The staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is a large, distinctive, showy fern with unusual fronds that look vaguely like the horns of a stag. The fern is native to parts of southeast Asia and the warmer parts of Australia, according to Ann Smith, a master gardener with Texas A&M University. This warmth- and humidity-loving fern needs specific care in order to grow and thrive.
Staghorn ferns need warm temperatures in order to thrive, according to Sydney Park Brown, a horticulturist with the University of Florida. Still, some cultivars, such as P. beitchii, can survive briefly cold temperatures as low as 25 degrees F. Home gardenrs who wish to grow staghorns year-round outdoors should live in United States Department of Agriculture growing zones 10 or 11 (tropical and subtropical climates). Otherwise, staghorn ferns should be brought indoors when cold temperatures threaten.
Staghorn ferns can get quite large--up to several feet tall and wide--so they are not usually grown in pots. In addition, these are epithetic plants, which means they do not grow in soil. Instead, staghorn ferns wrap their roots around a host plant. Home gardeners should mount their staghorn ferns on slabs of bark, or place them in a wire basket filled with tree fiber mixed with peat moss. Secure the fern with nylon hose.
Water when the planting medium is completely dry. To water the staghorn fern, submerge the root ball in a bucket or large bowl of water that has been brought to room temperature. Leave it to soak for about 15 minutes. In the winter, let the plant wilt a bit before you water it, as the fern should receive less water during its dormant period.
Although this plant loves warmth, it does not enjoy bright light, being naturally sheltered by the canopy of the trees in its native rainforest environment. Place your staghorn fern in a location that is partially shaded, such as on a porch or under a shade tree, but make sure the fern is exposed to some sunlight each day or it will become sickly.
Fertilize the fern with a balanced (10-10-10), water-soluble fertilizer. Add the fertilizer to the water when you submerge the plant. Fertilizing once a month during the growing season is recommended. In the winter, reduce this to once every two months. Once the plant reaches the size you prefer, reduce the application of fertilizer to only two times per year.