Staghorn fern was one of the first plants in my “home jungle” – a piece of the tropics in my own little apartment in New England. It’s a strange looking plant – it has the outward-facing spiral pattern like other members of its family, but not the same pinnate, fine-toothed leaves as its cousins.
The leaves of the stag horn are dense and heavy with wide ruffles on the ends. The name sounds true – the leaves of this plant look like the frame of a wild goat. Fun fact: in nature they grow from the sides of trees and on logs, but they have adapted to growing in the ground. To make growing this plant easier and more accessible at home, this is the growing method I am teaching you here.
If you’ve recently purchased one of these plants and have no idea how I cared for them when I happily received them as a gift, fear not – they are easy to care for Once you have learned the basics. Forgiving and long-lived, they survive dry spells pretty well (but don’t let underwater become a habit!)
I’m here to break down the grooming protocol for this funky looking fern. It’s one of the coolest plants in my own collection, so I hope that with a little care and expertise, you can learn to love this goofy looking plant, too.
“Hirschhornfern, Bali Museum” by Jnzl / CC BY 2.0
This little guy is a great example of one of those plants that grow in the wild. While they grow best on trees, an easy option for newer plant owners is to bring staghorn ferns into the home and plant them – that’s how I keep mine.
Choose a breathable yet cozy pot
Best to give your fern just enough Space – don’t plant it in a massive pot and hope it grows to fill it up. On the other hand, check that your fern isn’t tied to a pot, which means that its roots don’t have enough room to breathe and absorb water.
Potting is a surprisingly difficult part of growing this tropical plant. The first time you buy a stag horn it will likely be planted in a small, highly restrictive pot. You should replant immediately in a larger pot that is about 25% to 50% larger than the kindergarten container. Fill the pot half full with organic soil (my favorite brand is Coast of Maine), place the fern in it (make sure most of the old soil has been shaken out of the root ball) and cover it loosely with dirt.
Since this species is used to growing on logs and trees where the roots are completely exposed to air and rain, It is important not to compact the soil hard – This gives the roots room to breathe. While some plants grow well in packed soils (think root vegetables, corn, and wheat), this tropical beauty isn’t one of them. Use a gentle hand with this strain.
You don’t need a fancy setup to grow a healthy, strong stag horn. I transplanted mine into this upcycled plastic pot about a year ago and she loves life.
Put it in dabbed sunlight
Staghorn ferns, like the rest of their family members, grow with them in both shady and in areas “Dotted” sunlight (Think of sunlight filtered through the tree tops). They grow in nature in moderate lighting. So it is best to try to mimic this type of lighting in your own home.
For more information on how to find the best plant lighting in your house or apartment, check out this Harli G vlog on Youtube.
Be careful not to expose your stag horn to direct sunlight – this will prevent it from burning and drying out. At the same time, you should still give your plant a soft light. This ensures that water can be properly absorbed and photosynthesized.
Check out the soft light that shines from these shiny young fronds. This fern sits slightly behind and under a skylight that provides the ideal dappled light this plant loves.
Water deeply weekly
Deer horns like a moderate amount of water – think once or twice a week. However, don’t stick to a strict schedule – pay attention to the individual needs of your plant. I find that mine needs more water in summer (around three times a week) and less in winter (once a week).
If you’re not familiar with indoor plant irrigation practices, take a look at this video from Planterina on Youtube.
Your staghorn’s health and watering needs will vary widely depending on the climate. If you live in a cooler, more humid climate, you will need to water it less often than someone who lives in a dry, hot climate. If you’ve forgotten to water your plants, invest in some watering balls like these from Wyndham House.
Finally, make sure to soak the roots as you water them, being careful not to just water the top layer of soil. Make sure there is at least 5 cm of soil moist. You can measure this by sticking your index finger in the pot and checking if the bottom is wet up to your second knuckle. This will help your new fern grow healthy and keep it shiny and bright.