Why Do the Fronds on Ferns Turn Brown at the Tips?

Ferns have special care needs that are not typical of other tropical plants. Some ferns are easier to grow than others. Boston ferns, asparagus ferns and rabbit's foot ferns will grow indoors with the proper light, humidity, irrigation and air circulation. The staghorn and maidenhair ferns have higher humidity requirements and sometimes show signs of tip browning if the humidity isn't just right.

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A healthy fern without browning frond tips.

Humidity

Ferns need high humidity to prevent tip browning. Although the best way to achieve the highest level of humidity as needed by the maidenhair and staghorn ferns is with a greenhouse, humidifiers provide more humidity than misting the leaves daily, which could cause leaf spot disease. Instead of a humidifier, you can use a drainage tray with gravel inside of it. The tray is placed under the fern pot to catch the excess water from each watering. As the water evaporates, it provides humidity around the plant.

Air Circulation

All types of ferns need good air circulation. If the plant is placed against a wall or in a location bunched together with other plants, the air is not going to circulate around the fern. There should not be any obstructions blocking the air flow around the ferns. The rabbit's foot fern is best suited for a hanging planter so air can circulate around the plant, which has long fronds that cascade downward.

Light

Ferns have strict light requirements. Most ferns need light from an east window or light coming from a west window. If the fern is in a west window, it must be a few feet away from the direct sunlight or the fern will show signs of tip browning. During the winter, the ferns will do very well in the direct sunlight of a west or south window because the days are shorter and the sun is not as intense as it is during spring and summer. Asparagus ferns have high light needs during the winter and do well in a bright south window.

Water

Different ferns have different water needs. However, if the soil becomes dry, the tips of the ferns will turn brown. Water the soil thoroughly when the soil is slightly dry until the water runs out of the bottom drain holes. This ensures that the roots are getting enough moisture. Use tap water that sits out for at least 24 hours to warm and allow the chemicals in the water to dissipate. Do not use softened water on ferns or the salt buildup in the soil after time will cause the frond tips to turn brown.