Why is My Fern Turning Brown? Get the Answers Here

Last Updated on August 31, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on a common issue experienced by many plant enthusiasts – the browning of ferns. This problem can be quite disconcerting, especially when you’re not sure why it’s happening or how to fix it.

Plants, like any other living organism, communicate their health and vitality through their appearance. In the case of ferns, luscious green fronds are a sign of a happy, healthy plant whereas browning can indicate a problem.

Understanding plant health and maintenance is crucial for any plant owner. It’s about more than just keeping your plants alive; it’s about helping them thrive. This knowledge enables you to identify potential issues early on and take the necessary steps to rectify them.

This article aims to provide an in-depth look into why your fern might be turning brown and offer solutions to restore its health and vibrancy. With the right know-how and care, you can keep your ferns green, lush, and beautiful all year round. Let’s delve in!

Overview of Ferns

Ferns are some of the oldest plants in existence, dating back more than 350 million years. They belong to a group of vascular plants (plants with xylem and phloem) that reproduce via spores, not seeds or flowers. This sets them apart from most plants in the plant kingdom.

Ferns are incredibly diverse, with approximately 10,500 known species worldwide. They’re found in a wide range of habitats, from remote mountain areas to dry desert rock faces, but they’re most commonly associated with woodland environments where they enjoy the dappled light and damp conditions.

These ancient plants have a unique charm and elegance, and their lush green fronds can bring a touch of the wild into our homes. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, ferns also help improve air quality by filtering out toxins.

Common Types of Ferns Found in Homes

  1. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata): One of the most popular houseplant ferns, Boston Ferns are loved for their feathery, arching fronds. They prefer a cool location with high humidity and indirect light.
  2. Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum): Recognizable by their delicate, lacy fronds, Maidenhair Ferns can be a bit challenging to keep due to their preference for a very humid environment.
  3. Staghorn Fern (Platycerium): Unlike most ferns, Staghorns are epiphytic plants that grow on other plants or objects for support. Their distinctive fronds resemble the antlers of a stag, hence the name.
  4. Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus): This fern gets its name from the nest-like rosette that it forms. It’s one of the easier ferns to care for indoors, tolerating lower-light conditions than most other ferns.
  5. Button Fern (Pellaea rotundifolia): A hardy and easy-to-care-for choice, the Button Fern is named for its round, button-like leaflets.

Each of these ferns has its own specific care requirements, but they all generally enjoy a humid environment, indirect light, and regular watering. Understanding these needs is key to keeping your ferns green and thriving.

Causes of Browning in Ferns

fern turning brown

1. Lack of Water

Ferns are native to environments that are typically moist. Their root systems are designed to absorb water quickly because, in their natural habitats, the water often drains away rapidly.

If ferns don’t get enough water, or if the water drains away too quickly for the roots to absorb it, the leaves can turn brown and crispy.

Overwatering can also cause problems, leading to root rot which can also result in browning fronds.

2. Overexposure to Sunlight

While ferns do need light to photosynthesize, they’re generally adapted to the dappled light found on the forest floor.

Direct sunlight, particularly during the hotter parts of the day, can scorch their leaves, causing them to turn brown and dry out.

3. Poor Soil Quality

Like all plants, ferns require certain nutrients to thrive. These are typically absorbed through the roots from the soil. If the soil lacks these necessary nutrients, or if it’s not well-draining, the fern may begin to brown. Ferns prefer a rich soil that’s high in organic matter.

4. Temperature Stress

Ferns are sensitive to changes in temperature. Most indoor ferns prefer a consistent temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

If temperatures drop below or rise above this range, the fern may respond by turning brown. Additionally, sudden changes in temperature can also cause stress.

5. Pests and Diseases

Ferns can fall prey to various pests like aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects. Similarly, fungal diseases can also affect ferns. These issues can interfere with the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients and water, leading to brown leaves.

Regular inspection of your plants can help catch these issues early before they cause significant damage.

Understanding these common causes of browning in ferns is the first step towards diagnosing and treating the issue. The next step is to learn how to address each of these problems effectively.

