How to Deal With Brown Tips on Your Bird’s Nest Fern
It’s no secret that the bird’s nest fern, or Asplenium nidus, is beloved by indoor gardeners. This popular houseplant lends a tropical touch to any room, with its shiny, bright fronds, rosette shape, and unique crinkled foliage. Though the bird’s nest fern is relatively easy to grow under the right environmental conditions, one common complaint is browning tips. This guide details how to manage brown tips on the fronts of your bird’s nest fern.
- How to Manage Brown Tips on Bird’s Nest Ferns – The Essentials
- 8 Common Reasons Your Bird’s Nest Fern has Brown Tips or Leaves
- Managing Brown Tips on Your Bird’s Nest Fern
- Wrapping Up
How to Manage Brown Tips on Bird’s Nest Ferns – The Essentials
Brown tips on bird’s nest ferns are often caused by underwatering or overwatering. Other common culprits include overfertilization and exposure to heat or light sources, which “scorch” foliage. Dry air and temperature swings may cause brown tips. Insect infestation or disease can also cause browning tips.
8 Common Reasons Your Bird’s Nest Fern has Brown Tips or Leaves
You’re noticing brown tips on your bird’s nest fern… what should you do? The first step to fixing the problem is determining why your fern’s fronds are browning. Here are some of the most common causes of brown tips or leaves.
1) Lack of Water / Too Little Moisture
Bird’s nest ferns’ native habitat includes tropical rainforests and regions of southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Madagascar, and Australia. Here, the climate is warm and humid year-round, with consistent rainfall and plenty of moisture.
When growing bird’s nest ferns indoors, your goal is to try and replicate these natural growing conditions. Of course, this may be easier said than done. Still, a combination of moist, well-draining soil and adequate humidity (either through setting your bird’s nest fern’s container on a tray filled with pebbles and water or consistent misting) can do the trick.
You should water your bird’s nest fern in most cases when the top inch of soil in its pot feels dry. But what happens if you forget to water your bird’s nest fern? Drooping fronds, followed by browning tips, indicate that your fern is underwatered.
If you notice drooping and browning tips, immediately water your bird’s nest fern. Pour water from the top onto the soil around the plant. Don’t pour water directly into the rosette or onto the foliage, as this can cause plant health issues. Wait until excess water has drained through the bottom of the container, then pour water again from the top. Repeat until the root ball feels saturated.
Be sure to allow excess water to drain. You may have to gently tip the pot to ensure all the excess water drains out. You don’t want to leave your bird’s nest fern sitting in water. Don’t water the fern again until the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
In their natural habitat, bird’s nest ferns are epiphytic, often growing on tree trunks and logs. They take up the water they need from these woody structures.
In the wild, the ferns grow in the understory of the tropical rainforest. This means they must compete for water and nutrients with many other plants. Rarely do the ferns sit with wet feet.
These two factors mean that, when grown indoors, bird’s nest ferns prefer soil that’s consistently moist but never wet. In fact, overwatering poses one of the most significant risks to a bird’s nest fern’s health and is the leading cause of indoor plant failure. One symptom of overwatering is browning tips.
In many cases, overwatering causes the fern’s foliage to look yellow. If the situation isn’t corrected, the fern’s fronds will start to brown at the tips, eventually spreading to the rest of the frond. Overwatering is easy to do; ironically, another early symptom of overwatering is wilt. Wilt makes plants look “thirsty,” so more water is provided… and the problem grows.
Why does overwatering cause so much damage? Essentially, overwatering a plant starves it by preventing the roots from being able to absorb the oxygen and nutrients the plant needs to survive. Over time, too much water can lead to root rot and even plant death.
3) Too Much Fertilizer
In its native habitat, the bird’s nest fern competes for nutrients with other plants. When grown in the home, this means you don’t need to fertilize this type of fern too often. Plus, it’s a slow grower.
Fertilizer applied too often or at full strength can “burn” foliage, leading to browning frond tips. As a general rule, fertilizer your bird’s nest fern only during its growing season, which falls into the spring and summer months.
