The Ultimate Staghorn Fern Care Guide

Last Updated: October 16, 2023

Introduction to Staghorn Ferns

These unique and exotic plants have an unusual growth habit and mesmerizing leaf patterns. They hang on trees in their natural habitat, mimicking the way they grow in the wild adds a dramatic touch to your indoor decor. But, their uniqueness comes at a price as Staghorn Ferns require particular attention and care to flourish.

The name ‘staghorn fern’ comes from the plant’s unique fronds that resemble the antlers of a stag. This plant can exhibit two types of fronds. The sterile fronds, also known as the shield fronds, are round and flat, which curl around the base of the plant and help in absorbing nutrients. The fertile fronds, on the other hand, are the ones that resemble antlers and are responsible for the plant’s photosynthesis.

Staghorn Fern Characteristics

The Staghorn Fern, or Platycerium, is an epiphytic plant, This means that instead of growing in soil, Staghorn ferns grow on and around other plants or structures, much like orchids or bromeliads.

In terms of size, Staghorn Ferns can vary quite a bit. In their natural habitat, they can grow up to several feet across. But as houseplants, they tend to be more modest in size, usually a couple of feet in width and height.

The spores of Staghorn Fern are borne on the undersides of the foliar fronds. When mature, these spores can be harvested and propagated to create new plants.

Another notable characteristic is the Staghorn Fern’s resilience. They are tough and can endure a range of conditions, including varying levels of light and humidity. However, they do have their preferences, tending to thrive in bright, indirect light and a humid environment. We’ll cover all of this in more detail below.

Displaying Your Staghorn Fern

The location and method of display not only impact the aesthetic appeal of your Fern but these two factors also play a vital role in its overall health and growth.

There are a few important factors to consider when deciding on the perfect spot for your Staghorn Fern:

  • Light: Staghorn ferns thrive in bright, indirect light. A spot near a window that gets plenty of filtered sunlight would be ideal. Direct sunlight, however, can scorch the leaves and cause damage.
  • Temperature: These ferns prefer warm, humid environments. Normal indoor temperature, between 55°F-85°F, suits them fine. Avoid placing them near air vents, heating units, or cold drafts.
  • Humidity: As tropical plants, Staghorn ferns love humidity. Bathrooms or kitchens, where humidity levels are typically high, would be great locations.
  • Mounting vs Potting: In their natural habitat, Staghorn Ferns grow as epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants or objects instead of in soil. To mimic this, consider mounting your fern on a wooden board or hanging basket. If you prefer to keep it in a pot, ensure it has excellent drainage.

Displaying these plants is so different to most other houseplants which can make caring for a Staghorn Fern intimidating. Here are a few display ideas to inspire you:

  1. Hanging Basket: Fill a hanging basket with moss and bark, and place your fern in it, allowing the fronds to cascade beautifully. It’s an excellent method for displaying Staghorn Ferns and also provides excellent drainage.
  2. Mounted on a Wooden Board: This mimics the natural environment of the fern and creates a stunning visual display. Attach your fern to a wooden board using fishing line or nylon stockings. Be sure to incorporate some sphagnum moss for added moisture retention.
  3. Freestanding in a Pot: If you’re not keen on mounting, a freestanding pot can work, too. Opt for a pot with good drainage, filled with a fast-draining potting mix, ideally a blend of bark, peat moss, and perlite.

Staghorn Fern Light Requirements

When it comes to the light requirements of a Staghorn Fern, they thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. As inhabitants of tropical rainforests, they’re acclimated to being shielded from the intense direct sunlight by the overhanging tree canopy.

It’s important to avoid placing your Staghorn Fern in direct sunlight. The harsh rays can scorch the plant’s delicate fronds, causing damage to the leaves.

However, if a suitable source of natural light isn’t available in your home, artificial light can serve as a substitute or to supplement it. A fluorescent light bulb placed close to the fern can provide an adequate light source. Staghorn Ferns are quite adaptable and will generally do well given sufficient artificial light.

Watering Your Staghorn Fern

When it comes to watering your Staghorn Fern, it’s important to recognize that these unique plants have different watering needs compared to your traditional potted plant. Their growth in nature, commonly on tree trunks, means they are adapted to absorb water in a distinct way.

While they do appreciate a good soak, overwatering can lead to root rot and other health complications. Their watering routine should strike a balance – providing ample moisture without waterlogging the plant.

How Often to Water

The frequency of watering your Staghorn Fern largely depends on the environment in which it’s kept. In general, watering once a week is usually sufficient during the warmer months, and every two weeks during colder months.

Key factors such as humidity, temperature, airflow, and light exposure can influence this schedule so adjust accordingly if your Fern seems to dry out too quickly or remain wet for too long.

Watering Method

Staghorn Ferns prefer a good soaking. Here is a simple and effective method:

  1. Remove the fern from its hanging position.
  2. Submerge the entire plant in a basin of room-temperature water.
  3. Soak it for about 20 minutes to ensure that both the plant and the medium get thoroughly saturated.
  4. Drain well and let any excess water drip off before rehanging.

Note that if your fern is large and difficult to remove, you can opt to mist the plant thoroughly, ensuring the water reaches the root ball.

Humidity Requirements

When it comes to the humidity needs of a Staghorn Fern, understand that these plants have a tropical origin which means they thrive when the humidity is high, typically over 50%. 

Ways to Maintain Humidity

  • Misting: Regularly misting your Staghorn Fern with a spray bottle can effectively increase the humidity around the plant. However, be cautious not to over-mist as it can lead to fungal diseases on the leaves.
  • Humidifier: Utilizing a humidifier nearby can ensure a more stable humid environment, particularly in dry climates or during winter months when indoor air tends to be drier.
  • Water-filled trays: Positioning your plant above a tray filled with water and pebbles is another way to increase humidity. As the water evaporates, it creates a moist microclimate around the fern.

