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How to Care for Staghorn Ferns

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How to Care for Staghorn Ferns

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Overview

The exotic look of staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) lend a lush tropical feel to the frost-free garden or home greenhouse or sunroom. Naturally growing on the trunks of tropical trees, staghorn ferns are referred to as epiphytes. Providing warmth and bright indirect light with flushing showers of warm water and occasional light fertilizer solutions allows the staghorn fern to prosper.

Step 1

Determine your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone (see Resources section). Staghorn ferns are tropical plants; some species are native to hot sultry rainforests while others are tolerant of cooler but frost-free temperatures in montane rainforests. If you discover you live in Zones 1 through 8 and even in chillier sections of Zone 9, the staghorn fern cannot be exposed to winter cold in your region and must be a houseplant.

Step 2

Situate your staghorn fern so that it receives bright indirect light. Naturally growing on the trunks of trees, it is protected from direct sunlight, at most receiving dappled sun. Do not allow direct sunlight in the afternoon to fully reach the foliage.

Step 3

Water the staghorn fern daily or every two to three days in the warmth of the growing season, from spring to early autumn, when light is more intense and temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour, mist or sprinkle room-temperature (not cold) water on the foliage and allow it to drip and drain away freely. Reduce waterings significantly in winter, so that they occur once every two to four weeks.

Step 4

Fertilize with a balanced, water-soluble product with micronutrients. A fertilizer formula of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 is adequate, but read the label to ensure micronutrients of iron, magnesium, boron and manganese are also present. Mix the fertilizer at 1/4 to 1/2 strength and substitute this solution for a regular watering once every one to two weeks in the normal watering regime in spring and summer. Drench or spray the liquid across the fern with a spray bottle until the solution drips away.

Step 5

Permit dying yellow leaves to remain on the plant so nutrients can be relocated from the leaf to other parts of the fern. Once the leaf is dead, it becomes brown and often drops away freely. Do not cut away the flattened, shield-like basal leaves in the fern clump.

Step 6

Create new plants by carefully slicing off chunks of the fern clumps that have at least one shield-like leaf. Do not crush the leaf while cutting into the dried, fibrous thatch of the clump. Mount the newly obtained staghorn shield onto a tree trunk or wooden lath plaque or wedge into a hanging basket, continuing the same care as a well-established plant.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not expose staghorn ferns to temperatures below 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If the staghorn is to be placed in a container, do not use potting soil as it will hold too much water. Use a friable compost, peat or leaf mold and perlite mixture around the plant base in the container.

Things You'll Need

  • Water-soluble fertilizer
  • Spray bottle

References

  • "The Tropical Look;" Robert Lee Riffle; 1998
  • Botany.com: Platycerium - Staghorn Fern

Who Can Help

  • National Gardening Association: USDA Hardiness Zone Finder
Keywords: Platycerium, staghorn ferns, tropical epiphytes

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.