The bird’s nest fern can be quite the specimen houseplant, bringing a splash of tropical greenery into your home when you give it the proper care and nurturing. However, the fronds and crowns (rosette) of your Asplenium nidus may turn brown and show signs of dying because of a variety of reasons.
Improper water is the primary culprit for your bird’s nest fern dying. Underwatering causes the fronds to brown and wilt while overwatering results in root & crown rot that can kill your plant. Inspect it for pests (most often scale insects) that may also cause premature death.
A decline in bird’s nest fern health is commonly an indication of disease, pest, or a cultural issue. The good news? The majority of these cases are easy to fix if you detect them early.
How Do I Know If My Bird’s Nest Fern Is Dying?
Bird’s nest fern is usually a trouble-free, healthy grower that can add a sultry flair and charm to any space with its beautiful fronds. Despite its vigor, your bird’s nest fern can die if it doesn’t receive proper care and growing conditions.
Knowing that your Asplenium nidus is dying is half the battle. The other half involves determining the actual cause and taking measures to save your precious plant.
Here are some key signs and symptoms that you should keep an eye out for:
Browned Fronds and Leaf Tips
If you notice that the fronds on your bird’s nest fern are browning, dry, and crispy on the surface, it’s likely suffering from an extreme lack of water. As an epiphyte, it’s accustomed to pulling moisture from surrounding air.
The browned tips and edges of the fronds can occur due to low humidity, excessive light, and extreme temperatures. The air around your bird’s nest fern may also be too dry and drafty.
The decline usually is quite aggressive if accompanied by over-fertilizing and exposure to too much indirect sunlight or heat.
Brown Spots on Fronds
Brown spots on either the crown (rosette) or fronds of your bird’s nest fern are telltale symptoms your plant is dying. It’s often a result of bacterial or fungal leaf spot diseases.
The most prevalent is bacterial blight. The bacterial disease kicks with small translucent spots that quickly turn reddish-brown. In time, the brown spots expand and bleed into one another. The lesions will eventually cover the entire foliage.
If the situation has progressed, you’ll see large brown blotches surrounded by purple halos. The affected fronds will wilt, wither, and collapse, causing your plant to die.
Browning center or crowns is a big red flag that you should never ignore. It’s possibly the most obvious sign of your bird’s nest fern dying from too much dampness. The fronds eclipsing the crown are usually soft, drooping, and falling off.
Plus, an evident rotting smell may radiate from the rotten, browned, or blackened crowns. Aside from overwatering, this can also arise from poor drainage, frequent overhead irrigation, or severe light shortage.
Leaf Discoloration or Paling
Your Asplenium nidus is most likely dying if the foliage is losing its characteristic tropical greenery. Old and inner fronds are first to pale due to light effects. If the edges or tips are dry & browned, it’s probably dying from too much direct sunlight.
If low light is the core concern, you’ll probably observe some yellowing that goes hand in hand with paling. It’s because the soil takes longer to dry, hence overwatering.
Yellowing of the fronds on your bird’s nest fern is typically an early symptom of overwatering. If this goes on for a while, it will give way to waterlogging and root rot.
Unfortunately, an overwatered bird’s nest fern is also weak and vulnerable to diseases, pests, and an array of other issues that may lead to the premature demise of your plant.
Supposedly, nutrient deficiency, lack of water, and normal aging can also cause fronds to turn yellow. Whatever the cause, yellowing is a bad sign of rapid health deterioration.
Presence of Sooty Mold
The appearance of black sooty mold often means that mealybugs, aphids, or other typical pests have invited themselves to your bird’s nest fern.
These sap-suckers excrete honeydew that stimulates the germination of mold spores. The consequence is either black sooty mold or spots that dot the fronds and rosettes.
Wilting and Drooping
Wilting, limp, or drooping fronds on your bird’s nest fern can be caused by overwatering, damaged roots, or a heavy disease/pest infestation.
Pay particular attention to wilting fronds that are soft, soggy, or smudged. They often signify fungal root rot that will ultimately kill your plant if not remedied.
What is Causing My Bird’s Nest Fern to Die?
