Staghorn Fern Information And Care: How To Grow A Staghorn Fern

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) have an out-of-this world appearance. The plants grow outdoors in warm season locations and indoors elsewhere. Mounted or in a basket is how to grow a staghorn fern, because they are epiphytic, growing in trees generally. Staghorn fern care relies on careful light, temperature and moisture monitoring.

Staghorn Fern Information

There are 17 different species of staghorn fern (Platycerium alcicorne) – which in addition to common staghorn fern, go by a number of other common names that include elkhorn fern and antelope ears. Each one has the antler-like foliage as well as a flat basal leaf. The flat leaves are infertile and turn brown and papery with age. They overlap onto a mounting surface and provide stability for the fern. The foliar fronds may droop or be erect, depending upon the variety of fern.

Staghorn ferns produce spores as reproductive organs, which are borne on the on the edges of the lobed antler type fronds. They do not get flowers and they are generally not rooted in soil.

How to Grow a Staghorn Fern

Growing staghorn ferns is easy. If they get low to medium light and moderate moisture, they will thrive. In fact, whether grown indoors or outside, provide moderate moisture and a humus rich medium when growing staghorn ferns. Outdoor plants should be located in partial shade or low light conditions for the best growth, while indoor plants need bright indirect light.

Staghorn ferns are usually grown mounted on a piece of wood or in a basket. They will need a little mound of peat, compost or other organic matter piled up under the plant. Tie the plant onto the growing medium with panty hose or plant strips.

Growing Staghorn Ferns from Pups

Over time the fern will produce pups that will fill in around the main plant. Ferns don’t produce seeds like most plants, so the best way to start a new staghorn fern is from its pups. Use a sharp, sterile knife to cut the pup from the parent plant. Wrap the end of the cut in damp sphagnum moss and tie it on to a piece of wood or bark loosely. Provide the same care of staghorn ferns that you would for an adult fern.

Care of Staghorn Ferns

Care of staghorn ferns relies on careful humidity, light and temperature control. The ferns can live many years with good care and will get several hundred pounds in their natural habitat. Home grown ferns are generally much smaller but they can be in the family for decades.

Good staghorn fern care requires frequent watering, but allow the plant medium to dry out in between.

Fertilize them once per month with a 1:1:1 ration fertilizer diluted in water.

The plant is prone to black spot, which is a fungal disease. Do not water over the foliage and minimize humidity indoors to prevent the disfiguring spores.

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Read more about Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn Ferns

Once an uncommon plant find, staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.) is now quite popular and widely available. Beginner (or easily-distracted) gardeners in Florida should consider growing this fascinating tropical plant.

Staghorn fern thrives in Florida's heat and humidity it grows quite well in South Florida and can be grown in North and Central Florida if protected from frosts and freezes.

Ask a Question forum→Staghorn Fern care in a pot

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About 2 months ago I bought this staghorn fern in a pot. I don't want to mount it on the wall like they usually are, but keep it in a pot (perhaps a smaller one).

Problem is: one by one, the leaves are starting to turn yellow and fall off (see photo). It's in well drained soil, I water about every 2 weeks (I measure with a moisture-meter before, he usually gets medium-dry), occasionally spray him (2-3x per week) and he's in a well lit area with some afternoon sun.

Any idea what I'm doing wrong?

Most growers use a sphagnum moss pad between the plant and the mount.

Maybe I should repot mine into a better setup within the pot? Any suggestions?

We didn't want to hang it on the wall. We happened to have an old large wire basket sort of planter, a big one, like an inverted wire birdcage with legs. I ordered a roll of coconut coir liner. I cut a piece for the bottom and wired a length of it around the sides of the container to contain the peat moss I would fill it with. That gave be something that would drain perfectly and mimic the moss and debris where the staghorn normally lives in the crotch of a tree. I filled the interior with peat moss, the sort you see in wire hanging baskets.

We lifted the staghorn from it's smaller container that it had outgrown and formed a sort of nest to conform to it in the new container's peat. We then watered it in. The container we had made did, of course, pass water through freely. We just wanted to start the peat off moist. From then on, occasional water has been plenty, more or less as in nature they get water from occasional rain water that passes through their "nest."

If you want something more pot-like, you can find all sorts of wire baskets, and even wire planters already with coir liners (see Amazon). You just need the long fiber sphagnum moss to fill it and something to catch excess water. Just don't let the catch pot retain enough water to reach the bottom of the coir or moss. It will wick up and harm the staghorn.

Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

Common Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) and others in the Platycerium genus are bracket type epiphytes, growing either attached to the bark of a tree, or nestled in the crook of a tree, without soil. I have a few growing in on oak trees on my property and a very large mass of them growing on a wire platform and hanging by chains from a tree branch. The root system of Platycerium consists of a short rhizome and tufts of smaller roots along the rhizome that require excellent air circulation. Although many people might plant a staghorn fern in soil, I doubt that they will be happy, or prosper for very long with that manner of potting. Planting a Staghorn Fern in soil leads to eventual rot and the demise of the plant.

I'm an old gal who still loves playing in the dirt!

Playing in the dirt is my therapy . and I'm in therapy a lot!

I'll definitely heed the advice and get him out of the soil he came in as soon as possible. Will try what @IntheHotofTexas suggested, that sounds like a good setup, quasi-hanging them, and similar enough to what they like.

@IntheHotofTexas, is yours indoors? Approximately how many days do you wait between watering, and do you give him a good drench when you do?

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada

Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

I'm an old gal who still loves playing in the dirt!

Playing in the dirt is my therapy . and I'm in therapy a lot!

