Overwatered Fern: How To Identify, Treat and Prevent It

By | Updated November 6, 2023

Overwatering can harm your fern by causing root rot, fungal growth, and bacterial issues. Signs include soggy soil, yellow/brown leaves, drooping, soft stems, and mold. To save it, stop watering, prune dead parts, repot in fresh soil, reduce fertilizer, and provide proper light. Prevent overwatering by checking soil moisture, using well-draining soil and pots, and ensuring adequate indirect light.

Ferns are one of the most popular houseplants for a good reason.

They’re beautiful, easy to care for, and make a great addition to any home.

But like all plants, ferns can sometimes suffer from overwatering.

Overwatering is one of the most common problems for houseplants, and ferns are no exception.

If you think your fern might be overwatered, here’s a quick guide on identifying, treating, and preventing it.

What Are the Risks of Overwatering a Fern?

While overwatering may not seem like a big deal, it can damage your fern plant.

When a fern is overwatered, the roots are suffocated and begin to rot.

This can lead to a whole host of problems, including:

Fungal Growth

Fungus loves damp, dark environments, and an overwatered fern is a perfect place for it to grow.

It’s not uncommon for an overwatered fern to develop a white, fuzzy mold on the leaves and stems.

This mold is a type of fungus called powdery mildew, and it can be quite damaging to your plant.

Powdery mildew will cause the leaves of your fern to turn yellow and brown, and eventually, the leaves will die and fall off.

If left untreated, the problem can spread to other plants in your home and even kill your fern.

Root Rot

As we mentioned, root rot is one of the most common problems with overwatering.

When the roots of a plant are constantly wet, they begin to break down and rot.

This can make it difficult for the plant to absorb nutrients and water.

As a result, the fern will begin to wilt, and the leaves will turn yellow or brown.

Fern root rot is a severe problem; if left untreated, it can kill your plant.

Bacterial Problems

Another common issue with overwatering is bacterial growth.

Bacteria thrive in wet, humid environments, and an overwatered plant is a perfect place to grow.

Bacterial problems can cause various issues, including leaf spot, stem rot, and crown rot.

Leaf spot is a type of bacterial infection that causes brown or black spots to form on your fern leaves.

Stem rot is another type of bacterial infection that can cause the stems of your plant to turn soft and mushy.

Crown rot is a severe infection that affects the plant’s crown, which is the area where the leaves and stems meet.

All of these problems can be pretty damaging to your plant, and if left untreated, they can kill your fern.

Pest infestations

Overwatered plants are also more prone to pest infestations.

Fungus gnats, for example, are tiny insects that are attracted to damp soil.

They lay their eggs in the soil, and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the plant’s roots.

This can damage the plant and make it more susceptible to other problems, such as root rot.

Other pests, such as mealybugs and aphids, can infest an overwatered fern.

These pests can suck the nutrients out of the plant, causing it to wilt and die.

How Does Overwatering a Fern Occur?

Now that we’ve talked about the risks of overwatering let’s discuss how it happens.

There are a few different ways that a fern can become overwatered, including:

Not Draining the Pot Properly

When you water your potted fern, it’s essential to ensure the excess water can drain out of the pot.

If the water doesn’t drain properly, the plant’s roots will become submerged in water, which can lead to root rot.

To prevent this, always make sure to water your fern in a sink or tub and allow the excess water to drain out before putting the plant back in its pot.

Not Letting the Soil Dry Out Between Waterings

It’s also essential to make sure that the soil of your fern has a chance to dry out between waterings.

If you water your fern too often, the roots will never have a chance to dry out, leading to root rot.

To prevent this, always check the soil of your fern before watering it.

If the soil is still damp, wait a few days before watering again.

Using the Wrong Type of Soil

Another common mistake is using the wrong type of soil for your fern.

Ferns prefer loose, well-draining potting soil, and if you use heavy soil that doesn’t drain well, this can lead to overwatering.

To avoid this problem, use a light, well-draining soil for your fern.

You can add some perlite or vermiculite to the potting soil to help drainage.

Putting Your Fern in a Pot That’s Too Small

Putting your fern in a pot that’s too small can also lead to overwatering.

When the roots of a plant are cramped, they don’t have enough room to grow, making it difficult for the plant to absorb water.

As a result, the plant will become overwatered even if you’re not watering it too often.

To prevent this problem, make sure to choose a pot that’s big enough for your fern.

A general rule of thumb is to choose a pot that’s about twice the size of the plant.

Watering with Hard Water

Another common mistake is watering your fern with hard water.

Hard water contains high levels of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which can build up in the soil and make it more difficult for the plant to absorb water.

As a result, your plant may become overwatered even if you’re not watering it too often.

To avoid this problem, make sure to use distilled or filtered water for your fern.

This will help remove any minerals from the water and make it easier for your plant to absorb.

How To Identify If Your Fern Is Overwatered?

Fern plants are susceptible to overwatering; if you think your plant may be overwatered, acting quickly is essential.

It’s crucial to know the signs of an overwatered fern so you can take steps to save your plant.

Signs of an Overwatered Fern

Ferns are tropical plants that like to be in moist, humid environments.

