What To Do When Your Boston Fern Turns Brown

Is your Boston fern turning brown? Heres whats up with your plant and how to rescue it

At some point, many people who grow these beautiful evergreen plants as houseplants will wonder, “Why is my Boston fern turning brown?”

The Boston fern is a great houseplant, especially for a bathroom because it does well in low-light areas. However, it does have some needs that must be met in order for it to grow well. Get these wrong, and you could soon find that the leaves start turning an unattractive shade of brown.

So that your plant’s fronds stay bright green, our houseplant experts have found the most common reasons why your plant might be turning brown.

Boston ferns are treasured for their graceful, cascading fronds that add an elegant, old-fashioned feel to any indoor space. But these beauties can be finicky and it’s common to see brown tips or edges appear on the fronds. If your Boston fern is turning brown don’t panic! With some detective work and a few easy fixes, you can get your fern back to perfect green health.

Common Causes of Boston Fern Turning Brown

There are several key reasons why a Boston fern may start to turn brown

Underwatering – Boston ferns need consistently moist soil. If the soil dries out too much between waterings, the fronds will likely turn brown. Aim to water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry.

Overwatering – While Boston ferns like moisture, soggy soil can cause root rot and brown fronds. Allow the soil to partly dry out between waterings.

Low humidity – Ferns naturally thrive in tropical environments with high humidity. Brown tips often indicate the air is too dry. Mist the fern daily or use a humidifier.

Excess sunlight – Direct sun will scorch the delicate fronds. Locate in bright indirect light, but no direct sunlight.

Hard water – Tap water high in minerals can build up in the soil and cause browning. Use distilled or rain water if possible.

Compacted soil – Tight, dense soil prevents oxygen from reaching the roots. Repot in fresh, loose potting mix.

Pests – Insects like spider mites can feed on and damage the fronds. Check closely for webs or bugs.

Poor drainage – Standing water leads to root rot. Ensure the pot has drainage holes and well-draining soil.

Salt buildup – Excess fertilizer salts accumulate and burn the tips of the fronds. Flush the soil regularly to remove salts.

How To Fix and Prevent Brown Boston Fern Fronds

If your Boston fern is turning brown, take action to get your plant healthy again:

  • Check soil moisture – Feel the soil to determine if the fern is being over or underwatered. Adjust your watering frequency accordingly.

  • Mist frequently – Use a spray bottle to mist the fronds daily or several times a week. This mimics the plant’s native humid environment.

  • Use a pebble tray – Place pebbles and water in a tray under the pot. The evaporating water increases humidity around the plant.

  • Move away from direct sun – Relocate to a spot with bright, indirect light to prevent sun scorch. East or north facing rooms are ideal.

  • Repot annually – Refresh the potting mix yearly so salts don’t accumulate. Use a soilless, peat-based mix.

  • Wash fronds – Gentle wipe leaves with damp cloth to remove dust buildup, which can block light.

  • Trim brown tips – Removing dead sections improves appearance and encourages new growth. Make cuts just above healthy green fronds.

  • Treat pests – Isolate and spray infected plants with insecticidal soap. Be sure to treat undersides of leaves.

  • Add a humidifier – Room humidifiers are an excellent way to provide optimal moisture levels, especially in dry climates.

Keeping Boston Ferns Vibrant and Green

Caring for ferns can seem challenging, but focusing on providing the right moisture, humidity, and light will keep your Boston fern lush and beautiful for years to come.

Check the plant regularly for signs of stress like browning. As soon as any discoloration appears, evaluate your care techniques and make adjustments. Respond promptly to environmental issues before they take hold.

With a little attentive care, these elegant plants will reward you with cascades of deep green, healthy fronds. Don’t let a few brown tips scare you off from enjoying one of the most graceful and satisfying houseplants you can grow.

Too much sunlight

Boston ferns prefer indirect light or even semi-shade, but never direct sunlight. Some dappled morning light is fine, but don’t put your plant where it will get full sun in the afternoon or during lunch.

Ferns live on the rainforest floor, which is lower light than tall trees or climbing plants. Ensuring your fern is away from direct sunlight will keep the leaves vibrant and green, says Mackenzie Fries.

Brody Hall, Certified Horticulturist and Co-Founder at The Indoor Nursery, also recommends ensuring that your Boston fern is not in direct sunlight, which can dry up the soil too quickly and burn the plant’s leaves. If you like keeping your fern in the window, adding a curtain or a blind can help protect it from harsh lunchtime sun and stop the leaves turning brown.

You are using hard water for watering

Plants that grow in your indoor garden have evolved to be able to handle rain water, so hard water is usually not good for them.

If your plant is having trouble with hard water, you will usually see leaves that are brown and curling.

If you can’t collect rainwater, just put some tap water in a bowl or container and let it sit for a few days. Then you can use it to water your plants. ( credit: Getty s/LifestyleVisuals).

BOSTON FERN PLANT CARE | Why are My Boston Fern Leaves Turning Brown | Boston Fern Care Tips


How to save a brown Boston fern?

If cultural issues aren’t the reason for your Boston fern turning brown, it might need repotting or feeding. Repot Boston ferns using a mixture of 50% peat moss, 12% horticultural bark, and the rest perlite. This will have the excellent drainage the plant requires.

How do you revive a dying Boston fern?

Use scissors or shears to remove the dead fronds, and water sparingly until you see green shoots, then begin fertilizing. You did set the house back up, right? Keep the ferns protected for several weeks to encourage plenty of new growth, and set them out once the weather warms up entirely.

Should I cut off brown fern leaves?

If you’re seeing brown leaves at the bottom of your fern but the top is green, that’s totally normal and means your plant is doing well. For nearly all ferns, new growth comes from the centre. As new growth comes in, the older leaves at the bottom will die off. You can just snip off any brown ones at the base.

Why is my fern turning brown and crispy?

Be sure you’re not underwatering your fern. Keep a consistent watering schedule when 25-50% of the soil volume is dry. Water thoroughly and discard the excess water in the saucer. If you accidentally let your fern’s soil dry out completely, you may see fronds droop, crisp up, and leaves fall.

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