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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - August 28, 2015

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Ferns
Title: Dieback of river fern and maidenhair fern in the Texas summer
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

My river fern and maiden hair fern are dying back. I know it is hot, but they are in shade and watered regularly. The river fern is dying back from the tips. Any fungus or bugs I should be looking for?

ANSWER:

Ferns are rarely affected by insects or fungi.  Scale insects can be a problem.  Snails and slugs sometimes devour younger fronds.  But I think your problem may be a combination of low humidity and high temperature.  That is suggested by dying back of the frond tips.  Make sure that the soil around the ferns remains moist (but not soaking wet) between waterings.  If necessary, add more compost to the soil, especially if the ferns are in a spot where dry breezes can drop the humidity during the hottest part of the day.  Check to see if the frond tips of Thelypteris kunthii (Wood fern) that are facing out of the foliage mass, and are therefore more susceptible to drying, are the ones turning brown. 

It is not unusual to see some dieback of Adiantum capillus-veneris (Southern maidenhair fern) during the summer.  Pruning the dying fronds off will encourage new growth. 

Some tips on growing ferns are found in this reference.

 

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