Brown Tips On Garden Ferns – What Causes Brown Tips On Fern Leaves

fern brown tips
fern brown tips
(Image credit: Chazz Hesselein, Alabama Cooperative Extension System,

Ferns give a garden a lush, tropical appeal, but when they don’t have the right conditions, the tips of the fronds can turn brown and crispy. You’ll learn what causes brown tips on fern leaves and how to correct the problem in this article.

Ferns Turning Brown at Tips

Most ferns have three basic needs: shade, water, and humidity. You need all three of these conditions to grow a healthy fern, and you can’t make up for one by giving more of another. For instance, extra water won’t compensate for too much sun or not enough humidity. The plant tag will tell you to plant the fern in a shady location, but it may not stay in the shade. As it grows, the tips of the fronds may find themselves sitting in bright sunlight, and they may bleach out, turn pale, or turn brown and crispy. When this happens, you can either transplant the fern to a shadier location or add plants or hardscaping to create more shade. Likewise, outdoor ferns with brown tips may be due to cold damage. If you live in an area with harsher winters, you may want to grow your fern in containers that can be moved indoors to prevent this type of injury. Ferns suffer less transplant shock if you move them in spring. Dig around the fern, keeping as much of the root mass as possible. Lift the fern by sliding the shovel under the roots and prying up. You can damage the plant by trying to lift it by the fronds. Prepare a new hole a little wider than the root mass and exactly as deep. Place the plant in the hole, and fill in around the roots with soil. Position the fern so that the line between the above and below ground parts of the plant is even with the surrounding soil. You may see brown tips on garden ferns if the soil becomes too dry. When it feels dry to touch, water slowly and deeply. Stop watering when the water runs off instead of sinking into the soil. The water will run off quickly if the soil is compacted. In this case, work in some organic matter, which will help loosen the soil and help it hold more moisture. A couple of inches of mulch around the plant will also help the soil hold moisture. Have you ever wondered why hanging a fern in the bathroom helps it turn lush and green? It’s because of the high humidity in the bathroom. Although you can fix a humidity problem for an indoor fern by setting the plant on a tray of pebbles and water or running a cool mist humidifier, there isn’t much you can do outdoors. If your fern has brown tips because the humidity is too low, it’s best to choose another plant for the location.

Jackie Carroll

Jackie Carroll has written over 500 articles for Gardening Know How on a wide range of topics.