Why Does My Bird’s Nest Fern Have Brown Tips? (And Solutions)


Indoor potted Bird’s Nest Fern showing Brown Tips

Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) looks attractive because of the shiny leaves that extend from its center creating that nest-like appearance. 

Since it doesn’t bear flowers, taking care of the foliage is of utmost importance.

If you find your bird’s nest to develop brown tips, that says a lot about the general health of your plant. 

Brown tips in bird’s nest fern are the result of improper watering, use of poor quality water, too much fertilizer, low humidity, temperature stress, exposure to direct light, or the lack of it. Root rot, repotting shock can also lead to the same problem. There are some other causes that can cause this issue.

To help you deeply understand the mechanism behind each cause, here are detailed discussions on the possible reasons why brown tips appear in the bird’s nest fern.

I’ll also give you tips on how to fix the problem as well as preventive measures to avoid such an issue.

Causes of Brown Tips on Bird’s Nest Fern

There are several causes why your bird’s nest fern is showing brown tips. Some of them are a result of malpractice during care and maintenance. Others are caused by unfavorable environmental conditions. 

Proper diagnosis is important at the onset of the problem to be able to prevent further damage. Here are some of the important things to take note of. 

Underwatering

Ferns, in general, love a moist environment. Thus, they have a high requirement for water intake.

In particular, bird’s nest fern is sensitive to drought so when water is lacking, the leaves will eventually show signs of stress. 

The brown tips on your bird’s nest might be a result of dehydration. When water is deficient, cells tend to lose the water in its cytoplasm leading to shrinking. If this situation stays for a prolonged period, the cell will eventually die. 

How to Fix:

Water Immediately

Once you notice the brown tips appear and it’s coupled by wilting, water the plant immediately.

Let it soak in water for a few minutes until it’s fully quenched. Plant cells will turn back to its turgid appearance and it will show when the leaves start looking vibrant and flourished once again. 

Place in a Highly Humid Place

If the ferns easily lose water even if you’re giving just enough amount, it’s possible that the place where it’s placed has very low humidity.

In that case, you have to relocate the fern somewhere highly humid. This kind of environment will help the plant acquire and retain moisture. 

Inconsistent Watering

If you’re one of those who water their plants only when they feel like doing it, then it’s no wonder why your fern is having those brown tips. Inconsistent watering is a bad practice. 

It’s like your underwatering your plant this one time and overwatering it the other time. Your plant will surely suffer from stress. There will be an imbalance in their physiological processes. 

How to Fix:

Check the Soil Regularly

The condition of the soil will tell you when it’s time to water or not. Ferns don’t want their soil dry. Stick your finger into the soil at least an inch or two to check if it’s still moist. 

Water Thoroughly

Make sure to water your pots deeply. Surface watering only soaks the top portion of the soil and not the bottom. You have to water evenly to ensure that all roots have access to water.

Low Humidity

Low humidity is an enemy of tropical plants like ferns. It is because when the water vapor in the air is low, the transpiration rate becomes faster.

This means that your plant will lose more water in a shorter period of time. 

We know that your ferns love extra moisture so it doesn’t like being exposed to low humidity.

Otherwise, they’ll easily get dehydrated and wilted. Those brown tips that developed from dehydration can be the result of prolonged conditions of low humidity.

How to Fix:

Group Your Fern with Other Plants

This is one way of raising humidity around your plants. Plants release moisture through their stomata and when they do, the water vapor trapped in the air can be used by the nearby plant. That way, they’re utilizing the moisture dissipated to their own advantage.

Mist Your Fern

Early in the morning, grab a spray bottle with water in it then spray around your plant. Misting helps provide dew that eventually becomes another source of moisture.

Just make sure that the mist produced has evaporated well throughout the day to avoid inviting fungal diseases.

Use a Humidifier

If you don’t want to go through the hassle, turn your humidifier on. Humidifiers can provide instant solutions during critical times of low humidity. Let your plant enjoy the added moisture.  

Direct Sunlight

What is ideal for bird’s nest fern is partial to full shade. Remember that in the wild, they’re used to being covered by large canopies above.

