Seeing your fern’s gorgeous green fronds turn gnarly brown or yellow is a real bummer. Before you rush to the conclusion that your fern is dying, however, I’m here to tell you that ferns aren’t as delicate as they seem. They can take some abuse before throwing in the towel!
That being said, ferns are a bit too particular, meaning anything that throws off their groove can make them turn brown or yellow.
So, in this article, I highlight the main reasons why your fern is turning brown or yellow. I also cover how you should deal with each situation so that those yellow fronds will be green again.
Let’s jump right into it!
1 – Watering Problems
Watering problems are often to blame when it comes to ferns turning brown or yellow. When you notice your fern is turning yellow or brown, it’ll likely be because you aren’t watering it enough or you’re watering it way too much.
If you’re caring for your fern indoors, you’ll need to maintain a consistent watering schedule. Generally, ferns are going to enjoy evenly moist soil and should be watered regularly.
It can be stressful for the plant to be in completely dry soil, and this means you should water before the soil becomes bone dry.
Some types of ferns are a bit tougher to water than normal because of how bushy they are, but you want to try to get down to the center of the plant to give it a good watering.
The best thing to do is to use a watering can that has a long spout. This should allow you to get the water right where you need it to go even if your fern is quite bushy and hard to part.
If you’re worried that you have been watering the fern too much, you should try to scale things back a little. See if you can water the fern a bit less and get better results.
You should avoid watering the fern until the soil is sopping wet. The soil is supposed to be evenly moist, but this doesn’t mean that it needs to become a swamp!
Just be mindful of what you’re doing and try not to get overzealous when watering these plants. If you continue to water the ferns incorrectly, they could wind up dying on you.
2 – Humidity Issues
Humidity issues can cause ferns to turn brown and become dry over time. Ferns are plants that need high humidity levels to thrive. Low humidity won’t allow them to maintain the green healthy fronds you want to see.
If you’re keeping ferns in your home, it’s possible that your house might not be humid enough for the plants. Some people live in dry areas of the world, but this doesn’t mean that you have to give up on caring for ferns.
There are artificial ways that you can raise the humidity levels in your home. This should help you to keep your ferns from turning brown and drying out so long as you take action soon.
The most practical thing to do to fix humidity issues is to buy a small humidifier. Simply place it in the same room as your ferns to ensure that they’re getting the humidity that they need.
If you don’t have a humidifier, you could try to mist your ferns semi-regularly. This can help sort things out a bit, but it might not be enough to keep the fern healthy and green, depending on how bad the humidity levels are in your home.
Some people have had good results when placing ferns in areas of their homes that have higher humidity levels. For instance, your bathroom is likely going to be more humid due to how often you’re running the water and taking showers.
Thankfully, humidifiers aren’t all that expensive, and you’re going to be able to get one easily if you want to. You could buy a small humidifier for just one room, but you could also try to find a larger humidifier that will help your entire home if you’re so inclined.
3 – Sunlight Issues
Sunlight issues can cause ferns to change color as well. Most commonly, you’ll find that too much direct sunlight will turn ferns brown. When ferns get scorched by hot direct sunlight, the fronds are going to start to look crispy and brown.
It’s important to note that most ferns that you will find will not do well with bright sunlight. There are some exceptions to that rule, though, such as the Boston fern.
The best thing to do is look up specific information for the type of fern that you’re caring for. This will give you a better idea of the best sunlight situations for the fern.
Generally, you should be able to get good results by giving ferns indirect sunlight. When a fern receives far too little light, you might notice some yellowing issues and the plant might die eventually.
So long as you’re following good sunlight recommendations for your fern, it’ll be possible to turn things around. Even if you didn’t have the fern in a good spot before, it’s going to be possible to reposition it so long as the plant isn’t too far gone.
4 – Too Much Fertilizer
Using fertilizer on a fern is fine and it can help it to grow strong and stay healthy when you use it right. However, it’s possible to take things too far and use more fertilizer than is necessary.
When you use an abundance of fertilizer on a fern, it’s going to be possible to cause the plant to burn. This could make the fronds turn brown and dry out if you went overboard, and you’re going to want to avoid this.
For this reason, it’s going to be necessary to be cautious when using fertilizer on ferns. Many types of houseplant fertilizers come with instructions that wind up being too much or too powerful for ferns.
You can alter things and dilute the fertilizer so that it is at half-strength. This should allow you to see some benefits from using the fertilizer without having to worry about the consequences of using too much.
Of course, you’ll still need to be careful not to fertilize your fern too often. Many fern enthusiasts say that they enjoy good results by fertilizing their ferns once per month from April through September.
5 – Transplant Shock
Have you recently transplanted a fern or planted it in a new pot? Sometimes ferns can go through what is known as transplant shock, and this can lead to the tips of the fronds turning brown.
Brown tips might be very concerning, and it’s definitely something that you should pay attention to. Moving ferns during certain times of the year will make it more likely that they will experience transplant shock.
For instance, if you’re keeping ferns outside, transplanting them too late in the year will lead to more transplant shock than usual. Transplanting ferns in the early spring will be a lot safer, and the plant might not even experience transplant shock.
Always be careful when transplanting or repotting ferns. Try to lift them carefully and do your best to put them in spots where they can thrive.
Other Factors to Consider
If you’ve ruled out the above-listed causes of ferns turning brown or yellow, you may want to consider the following factors:
- Disease/Pests: Ferns can be susceptible to fungal diseases like root rot and bacterial infections. Insect pests like mealybugs, spider mites, and scales can also cause a lot of damage. Carefully inspect the fern for any signs of disease or infestation.
- Improper Soil: Ferns prefer loose, well-draining soil that retains some but not all moisture. Dense, waterlogged soil, as well as very dry soil, can cause problems. Re-pot with an appropriate potting mix if needed.
- Cold Damage: If kept in the cold for too long, ferns can experience freeze damage. You should avoid exposing your fern to temperatures below 50 degrees F.
- Improper Pruning: Cutting too many fronds at once can stress the plant and cause it to turn brown or yellow. You should prune judiciously, cutting fronds at the base.
- Chemical Damage: Exposure to chemicals like chlorine, fluoride, and salt can damage ferns. You should avoid over-fertilizing and watering with tap water.
Many different things can cause ferns to turn brown or yellow. Thankfully, there are just as many things you can do to try and revive your plant.
Often, ferns are going to turn brown or yellow due to watering issues. This is the most likely situation since ferns can be finicky about water, but it’s still important to consider other factors.
You now know that ferns can turn brown due to not having enough room to grow in a pot. They can even get brown tips due to transplant shock.
So many things can impact ferns and cause them to have a tough time. You even need to be particular about the humidity levels in your home when caring for ferns indoors.
With so many things that can go wrong, you might think that ferns are a bit of a bother. It isn’t that tough when you know what you’re doing, though, and ferns are still great plants to keep in your home.
Take all of this advice into account so that you can have a good experience caring for ferns. Doing so will allow you to enjoy your ferns for a long time, and they’ll be able to look as lush and green as possible.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.