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How to Fertilize Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are frost-tender plants that are epiphytic, or grow upon another plant. Staghorn ferns grow affixed to the trunks of rainforest trees or in wire or wooden baskets in the gardens of plant enthusiasts. These ferns' roots are minimal and the clustering mass of leaves adhere themselves to a surface, gathering rainwater and nutrients from dust, falling leaf litter and dead insects. Application of diluted liquid fertilizer or occasional deposit of a rotting fruit or compost is all that is needed to sustain them.

Purchase a liquid fertilizer with a general purpose nutrient formula. The product may be in liquid form or in water-soluble crystals and must have the macronutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as well as a broad array of micronutrients.

Mix the fertilizer at 1/4 strength as outlined by the product directions. For example, if a dosage is normally made by adding 1 tsp. fertilizer to 1 gallon of water, the 1/4 strength dosage is made by adding only 1/4 tsp. fertilizer to the gallon of water.

Pour or spray the fertilizer solution upon all parts of the staghorn fern, including the base mass of leaves as well as the lobes of fronds protruding and dangling. Substitute this fertilizer watering for every third watering from spring to late summer.

Deposit a light dosage of general purpose, slow-release fertilizer pellets into the base of the staghorn fern each spring and late summer if liquid feedings are too laborious. Read product label directions for amounts to use. In general, 1/2 tsp. of granules sprinkled into a staghorn fern for every foot of clump diameter is a safe dosage guideline.

Gently sprinkle water into the staghorn fern to begin the release of trace minerals from the granules onto the fern, or allow a natural rain or timed irrigation sprinkler shower start the process.


Fertilize during the warmth of spring and summer. As fern growth slows in fall and winter and less watering is required, do not fertilize to coax new growth. Many people toss or lay a banana peel each year into the clump of staghorn fern leaves. Although providing some nutrients, the banana peel deteriorates quickly and fails to provide a balanced, complete source of all needed nutrients.


Use care if a ladder is employed to reach hanging baskets of staghorn ferns or plants growing in tree canopies. Consider using a garden hose and liquid-feed spray nozzle to reach the ferns with a coating of fertilizer, or simply allow falling leaf debris to collect in the base of the fern naturally, eliminating most need for application of fertilizer.

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