As with all plants, a bird’s nest fern isn’t invincible and can be troubled by various problems that can cause it to decline in health. Your first course of action is to be able to identify the exact issue plaguing your plant.
It’s only then that you can take the necessary treatment steps to save your Asplenium nidus from dying on you.
Overwatering is the Most Common Culprit for Bird’s Nest Fern Dying
While bird’s nest fern is a moisture-loving plant, it won’t tolerate sitting in wet soil or overly damp conditions. The potting mix should be pretty moist but never, ever soggy. Waterlogged conditions are bad news for roots that become damaged and rotten, thus unable to absorb nutrients.
Signs & Symptoms: Overly damp soil is, of course, the most apparent indication of overwatering. Above the soil, yellowing fronds are among the earliest symptoms of an over-watered bird’s nest fern. If the soil remains waterlogged any longer, the leaves will start to droop and ultimately fall off.
Lower fronds are the first to turn yellow, followed by those near the center. Once root and crown rot set in, the leaves may turn purplish-brown. An overwatered bird’s nest fern is also prone to pests, so check it for scale, mealybugs, and aphids.
How to Fix a Bird’s Nest Fern Dying from Overwatering
You can easily avoid this by adopting a consistent watering routine. Irrigating your plant every 1-2 weeks when it’s experiencing rapid growth (AKA during spring & summer months) should be enough. Even so, allow the potting mix to become somewhat dry between watering.
As a plant pro, however, I urge you to test soil moisture to know when it’s time to irrigate. If you don’t have a soil moisture meter, a finger test can suffice. Resist watering your Asplenium nidus until an inch of soil beneath the surface feels dry.
If your bird’s nest fern is already overwatered, the right solution will depend on the severity of the situation.
For a mild case, stop watering and let the soil dry out. Reducing humidity and taking your plant to a warmer spot can help expedite the process, though.
If root rot has occurred, you must repot your bird’s nest fern.
- Step one is to remove your bird’s nest from its pot.
- Rinse off as much soil from the roots as possible. Be gentle lest you cause more root damage.
- Get rid of all rotten roots – they appear brown/black, flaccid, and mushy
- Air out the healthy white & firm roots to dry a bit before treating them with fungicide and hydrogen peroxide
- Repot your bird’s nest fern with a new, well-draining, and moist soil mixture
Make sure your newly-repotted plant isn’t exposed to direct sunlight. Unfortunately, if root rot has destroyed all roots, your only choice is propagation.
Browning of the Center/Crown of your Bird’s Nest Fern
All leaves on Asplenium nidus extend from a dense center, resembling a bird’s nest. This heavily vegetated, fuzzy rosette is the crown. It’s certainly quite a sight, but the center will turn brown if your plant becomes too damp or overly wet.
The rotten core will give off an unpleasant rotting smell. The fronds in and around the middle will also start drooping and fall off. Root rot is almost always present.
This usually occurs due to overwatering or poorly-drained soil. It may also be due to poor watering habits like overhead irrigation or splashing water on the foliage.
Can You Save a Bird’s Nest Fern with Brown Center?
Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do to save your bird’s nest fern when the center has become browned and rotten. The rot disease will find its way to the fronds, causing your plant to die eventually.
Prevention is your best move here.
- First, avoid overwatering and overhead irrigation.
- Provide it with plenty of filtered light.
- It also needs a highly draining potting mix, such as those meant for bromeliads and orchids. This Orchid Soil Premium from Leaves & Soul (Amazon link) is a popular favorite.
Lack of Water
Bird’s nest fern isn’t a true fern, which may help explain why it doesn’t tolerate drought. Its soil must be evenly and consistently moist.
Signs & symptoms: An underwatered bird’s nest fern will display the usual symptoms of thirst. The fronds may look scorched, dry, and turn brown. This is especially seen in tips or edges that appear burned.
It would be best to increase your watering frequency to keep up with your bird’s nest fern’s water needs. But make sure the potting mix is well-drained.
If the soil is bone-dry, consider sitting your plant in a sink or bathtub filled with about 4 inches (10cm) of water. Let it soak up water for up to an hour or until the top inch of the potting mix is saturated.
Signs & Symptoms: Bacterial blight is a prevalent and threatening disease that can kill your bird’s nest fern. It shows up as tiny, water-soaked translucent spots on the fronds. They advance fast up along the leaf veins, turning into lesions.
As they spread, the lesions expand and coalesce, forming reddish-brown blotches that ultimately cover the entire fronds. You may spot purple halos in the core.
How to Control Bacterial Blight in Bird’s Nest Fern
Bacterial blight has no known cure. Tough pill to swallow, but the disease is easy to bring under control. Still, early detection and control can be all the difference.
First off, trim away any diseased or browned fronds immediately. This should help stop the spread, and your plant should be okay if it’s still healthy enough.
Remember, damp conditions cause and fuel the spread of bacterial wilt. So, don’t wet the foliage and avoid overhead watering to prevent it in the first place. It’s best to irrigate during early morning hours and aim the water directly at the soil.
Bird’s Nest Fern Leaves Turning Yellow
As I explained earlier, yellowing fronds are usually an early sign of an overwatered bird’s nest fern. It may also suggest that your plant is deficient in some essential nutrients like nitrogen due to insufficient light, root damage, or an exhausted potting mix.
How to Revive Bird’s Nest Fern with Yellow Leaves
Take yellowing fronds as a wake-up call that you’re giving your bird’s nest fern too much water. The most straightforward resolution is to stop watering your plant until the top inch of the potting mix has dried out a bit.
But of course, it’s never that simple — the problem could lie down in the soil itself. It may be soggy or poorly drained. In either case, it’s essential to repot your bird’s nest fern using a fresh fast-draining potting mix.
Preferably use a ready-to-use soil mixture blended for bromeliads or epiphytic orchids. But ensure it’s rich in organic content (mix one part bark with two parts peat moss).
(Source: University of Florida).
Signs & Symptoms: This blight disease usually attacks sick and stressed bird’s nest ferns. It’s caused by a soil-borne fungus, Rhizoctonia solani. It leads to a manifold of symptoms that include:
- Stem rot, starting with lower stems touching the potting mix. The affected stems look wiry, shriveled, and dry.
- Crown rot with the presence of reddish-brown lesions on the rosette
- Root rot, which leads to stunted growth, wilting, and possibly dying
- Damping-off and aerial web blight that spread faster when the leaves are wet
- Keep your bird’s nest fern healthy by adding organic matter to enrich the potting mix.
- Make sure to remove and dispose of affected plant matter and residues
- As a preventive measure, never reuse potting mix from an infected houseplant, water early in the day, and avoid touching your plant after handling the soil.
Too Much Fertilizer
Signs & symptoms: Applying too much fertilizer can cause the tips and edges of the fronds to turn brown. The leaf tip/edge burn results from the build-up of fertilizer salts in the potting mix. They damage the roots and hamper the uptake of certain nutrients and minerals like iron.
Bird’s nest fern doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer. Feed it once monthly or every 3-4 weeks during the growing period. For most parts of the US, this falls typically between early spring (April) and the end of summer (September).
Use a standard water-soluble houseplant fertilizer (Check the latest price on Amazon). Make sure to dilute to half the strength recommended by the manufacturer.
- If excess fertilizer salts have already compromised the soil quality, you should repot using a fresh potting mix.
- Leach the salts out of the soil by watering your plant deeply from above.
While a bird’s nest fern is typically problem-free, it may be attacked by pests. The most common ones are mealybugs, snails, slugs, scale, and leaf nematodes. They’re likely to bore holes into the fronds, causing withering, sulking, and stunted growth.
Symptoms: Quite common, scale insects usually attack older fronds and crowns before moving to the frond’s central veins and surfaces.
They’re often found on the back of the fronds, where they secrete honeydew that causes sooty mold and may attract ants. Fronds heavily infected by scale often turn yellow and may drop.
Control: You can eradicate a small infestation of scale bugs by wiping them down using an alcohol-soaked cotton cloth. Otherwise, spray your plant using insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or insecticides. Make sure to trim away severely affected fronds.
Symptoms: If you notice white cottony or waxy residue on the fronds and crowns of your bird’s nest fern, mealybugs may be present. Stunted growth, honeydew, and sooty mold are common signs.
Control: If you detect the infestation in the early stages, you can quickly eliminate mealybugs by wiping down the plant using cotton swabs.
For severe infestation, consider using cotton swabs plunged in rubbing alcohol. Insecticidal soap or oil spray may also do well against a large infestation.
Symptoms: As the name suggests, these are minuscule nematodes that like to munch on the foliage of your plant. They enter through the breathing pores on the fronds of your bird’s nest fern. Black specks or spots close to the central vein of the fronds are a sure sign of foliar nematodes.
If the infestation is too severe, the fronds will lose turgidity, collapse, and fall off. Soon your entire plant will follow suit by drooping then dying.
Control: Avoid wetting the fronds when watering. For widespread infestation that has caused too many fronds to die, it might be best to throw away your plant.
Slugs and Snails
Symptoms: Slugs and snails are easy to spot, as they love to feed on the back of the fronds. They can cause extensive foliage damage, leaving gaping holes.
Control: Simply hand-pick and discard slugs and snails. You can also spread snail/slug baits (check the price on Amazon here) on top of the potting mix as a long-term measure.
Signs & Symptoms: Paling of fronds on your bird’s nest fern are a symptom of light issues. You must check if it’s getting too little or too much light.
Excessive light (especially direct sunlight) will cause foliage discoloration, along with brown, dry leaf tips or edges. Critical light shortage often results in paling, yellowing, or both.
If the leaves are burned or browned, move them away from the scorching light. Your bird’s nest fern should not be exposed to direct sunlight.
For best growth, please place it in front of an east-facing window. If you should opt for southern or western exposure, make sure the light is filtered or indirect.
Fern anthracnose is a fungal blight disease that often infects bird’s nest ferns during spring. The wet and cool conditions favor the spread and germination of the fungal spores.
Signs & Symptoms: The fungal disease begins as tiny brown or yellow irregular spots are primarily seen on the veins and along surfaces of the leaves. They’ll spread over time and turn into darker, sunken lesions.
The dark lesions may also appear on flowers, crowns, and stems
What differentiates fern anthracnose from other leaf spot diseases is the presence of small brown to tan lesions on the backs of the leaves.
How to Treat Fern Anthracnose
Good sanitation is your first course of defense against fern anthracnose. It usually overwinters in dead plant matter, ready to attack your bird’s nest fern in spring. So, it would be best to get rid of infected plant parts and destroy fallen leaves.
You can use a copper-based fungicide to treat the infection. However, don’t go overboard, as the copper build-up in the soil can hurt beneficial microbes in the potting mix.
Practice good irrigation habits. If possible, use a self-watering pot to minimize overhead watering and wetting of the foliage.
How Not to Kill Your Bird’s Nest Fern?
- Start on the right foot – You must pick a healthy, bushy, and disease-free bird’s nest fern from the nursery/houseplant shop. Ensure there are no spots, leaf discoloration (especially yellowing), or pests.
- Pot in the right soil mixture – Bird’s nest fern prefers a loose, well-draining peat-based potting mix with a good portion of organic matter.
- Indirect light is life – Avoid subjecting your plant to direct sunlight. Instead, give it plenty of filtered light by placing it in front of a north- or east-facing window.
- Giving your bird’s nest fern too much water is a sure way to kill it – You need to hesitate until 1″ beneath the soil surface feels dry. It should never sit on overly wet or soggy soil.
- Good watering techniques can do your plant good – In addition to not overwatering, don’t irrigate directly into the bird’s nest fern center. Instead, focus the watering can at the base to avoid dampening the foliage.
- Feed well but don’t overdo it – Apply a half-strength water-soluble fertilizer once every four weeks between April and September. But hold off fertilizer from September through to next early spring.
- Bird’s nest fern loves a warm, humid spot – Use a pebble tray, humidifier, or mister to ensure high humidity (anything above 50% relative humidity will keep it happy). As for temperatures, it does well at 70-90°F (21- 32°C).