How to Grow and Care for Your Indoor Staghorn Fern

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The Staghorn Fern, scientifically named Platycerium, is a remarkable fern cherished for its distinctive fronds and growth pattern. It hails from tropical and subtropical regions in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Unlike most houseplants, this fern, a member of the Polypodiaceae family, boasts a unique anatomy and ancient heritage. It's fascinating to note that there are approximately 12,000 fern species globally, making ferns among the Earth's oldest known plants. Scroll for more interesting information about Staghorn Fern! 

How many types of Staghorn Ferns?

Staghorn Ferns have two types of fronds - sterile and fertile fronds. The sterile fronds are flat, shield-shaped, and resemble the antlers of a stag or deer, which is how they got their common name. These fronds are usually green and grow outward to capture sunlight and rainwater. Fertile fronds, on the other hand, are brown and appear as tufts or masses near the center of the plant. They produce spores and help with reproduction.


How can Staghorn Fern absorb nutrients?

Staghorn Ferns are epiphytic, which means they attach themselves to trees or other surfaces but do not harm their hosts. In their natural habitat, they anchor themselves using wiry roots that cling to their substrate, and they absorb nutrients and water from rain and the surrounding environment. When grown as houseplants, these ferns truly shine when given a helping hand in the form of a supportive structure. Their striking appearance fits in a variety of display options. For instance, they look absolutely stunning when suspended in hanging baskets, creating an eye-catching centerpiece that adds a touch of elegance to any space. Their versatility enables them to effortlessly blend into a range of interior design styles, making them a flexible option for both traditional and contemporary settings.

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Staghorn Fern in hanging basket
Photo by Marisa Martinez Tarran

Are Staghorn Fern toxic to humans and pets?

Ferns are one of the best pet-friendly houseplants. Most ferns, including Staghorn Ferns (Platycerium), are generally considered non-toxic to humans and pets. These ferns are safe to have in your home without posing a significant risk of poisoning or harm if ingested or touched. However, it's always a good practice to prevent pets, especially cats and dogs, from chewing on any houseplants, including Staghorn Ferns, as ingesting plant material may still cause mild gastrointestinal upset. If you have any concerns about plant toxicity or if you suspect your pet has ingested a significant amount of any plant, including a Staghorn Fern, it's advisable to consult with a veterinarian for guidance and assistance.

What are the benefits of Staghorn Ferns?

Staghorn Ferns offer a lot of benefits as indoor plants. Their striking visual appeal enhances interior aesthetics, providing a touch of elegance and natural beauty to any living space. These ferns thrive in low-light conditions, making them well-suited for rooms with limited natural sunlight. Furthermore, their low-maintenance nature makes them ideal for beginners and those with busy schedules, as they can withstand occasional neglect. Staghorn Ferns also exhibit relatively fast growth, allowing you to enjoy their lush and captivating transformation. Moreover, like many houseplants, they contribute to improved indoor air qualityby filtering toxins and increasing humidity. Outdoors, these ferns may provide limited habitat opportunities for insects and small animals within the complex microcosm of epiphytic communities, contributing to their ecological significance in the ecosystem. 

How can I mount a Staghorn Fern?

Planting Staghorn Ferns requires a distinctive approach due to their epiphytic nature, meaning they grow on surfaces rather than in pots. Staghorn Ferns need something to attach to. You can use a piece of wood, cork bark, or any other suitable flat surface as a mounting board. It should be large enough to accommodate the fern and have a means of attaching it securely, like screws or wire. You'll need a mix of sphagnum moss and potting soil or an appropriate growing medium.

