Staghorn ferns are indeed a very peculiar plant, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to care for. In fact, we’re sure you’ll find that growing and caring for a staghorn fern is quite straightforward and very rewarding!
Read on for more information for growing staghorn ferns with success!
Staghorn Fern Background
The staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) earns its name from its unique leaves (which are called fronds, more on that below), which closely resemble the horns of a stag. It goes by the common name staghorn and elk horn.
The staghorn fern shares the Platycerium genus with 16 other species, though the staghorn fern is the only member that is commonly cultivated as a houseplant.
A member of the Polypodiaceae family, the staghorn fern is a slow grower, though at full maturity, this plant can be quite large. At adulthood, an indoor staghorn fern can reach 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, so make sure to make space in your home for this!
Staghorn ferns are classified as an epiphyte. Epiphytes are types of plants that grow off of trees or other plants, as opposed to soil. In its native habitat of Asia and Australia, you’ll find a staghorn ferns living off of trees. Yo uwill see their root ball which help attach the plant to their mount.
Staghorn fern leaves aren’t called leaves – they’re called fronds! They have two types of fronds. One is the antler fronds – the large leaves that shoot out from the center of the plant.
The second type is called shield fronds. These are the round hard plate like leaves at the base of the plant. These fronds start out green but eventually turn brown. Brown fronds doesn’t mean your plant is dying!
And if you own pets, staghorn ferns make the perfect addition to your home garden. The staghorn is non-toxic to both cats and dogs, so there is no need to worry about a staghorn fern growing in your home.
Staghorn Fern Care & Growing Tips
While the staghorn is an extremely unique and exotic houseplant, they are by no means difficult to care for. Follow these simple growing tips to grow staghorn fern plants with success!
Sun & Light
The staghorn ferns grow best in indirect light. However, it is possible to keep your fern in a location with bright light, as long as it is properly given enough water, heat, and humidity.
Avoid exposing your fern to direct sun rays, as this can cause burnt leaves.
Juvenile staghorns should be housed in a traditional potting soil that is consistently moist. However, as they mature, they should be transplanted and mounted onto non-soil materials. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, so it is important to plant them in non-traditional potting soils.
To mount your staghorn fern, start with a mixture of peat moss, compost, and other organic material as its base. Place that base on top of piece of wood for your staghorn to grow upon.
If your plants requires additional support to keep it on the wood, fasten it with a piece of non-copper wire. Over time, your plants will start to establish and develop new growth around the wire.
Staghorn ferns thrive with regular watering. However, it is important to allow the base of the soil to dry out first before you water your plants.
During the summer, you should water your plants roughly once a week. Cut back on watering during the winter and fall months to once every two to three weeks.
You can either soak the entire plant in a sink or tub like you would with air plants for about 5 minutes or until the roots are fully wet or hang the plant in a shower and allow a steady stream of water to water the plant’s root ball.
These plants also benefit from frequent misting of both the root ball and the tops and bottoms of the fronds.
A fertilizer routine is beneficial in growing strong foliage growth in your staghorn fern. During the spring and summer (when your staghorn fern’s growing the most), apply a water-soluble fertilizer to your fern once a month. This fertilizer should have a balanced NPK ratio.
Temperature & Humidity
Staghorn ferns love warm temperatures, so be sure to keep your plants in a warm area of the home. The ideal temperature range for a staghorn fern is between 55° and 100° F, which is more than attainable in an interior environment.
Avoid placing your fern in locations that tend to be cold, such as near a drafty window or an air conditioning vent.
These plants adore humid air conditions, so it is of the utmost importance for plant owners to provide adequate humidity levels for their plant. You can increase humidity for your houseplants by housing it in one of the more humid locations of your home (such as a bathroom or a kitchen), or investing in an air humidifier.
How to Prune Staghorn Plants
Pruning your staghorn fern is essential to promoting new, healthy growth in your plant. You should always prune any leaves that appear to be dead or damaged. By removing these leaves, you are allowing your plant to redirect its energy towards developing new life.
Always remember to use sharp, sterilized pruning shears to trim your plant. Simply dipping your shears in rubbing alcohol will properly disinfect your clippers.
How to Propagate Staghorn Fern Plant
Staghorn ferns can be propagated by dividing a large mother plant into smaller sections and individually potting them. Dividing your staghorn fern for propagation is straightforward and can easily be accomplished by following these steps.
- Remove your mature staghorn fern from its mount.
- Take a sterile, serrated knife and split the plant in half, make sure that both halves have an abundance of roots and leaves.
- Pick out a new piece of wood for you to mount your new staghorn on. Soak a handful of sphagnum peat moss in water and use that as the base for your fern. Steady the new fern with non-copper wire so it stays in place while it tries to root. As time progresses, the fronds will grow around the wire and the cutting will become established.
Your staghorn fern can also be propagated by removing the small offshoots that grow from the fern. These offshoots are called “pups.” Once removed, these pups can be mounted on wood just as you would with the plant divisions.
While the staghorn fern is not prone to many pests, they can be subjected to a spider mite infestation. Spider mites are small, often undetectable insects.
While you might not be able to see the spider mites, you will certainly be able to see the damage caused by them. Spider mites suck the nutrients right out from your plants’ foliage; this causes the leaves to develop small stippled dots all over the foliage.
While spider mites are a nuisance to deal with in the garden, it is possible to rid your houseplants of them. Prune all damaged foliage that has been affected by spider mites and treat the remainder of the houseplants with neem oil or a natural insecticide.
As with many humidity-loving plants, the staghorn fern is prone to experiencing black spot, which is a fungal disease. Black spot gets its name from the literal black spots that are peppered all over the affected foliage.
If your staghorn fern is victim to black spot, it can easily be remedied using simple techniques. Try lightening up on the air humidity and reduce your watering, which can exacerbate an existing case of black spot.
Furthermore, treating your plant’s leaves with neem oil can effectively kill any residual fungus. Make sure to prune any affected foliage and dispose of it entirely. Afterwards, be certain to disinfect any tools or pruning shears you used to treat the fungus.
Help! My Staghorn Fern…
Is turning brown/black at the base of the plant.
This sounds like a sign of overwatering. While it is true that the staghorn fern does love a consistently moist growing environment, it is important to make sure that you are not overwatering your plant.
It could also be because of too much direct sunlight. Too much sun can burn your plants leaves.
To prevent future incidents of this nature, remember to only water your plant when the top layer of growing medium is starting to dry up and keep an eye on how much sun it’s getting to see if they’re getting too much direct light.
Is starting to brown at the tips.
This is a sign of infrequent watering, and your plant is starting to dry up. Remember to keep your plant’s growing medium consistently moist, without the potting mix being too saturated with water.
Looks like the leaves are burnt.
Is your staghorn fern getting too much sun? Burn leaves are often a sign that your fern is being exposed to direct sun rays. Ideally, these ferns should be placed in shaded light. Their leaves are extremely sensitive to direct sunlight and can burn if left in the sun for too long.
Upon first glance, many gardeners would turn away from the staghorn fern because of its very peculiar nature. While the staghorn fern is exotic and interesting, it is surprisingly very easy to care for!
The staghorn fern is a perfect introductory plant for new gardeners looking to add an exciting epiphyte plant to their home garden.
Love epiphyte plants? Check out my orchid care post along with the fun ric rac cactus or air plants!