When the light hits the leaves directly, there’s a tendency to develop scorching. 

Strong light intensities are generally destructive. Increasing levels of intense light can potentially degrade the reaction centers involved in photosynthesis.

If your fern is receiving direct light, that’s probably the reason why its leaves have brown spots or tips. 

How to Fix: 

Relocate the Plant

Place it somewhere shaded. Find a location that has partial or full shade and let your bird’s nest stay there. If you are using artificial light, make sure to maintain at least 6 to 12 inches distance in between. 

Provide Additional Shade

If your place has limited space and you’re struggling to find a shaded area, you can create one by putting in curtains. Curtains are enough to protect your plant from direct exposure to sunlight. 

Too Much Fertilizer

Overfertilization is one of the common causes of leaf tip burns in plants. If you’ve used fertilizer at a strong concentration or have given it more frequently than what is required, then your plant is in danger. 

Too many salts from fertilizer will slow down the flow of water in the roots. It also makes the soil acidic causing some nutrients to be less available for plant uptake.

How to Fix:

Leach Off the Salts

The salt that has built up is water-soluble so you can use water to get rid of them. Pour water into the medium with a volume that is twice that of the pot.

Let the water run for a few minutes to ensure that it completely washes out the salts. 

You can do this repeatedly within the day allowing some rest time in between. Make sure that water completely drains out of the pot. 

Salt Build-Up in Potting Medium

If you consistently feed your fern plant with fertilizer, the tendency is for the potting medium to accumulate salts after some time.

This salt build-up appears as small, white crystals that you can find on top of the medium. 

The salt build-up is dangerous because it draws the water out of the roots creating a drought condition.

The roots get damaged and may eventually die. The inefficiency caused by the injury in roots result in stunted growth, wilting, dropping of mature leaves as well as root and leaf tip burns. 

How to Fix: 

Repot the Plant

If the level of salt build-up is too high, you have no other choice than to repot it. Use a fresh mix of the potting medium and pot your fern there. When repotting, don’t forget to trim off the damaged roots. 

Temperature Stress

The ideal temperature for bird’s nest fern is 70 to 90oF (21 to 32oC). Its preferred climate is tropical and subtropical so you have to be mindful when there are fluctuations in temperature. This fern is particularly sensitive to cold temperatures. 

Both high and low temperatures can create damage in plants especially if the change is abrupt.

However, ferns are more prone to chilling or freezing stress. When extremely low temperatures occur, they tend to accumulate reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are toxic compounds. (Source: IntechOpen

This phenomenon affects the growth of plants specifically water transport and photosynthesis. Thus, there’s no doubt that ferns exposed to fluctuating temperatures develop brown tips. 

How to Fix:

Regulate Temperature at Home

During times of extreme cold, make sure to turn your heater on. If it’s too hot, use your aircon and provide extra misting.

This shall help your plant cope with the abrupt changes in temperature thereby lessening the effects of temperature stress. 

Provide Insulation 

Winter is surely coming and to prepare for the season, make sure to prepare the insulation for your fern. Cotton sheets are good insulators. It will add extra warmth to your plant. 

Root Bound

As the plants grow, the roots become extensive that they become bound together through time.

Some plants can tolerate being pot-bound but some cannot. Roots that get too entangled are not beneficial to your fern’s health. 

As roots get congested, access to nutrients, oxygen, and water becomes limited. The condition becomes very stressful for the plant. As a result, the growth of plants is slowed and they may even die. 

How to Fix:

Prune the Roots

Pot bound plants would form a root ball. You can make cuts on the sides of the root ball or you may cut a few inches of the bottom part using a sharp knife. The wounded portions will eventually grow new roots. 

Repot to a Larger Container

Rootbound happens when the container becomes too small for the growing roots to thrive on.

After pruning the roots, repot it to a container that’s one size larger than the previous. The additional space will give the roots enough room to flourish.

Root Rot

Root rot happens as a result of overwatering or fungal infection. Waterlogged soils will create an oxygen-deficient environment causing the roots to suffocate.

