Watering A Staghorn Fern: Water Requirements For Staghorn Ferns

By Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

Once rare, exotic plants found only in tropical forests, staghorn ferns are now widely available as unique, dramatic plants for the home and garden. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, which naturally grow on trees or rocks with specialized roots that attach to their host and absorb water from humidity in the tropical regions in which they grow.

As home and garden plants, they are often mounted on wood or rock, or hung in wire baskets to simulate their natural growing conditions. Natively, they grow in areas with high humidity and frequent periods of rain. In the home or landscape, these conditions may be hard to mock, and regularly watering a staghorn fern may be necessary. Continue reading to learn how to water staghorn ferns.

Staghorn Fern Water Requirements

Staghorn ferns have large flat basal fronds that grow in a shield-like fashion over the plant’s roots. When a staghorn fern grows wildly in the crotch of a tropical tree or on a rock ledge, these basal fronds help collect water and fallen plant debris from tropical rains. In time, the plant debris breaks down, helping contain moisture around the plant’s roots and releasing nutrients as it decomposes.

In addition to this, a staghorn fern’s basal fronds absorb more water and nutrients from the humid air. Staghorn ferns also produce upright, unique fronds which resemble stag horns. The primary function of these upright fronds are reproduction, not water absorption.

In the home or garden, staghorn fern water requirements may be higher, especially in times of drought and low humidity. These garden plants are usually mounted to something with sphagnum moss and/or other organic materials under the basal fronds and around the roots. This material helps retain moisture.

When watering a mounted staghorn fern, water can be provided directly to the sphagnum moss slowly with a long narrow-tipped watering can. A slow trickle will allow the moss or other organic material to become fully saturated.

How and When to Water a Staghorn Fern

In young staghorn ferns, the basal fronds will be green in color, but as the plant matures, they may become brown and appear wilted. This is natural and not a concern, and these brown fronds should not be removed from the plant. The basal fronds are essential for meeting the water requirements for staghorn ferns.

Growers often thoroughly mist the basal fronds of staghorn ferns once a week. Spray bottles may be adequate for small indoor staghorn ferns, but large outdoor plants may need to be watered with a gentle, misting hose head. Staghorn ferns should be watered when the upright plants look slightly wilted.

While brown, dry tissue is normal on staghorn fern’s basal fronds, black or gray spots are not normal and may indicate over watering. If saturated too often, a staghorn fern’s upright fronds may also show signs of fungal rot and spore production may be disrupted. Browning along the tips of these upright fronds is normal though, as it is actually the fern’s spores.

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