Signs and Symptoms of Unhealthy Ferns

It’s essential to regularly check your ferns for signs of distress. Here are some indicators that your fern might be in trouble:

  1. Browning or Yellowing Fronds: This is often the first sign that something is wrong. While it’s normal for older fronds to die off, if you notice a significant amount of browning or yellowing, particularly in the younger fronds, it’s a sign of stress.
  2. Wilting: If your fern’s fronds are wilting or drooping, it could be a sign of under-watering or over-watering. Wilting can also indicate root rot, especially if the soil is soggy.
  3. Crispy Leaves: This can indicate a lack of humidity or overexposure to sunlight. The leaves may become dry and brittle to the touch.
  4. Slow Growth or Lack of New Growth: While fern growth rates can vary based on the species and growing conditions, a noticeable slowdown or lack of new growth can be a sign that your fern isn’t getting the nutrients it needs.
  5. Spots or Fuzzy Growth on Leaves or Stems: This is usually a sign of a fungal infection or pest infestation. The spots might be black, brown, or white, and the fuzzy growth (which could be mold or mildew) might be white, grey, or pink.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Ferns

A healthy fern typically has vibrant green fronds that stand upright. The fronds should feel firm and resilient, not wilted or crispy. You should also see new growth emerging from the center of the plant.

In contrast, an unhealthy fern may have fronds that are browning or yellowing, particularly towards the edges. The leaves might be wilting or feel dry and crispy to the touch. There may be spots or fuzzy growth on the leaves or stems, and you might notice a lack of new growth.

Solutions for Browning Ferns

Proper Watering Techniques

According to Clean Air Gardening, it’s best to aim the water at the soil above the fern’s roots. This allows the water to trickle down into the root zone, where the fern can absorb it.

Plant Addicts suggests a good rule of thumb is to water when the surface of the soil feels dry but not to allow the soil to completely dry out.

Always use lukewarm or room temperature water to avoid shocking the roots (Wikihow).

Ideal Light Conditions

Ferns typically thrive in indirect light. Direct sunlight, especially during the hottest parts of the day, can scorch their leaves and cause browning. Position your ferns in a location that receives bright but indirect light for the best results.

Soil Quality Improvement

Ferns prefer a rich soil that’s high in organic matter. If the soil lacks these necessary nutrients, consider adding a slow-release fertilizer or compost to improve the nutrient content. Ensure the soil is well-draining to prevent waterlogging and root rot.

Controlling Temperature

Most indoor ferns prefer a consistent temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to maintain this temperature range and avoid sudden changes that could stress the plant.

Pest and Disease Control

Regularly inspect your ferns for signs of pests like aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects or diseases like fungal infections. If you spot an issue, treat it promptly with an appropriate pesticide, fungicide, or home remedy. Ensure the plant has adequate ventilation to prevent fungal diseases.

Preventive Measures for Fern Health

Regular Watering: Consistent watering is key. The surface of the soil should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings, but the soil should never be completely dry. Use lukewarm or room temperature water to avoid shocking the plant.

Light Control: Position your ferns in a location that receives bright but indirect light. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight, especially during the hottest parts of the day.

Nutrient Supply: Regularly enrich your fern’s soil with a slow-release fertilizer or compost to ensure it gets the necessary nutrients. If you notice a slowdown in growth, it might be time to add some more.

Temperature Management: Keep your indoor ferns in a consistent temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid placing them near air vents, heaters, or drafts that could cause sudden temperature changes.

Pest and Disease Prevention: Regularly inspect your ferns for pests and diseases. Treat any infestations promptly and ensure the plant has adequate ventilation to prevent fungal diseases.

Importance of Regular Plant Check-ups

Regular check-ups are crucial for maintaining the health of your ferns. These check-ups allow you to catch any potential problems early before they become more serious.

During a check-up:

  1. Inspect the leaves for any signs of browning, yellowing, or spots.
  2. Feel the leaves. Are they firm and resilient or wilted and crispy?
  3. Check the soil. Is it well-draining? Does it need more organic matter?
  4. Look for signs of pests or disease.
  5. Monitor the growth rate. Is the fern producing new growth?


how to fix fern turning brown

Caring for ferns involves understanding their needs and creating an environment that promotes their health. Key factors to consider include proper watering techniques, ideal light conditions, improving soil quality, maintaining optimal temperature, and implementing pest and disease control measures.

Browning or yellowing fronds, wilting, slow growth, and the presence of spots or fuzzy growth on leaves are warning signs that your fern might be experiencing stress or disease. However, with careful observation and prompt action, these issues can be resolved, and your ferns can return to their lush and vibrant selves.

Regular plant check-ups are also crucial in maintaining fern health. They allow you to detect potential problems early and take the necessary preventive measures.

Remember, every fern is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. It’s about understanding the specific needs of your fern species and adjusting your care routine accordingly.

With the knowledge you’ve gained from this guide, you’re well-equipped to keep your ferns healthy and thriving. So, go ahead and apply these tips and tricks to your fern care regimen. Your ferns will thank you for it!

Happy fern growing!