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    How to Grow and Care for a Staghorn Fern

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    Staghorn ferns have an unmistakable appearance, with their antler-like growths that curve toward the light. Once established these graceful plants are also very hardy and easy to maintain as indoor plants.
    In fact, Staghorn ferns are one of the most popular houseplants because they thrive in many environments and need little attention to thrive. But like all plants, a Staghorn fern requires some specific care to stay healthy and happy.
    So if you’re thinking about growing a staghorn fern at home, here is everything you need to know about how to take care of a staghorn fern.

    What is a Staghorn Fern

    Staghorn ferns, sometimes called antler ferns or elkhorn ferns, are tropical plants native to Southeast Asia, Africa, New Guinea and Australia. They are naturally epiphytes, which means they grow on tree trunks and other plants but do not harm them. Staghorn ferns are typically grown as houseplants and can be found in many homes, offices, and nurseries throughout the United States.
    There are multiple species of staghorn ferns available on the market all of which are in the Polypodiaceae family. The most widely cultivated species being Platycerium bifurcatum. Despite differences in the appearance of their fronds, you may often see most plants in the Platycerium genus referred to by the common name of “Staghorn Fern”, though some may have a qualifier as well, for example Platycerium elephantotis is referred to as the “Elephant Staghorn Fern”. 
    Staghorn Fern Fronds
    Staghorn ferns have 2 types of fronds that work in conjunction with each other.
    Basal fronds, sometimes called shield fronds cover and protect the base of the plant and the root system.
    Meanwhile the large antler fronds extend outward and are often referred to as fertile fronds as they are responsible for reproduction.
    Unlike other plants, ferns reproduce by spreading spores. These foliar fronds go outwards from the root ball and may have brown tips with brown or black spots on them - the spores. It goes without saying that the shape of the fronds is how the staghorn fern got its name.
    The staghorn fern’s fronds may be upright, cascading, or have a combination of both depending on the type of staghorn fern.

    Staghorn Fern Care Guide

    Platycerium spp (notably bifurcatum)
    Staghorn Fern, Antler Fern, Deer's Antlers, Elkhorn Fern
    Tropical epiphyte
    Bright, indirect light (4-6 hours of bright light)
    Low - 1x a week to bi-weekly
    Sphagnum Moss - mounted
    By Division, Spores
    9, 10, 11, 12
    Ideal are South-facing, west- or east-facing windows. Avoid north-facing.
    Monstera, Orchids, Pothos
    Not toxic to cats and dogs
    Botanical Name
    Common Names
    Plant Type
    Growth Rate
    Sun Exposure
    Soil Type
    USDA Zones
    Window Locations (Ideal)
    Companion Plants

    How to Grow a Staghorn Fern

    Because staghorn ferns are epiphytes and have a different growth habit than most other houseplants, they were long considered difficult plants to care for.
    However in recent years, they have become more popular and because more information has made it to growers, many people are learning that in fact, they can be relatively easy to care for if you have the right conditions.
    These plants need a very humid environment with plenty of bright indirect light. Staghorn ferns should be kept away from any direct sunlight. When growing Staghorn ferns indoors, that’s not usually a problem, but if you’re hanging a staghorn fern outside, you should do best to keep it in a shadier spot.
    Where to put your Staghorn Fern
    The best place for a Staghorn fern indoors is near a window that gets plenty of indirect sunlight but can be shaded by a curtain or blinds. Staghorn ferns should be watered about once a week, making sure to keep the soil moist but not soggy. You can use rainwater or distilled or reverse osmosis (R/O) water for this plant because hard water contains minerals that can build up in your staghorn fern’s soil and cause root rot.
    Buying a Staghorn Fern
    Staghorn ferns can be found at nurseries and garden centers in a few different ways. You may actually be able to find new plants in pots that can be transplanted to larger pots. You can also find and grow Staghorn ferns in hanging baskets.
    However, the most common way you’ll see them is as a mounted staghorn fern, where the fern itself is mounted to a piece of wood or wooden board. This is usually done carefully with twine or fishing line, though it can be covered with moss and eventually the root ball will grow right into the twine/line mounting securing it even more in place.
    Staghorn fern mounted on a wooden piece.
    Image Source:Photo by Andriana Syvanych from ShutterstockAlthough you can grow Staghorn Ferns in pots, they are better mounted with sphagnum moss on wood. They are epiphytes similar to Orchids.

    Staghorn Fern Care

    Staghorn ferns can be some of the easiest indoor plants to care for, but they still require some attention.
    Here are a few tips for how to care for a staghorn fern at home. 


    💧Water Needs

    Staghorn ferns are tropical plants that prefer to live in humid environments. When watering your staghorn fern you’ll want to water the base of the plant and make sure it is saturated, after that it’s important to let the base of your fern to dry out a before watering it again.
    They like things damp, but the root system also needs a chance to breathe. Use distilled water, or reverse osmosis water to prevent unwanted minerals from building up in the root ball. Sometimes using tap water can cause black spots on leaves.
    If you notice your staghorn fern’s fronds are starting to droop or the plant is wilting, it’s a sign that the soil is too dry. If the soil is soaking wet, and the plant looks soggy towards the base, you’re likely overwatering which can be a leading cause of root rot.
    Check the soil or mounted base every few days and water as needed if it feels dry to the touch it’s time to give it a drink. Staghorn ferns should be watered about once a week.