Planting Steps:

  • Select the Mounting Board: Choose a mounting board or object that matches your aesthetic preferences and the fern's size. It should be sturdy enough to support the fern as it grows.
  • Prepare the Growing Medium: Soak the sphagnum moss until fully hydrated, then squeeze out excess water. Mix it with potting soil or another suitable medium to create the planting substrate.
  • Mount the Fern: Place the Staghorn Fern on the mounting board with the shield fronds (round, hard leaves at the base) against the board, oriented as desired.
  • Secure the Fern: Safely fasten the fern to the board using wire or other secure materials, taking care not to damage the roots or fronds. Alternatively, use screws or fasteners, ensuring they don't penetrate the root ball.
  • Pack the Growing Medium: Gently pack the prepared growing medium around the fern's root ball and shield fronds, ensuring it's securely positioned but not overly compressed.
  • Hang or Display: Choose an appropriate location to hang or display your Staghorn Fern with suitable lighting conditions, and stable temperature and humidity levels. 
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Equipments to mount Staghorn Fern
Photo by Andriana Syvanych

General care of Staghorn Ferns

What is the best light for Staghorn Ferns?

They prefer to be placed in locations where they receive filtered sunlight or dappled shade. You can put these plants near an east-facing window or a few feet away from a north or west-facing window. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight, as this can scorch their fronds. While they do best in bright, indirect light, Staghorn Ferns are known for their ability to tolerate lower light conditions. This makes them suitable for rooms with limited natural sunlight or spaces that receive filtered or diffused light. Their adaptability to various lighting conditions makes them versatile and allows them to thrive in different indoor environments. It's a good practice to observe your Staghorn Fern and adjust its placement based on how it responds to the available light. If the fronds start to turn yellow or brown, it may be an indication that the light conditions are too harsh or too dim. 

How should I water Staghorn Ferns?

Staghorn Ferns are unique in that they don't heavily rely on soil nutrition, making proper watering a vital aspect of their care. These ferns are sensitive to the minerals and chemicals commonly present in tap water, which can have adverse effects on their health. To create the ideal growth environment, it is advisable to opt for rainwater or distilled water when watering them.

While Staghorn Ferns do require relatively frequent watering, particularly during the active growth season in spring and summer, a key practice is allowing the top layer of their growing medium to dry out between watering intervals to prevent the common issues of overwatering and potential root rot.

Due to the protective shield leaves enveloping the root ball, the most efficient watering method is bottom watering. This means placing the fern in a suitable container or sink and submerging it in water for approximately 10-15 minutes. Ensuring proper drainage in the pot or mounting structure is essential to avoid any accumulation of water around the root ball. It is also important to let the growing medium to mostly dry before the next watering session and do not keep your fern in standing water for extended periods. 

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Staghorn Fern is the unique plant to decorate your home.
Photo by Pegasene

What are the growing medium for Staghorn Ferns?

Staghorn Ferns don't grow in traditional potting soil. Instead, they thrive in an epiphytic mix, which is typically a combination of sphagnum moss, orchid bark, and a small amount of potting soil or well-rotted compost. This mix provides the right balance of aeration and moisture retention. If you're mounting the fern on a board or another surface, you'll use this epiphytic mix to secure the fern. Ensure that the mounting structure allows for good air circulation.

Do Staghorn Ferns need fertilizer?

Staghorn Ferns benefit from regular, but diluted, fertilization during the growing season (spring and summer). Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half or one-quarter strength. This prevents over-fertilization, which can be harmful. Fertilize approximately every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. Reduce or eliminate fertilization during the dormant season (fall and winter) when the fern's growth slows down. When applying fertilizer, target the shield fronds (the round, hard leaves at the base) rather than the antler fronds (the larger, bifurcated leaves). This is where the fern primarily absorbs nutrients. Be cautious not to over-fertilize, as excess fertilizer can damage the fern.

What temperature and humidity do Staghorn Ferns prefer?

Staghorn Ferns prefer temperatures that mimic their native tropical and subtropical habitats. The ideal range for these ferns is typically between 60°F to 80°F  during the day. Staghorn Ferns can tolerate a slight drop in temperature at night. Nighttime temperatures are in the range of 50°F to 60°F. These ferns are sensitive to cold temperatures and should be protected from frost and freezing conditions. Avoid exposing them to temperatures below 50°F for extended periods.

These ferns naturally grow in humid environments. To mimic their preferred conditions, it's beneficial to maintain relatively high humidity levels around the plant. Aim for humidity levels of around 50-60% or higher. To increase humidity, you can use methods like misting the fern's fronds regularly, using a humidifier, or placing a humidity tray filled with water and pebbles near the plant. Additionally, grouping plants together can create a microclimate with higher humidity. Bathrooms and kitchens are perfect places for Staghorn Ferns as they are naturally more humid than oher rooms. Avoid placing your Staghorn Fern in locations with exceptionally dry air, such as near heaters or air vents, as this can lead to stress and dehydration for the plant.