During this time, apply a 20-10-20 fertilizer, diluted to half-strength, every three to four weeks. Do not fertilize during the rest of the year. If you overfertilize, it may cause your fern’s tips to brown.
4) Poor Drainage
While bird’s nest ferns grow best in consistently moist soil, they cannot thrive with wet feet, soggy soil, and standing water. This underlines the importance of using a container that has adequate drainage.
Pots with poor drainage lead to plant health problems, including browning tips. This is because pots that can’t drain properly retain water; when excess water builds up around a fern’s roots, it can’t take up the oxygen and nutrients it needs. The wet soil suffocates and starves the plant, leading to root rot and plant death.
5) Root Bound
Though bird’s nest ferns grow slowly, they benefit from a repotting about every two to three years. Moving to a slightly larger pot size — no more than two inches larger in diameter — gives the fern’s roots more room to expand. When a fern outgrows its pot, its roots may become dense and entangled, even extending through the soil surface, out through a pot’s drainage holes, or wrapping around the circumference of the container.
This is known as becoming “root bound” or “pot bound.” A root-bound plant has difficulty absorbing the moisture, oxygen, and nutrients it needs to thrive. It may show signs of stress through browning tips.
6) Inappropriate Temp & Humidity
The best temperature range for a bird’s nest fern falls between 70 and 90 degrees F. This mimics the plant’s native rainforest temperatures. If temperatures drop below 60 degrees F for any extended periods, the plant will get stressed. Browning tips may be a result.
Bird’s nest ferns also thrive in the humid conditions found in the topics. If the air is too dry, fern fronds may begin to brown. Increase humidity by sitting ferns in bathrooms or kitchens, placing with groups of other plants, misting regularly, or setting on a tray filled with pebbles and water. If you live in an arid climate, a small humidifier can increase humidity for your fern.
7) Poor Light Conditions
Bird’s nest ferns grow best in indirect light. They thrive in the dappled light and partial shade of their native tropical rainforests in the wild. When grown in the home, indirect light can be found in a north-facing window, near (but not in) an east-facing window, or in a south- or west-facing window that’s covered by a sheer curtain.
When bird’s nest ferns don’t receive enough light, the photosynthesis process is disrupted, and plants grow slowly. But when this type of fern receives too much light or sits too long in direct, bright light, it may develop browning frond tips. You may notice this type of scorching when your bird’s nest fern is receiving too much or too intense sunlight.
Too much light can also dry out soil too quickly, exacerbating the browning. If you notice brown tips and your plant receives bright, direct sunlight, move it to a more suitable location.
8) Pests & Diseases
Common bird’s nest fern pests and diseases can cause browning tips. Common culprits include anthracnose, which is caused by certain kinds of fungi. Anthracnose starts with yellow, then tan, then brown tips that eventually extend around the foliage. Treat anthracnose with a fungicide, such as copper soap.
Insect feeding can also cause brown tips. Mealy bugs, scale, and shore flies all cause tip damage and browning. These pests may require application of pesticides to soil.
Managing Brown Tips on Your Bird’s Nest Fern
Unfortunately, once foliage turns brown, it will not turn green again. You may choose to trim or remove the leaf through pruning. Just be sure to use clean, sterilized plant scissors.
The proper care and growing conditions can help prevent brown tips on your bird’s nest fern. This includes:
- Moist, yet well-draining soil
- Acidic soil with a pH level from 5.0 to 6.0
- Avoiding over- or under-watering
- Watering only when the top inch of soil feels dry
- Indirect light, such as from a north- or east-facing window or direct sunlight that’s diffused by a sheer curtain
- Providing consistent humidity
- Avoiding extremes in temperatures, such as from vents or drafts, and staying between 70 and 90 degrees F
- Fertilizing at half-strength in spring and summer only
Bird’s nest ferns add a lovely, tropical feel to any room. Providing the proper environmental conditions and care can help you maintain healthy plants.
Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.