    ☀️ Best Light For Staghorn Fern

    In their natural habitat, staghorn ferns grow in rainforests on the sides of tree trunks.
    Though the canopies of these forests receive plenty of direct sun, staghorn ferns live below that level and have adapted to prefer bright indirect light, and sometimes even low light conditions. Indoors, staghorn ferns need a lot of indirect sunlight and should be kept away from any direct sunlight.
    You can place them a few feet away from South-facing window that receives the most bright light. However, make sure to either use a sheer curtain or place the plant away from the window to avoid direct light. You can also place your fern near west or east-facing windows which receive bright, diffused light for half of the day. Although they might also tolerate the lower light conditions of a north-facing window, we don't recommend placing them there.
    They make great additions to rooms with East and West facing windows but should fare well in other areas as well. 


    🌡️ Temperature and Humidity

    As we mentioned prior, staghorn ferns are native to tropical rainforest climates. It’s important to keep them in relatively warm environments, and misting your staghorn fern is a good option to increase humidity. 
    Unlike other tropical houseplants, Staghorn Ferns thrive in warmer ideal temperature ranges from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. They can tolerate temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but it's not recommended to have them exposed to these cool temperatures for an extended period of time.
    If you're growing outside of USDA zones 9, 10, 11, and 12, you'll need to overwinter your Staghorn Fern by bringing it inside. Staghorn Ferns do go dormant during the wintertime, so they require even less care but will grow slower during those months.


    🌱 Soil Needs

    When it comes to soil for your staghorn fern, it shouldn’t be in potting mix for that long. You might find young staghorn ferns started in pots, but if you’re not buying a pre-mounted fern, you should mount it as soon as you can to promote growth and proper aeration.
    When doing so you’ll mix in a small amount of growing medium with the root system - usually sphagnum moss is a good choice - to form a root ball.  


    🌻 Fertilizer

    Like other plants, staghorn ferns have to eat! A balanced fertilizer is recommended to be used monthly. Due to the nature of the mounting the fertilizer must be either liquid fertilizer or a water-soluble fertilizer. 
    During darker and colder months you can taper back the feeding of your staghorn fern as it won’t be using as many nutrients for growth. You can cut the rate in half until things get brighter and warmer. 


    ✂️ Pruning your Staghorn Fern

    Staghorn ferns love to grow, so you’ll need to prune them regularly to encourage new growth and keep the plant from getting leggy. Cut away any brown, dead fronds and any fronds that are blocking the plant’s light source. Trim back any fronds that are growing in weird directions and shape the plant as desired.


    Propagating Staghorn Ferns By Division

    Staghorn ferns are generally propagated through spores and through division. 
    The best way to propagate staghorn ferns is through division.
    First, remove the plant from the mount and either separate pups (offshoots) by hand if you can or with a sterilized knife.
    Take your newly separated section and put it into a moist sphagnum moss mix to ensure that it is growing on its own. 
    Keep your new fern moist and place in a warm area where the plant

    Propagating Staghorn Ferns By Spores

    Staghorn ferns usually start to produce spores on the tips of their fronds. Look for small, brown sections growing on the undersides of the frond tips.
    When you see spores, carefully pull the brown sections off the fronds and place them on a paper towel.
    Then transfer those spores to a pot with sphagnum moss-based potting mix, being careful not to bury the spores.
    Staghorn fern spores will take a few weeks to germinate.
    Once they do, the new ferns are very delicate, so make sure to keep them moist and warm.
    Once the Staghorn fern plants are big enough to be separated from one another (about 1/2 inch tall), you can transplant them into new pots.

    Staghorn Fern mounting equipment.
    Image Source:Photo by Andriana Syvanych on Shutterstock.Mounting Staghorn Ferns isn't as complicated as it may seem, but you'll need a hammer, a slab of wood, and some nails.


    How to Mount a Staghorn Fern

    While mounting a staghorn fern isn’t a complicated process, it requires a bit of patience and attention to detail. Here is a step-by-step guide to mounting a staghorn fern: 


     Choose your mounting material. Square or rectangular planters work best for mounting staghorn ferns, but you can also use a slab of wood. 


    Clean the mounting surface by scrubbing off any dirt or grime. You don’t want to introduce harmful bacteria to your staghorn fern. 


    Once the mounting surface is clean, you can now mount the staghorn fern. Use Screws/Nails as anchors into your surface and wrap the root ball securely to your anchor points with twine, or fishing line. 


     You can use a nail and hammer to nail down your mounting surface. 


    Once the staghorn fern is mounted, it is important to water it. - You can use distilled water or purified water to water your staghorn fern. Make sure that the water is room temperature so that it doesn’t shock the fern. You can also mist water on the fern. -Make sure you mist the underside of the fern as well.

    Common Staghorn Fern Pests and Diseases

    Staghorn ferns are fairly low-maintenance plants, but they are still susceptible to a few pests and diseases. Here are a few common staghorn fern pests and diseases, plus how to deal with them. 
    Scale - Scales are tiny, sap-sucking insects that look like little bumps on a plant’s leaves. These pests are most often a problem in the spring and can be treated with a weekly spray of water and insecticidal soap. 
    Spider mites - Spider mites are another common pest problem for staghorn ferns. These pests are very small and are usually first noticed due to webs on the plant’s leaves. Spider mites can cause yellowing, curling, and even browning of the plant’s leaves. You can treat these pests with an insecticidal soap spray once a week. 
    Fungal Diseases - Staghorn ferns like humid conditions, but this can lend itself to fungal growth and problems associated with it like root rot. To avoid this it is important not to overwater your fern and to let it properly dry out between waterings. 
    Staghorn ferns are beautiful houseplants that are easy to propagate. You can grow new staghorn ferns from the spores on your parent plant, or you can divide the crown to make more plants. These ferns are perfect for gardeners who want to add a tropical touch to their home or office, and they’re great for beginners too.