Signs of Low Humidity

  1. Browning or crispy fronds: This is often the first sign of insufficient humidity. The fronds lose their vibrant green color and start to turn brown at the tips, gradually extending inwards if conditions do not improve.
  2. Slow growth: If your Staghorn Fern is not growing as quickly or robustly as it should, it could be a sign of low humidity.
  3. Wilting: A wilting Staghorn Fern could be suffering from more than just low humidity, but it can be part of the problem.

Temperature Considerations

Natively found in the jungles of Australia, Southeast Asia, and Africa, Staghorn Ferns prefer a temperature range of 55-85°F (13-29°C).

They’re not particularly frost-tolerant and can suffer damage in environemnts below 55°F (13°C). Hot temperatures can also be damaging so try to avoid any temperature-induced stress. Keep your Staghorn away from direct sources of heat like radiators or heating vents in the winter, and direct air conditioning drafts during summer months.

Maintaining Optimal Temperature

  1. Positioning: Position your Staghorn Fern in a spot where it can get plenty of indirect light and stay within the recommended temperature range. Avoid placing it near windows or doors that are frequently opened and closed, as this can lead to sudden temperature drops or increases.
  2. Adjust Heating/Cooling: In the winter, try to maintain a consistent temperature inside your home, avoiding any sudden spikes in heat. During hotter months, ensure your air conditioner is not directly blowing onto the fern, as this can cause it to dry out and become distressed.

Fertilizing Your Staghorn Fern

This Staghorn Fern feeds differently than most other houseplants as it absorbs nutrients through its fronds.

Fertilizer application should not be a rigorous routine, but a simple monthly task that ensures your Staghorn Fern thrives optimally.

Typically, you should use a balanced water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength. This prevents the risk of burning the plant with excess chemicals, which could be detrimental to its health.

Steps to Fertilize Your Staghorn Fern

  1. Prepare the fertilizer solution: Begin by diluting your chosen water-soluble fertilizer. Remember to stick to a half-strength solution to prevent any potential harm to your plant.
  2. Application: Apply the fertilizer directly to the fronds, ensuring all parts receive the solution. This step is crucial since the Staghorn Fern absorbs nutrients through the fronds, not through the roots like most other plants.
  3. Frequency: Repeat this process once a month. Regular fertilization promotes healthy growth and ensures your Staghorn Fern remains vibrant and flourishing.

Pruning Your Staghorn Fern

This essential maintenance step not only helps to promote healthy growth but also keeps the fern looking its absolute best.

So, how do you go about pruning your Staghorn fern? Here are some steps to guide you:

  1. Firstly, inspect your fern regularly. The key to effective pruning is catching any issues early. Notice if the fern’s leaves are starting to turn brown or if there’s any damage. This could be an early sign it’s time for a pruning session.
  2. Secondly, make sure you use clean and sharp pruning shears. This helps to prevent the spread of disease and will ensure a clean cut that won’t harm the plant. You can simply sterilize your shears with a bit of rubbing alcohol before starting.
  3. Next, remove any dead or dying fronds from the plant. These are usually brown or yellow and may be shrivelled up. Removing these allows more energy to go to the healthy parts of the plant. However, be careful not to remove the brown shield fronds that protect the roots of the fern.
  4. Afterwards, trim back any overly long or unruly fronds. Your Staghorn fern should have a balanced, symmetrical look. Trimming it back will help maintain this and promote new growth.
  5. Finally, keep an eye on your fern after pruning. It should start to show signs of new growth within a few weeks. If not, it might need additional care like more water or light.

Propagating Your Staghorn Fern

When it comes to propagating your Staghorn Fern, it is not as simple as it may seem, and it requires a careful understanding of the plant’s needs and lifecycle.

Method of Propagation: The most common method of propagating Staghorn Ferns is through division, which involves separating a mature plant into several smaller ones. This method is advantageous as it preserves the genetic characteristics of the parent plant and is relatively quicker than other methods of propagation. However, patience is key, as the new plants will take some time to establish and grow fully.

Steps for Propagation:

  1. Identify a healthy, mature Staghorn Fern: Look for a plant that is robust, with several pups or offsets. These will be the smaller ferns growing from the base or back of the main plant.
  2. Separate the pups: Using a sharp, clean knife, carefully cut the pups away from the parent plant. It is important to ensure that each pup has some of the parent’s shield fronds, as these will provide nutrients for the new plant.
  3. Mount the pups: Attach each pup to a new mounting board using non-copper wire or nylon stockings. It’s important to ensure the pup is securely fastened, as it will need to attach itself to the board to grow properly.
  4. Proper care: Place the new plants in a location that receives bright, indirect light and maintains a high level of humidity. Water regularly, but do not let the plant sit in water, as this can lead to root rot.

The success of propagation largely depends on the health of the parent plant and the care provided to the new plants.

Note: Propagation is best done in the spring or early summer, when the plant is actively growing. It’s important to wait until the pups are large enough before attempting to separate them from the parent plant.

Staghorn Fern Toxicity

Staghorn Ferns are generally recognized as non-toxic to pets and humans. However, while staghorn ferns are generally recognized as non-toxic, individual reactions to the plant can vary. Precaution should always be exercised, especially around pets and young children.

While these ferns do not produce any toxic sap or residue, ingesting their fronds or spores might cause mild discomfort, such as nausea or skin irritation, particularly to those with sensitive skin or allergies. Therefore, it is important to keep these plants out of reach of young children and pets prone to chewing foliage.

Staghorn Fern Care FAQs

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