How to Care for Stag Horn Ferns


Staghorn ferns are prized for their antler-shaped fronds or leaves, and the unusual fact that they grow hanging from trees and bark rather than being planted in the ground. However, they are not parasitic; that is, they don't take nutrients from the tree itself, but from leaf material that falls from the tree and decays. This natural nutrient plus rainfall provides all the nourishment they require. Part of the fun of growing staghorn ferns is choosing the size and shape of the wood upon which to attach it.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood or bark
  • Wire, single-strand or chicken (not copper)
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Peat moss
  • Compost or rich potting soil

Attach to Wood

  • Place a mixture of organic medium, such as peat moss, sphagnum moss or potting soil, on the wood or bark upon which the fern will be attached.

  • Place the staghorn fern root-ball on the organic medium and attach it securely to the wood or bark by wrapping several times around with single wire or once around with a section of chicken wire. You can hide the wire with sphagnum moss, but avoid using copper wire.

  • Place the fern in a location with plenty of bright or filtered light. It will tolerate partial shade, but not direct sunlight.

  • Replace or add organic material to mounting as needed. As your fern gains its nutrients from this organic material, it will eventually require more.

  • Fertilize monthly during warm weather. While many growers maintain that staghorn ferns require little to no fertilization, the University of Florida suggests a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer monthly during warm weather, and semimonthly during the colder months.

  • Allow your staghorn fern to dry completely between watering. Older ferns require less water than younger ones. Water your fern by dipping the root-ball in water for 10 to 15 minutes. When thoroughly soaked, place the fern where the excess water can drip, then return it to its regular home.

Tips & Warnings

  • Keep your fern on the dry side. To ensure you don't overwater, you can wait until the leaves begin to droop a little; they recover when watered.
  • When your staghorn has covered the original bark or wood to which it was attached, you can simply another piece with wire and the roots will find it.
  • Overwatering will encourage fungus, mealy bugs and scales. If this happens, the University of Florida recommends using a non-oil-based insecticide.
  • Most staghorns will not tolerate freezing conditions.
  • Do not wipe fronds to clean. The white fuzz is important to the health of the plant and should not be removed.

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  • Photo Credit stags horn fern (platycerium surperbum) image by Shirley Hirst from
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