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Staghorn Fern Care: How to Keep These Amazing Plants Thriving

Acclaimed for their unique, antler-like fronds and relatively low maintenance needs, staghorn ferns have become a favored choice for indoor plant enthusiasts across the globe. Renowned for their adaptability to various light conditions and their contribution to purifying indoor air, staghorn ferns are a remarkable addition to any indoor plant collection.

Originating from the tropical rainforests of Australia, staghorn ferns have found their way into homes and greenhouses worldwide, infusing spaces with their exotic, fern-like appearance. Yet, the allure of staghorn ferns is not merely about their distinct visual appeal.

Recognized for their hardiness, staghorn ferns can withstand a range of care routines and are forgiving of occasional care mishaps, such as inconsistent watering. This resilience makes them an ideal choice for both novice plant enthusiasts and experienced plant caretakers alike. Their notable ability to improve indoor air quality makes them a valuable choice for those seeking to enhance the environmental conditions within their homes or offices.

Whether you're a seasoned plant caretaker or a newcomer delving into the fascinating realm of indoor gardening, this guide is designed to demystify the essentials of staghorn fern care. Let's journey through each aspect together, equipping you with the crucial knowledge necessary to ensure your staghorn fern flourishes.

Grasp the fundamental care requirements for staghorn ferns:

1. Staghorn ferns are adaptable, flourishing in bright, indirect light, and can endure temperatures ranging between 50-100°F.

2. Depending on the humidity and temperature, watering should take place every 1-2 weeks.

3. They prefer well-draining soil mixtures, or even better, an epiphytic mix or mounting on a wooden plank to mimic their natural growing conditions.

4. Fertilization is beneficial during the growing season, applied sparingly.

5. Consider repotting or remounting every 3-4 years or when the fern outgrows its current space.

6. Propagation can be achieved via spore sowing or pup division, which are small plantlets that grow from the parent plant.

7. Pruning can be done for aesthetic purposes or to control the size of the fern. It also helps in removing old, brown fronds, enhancing the overall health and appearance of the plant.


Staghorn Fern Care

Light & Temperature Requirements for Staghorn Ferns

As epiphytes native to tropical and subtropical regions, staghorn ferns flourish in environments mimicking their natural habitats, characterized by bright yet indirect sunlight and warm temperatures.

Light: Staghorn ferns thrive under dappled sunlight conditions, where the sunlight is filtered through tree canopies. Indoors, an east or north-facing window that receives plenty of bright, indirect light is ideal. South or west-facing windows can also be suitable provided the light is softened with a sheer curtain. Keep in mind that while staghorn ferns are tolerant of low light conditions, their growth might slow down considerably. Conversely, too much direct sunlight can cause scorch marks on the plant's fronds.

Temperature: Staghorn ferns favor a temperature range of 60-80°F (15-27°C) for optimal growth. They are quite adaptable and can withstand cooler temperatures down to 40°F (4°C), but prolonged exposure to cold can be detrimental to the plant. During the winter months or if you live in a region with a cooler climate, it's advisable to move your staghorn fern indoors or to a heated greenhouse. The key to successful staghorn fern care lies in creating a balance between sufficient light exposure and a warm, consistent temperature range.

Watering and Humidity Requirements for Staghorn Ferns

Given their tropical origins, staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) have unique hydration needs that involve both regular watering and high humidity for optimal growth.

Watering: Staghorn ferns are somewhat drought-tolerant but prefer a regular watering schedule that closely mimics their natural rainforest environment. It's advisable to water your staghorn fern when the mounting material or potting medium has dried out - a state you can assess by feeling the medium with your fingers. Depending on the climate, this might equate to watering once a week during warmer months and once every two weeks during cooler months. When watering, thoroughly drench the medium so it becomes fully saturated but ensure any excess water can easily drain away to avoid waterlogging, which could lead to root rot.

Humidity: Humidity is an integral aspect of staghorn fern care, as these ferns thrive in environments with high atmospheric moisture. While they can adapt to drier environments, they will grow more robustly in higher humidity levels. If you're growing your staghorn fern indoors or in a dry climate, consider methods to increase the humidity around your plant. Misting the fronds regularly can help, but take care to do this in the morning so the plant has time to dry out during the day and avoid fungal issues. Alternatively, a room humidifier or a humidity tray placed nearby can also effectively elevate moisture levels. Regularly monitoring humidity and adjusting your care strategies accordingly can significantly enhance the health and growth of your staghorn fern.

RELATED: Top 10 Watering Cans to Keep Your Garden Thriving

Soil and Mounting Requirements for Staghorn Ferns

Owing to their epiphytic nature, staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are distinct in that they don't require traditional soil to grow. In their native habitats, they naturally attach to trees or rocks, absorbing nutrients and moisture from their surroundings and rainfall.