Since cells are unable to respire, they eventually die and rot in time. Once roots get damaged, it also affects the water and nutrient transport in plants.

Lack of these elements will deter metabolic processes leading other cells to die as well. The brown tips in your fern can be due to a lack of water or nutrients as caused by root rot. 

How to Fix:

Stop Watering

Since your plant is suffering from the fatal root rot disease, you need to stop watering. Excess water can accelerate the rotting process. So, if you can identify the early symptoms then stop watering it and let it dry for sometime.

Let the Soil Dry

There are times when the evaporation rate is slower due to high humidity and low temperature. In that case, the moist soil in pots will take a longer time to dry. 

To facilitate the release of moisture from the soil, you can turn the soil upside down by digging in. Use a gardening fork to dig up the topsoil. Be careful not to damage the roots. 

Repot the Fern

If the damage on the roots is severe, the best way to save it is by repotting. Gently pull the plant out of the pot, examine the roots, and cut off the rotten portions. 

Wash with running water and let it air dry. After that, transfer in a new pot using a fresh, clean, and well-draining potting medium. 

Repotting Shock

Although repotting is a great way to maintain the plant’s health, the process of repotting itself adds stress to the plants. 

Transplant shock happens when the planting material used is poor, the growing environment is not suitable, and/or the technique used in transplanting is poor.

One of the noted symptoms of transplant shock is leaf scorch or tip burn. (Source: University of KentuckyOpens in a new tab.)

If the brown tips start showing after you’ve transplanted your bird’s nest fern, then, it must be suffering from transplant shock. 

How to Fix:

Place Newly Repotted Pots in Shaded Area

To minimize the effect of stress, better keep your plant in a shaded area. Bright light can induce faster transpiration rate and moisture loss in plants.

We don’t want this to happen especially that the roots are not yet established in the soil. 

Water Thoroughly

Since the roots are still finding its way to establish itself in the new environment, it will help if you supply enough water in the soil. 

When water is available, there’s no need for the roots to exert much effort in looking and absorbing water. Thus, you minimize stress.

Improper Potting Mix

Compacted soil is one reason why the roots of your bird’s nest plant are not having much freedom to grow.

If the potting mix is not porous, there are not enough air spaces needed to supply oxygen. Water holding capacity is also poor. 

When the environment surrounding the roots is not friendly, the roots will not grow well.

In return, the plants won’t receive enough nutrients and water. The plant is stunted and the leaves will show tip burns. 

How to Fix:

Repot the Plant

The best solution to this is changing the potting mix with an appropriate one. Use a potting medium that has high organic matter like that of peat moss and bark.

Test if it’s well-draining. Bird’s nest fern prefers a slightly acidic potting mix with a pH of 5.0 to 5.5.  

Lack of Light

While it’s true that ferns love a shady place, the lack of light particularly that containing ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation will result in intumescence. (Source: University of Massachusetts AmherstOpens in a new tab.)

This phenomenon is a physiological response of plants resulting in the protrusion of bumps on the surface of leaves, petioles, and stems. The bumps can sometimes look green, white or tan in color. 

How to Fix: 

Increase Exposure to Light

If your fern is suffering from intumescence, a quick solution is to increase its exposure to light. Let it receive a little of the blue light spectrum that it needs. You may also space out your plants to allow light to pass through. 

Water Quality

Water is an important element in the plant’s growth and development. However, not all types of water are beneficial to your plants. Tap water, for example, produces considerable amounts of chlorine and fluorine that can be harmful to your bird’s nest fern. 

High amounts of these minerals in soil will lead to toxicity. Excess fluorine will result in developing necrotic parts on the leaves’ margins and tips.

Too much chlorine will also result in scorched leaves where the tips appear burnt and brown.  

How to Fix:

Use Rainwater

The best water you can use for plants is rainwater. However, we know that rainwater isn’t always available.

What you can do is try to save in containers whenever the rain pours in. 

Filter the Tap Water

Having a filtration system at home is also beneficial. Stop using raw tap water in your plants. Let it run in the filtration system first.

