Whether you look at a Staghorn Fern as living wall-art or green taxidermy, one thing is undeniable: this unusual plant has everyone captivated. But, how exactly do you care for this sideways Staghorn Fern wonder?
Staghorn Fern – Not Your Average Houseplant
Staghorn ferns are “Epiphytic” (ep-eh-fit-ick), which basically means that they naturally grow on things instead of in them. Originating from Asia and Australia, these plants cling to treetops and have zero soil. Sounds strange, right?
So, how does this factor into your Staghorn Fern’s care? These plants use their roots as an anchor, nothing else.
While they should never be allowed to dry out completely, they require air circulation to remain healthy and disease-free. Staghorn Ferns should be mounted horizontally in a loose, non-traditional potting medium for the best results.
Since the roots are just an anchor, you might be wondering how your Staghorn Fern ‘eats and drinks’.
Your fern uses its shield fronds to absorb the moisture and nutrients it needs to survive. Your Staghorn Fern will thrive when you start caring for the fronds like you would the roots of a traditional houseplant.
How Do I Mount a Staghorn Fern?
Your imagination is the limit when it comes to mounting your Staghorn fern. You can go with traditional methods or forge your own path. Check out this easy idea:
- Lay your wooden mount on a flat surface.
- Put a wire basket “upside-down” onto the mount.
- Affix the basket to the mount with nails or screws.
- Flip horizontally.
- Pack the basket’s bowl with growing material. (For best results, use equal parts peat moss, sphagnum moss, and bark.)
- Put the fern inside the wire basket and secure it with ties. (Non-copper metal wire, plastic ties, fishing wire, or string are all suitable.) Important: Ensure that the shield fronds are touching the growing material.
As your Staghorn fern grows and produces pups, you will have a full 180° display!
The Staghorn Fern Care Basics
Staghorn ferns thrive in bright, indirect light. These are tropical rainforest dwellers, not shade-loving ferns you spot on a weekend hike. You’ll want to keep your fern out of direct sunlight, especially in the afternoon hours.
Watering a horizontal plant that doesn’t have “real” soil might be a first for you. When your staghorn fern’s antler fronds look droopier than usual, that’s a good sign your plant needs water.
Droopy staghorn ferns usually bounce back the same day of watering. With this plant, it’s better to underwater than overwater.
When and How Often Should I Water my Staghorn Fern?
2-3 times a week is ideal, especially if you live in a warmer environment. Staghorn Ferns are susceptible to “Black Spot,” which is a fungal disease. Watering in the morning gives your plant the best chance of excess water evaporating.
Give it a good, healthy shower in the morning. Lightly water the root ball and leaves with lukewarm water. Let it drip dry in a brightly lit, well-ventilated area.
Asa rule of thumb, these plants should not be exposed to temperatures below 55 F.
Staghorn ferns adore humidity. In fact, it’s essential to their survival in the wild (where the humidity levels are around 70%). A humidifier is the most reliable way to care for your Staghorn Fern’s all-day humidity needs.
Mature Staghorn Ferns do not require frequent fertilizing as part of their care routine. Applying fertilizer once or twice yearly is plenty. Young plants should be given fertilizer every month to encourage growth.
How to Fertilize
In nature, Staghorn Ferns absorb nutrients through their Shield Fronds from the surrounding environment. This means the traditional soil/root fertilization method doesn’t do these plants much good.
Instead, you’ll want to dilute a balanced Orchid or Air Plant fertilizer to half strength and pour the mixture over the shield and antler fronds.
There are 18 various types (species) of Staghorn fern in total. Different species of Staghorn Ferns require different levels of care.
If you’re a newbie in the world of Staghorn Ferns, here are three of the easiest to care for:
- Platycerium bifurcatum
- Platycerium hillii
- Platycerium vetchii
A Brief Overview of Staghorn Anatomy (+ How to Propagate)
These unusual plants are made up of three basic parts. It’s essential to identify and understand each one, so let’s get started:
Shield Fronds (aka Flat Basal Fronds, Sterile Fronds)
Arguably the most important part of the plant, the shield fronds “shield” the roots. They work to absorb the essential nutrients and moisture your plant needs. You will locate them at the base of your Staghorn Fern.
Important, yes. Attractive? Not really. Over time, these fronds naturally brown and crisp. Even though they look dead, they’re still doing their job and should never ever be removed. Doing so will likely kill your Staghorn.