Container-Grown Staghorn Ferns: If you choose to grow your staghorn ferns in containers, a well-draining potting medium is critical. You want a mix that retains some moisture but also allows water to percolate through easily, preventing waterlogging and root rot. A mixture of equal parts peat moss, coconut coir, and perlite can offer a balance of water retention and drainage. Remember to ensure the pot has sufficient drainage holes.

Mounted Staghorn Ferns: If you'd prefer to mimic the fern's natural growth habit more closely, you can mount it on a piece of untreated wood or cork bark. In this case, you'll need to provide a substrate, like sphagnum moss or a specialized mounting mix designed for epiphytic plants, to support the plant's roots. Wrap this substrate around the fern's root mass before securing it to the mounting surface.

In either case, selecting the appropriate growth medium for your staghorn fern is paramount in ensuring it gets the necessary water and nutrients. Regardless of the method, remember to soak the medium thoroughly when watering, replicating the heavy tropical rainfall these ferns would receive in their natural habitat.

RELATED: Dirt Matters: A Guide to Choosing the Right Soil for Your Plants

Fertilization Needs for Staghorn Ferns

While staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) aren't renowned for their nutrient demands, providing a supplementary dose of fertilizer can enhance their health and vibrancy. This is especially true during the active growth period—usually the warmer months.

Your choice of fertilizer should ideally be a balanced, water-soluble one—look for one where the N-P-K ratio is equal, such as a 20-20-20 formulation. This ensures that the fern receives an equivalent dose of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K), key macronutrients for plant growth. For staghorn ferns, it's recommended to dilute this fertilizer to half its strength to prevent any nutrient burn or salt build-up, which can negatively impact the plant's health.

You should aim to apply this diluted fertilizer solution every two to three months during the growing season. For container-grown plants, apply the solution directly to the soil. If your fern is mounted, you can spray or soak the mounting medium with the solution. Be cautious to avoid the fern's fronds, as direct contact can sometimes cause damage.

When it comes to fertilization, less is often more. Over-fertilization can stress the plant and lead to issues such as browned fronds and weak growth. If you observe signs like these, pause fertilization and flush the growing medium with clean water to remove excess salts. With judicious use of fertilizer and attentive care, your staghorn fern can thrive, becoming an attractive, lush specimen in your collection.

RELATED: 10 Organic Fertilizers for Optimal Plant Health

Revitalizing the Growing Medium for Staghorn Ferns

Caring for staghorn ferns involves acknowledging their distinct nature as epiphytic plants—organisms that grow on other plants or objects rather than in soil. This characteristic translates into specialized maintenance requirements, particularly when it comes to the notion of 'repotting.'

If you've opted to grow your staghorn fern in a container, keep in mind that traditional repotting into a larger container may not be required. The essence of this process for staghorn ferns lies more in refreshing the potting mix every two to three years to replenish the medium's nutrient content and ensure the health of your plant.

To do this, carefully extract the staghorn fern from its pot, being mindful to avoid causing harm to its delicate fronds. Then, gently shake the fern to detach any loose potting material from its roots.

Once cleaned, return the fern to its container, now replenished with a fresh, well-draining potting mix. This mix should ideally contain elements like peat moss, coconut coir, and perlite that facilitate moisture retention and free flow of water, mirroring the fern's natural growing conditions.

Staghorn ferns can also be mounted on boards made of materials like wood or cork bark, as they would grow in their natural habitats. In this scenario, the traditional 'repotting' becomes irrelevant. However, for potted ferns, this refreshment process is crucial for sustaining the nutrient supply, promoting robust growth, and ensuring the fern's overall well-being.

Amplifying Your Staghorn Fern Collection: Propagation Techniques

Staghorn ferns, with their enchanting, antler-like fronds, can be propagated using two main methods: spore reproduction or division. While spore propagation is a fascinating process, it's a slow and time-consuming endeavor, often taking months to years before maturation. However, if you're seeking a more immediate result, propagating staghorn ferns by division is an efficient alternative that can help quickly expand your plant collection.

Here's a detailed guide on how to successfully propagate your staghorn fern by division:

Preparation: Begin by cautiously extracting the staghorn fern from its container or mounting medium. You should be able to identify "pups" or "offsets," which manifest as miniature versions of the mature fern, sprouting from the parent plant's base or sides.

Separation: Next, carefully detach each pup from the main plant. Be mindful during this process to prevent any damage to the root structure or fronds. The goal here is to obtain an offset with a healthy clump of roots and a few mature fronds.

Planting: Once separated, each pup can be placed in a new container filled with a well-draining potting mix or attached to a fresh mount, depending on your preference and available space.

Aftercare: Post-planting, ensure that each new staghorn fern is provided with ideal growing conditions, akin to those of the parent plant. This includes bright, indirect sunlight, temperatures between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and consistent watering.

Propagating staghorn ferns by division offers an excellent opportunity to multiply your fern collection or share these unique, tropical beauties with fellow plant enthusiasts. With the correct care regimen, your newly propagated plants will mirror the parent plant's growth and vitality, adorning your space with their spectacular fronds.


Unlike many houseplants, staghorn ferns do not demand frequent pruning. Nonetheless, maintaining a routine check-up on their growth helps preserve their aesthetic appeal and overall health. Periodic removal of dead or damaged fronds not only keeps your fern looking its best but also prevents potential disease spread that could impact the plant's vitality.

Here's an in-depth look at how to effectively prune your staghorn fern:

Preparation: Equip yourself with a pair of clean, sharp scissors or pruners. Ensuring that your tools are sanitized is crucial to prevent the spread of pathogens that could harm your plant.

Identification: Carefully examine the staghorn fern for any fronds that appear brown, wilted, or damaged. These are the fronds that you will need to remove. Healthy fronds on a staghorn fern are typically a vibrant green and have a robust appearance.

Pruning: Once you've identified the fronds that need removal, make a clean cut at the base of the frond, close to the plant's main body. Be careful not to damage the adjacent healthy fronds during this process.

Post-pruning Care: After pruning, monitor your plant for any signs of stress or disease. If you notice any unusual symptoms such as browning of fronds or slow growth, consider adjusting your plant care routine.

While staghorn ferns are generally low maintenance, following these pruning practices can ensure that your plant remains in optimal condition, showcasing its dramatic fronds and enhancing your indoor plant aesthetic.

RELATED: Top 10 Best Pruning Sheers


Troubleshooting Staghorn Fern Problems

Growing Problems

Your staghorn fern can sometimes show signs of distress through changes in its fronds' color or texture. Being able to recognize these symptoms and understanding their causes can help you quickly address and correct any growing problems.

Browning or Blackening Fronds: If your staghorn fern's fronds are turning brown or black, it could be indicative of overwatering or inadequate drainage. Both these situations can lead to root rot, a detrimental condition for your fern. To rectify this, reassess your watering routine. Staghorn ferns prefer their growing medium to dry out partially between waterings, so ensure you're not keeping it too wet. Additionally, check if the potting mix or mounting material is retaining too much water. If it is, you may need to consider repotting or remounting the plant using fresh, well-draining materials.

Yellowing or Wilting Fronds: On the other hand, if your staghorn fern's fronds are yellowing or wilting, it might be a sign of underwatering or low humidity. These ferns originate from tropical environments, so they prefer a moist environment. Increase your watering frequency slightly, ensuring that you're not flooding the plant but rather keeping its growing medium consistently moist. Another effective solution could be misting the plant more frequently or using a pebble tray or humidifier to increase humidity around the plant.

Remember that staghorn fern care is all about balance. Maintaining the correct balance of light, water, and humidity can help prevent these common issues and ensure your fern thrives, bringing a touch of the tropics into your home. Monitoring your plant regularly can help catch any potential issues early, making it easier to address and correct the problem.


Despite their overall resistance to pests, staghorn ferns can sometimes fall prey to invaders such as mealybugs and scale insects. Recognizing signs of these pests and addressing them promptly is crucial in maintaining the health of your staghorn fern.

Mealybugs: Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied insects that appear as tiny cottony masses on your plant's fronds. They feed on the plant sap, which can weaken your staghorn fern and lead to stunted growth or discoloration. If you detect these pests, use a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol to gently wipe them off. It is essential to cover the entire plant, including the undersides of the fronds, where these bugs often hide. Repeat this process every few days until there are no more signs of infestation.

Scale Insects: Scale insects appear as small, brown bumps on the fronds and, much like mealybugs, they feed on the plant sap. Infestation can lead to yellowing or wilting fronds and overall plant weakness. To remove these pests, you can use a soft toothbrush or cloth to gently scrub the scale off the plant. If the infestation is severe, consider using an insecticidal soap or neem oil solution, following the directions on the product label. Remember, early detection and regular plant inspections are key to maintaining a pest-free plant.

Preventive Measures: To minimize the risk of pest infestation, maintain clean surroundings, avoid overwatering, and ensure adequate airflow around your staghorn fern. Regularly inspect the plant, especially when introducing new plants to your collection, as they may harbor pests.

By staying vigilant and proactive in your plant care, you can keep your staghorn fern healthy, thriving, and pest-free, allowing it to continue being a striking addition to your indoor garden.

RELATED: 9 Organic Pest Control Methods For a Healthy Garden


Staghorn ferns have a reputation for being relatively disease-resistant; however, they are not completely immune, particularly when it comes to conditions such as root rot. Root rot typically arises from overwatering or inadequate drainage, creating a damp environment that encourages fungal growth. Here are some guidelines on how to prevent this condition and maintain a healthy Staghorn fern.

Understanding Root Rot: Root rot is a condition primarily caused by fungi that thrive in waterlogged soil or mounting material. Over time, these fungi attack the roots, causing them to decay and turn brown or black. As the disease progresses, it can cause the plant to wilt, stunt its growth, or even lead to plant death.

Preventing Root Rot: To prevent root rot, focus on the core areas of watering and drainage. Your staghorn fern's potting mix or mounting material should be well-draining to prevent water stagnation. Examine your watering routine and adjust it if you notice that the plant's medium remains soggy for too long after watering. Typically, staghorn ferns need watering only when their medium feels dry to the touch.

Catching and Treating Root Rot Early: If your fern exhibits signs of root rot, such as wilting or yellowing fronds, act quickly. Remove the fern from its medium, trim away the affected roots, and rinse the remaining root system gently. Then, replant the fern in fresh, well-draining medium and adjust your watering practices.

By paying close attention to your plant's watering needs and ensuring proper drainage, you can keep your staghorn fern healthy and vigorous, thereby reducing its vulnerability to root rot. With consistent, proper care, your fern can continue to thrive, gracing your space with its unique and stunning presence.


Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do with staghorn ferns in the winter?

Staghorn ferns, as tropical plants, need special care in colder climates during winter. Follow these simplified steps to ensure their health:

Relocate indoors: Before the first frost, move your fern indoors to a bright, warm spot, like near a south-facing window.

Maintain humidity: Use a tray of water or humidifier to sustain the high humidity that staghorn ferns love.

Limit watering and fertilizing: As the fern enters dormancy, reduce watering and fertilizing frequency to avoid overwatering and nutrient overload.

Monitor for pests: Keep an eye out for pests like spider mites and mealybugs, which can proliferate during winter.

Following this guide will ensure your staghorn fern thrives throughout the winter months.

Are staghorn ferns hard to care for?

Staghorn ferns, though requiring specific growing conditions, are not difficult to care for. They need bright, indirect light, consistent moisture without being waterlogged, high humidity, warm temperatures, and well-draining potting mix or a board for mounting. Regular fertilization during the growing season also promotes their health. With these requirements met, caring for a staghorn fern can be quite straightforward.

What is the coldest temperature a staghorn fern can tolerate?

Staghorn ferns, being tropical plants, can tolerate temperatures as low as 50°F (10°C). Exposure to colder temperatures can harm or even kill the plant. In colder climates, it's recommended to move the fern indoors or provide it with protection. In addition to warmth, maintaining a humid environment is crucial for these ferns.


Summary: Caring for Staghorn Ferns

With their unique antler-like fronds and air-plant nature, Staghorn Ferns have become a fascinating choice for plant enthusiasts. They're admired not only for their exotic aesthetics but also for the ease of care they offer, given the right conditions.

Here are the key elements to ensure your Staghorn Fern flourishes:

Light and Temperature: Staghorn Ferns appreciate bright, indirect light. Direct sunlight can scorch their fronds, whereas insufficient light may hinder their growth. They prefer warmer conditions, typically thriving between 60-80°F.

Watering and Humidity: Staghorn Ferns absorb moisture through their fronds, so keeping them consistently hydrated but not waterlogged is crucial. Check their moisture level by assessing frond color and rigidity. High humidity is also necessary; misting or using a humidifier can provide ideal conditions.

Medium and Fertilizer: Instead of traditional soil, opt for a well-draining medium such as sphagnum moss or a special mounting mix. During the growth season, a light application of a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer can support the fern's health and vitality.

Mounting and Propagation: As an epiphytic plant, Staghorn Ferns can be mounted on a board or bark. To propagate, consider division of pups or offshoots for a quicker result compared to spore propagation.

Pruning: Staghorn Ferns don't require regular pruning. However, removing dead or damaged fronds maintains their visual appeal and overall health.

Troubleshooting: Watch for any signs of pests or diseases. Mealybugs and scale insects can infest Staghorn Ferns, while overwatering may lead to root rot. Early identification and swift action can mitigate further issues.

Caring for your Staghorn Fern is more of an enjoyable journey than a task. With attention, patience, and the guidance from these steps, your Staghorn Fern will not only thrive but become an eye-catching highlight of your indoor plant collection. Enjoy this delightful experience of plant care and let the exotic charm of your Staghorn Fern elevate your indoor greenery!

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