However, if a fern is overwatered, it will show signs of stress.

Some common signs of an overwatered fern include:

The Soil is Soggy or Muddy

One of the first signs of overwatering is soggy or muddy soil.

If the potting soil of your fern is constantly wet or muddy, this is a sign that you’re watering it too often.

When plants can’t absorb water, it begins to pool on the soil’s surface, which can lead to several problems, including root rot.

To know for sure, stick your finger in the soil of your fern.

If the soil is wet or muddy, you’re probably overwatering.

The Leaves are Yellow or Brown

Another common sign of overwatering is yellow or brown leaves.

When a fern is overwatered, the roots cannot take in enough oxygen from the soil.

This lack of oxygen results in the leaves turning yellow or brown and eventually dying.

Although yellow or brown leaves can also be a sign of other problems, such as nutrient deficiencies, it’s often one of the first signs of overwatering.

The Leaves are Drooping

Drooping leaves are another common sign of overwatering.

When the roots of a plant can’t take in enough water, the plant can’t support its weight, and the leaves will begin to droop.

If you see your fern’s leaves drooping, check the soil to see if it is wet or dry.

If the soil is dry, water your plant, and see if the leaves perk up.

If they don’t, you may be dealing with a different issue.

The Stems are Soft or Mushy

When a plant is overwatered, the stems can become soft or mushy.

If you gently squeeze the stem of an overwatered fern and it feels squishy, then it is likely that the plant is overwatered.

This is because the excess moisture causes the cells in the plant to swell and burst.

As a result, the plant’s stems become weak and can’t support the weight of the leaves.

If you see your fern’s stems becoming soft or mushy, it’s a sign that you’re overwatering.

There is Mold Growing on the Soil

Mold is a common problem in overwatered plants.

When the soil is too wet, it creates the perfect mold environment.

If you see mold growing on the soil of your fern, it’s a sign that you’re overwatering.

Not only is mold unsightly, but it can also be harmful to your plant.

If left unchecked, mold can spread to the plant’s roots and cause root rot.

Root rot is a severe problem that can kill your plant.

How To Save an Overwatered Fern

If you think your fern is overwatered, taking action quickly is crucial.

The longer you wait, the more damage will be done and the harder it will be to save your plant.

Here are some tips for saving an overwatered fern:

Stop Watering Your Plant

The first step is to stop watering your plant.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but if your plant is already overwatered, adding more water will only worsen the problem.

Instead, wait for the soil to dry out before watering again.

This will allow the roots to recover and start taking in oxygen again.

Prune the Dead Leaves

Once you’ve stopped watering your plant, you can prune away the dead leaves.

Cut off any yellow or brown leaves and discard them.

You can also remove any stems that are soft or mushy.

By removing the dead leaves and stems, you’re giving your plant a chance to focus its energy on the healthy parts of the plant.

Repot Your Plant

If your fern is in a pot, it’s essential to repot it into fresh soil.

The old soil is likely compacted and full of toxins that can harm your plant.

Remove it from its pot and discard the old soil to repot your plant.

Then, place the plant in a new pot with fresh, well-draining soil.

Water your plant only when the top inch of soil is dry.

Cut Back on Fertilizer

If you’re fertilizing your fern, it’s important to cut back on the amount of fertilizer you’re using.

Too much fertilizer can burn your plant’s roots and make overwatering worse.

If you think your plant is overwatered, stop fertilizing it until it has recovered.

Remove Affected Roots

If your plant is severely overwatered, you may need to remove some affected roots.

This can be difficult, but saving the plant is sometimes necessary.

To remove the roots, gently dig around the base of the plant and carefully lift it out of the pot.

Then, inspect the roots and trim away any that are black or mushy.

Once you’ve removed the affected roots, you can repot your plant in fresh soil.

Place Your Plant in a Bright, Airy Location

Once you’ve taken steps to save your overwatered fern, giving it the right environment to recover is important.

Place your plant in an airy location where it will get plenty of bright indirect light.

But be sure to avoid direct sunlight, which can scorch your plant’s leaves.

Place your plant on a windowsill or in a room with lots of natural light if possible.

How To Prevent Overwatering a Fern

Ferns are generally easy to care for, but they can be sensitive to overwatering.

To prevent overwatering your fern, it’s important to water only when the soil is dry.

Stick your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle.

If the soil is dry, it’s time to water.

If you’re unsure whether the soil is dry, it’s better to err on caution and wait another day or two before watering.

In addition to watering only when the soil is dry, use a well-draining pot and soil.

This will help prevent waterlogged soil and root rot.

Finally, make sure your plant is getting plenty of bright indirect light.

Ferns placed in too-shady locations are more likely to be overwatered because they’re not using up water as quickly.

Final Thoughts

Overwatering is a common problem among fern owners.

But it’s a problem that can be easily fixed with the proper care.

If you think your fern is overwatered, the first step is to stop watering it.

Then, wait for the soil to dry out before watering again.

Finally, give your indoor plant the right environment to recover by placing it in a bright, airy location.

Following these steps can save your overwatered fern and prevent the problem from happening again.

Share on: