Boston Fern Turning Brown: Treating Brown Fronds On Boston Fern Plant

Boston Fern Turning Brown: Treating Brown Fronds On Boston Fern Plant

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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Boston ferns are old-fashioned plants that bring the elegance of turn of the century parlors to the modern home. They put one in mind of ostrich feathers and fainting couches, but their rich green foliage is a perfect foil for any decorating choice. The plant requires plenty of humidity and low light to prevent the Boston fern turning brown. If you have a Boston fern with brown leaves, it might be cultural or simply the wrong site for the plant.

Boston ferns are made for container gardening. As houseplants they are easy to care for and add lush greenery to your home. Boston ferns are a cultivar of the Sword fern. The variety was discovered in 1894 in a shipment of these ferns. Today, many cultivars exist of the fern, which is as popular now as it was in the 19th century. As a foliage plant, the fern can’t be matched, but Boston fern browning on fronds minimizes the attractiveness.

Why is My Boston Fern Turning Brown?

Boston fern browning may be caused by poor soil, inadequate drainage, lack of water or humidity, too much light, excess salt or simply mechanical injury. If your cat tends to chew on the leaves, the tips will turn brown and die. Or, if you fertilize too frequently and don’t leach the soil, the salt build up will make the fern discolor.

Since there are so many possible causes, eliminate the cat and the fertilizer, take a look at where the plant lives and then turn your attention to your care.

Cultural Causes for a Boston Fern with Brown Leaves

  • Light – Boston ferns need moderate light to produce the greenest fronds, but they are prone to burning on the tips if the light is too intense. Ferns should not be placed in southern windows, as the heat and light will be too much for the plant.
  • Temperature – Temperatures should be about 65 F. (18 C.) during the night and no higher than 95 F. (35 C.) during the day.
  • Water – The plant also needs consistent water. Maintain an evenly moist medium, but not soggy, to prevent brown fronds on Boston fern.
  • Humidity – Humidity is another big part of Boston fern care. Misting is one way to add humidity, but it is only a short-term solution, as the water will evaporate. Fill a dish with gravel and water and place the pot on top of this to increase humidity.

How Do I Fix Brown Fronds on 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.
  • Use a water soluble plant food mixed to half the recommended strength every 2 weeks and once per month in winter. An Epsom salt solution applied twice per year will help keep the greenest color. Mix at a rate of 2 tablespoons per gallon (30 mL/3.8L) of water. Always rinse the foliage after fertilizing Boston fern plants to prevent leaf burn.

Following these steps should soon have your Boston fern looking its best.

This article was last updated on

Read more about Boston Ferns

Boston Fern Turning Brown

If your Boston ferns are turning brown, investigate the probable causes and understand the possible cures. The Boston fern, or the Nephrolepis exaltata plant, is among the most commonly-grown of landscape and potted plants. Use the following information to revitalize your Boston ferns.

Watering & Sunlight Mismanagement

Boston fern doesn’t need intensive supply of water. In fact, slight excesses of water too can harm the plant. To ensure that you are maintaining the balance of moisture supply, spray the plant repeatedly using a mist sprayer rather than repeatedly watering it. During periods of low humidity, Boston ferns tend to curl-up and turn brown. This is a typical situation that can be solved with misting the plants rather than watering them.

When watering the plant, test the top layer of soil in the pot. The top layer should be considerably dry. The slightest of over-watering can cause unwarranted damage to a developing Boston fern. Ensure that the soil is not tightly compacted, as this slows the drainage of water. Use a gardening tool to till the potted soil.

Ensure that the plant is getting sufficient but limited sunlight. This might be confusing for some folks. Boston ferns don’t react well to bright sunlight for extended hours as this can literally scorch the plant. Ensure that you place the pots in an area that is slightly shaded. If this is not possible, move the plant to a shaded area after exposing it to bright sunlight for a couple of hours.

Plant Diseases

Among plant diseases, fungal infections like the Pythium root rot is the most common cause of gradual decay of Boston ferns and its increased browning. The fronds of such plants are significantly shrunken in size. The foliage seems to wilt and the plant’s overall growth is stunted. The base section of the plant may show extremely dark brown spotting. You can cure such plants by using anti-fungal sprays and re-potting the plant with new soil.

