes: (08-2010)
A Sad Story of Mistaken Identity.
I’ve had a little Button Fern for a few months, naming him “Mr. Pesky” because nothing I did for him seemed to make him happy. We tried four different locations and two different soil mixes.He seems to like the kitchen table best, but that’s a place he can’t stay. There’s a lot of bright, indirect light there, so I’m looking for a similar space in another room.

He’s also been quite jealous of the other plants I’ve repotted and though he wasn’t root-bound, I finally potted him up. He hated that container, though, drooping and dropping fronds. The second is a terracotta pot that I put into an outer tin container, with stones on the bottom for humidity. You can see the process in the photos. He perked up a bit, but that was short-lived.

I swear, though, that he wanted “bling.” Who would ever imagine a houseplant wanting Bling? Just on a whim I wrapped a very colorful, wiggly, thin gift ribbon around the tin planter and Mr. Pesky looked remarkably better. That ony lasted a while.

At this point I was getting rather frustrated, not knowing what else to do for him. I checked all my sources – it seemed I was following all the directions for correct Button Fern care. He looked just like the photos – almost.

Something on the edge of my awareness had me go a bit deeper in my Internet research. “Lemon Button Fern” with a different taxonomy altogether kept popping up in my searches. On a whim, I clicked on some of those pages. These photos looked like my plant, too!

On closer examination, though, after enlarging the photos and reading more details I realized that it was no wonder that my Button Fern was so pesky – he wasn’t a Button Fern at all!

Now that he’s properly named and the watering schedule, humidity level, and soil mixture adjusted, my Lemon Button Fern – Nephrolepis – is recuperating very well.

The lesson I learned: Pay more attention to the plant and less to the books!

Second lesson learned: Try not to buy plants in general home-improvement stores whose labels, at most descriptive, say “Fern.”

For the Indoor Gardener


Watch the base of the fronds. If they turn brown, you’re either under- or over-watering. Care for the Lemon Button Fern is similar to that for any of the Boston Ferns, but as with any plant, pay attention to its particular needs in your location.

  • LIGHT: low, filtered shade; no direct afternoon sun
  • WATER: moderate; keep soil moist – don’t let it dry out; don’t allow it to get soggy
  • SOIL: mix peat moss into potting soil; well draining
  • HUMIDITY: high; use gravel tray
  • MISTING: only if home air is very dry
  • FERTILIZER: spring-early fall, once per 3-4 weeks; liquid fertilizer, half strength
  • TEMP: 60s – high 80s


  • HEIGHT: 6-12 inches
  • WIDTH: 12-18 inches


  • usually pest free
  • possible summer aphids

COST: inexpensive


  • NATURAL: Tubers can start new plants
  • HOUSEPLANT: Divide rootball



  • As long as you don’t mistake the Nephrolepis for the Button Fern as I did, this is an easy-to-get-along-with houseplant for the beginner Indoor Gardener.
  • Non-toxic to pets.
  • Plays well with others, either in terrariums or combination plantings.


Due to its small size, the Lemon Button Fern can easily live on a side table in a sitting area or serve as a low-height centerpiece during an intimate dinner.


  • Small containers, 6 – 8 inches
  • Small hanging baskets
  • Tree fern fiber basket
  • Terrariums

For Botanists, Scientists,
Outdoor Gardeners,
and School Reports


Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ is a cultivar; its natural predecessors are from the West Indies, Florida, Central America, South America


  • spreads by underground tubers
  • spore dispersal
  • grows on rock, soil, palms
  • evergreen
  • spores look like small dots around the leaf edges


There’s some disagreement on the Family, Subfamily, and even Phylum levels among sources. Here are all of them:

    KINGDOM: Plantae
    PHYLUM: Pteridophyta / Polypodiopsida
    CLASS: Filicopsida
    ORDER: Polypodiales
    FAMILY: Polypodiaceae / Nephrolepidaeae / Dryopteridaceae / Oleandraceae
    SUBFAMILY: Nepetoideae / Lomariopsidaceae
    TRIBE: Nepeteae
    GENUS: Nephrolepis
    SPECIES: cordifolia
    CULTIVAR: ‘Duffii’

Click here to read our Disclosure Statement.