In a nutshell: Happy Shield Fronds means a happy Staghorn Fern.
When you think “Staghorn Fern,” this is the part you imagine: long, showy, antler-like fronds. In fact, they can grow up to 3-feet long indoors!
Their purpose? These fronds are the baby-makers: they’re fertile. In the fern world, that means they will develop sporangia (reproductive structures) and spores.
Sporangia will appear on the back of the frond and look like brown felt; it should never be removed.
In a home environment, reproduction (or propagation) from staghorn spores is extremely challenging to achieve.
When cared for properly though, most Staghorn Fern varieties produce pups: little “mini me’s” that pop out from the root structure. Utilizing pups is the easiest way to propagate your fern.
How Can I Make a New Staghorn Fern from Pups?
Let’s make one thing clear: you don’t have to “harvest” your Staghorn’s pups. If you leave them alone, your plant will become fuller.
If you want to add to your Staghorn collection, follow these steps:
- Find a pup that is at least 4-inches long.
- Locate the area where the pup connects to the “mother” plant’s shield frond.
- Take a sharp, sterile knife, and remove the pup (with roots attached).
- Mount the pup, as you would an adult.
Common FAQs – Your Care Questions Answered
Q. Why is my Staghorn Fern turning yellow?
An odd yellow frond here-or-there is not always a sign of disaster, but if this is a continual issue, it’s likely you’re overwatering your Staghorn fern. Yellow leaves can also be a plea for more humidity.
Q. Why Does my Fern have Patches on its Fronds?
Cold water will shock your Staghorn fern, giving it unsightly patches. Start watering your fern with room temperature water.
Q. Why are my Staghorn Fern’s Leaves Waxy?
Every member of the Platycerium plant family has a slightly waxy texture. Don’t scrub your Staghorn Fern in an attempt to remove this coating; it’s a natural protective barrier that your plant needs!
Q. How do I Save a Dying Staghorn fern?
The demise of a Staghorn fern is usually connected to watering habits. Too much water will eventually result in fungal infection, which causes black spots to develop on the shield fronds.
Simply reduce water intake and treat the affected area with a natural fungicide. If the whole base turns black, your Staghorn Fern is officially “dead-dead.”
Too little water will result in dry, crusty roots and plant death. Noticing lots of antler fronds becoming brown and dry? You have a thirsty plant on your hands.
Care for your Staghorn Fern by rehydrating the roots: place them in water a sink-full of water for 5-10 minutes.
Can I Mist my Staghorn Fern?
Why are the Tips of my Staghorn Fern’s Leaves Turning Brown?
Low humidity is the #1 culprit for brown tips. Mist the arching stems daily.
Can I Use Bananas as a Fertilizer for my Staghorn Fern?
People do, but I don’t recommend it. Bananas contain potassium and small amounts of phosphorus and other nutrients but do not contain a balanced ‘diet’ for your Staghorn fern.
Plus, as the banana peel rots it can attract pests and flies.
You’re much better off fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer that already contains macro-nutrients such as nitrogen. Nitrogen naturally encourages foliage growth.
What about Coffee: Can I Feed That to my Staghorn Fern?
Coffee grounds are used to add acid to soil and to treat nitrogen deficiencies. If you fertilize your plant with diluted Orchid fertilizer, as you should be, your plant does not likely have a nitrogen deficiency (nitrogen is a primary ingredient in most plant fertilizers).
In fact, dangers lie in over-caring for your Staghorn Fern by providing it with too many nutrients: more is not always better. Symptoms can include brown spots and overall stunted growth.
What does a nitrogen deficiency look like? Yellowing fronds can be an indicator. Remember, watering habits and humidity are a much more common cause of yellowing fronds, so rule them out before you assume your Staghorn needs more nitrogen.
Can Epsom Salt help my Staghorn Fern?
Epsom salts contain magnesium, sulfur, and other ingredients that can benefit your Staghorn. These are nutrients that are not necessarily found in all fertilizers, so your plant could be missing out on them.
Are the nutrients found in Epsom salt vital to your fern’s health? No. If you care for your Staghorn Fern properly, Epsom salts are like dessert: not necessary, but good.
Here’s how to do it:
- Mix 1-2 tablespoon of Epsom Salt into 1 gallon of water.
- Put your mixture in a clean spray bottle.
- Spray the foliage of your Staghorn Fern. (And any other ferns you may have sitting around.)