Alternatively, you can let tap water sit for at least 24 hours before you use them on plants.

The harmful chemicals will evaporate from the water in due time making it safer to use. 

Pest Damage

Pests normally create damage by leaving lesions on areas where they previously suck the sap out. Mealybugs, scales, and shore flies are the common pests of bird’s nest fern. 

If they happen to infest the plant, they must have left trails such as brown spots at the surface of the leaves.

Shore flies, specifically, love to sit at the tips of the leaves creating damage on that particular portion of the plant.  (Source: University of Florida, IFASOpens in a new tab.)

How to Fix: 

Manually Pick the Pests 

Normally, indoor plants don’t suffer that much from infestation. So, it’s possible to control the pests by just manually picking them. Whenever you notice these organisms roaming around, remove them immediately. 

Use Horticultural Oils and Solutions

Another way to get rid of these pests without using pesticides is by means of creating your own solutions.

You can mix neem oil, insecticidal soap, or dishwashing liquid with water. Spray the diluted solution on the plant parts where insects are housing. 

How to Prevent Brown Tips on Birds’ Nest Fern?

As bad as the causes of the brown tips may sound, you don’t have to worry that much because they’re preventable.

By correcting some of your practices in taking care of your plant or by adjusting to the constantly changing environmental conditions, you’ll surely learn to play around with those causes.

Find a Good Location

You’ll save a lot of hard work if you’ve found the right spot for your bird’s nest fern. Look for one that has a good source of light but one that has good shade as well. It should have high humidity and good air circulation. 

Protect Your Fern from Adverse Conditions

Add shade when light is too bright. Provide insulation when the temperature abruptly drops. Mist around when the humidity gets too low.

Those are things you need to do from time to time to help your fern cope with extreme changes in the environment.

Water the Right Way 

Use good quality water on your plants, rainwater if possible. Water consistently and evenly. Adjust watering frequency depending on the season. 

Don’t Forget to Check the Roots

Most of the symptoms you see on leaves and stems are indications of a problem beneath the soil.

The only way for you to know is by digging up and removing your plant from the pot.

By doing so, you’ll get a fair view of whether the roots of your plant are still healthy or not. 

Start with a Good Potting Mix

You can never downplay the importance of using the right mix as a medium for your fern. The potting is the home of the roots. Roots have a very critical role in delivering nutrients and water. 

Regulate Fertilizer Use

Believe it or not, fertilizer isn’t the only solution to the problems of your fern plant.

Make sure you’re knowledgeable enough to know when to apply, how to apply, and how much fertilizer to give. Otherwise, you’ll end up killing your own plant. 

Other Problems of Birds’ Nest Fern 

Aside from brown leaf tips, there are some problems that you need to watch out for in your bird’s nest fern. It includes the following:

Crinkled Fronds

This is a physiological problem that can be a result of too much light or very strong light intensity. As a way to conserve moisture, the leaves will curl inwards. 

Bacterial Blight (Pseudomonas cichorii or P. gladioli)

This is a bacterial problem that is caused by Pseudomonas cichorii or P. gladioli. They create lesions on the leaves looking like water-soaked translucent spots or indentations. You’ll notice the lesions will grow or expand through time. 

Pale, Yellowish Leaves

If this is happening, your fern must be receiving excess light. Your fern will turn a darker shade of glossy green when you keep it under shade. Keep it away from direct sunlight.

Wilting

Wilting in fern must be a result of underwatering or overwatering. Underwatered plants would be crisp when touched while overwatered ones will be mushy. The fronds also turn yellow when water is excessive. 

It’s easy to mistake brown tips on bird’s nest fern as a minor problem when it’s not. So, to avoid dealing with more serious problems, remember these three things: 

  1. Pay attention to those signs. Take them seriously before it’s too late for you to know. 
  2. Prevention is always better than cure. Give the most ideal growing condition for your plant from day 1 to the present. 
  3. Don’t panic. Always remember that there are solutions available to the problems you encounter with your bird’s nest fern. 

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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