If you’re serious about growing ferns
– or someone you know is –
a membership and subscription to the
American Fern Society

and their magazine
is just about essential.
Keep up with new varieties to grow, techniques for planting,
and how to maintain health for your ferns.
The magazine provides info for
both indoor and outdoor enthusiasts.


Indoor-Gardener.com reports information from research and does not guarantee any of the plants mentioned, for medicinal, decorative, or other uses. Neither the FDA nor any physicians have endorsed the uses of plants mentioned on the website. Use plants as food or medicinal products only at your own risk.

If you’re an Indoor Gardener
who likes to “keep it in the family” –
look into the Rabbit Foot Fern

a close cousin in the
Polypodiaceae family of ferns
(at least according to some sources).

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Maidenhair Fern Care

Maidenhair Ferns are a gorgeous soft, leafy indoor plant but there are some tricks to caring for them successfully.

As with most plants the keys to success in keeping your Maidenhair Fern looking gorgeous is to find the spot in your home with the right amount of light that the plant loves, and to water it properly.

Watering your Maidenhair Fern

When your maidenhair fern is kept indoors, you need to pay a lot of attention to making sure that it is always moist. This is a delicate plant, and doesn’t like having its roots sitting in water. So small, regular amounts of water are best for the maidenhair if you want to keep it looking healthy. Try somewhere between half cup and a cup of water per day.

In the winter months the maiden hair definitely needs less water, so be careful that you are checking that there is no excess water in the bottom of your pot or pot saucer, as this will cause the plant leaves to turn brown.

The maidenhair fern loves moisture and humidity, which is why a lot of people recommend keeping them in bathrooms. They will grow happily in other rooms of your house but they really don’t like dry air, so keep them clear of heaters, and heating ducts blowing warm dry air, as well as cold drafts.

Help! My maidenhair fern has brown leaves?

Finding the perfect spot to keep your maidenhair fern happy indoors can take a little experimentation. When they are planted outdoors they definitely prefer a shaded spot, but indoors it likes light – but not direct light, and not too bright. Try it in a couple of different spots to find the one that it thrives in best.

If you see your maidenhair leaves drying out & going brittle but staying green, then your plant needs water, and fast.

If you see some of the leaves going brown, it may because it’s being affected by either hot dry air, or a cold draft – try moving your plant to a more protected spot.

If your plant leaves are going a yellowy-green and then some are turning brown, most likely it isn’t getting enough light. Try moving it to a spot with more light, but not direct light.

If your maidenhair really goes brown to the point that you no longer want it in the house, don’t give up. Cut all of the fronds back to ground level, and place it outside in a shady, protected spot, and hopefully it will regenerate after a few months.

The Maidenhair fern is a really pretty indoor plant, and it will look great in most homes. So choose a pot you love, lavish it with attention (it loves being watered every day) and enjoy having this gorgeous plant in your home.

If you’re loving indoor plants and are looking for tips on caring for other gorgeous indoor plants, check out our other plant care guides here!

Or discover more pots and baskets perfect for indoor plants like the Maidenhair Fern.

Shop Indoor Plant Accessories

Thanks very much to Ruth from Fowlers Flowers , Clifton Hill, for sharing her practical tips on keeping you Maiden Hair Fern plant looking healthy.

Thanks so much to the lovely folk at Frankie & Coco in Hampton, Established for Design in Malvern East and Zachloe Lifestyle in South Melbourne for so kindly loaning us some of their beautiful planters for use in this shoot.

We hope you found this article helpful. If you are ready to start building your wishlist of products, then be sure and check out our Pots for indoor plants range.

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