It's ok, go ahead and laugh... and then get your mind out of the gutter. While the title might sound funny, this post isn't about anything dirty — although you might get a bit dirty if you attempt this "How To"! If rare, unusual, or plants that make a statement cause you heart to flutter, then the Platycerium is for you. Read on to learn how to properly mount and care for a staghorn fern.
What You Need
Potted staghorn fern
Picture wire or hanging bracket
1. Like orchids, the staghorn fern (Platycerium) is an epiphyte, which means they do not require soil to grow but attach to and gain nutrients from other plants, while not harming the host plant. They have two sets of leaves that grow, sterile and fertile. The sterile leaves usually form a flat shield that covers the roots and helps it attach to a support. While they might look like they are dead — they aren't. Do not pick these leaves off! The fertile leaves emerge from the center of the shield-like leaves and form the staghorn ‘antlers’ that gives this fern its name. This tutorial will show you how to mount your stag to a piece of wood, so it can eventually grow attached to the surface.
2. When it comes to the board that you will be mounting your stag on, you have a wide variety to choose from. An old board, plaque, piece of driftwood, large piece of bark, or even a slatted orchid basket will all work. But know that if you use a small board, you will very likely have to re-mount your stag on a larger board in the future. While they are slow growers, they can get very big in size so the larger the board you start with, the longer your stag can remain growing undisturbed. If you live in a warmer climate, you can actually mount your stag directly on a tree.
3. Attach the hanging hardware to the back of the mounting surface. Make sure the screws you have chosen are the appropriate size for the surface and weight of the board and plant. I prefer to use strong picture wire over a saw-tooth bracket for a couple reasons. Your fern is going to grow bigger, causing the weight and balance of the board to shift. Picture wire provides greater flexibility dealing with these issues. If you plan on moving your fern from indoors to out, picture wire will also be more appropriate.
4. Soak the sphagnum moss in a bucket of water until it is saturated. Wring it out so it is wet but not dripping.
5. Measure and mark the nail placement for your board. Generally, you want the nails on the board to be two inches wider than the diameter of the basal plate. Hammer your nails into the board.
6. Create a bed of damp sphagnum moss on the frame or mounting surface. Shape the moss so the bed is shallower on the top and slightly bulkier on the bottom.
7. Remove fern from pot and loosen the old potting medium. Spread out the roots and gently place the fern on the moss bed you created.
8. You want your fern situated so the shield is facing upwards. Once you have it arranged to your liking, pack the area around fern with more damp sphagnum moss so the roots are covered.
9. Take your fishing line and tie a knot, securing it to one of the nails. Wind the line around the fern, from nail to nail, creating a criss-cross pattern. You're using the nails as support to wind the line around, trying to avoid catching the fronds in the line. Once the moss and fern are securely lashed to the board, tie off the line at one of the nails and trim excess line. The fishing line is only a temporary hold until the fern attaches to the surface. The line will be visible at first, but don’t fear — new shield fronds and foliage will eventually grow and cover the line.
10. The finished, newly mounted staghorn fern. Your fern will do best with indirect, filtered sun and high humidity (around 60-65%). Water about once a week, always making sure that you allow the plant to completely dry out before re-watering. Even if the moss feels dry, the plant’s interior and roots could still be moist and over-watering will cause root rot. Some recommend you actually see them wilt before you water them again. To help with humidity levels, ferns love a light daily misting of water. You can fertilize your fern every to every other month with fish emulsion or a tropical plant food.
Additional Notes: Keep in mind that staghorn ferns do not like temperatures below 40 degrees, so be prepared for bringing your stag in during colder weather.
If you notice fuzzy, brown brown patches that appear on the bottom side of the tips of older larger fronds, don't fret, your plant does not have a disease. These are the spores so do not try to remove them.
Images: Kimberly Watson