Water Deeply on a Weekly Basis

Staghorns like a moderate amount of water – think once or twice a week. Don’t keep yourself on a strict schedule, though – be mindful of your plant’s individual needs. I find that mine needs more water in the summer (watering it about three times a week) and less in the winter (once a week).

If you’re not familiar with watering practices for houseplants, take a peek at this video from Planterina on Youtube.

The health and watering needs of your staghorn vary greatly according to your climate. If you live in cooler, damper climates, you’ll need to water it less frequently than someone who lives in an arid hot climate. If you’re forgetful about watering your plants, you might want to invest in some watering globes like these ones from Wyndham House.

Finally, make sure to soak the roots when watering, ensuring that you’re not just watering the top layer of the soil. Check that at least two inches of soil get moist. You can measure this by sticking your index finger into the pot and checking that the soil is wet up to the second knuckle. This will help your new fern grow at a healthy rate and keep it glossy and bright.

Problems with Staghorn Ferns

While the Staghorn Fern is a tropical plant with low chances of getting attacked by common pests and diseases that often ruin the vigor of most other houseplants, failing to stick to the material requirements needed to make it look graceful all year long will ultimately hurt its appearance.

There are chances it might suffer from the dreadful Rhizoctonia fungal infection or get invaded by snails and slugs when neglected for too long. Mealybugs too like to prey on this tropical beauty. In the event where your Staghorn Fern is gravely invaded by aphids and scale insects, you can make the best use of a soluble insecticide if natural remedies seem not to work.

And in a bid to mitigate the fungal infection, I bet you’ll find this guide handy when treating the Rhizoctonia Blight condition on your Staghorn Ferns in case they get infected with the disease. Another common condition that causes adverse effects on the appearance of your Staghorn Fern is lack of access to enough light.

Even though this tropical houseplant thrives far better under partial shade, be careful not to overdo it. Mounting this tropical epiphyte somewhere with low light will cause it to grow at a slow pace since the chlorophyll pigments will take longer to respond. Make sure to adjust the mount in a position in which your Staghorn Fern can have access to enough but fairly filtered light for about 4-6 hours each day.

Effects of overwatering also tend to be unforgiving for many Fern species in the Platycerium genus. Depending on the overall size and texture of the leaves, remember to only water it once or twice every week during warmer months, then cut back the intervals when it’s winter. On the other hand, if the leaves begin to turn droopy, that could be a sign of underwatering.

How to Grow Staghorn Ferns

Always wanted to learn how to grow Staghorn ferns? We have been growing them for a long time here are our carefully cultivated tips!

What is a Staghorn Fern?

There are over 12,000 species of ferns, which are one of the most ancient plants known. Staghorn ferns used to be pretty difficult to find but as they have grown in popularity, they are much more readily available.

Fiddleleaf Figs, Snakeplant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue and of course, Monstera are very trendy now too. Each one has its own unique characteristics but one thing they all have in common is big leaves, which provide bold texture. Check out those elongated, forked fronds (which is what fern leaves are called) that look like antlers… that is how this fun fern got its name. Those fronds are actually called antler fronds. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, plants that grows on other plants or structures for support. Epiphytes are not parasitic they get moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, water and debris accumulating around them. And yes, this is the plant often mounted onto a wooden plank with moss or burlap, a popular growing trend.

Staghorn ferns also grow well in hanging baskets such as the one pictured above. The rounded, plate-like fronds are shield fronds that eventually dry and protect the plant roots. If you have visited our hothouse in the cool season, or the pavilion in the warm season, you might have noticed a huge Staghorn fern hanging around. This plant is now 15 years old, and the shield fronds have completely enveloped the original hanging basket it was planted in.

When growing Staghorn ferns on wooden plaques, avoid remounting the plants. Instead, as the shield fronds creep towards the outside edges of the plaque, mound the original plaque onto a larger one, without disturbing the fronds or roots.

Proper watering for Staghorn ferns

The roots primarily function to keep the plant secured in place. The fronds and the roots both absorb water. This is important to remember when choosing a planting container and soil drainage is key. Applying too much water to the root system could result in root rot. Because every growing situation is different, we cannot specify a watering schedule but a good rule of thumb would be to mist often, and water once a week in the warm season, once every few weeks in the cool season. Modify this schedule for your particular growing situation as needed. Reduce watering and misting when the ferns are in humid environments.

If antler fronds turn brown or black at the base, the plant may be getting too much water. If fronds are turning brown on the tips and wilting, they may not be getting enough water. Keep in mind that the shield fronds will turn brown naturally as they age, and the undersides of the antler fronds often have naturally occurring brown spores. Neither is a reason for concern. A Moisture Meter might be helpful as a training tool, until you get used to a watering schedule for your fern. Learn more about Moisture Meters here.

Lighting for Staghorn ferns

Staghorn ferns are easy to grow they like bright, indirect light and good drainage. Avoid placing them in direct sun. These ferns grow well in shady spots outdoors during the warm season. When temperatures start dipping below 60 degrees, bring them indoors for the cool season. They will be fine down to around 50 degrees but since forecasts can vary, we suggest bringing them in around 60 degrees to be safe.

Feeding your Staghorn fern

Young ferns benefit from regular fertilizer. During the warm growing season, fertilize with a water soluble, balanced fertilizer each month. Liquid Seaweed is always a good fertilizer for ferns. Staghorn ferns do not grow as much during the cool season, fall and winter reduce fertilizing to every 8 weeks during this time. Mature plants grow just fine with only twice a year feedings.

Where to buy Staghorn ferns

Right here at The Good Earth! We typically have them in a variety of sizes, from tiny terrarium size plants, all the way up to 14″ hanging baskets. The smaller sizes, 2-6″ pots, work well for mounting on wood, while the hanging baskets are ready to hang and enjoy!

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