Why does my Boston fern look sparse and have brown leaf tips?
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) growing indoors may look a bit spare in winter or early spring. Brown tipping of the fronds (leaves) is most likely a result of low humidity and perhaps drying out a little too much between winter waterings. The indoor environment may also be a little too drafty or cold.
To raise the humidity level, use a pebble tray.This is simply a larger tray under the plant, holding about an inch of small, clean pebbles. Add water to just below the top of the pebbles. The pebbles are sold in plastic bags at nurseries and fish stores.
As summer approaches, brighter light and warmer, more humid weather will naturally bring more active growth--you should expect to see new leaves. During winter, feel free to trim off brown parts.
It might be a good idea to freshen up the soil by repotting. Stick with the same size pot or go smaller, unless the existing pot is jammed full of healthy roots (not brown or black dry rotting roots). If the roots are in fact jammed together, a larger pot will allow them to spread out. With this spreading out, the fern will produce new growth.
Some people like to give their Boston ferns a haircut in the spring, cutting back everything to about 2-3 inches. This cutting is a good idea if you have an outside place to put the plant where it can get loads of bright light to foster new growth. People often hang Boston ferns on their porches, up near the porch roof. The high location gives the plant tons of bright light yet restricts direct sunlight to very early or very late in the day, when the angle of the sun is too low to cause sunburn.
For further information on care, see Missouri Botanical Garden's information sheet.
For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service