Extra care for Staghorn Ferns?

How can I repot Staghorn Ferns?

Repotting these ferns is somewhat different from repotting typical potted plants because of their epiphytic nature. Repotting a Staghorn Fern involves gently removing it from its current mount or container, inspecting and pruning damaged fronds, and placing it onto a new mounting board or in a container with a fresh epiphytic growing medium. Secure the fern in its new location with wire or pantyhose, ensuring stability. Water thoroughly to settle the growing medium and allow it to slightly dry before the next watering. Adjust the fern's position in its preferred location, offering the appropriate amount of bright, indirect light. Repotting is essential when the fern outgrows its current space, and careful handling prevents harm to its fronds and roots.

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Repotting Staghorn Fern is different from other potted plants.
Photo by Andriana Syvanych

When should I prune Staghorn Ferns?

Regularly inspect your Staghorn Fern for fronds that have turned brown or yellow, or show signs of damage or disease. Use sharp, clean pruning shears or scissors to carefully trim these fronds at the base, near the shield fronds. Removing dead or damaged fronds not only improves the plant's appearance but also encourages new growth. If you notice that the fronds are becoming overcrowded or tangled, you can selectively trim some of them to improve air circulation and maintain an attractive appearance. Make sure to avoid cutting too many fronds, as they are essential for the fern's health. Pruning can also be done to shape the fern, enhance its appearance and achieve a neater and more symmetrical appearance.

Pruning can be done throughout the year as needed, but it's often easiest to perform in the spring or early summer when the fern is actively growing. Staghorn Ferns, like other ferns, primarily grow from their center, known as the growing point. Avoid cutting or damaging this central point, as it is essential for the fern's continued growth. 

What are the propagation methods for Staghorn Ferns?

Propagation options for Staghorn Ferns include division and spores:

Division: Carefully remove the fern from its pot, examine the root ball, and identify natural divisions or offshoots with their own roots. Gently separate these sections, ensuring they have sufficient roots to thrive.

Spores: Locate a mature Staghorn Fern with fertile fronds, usually the antler fronds. These fronds will have clusters of brown spore cases on the undersides. Collect those ripe brown spores by tapping them into a container or paper bag. Sow the spores on moist soil, cover the container for humidity, and place it in a well-lit, warm spot. Mist the surface regularly and transfer the emerging small ferns to individual pots once they develop.

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Caring for indoor Staghorn Fern is the interesting experience for any plant enthusiasts.

Photo by Andriana Syvanych

What are the common problems when growing Staghorn Ferns?

Staghorn Ferns are generally hardy, but they can encounter a few common problems:

  1. Overwatering: One of the most common issues is overwatering. Staghorn Ferns prefer to dry out slightly between watering sessions. If the soil or growing medium remains constantly wet, it can lead to root rot and other problems.
  2. Low Humidity: In low-humidity environments, the fronds may become dry and brown at the tips. Ensure that the plant receives adequate humidity through misting or using humidity trays.
  3. Slow or Leggy Growth: Staghorn Ferns thrive in bright, indirect light. They can tolerate low-light conditions, but extreme low-light or prolonged periods in low-light can result in slow and leggy growth. 
  4. Pests: Occasionally, these ferns can be susceptible to pests like mealybugs, scale insects, or aphids. Inspect the fronds regularly and treat any infestations promptly with insecticidal soap or neem oil.
  5. Nutrient Deficiency: Since they don't rely heavily on soil nutrition, Staghorn Ferns may suffer from nutrient deficiencies over time if not occasionally fertilized with a balanced, diluted fertilizer during the growing season.
  6. Improper Mounting: If not securely fastened to their mounts, the ferns can become dislodged or unstable, potentially leading to damage.
  7. Extreme Temperatures: Avoid exposing Staghorn Ferns to extreme cold or direct sunlight, as this can cause stress and damage to the fronds.

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