Yellow Leaves on a Bird’s Nest Fern | Causes and Solutions

Last Updated: December 31, 2021

Native to the Tropics, the Bird’s Nest Fern grows on top of other plants, hence the name, and can have leaves up to 5 feet long! They can be a little sensitive when it comes to their environment so if things aren’t quite what your Bird’s Nest Fern is after, they can develop yellow leaves. Below we will go through each of the different causes of yellow leaves on Bird’s Nest Ferns to help you figure out which is affecting your plant, how to fix it as well as how to prevent the problem from happening again in future. 

Too much water can cause yellow Bird’s Nest Fern leaves

If you notice that your Bird’s Nest Fern is developing quite a few yellow patches across its leaves, the problem might be consistent overwatering. We recommend a little and often approach to watering your Bird’s Nest Fern to keep a steady level of moisture in the potting mix. Always check back 30 minutes after watering and pour away any excess water that is in the saucer or at the bottom of the planter to avoid the roots from rotting in stagnant water (doing this in winter is especially important as it will evaporate slower).

If the leaves on your Bird’s Nest Fern so start to turn yellow due to root rot the whole plant might also become droopy and unstable. If not caught quickly, it can mean your Bird’s Nest Fern will not be able to survive.

If you think you have given your Bird’s Nest Fern too much water, check over the plant and soil immediately and replace the potting mix if it is waterlogged. Trim away the worst affected leaves and roots and be careful not to overwater again. Investing in a moisture meter is a great way to keep track of this. 

Top tip: when watering your Bird’s Nest Fern, make sure to water directly onto the soil and avoid splashing the leaves at all. If the leaves do become moist this can lead to leaf rot. 

Not enough water can also cause yellow leaves

Yellow leaves can be a tricky one to diagnose because as well as overwatering, they are also caused by a consistent lack of water. They aren’t the most forgiving plant when it comes to forgetful waterers as they do try out and crisp up pretty quickly. 

How do I know if underwatering is the cause of the yellow leaves?

Leaves are dry and crispy

Along with yellowing, if the leaves on your Bird’s Nest Fern are dry, crispy or break easily if touched, then you are probably underwatering.

The soil is dry

An easy way to see if the drooping leaves are caused by underwatering is by taking the plant out of its pot and inspecting the potting mix. If the soil feels very dry to touch, then your Bird’s Nest Fern needs more water to avoid more yellow leaves.

The soil is coming away from the sides of the pot

This is a great method to be able to tell if your Bird’s Nest Fern (or any other plant) is being underwatered just by looking at it. If you notice that the soil has compacted and is coming away from the sides of the pot, then it often means the potting mix is very dry and this might be causing the yellow leaves on your Bird’s Nest Fern.

Use a moisture meter

If you aren’t sure about how much moisture is good for your Bird’s Nest Fern, then we recommend using a moisture meter. They conclusively tell you how damp the soil is and if it’s time for water – a real life saver for every plant parent. They are super affordable too so make a great investment and have prevented several of our plants from dying due to watering problems. 

How do I fix an underwatered Bird’s Nest Fern?

Now that you know your Bird’s Nest Fern is developing the yellow leaves due to a lack of water, you might be wondering how to solve the problem. Straight away you might think that drowning your plant will make up for the lack of water. However, this risks shocking your plant as its environment has suddenly and drastically changed (yes plants get stressed and shocked too!). Instead, slowly reintroduce watering by giving it a little once a day for one week. This will slowly dampen the soil and help your plant recover. In future, make sure to give yourself a better watering routine so you don’t underwater your plant and cause any more yellow leaves.

Too much sunlight

Another cause of yellow leaves on Bird’s Nest Fern plants is often direct sunlight burning the leaves. This can happen when your plant receives too much direct light. If the yellowness on the leaves is quite patchy and looks as though the leaf has been scorched then direct light could be the cause. Trim away the worst affected leaves and move your Bird’s Nest Fern to a slightly shadier spot. They like bright light but it must be indirect (especially in summer). Stay away from south-facing windows (if you live in the northern hemisphere) as this is where your plant will get the most intense sunlight and the risks of leaf burn are much higher. 

Extreme Temperatures

Another cause of yellowing leaves in Bird’s Nest Ferns can be cold temperatures and drafts. Bird’s Nest Ferns really dislike cold air so it is important that you put your plant in the warmest room in the house over winter to avoid yellow leaves. 

Also, you want to make sure they aren’t close to any drafty windows, doors or AC vents as a constant stream of cold air can seriously affect your plant’s health. You can always pick up a digital thermometer to check the temperatures across your home if you are unsure.

Natural ageing

If it’s only the oldest leaves on your Bird’s Nest Fern that are turning yellow then this may be simply natural ageing. Over time, your Bird’s Nest Fern will drop some of its oldest leaves in favour of growing bigger healthier new ones. This is a completely natural process for your Bird’s Nest Fern and isn’t a sign that something is wrong. You want to make sure that the rate of yellowing is around 1 or 2 of the oldest leaves every few months. Monitor how often the leaves are turning yellow and if it is more than this then it might be that one of the other issues above is what’s causing them. 

In order to find out which of the causes is impacting your Bird’s Nest Fern and causing the leave to turn yellow, it’s important to give your plant, the potting mix and the environment a good once over to spot any issues. It’s difficult to spot watering issue without inspecting the soil and the roots so you might have to get your hands dirty to save your plant. 

To find out more about how to best care for your plant, avoid other common issues and even propagate it, check out our Bird’s Nest Fern care guide. 

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