Mites are another probable cause of brown spotting among Boston ferns. Mites are hard-to-detect. You can use a magnifying glass to see if these pests have infected the plant. You can control the infestation by wiping the mite-afflicted areas with an alcohol-dipped cotton swab. Further, spray the entire plant with an all-purpose insecticidal spray.

Wrongful Fertilization

You need to be careful about the fertilization needs of Boston ferns. These plants need limited fertilization during certain phases. For instance, when it seems that the plant is overwhelmed with dried or brown foliage, stop fertilizing it. Resume the fertilization only when you have systematically pruned the plant. Ideally, fertilization should be done only when the new fronds are emerging. During fertilization, ensure that you provide a few nitrogen-rich sources like fish oil mixes.

Symptoms of a Boston Fern Going Awry

Boston ferns are a popular choice of houseplant they can add charm to any home and especially flourish during the spring and summer months. Boston fern do require specific care and attention, and neglecting any of several measures can create any of the following problems that need prompt attention.


Boston ferns require a level of humidity that is not naturally found in the home. It is recommended to maintain your fern at forty to fifty percent humidity. Those that go for more than a short time in too dry an environment will develop what is know as frond greying: a dull, unsightly coloring of the leaves. If left untreated, this problem can turn into as condition called runner burn, named for the fern's long stems that carry water throughout the leaves. Runner burn causes brown and dry leaves that quickly die and fall off. Another symptom of dehydration in ferns is leaves that turn white rather than grey or brown. This is a sign that the roots have dried out, and it will be necessary to soak them directly in distilled water.

Many fern owners have found that frond greying and runner burn can be prevented by getting in the habit by always keeping the fern's potting soil moist. For those who live in drier climates, particularly those with harsh winters and summers, invest in a small humidifier for your Boston fern. Another option that works well is to mist the fronds daily with a spray bottle.

Deficient Fertilizer

Boston ferns also require regular fertilizer mixed with their potting soil. During the growing season of spring and summer, it is advised to add new fertilizer every second week. Boston ferns can be fed fertilizer once per month during the winter months. Those that are not getting adequate fertilizer will start to loose color in their leaves and will also start to sag. Be sure to buy quality fertilizer for your Boston fern some types have been found not to have adequate nutrients.

Pests and Fungi

Spider mites and mealybugs are two species of pest that are attracted to the Boston fern. Evidence of them includes small holes eaten in the leaves, yellowing or greying leaves, and sometimes brown scabs or scales on the runner stems. It is not recommended to use harsh pesticides to take care of this problem these can further damage the fronds and stems. Look for remedies with green/natural ingredients, and your local plant nursery should be able to recommend specific ones.

Boston ferns can also develop one of a few types of fungus, most commonly rhizoctonia aerial blight and pythium root rot. Symptoms of pythium root rot include fronds turning an unusual orange-yellow color, blackening of the stems close to the soil, and rapid dying of entire fronds. This fungus is actually caused by over-watering potting soil that is too saturated and left to stand is a rich environment for the pythium spores to develop. Rhizoctonia aerial blight, also known as leaf spot, is evidenced by brown spots and web-like patterns through the leaves and stems of your Boston fern. This is often a result of excess water combined with the fern being placed in an area that is too hot.

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Renée says

I bought that exact fern, had the same problem, too late. Do you happen to know what the name of that curly fern is? I can’t find it? Kind regards, Renée

Andrea says

Fanny says

I spray mine with epson salt mix with water
Ferns loves it and it fertilize as well

Debbie says

What is the epsom salt mixture measurements?

Virginia says

I put one teaspoon to one gallon of water.

Pattie Wyatt says

Can you use Miracle grow fertilizer on the farms as well as the Epson salt also.

Tmcdaniel says

Yes, Epsom Salt is just magnesium sulfate. Most fertilizer is just N-P-K, just be careful to wash off leaves to prevent foliage burn.

Debbie says

What is the epsom salt mixture?

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I’m Jessica, a mom on a mission to show other women that you can live well without breaking the bank. I like to share the thrifty, creative ways that I make changes in my home in the hopes that it will spark the creativity in someone else! I love to share DIY projects, crafts, simple recipes and cleaning tips too! Read More…

Watch the video: Boston Fern care tips. How to save my boston fern. all about boston fern. fern problem solutions


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