Staghorn Ferns

Home Care - Culture Supplies What is a Fern
Basic Info Mounting For Sale Species

Care and Culture


In general, allow the medium to dry completely between watering. This may be difficult to 
judge since the outer medium may appear dry, but the inner layers and the basal fronds will 
be saturated. It may be best to wait until the fern slightly wilts before watering. Once watered, 
it will quickly recover, whereas an over-watered fern will rot and die. Generally, water twice 
a week during dry, hot times of the year, and less during winter and rainy seasons. Older plants, 
those with spongy layers of old shield fronds, tolerate drought better than less mature plants.


We suggest using a few teaspoons of Milorganite on top of the sphagnum moss, and water 
thoroughly to get it into the root system. Also add a similar amount of bone meal, and odd as it 
sounds, banana peels. The acid and potassium in the peels is an excellent organic fertilizer. 
On larger plants, Dynamite / Nutricote 13-13-13 works great, as long as you can get irrigation 
to pass through the prills so its releases its fertilizer into the roots. You can mix a tablespoon 
into the sphagnum moss when remounting the plants, and make sure I leave some space in 
back of the top sterile fronds for water to get in. It works great and the plants respond VERY well. 

Some people also use a  water-soluble fertilizer with a 1:1:1 ratio (i.e., 10-10-10, 20-20-20). 
Staghorn ferns can be fertilized monthly during the warm, growing months of the year and 
every other month when growth slows down. Frequent fertilization is only necessary when 
you want vigorous growth. Large or mature staghorns will survive and thrive with one or two 
applications a year of controlled-release fertilizer.


Most staghorn ferns thrive best under partially shaded conditions. The dappled light of a 
shade tree or indirect light on an outdoor porch is ideal. This is the equivalent of 600-2000 
foot candles. Very low light conditions produce slow growing ferns that are likely to 
develop disease and insect problems.


Most staghorn ferns are considered tender or semi-tender to cold and will not tolerate cold temperatures. There are exceptions, such as P. bifurcatum and P. veitchii, which can 
withstand temperatures as low as 25F (1.1C). South Florida growers will have relatively few occasions when cold protection is needed. Most staghorns grown outdoors are usually in protected, naturally warmer microclimates such as under tree canopy. However, central and north Florida growers should be prepared to bring ferns into a heated garage, greenhouse 
or home when extremely cold temperatures are predicted.


Propagating staghorn ferns from spores is slow and difficult and is not practical for most 
gardeners. Pups (with their root systems) can be carefully removed from large ferns and re-established. Wrap the roots in damp sphagnum and then tie the root ball to a mount. 
Eventually the sterile frond will expand and grip the mount.


Staghorn ferns are fairly pest free. When kept too wet, they are susceptible to a disease 
called Rhizoctonia sp. This fungus produces black spots on the basal fronds which can 
spread rapidly, invade the growing point, and kill the plant. If symptoms appear, withhold 
water and reduce the humidity to slow the spread. Chemical controls are available and 
generally effective when used as directed.

The insect pests to watch for are mealy bugs and scales. Insecticides are effective against 
these pests but may burn or deform the foliage. Generally non-oil-based insecticides are safer 
on staghorn ferns than oil-based compounds. Other pests such as snails or slugs can be a 
problem but are easily controlled. In Florida, contact your county Extension office for specific 
recommendations for disease and insect management:

This document is a revision of ENH36 Staghorn Ferns for Florida by G. Hennen, former 
graduate research assistant and B. Tjia, former floriculture specialist. It is one of a series of 
the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute 
of  Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date June 1990. 
Reviewed October 2003; Revised July, 2007. Visit the EDIS Web Site at

Sydney Park Brown, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Environmental Horticulture 
Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 
University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution 
authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals 
and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, 
age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or 
affiliations. For more information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your 
County Cooperative Extension service.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, 
Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County 
Commissioners Cooperating. Millie Ferrer, Interim Dean.