Staghorn fern hanging basket

Staghorn Fern Mounting Tutorial

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are tropical plants that, despite their exotic appearance, shouldn’t be too intimidating to casual gardeners since they are easy to grow and require little care.

This fascinating plant thrives in Florida’s heat and humidity. It grows quite well in South Florida and can be grown in North and Central Florida if protected from frosts and freezes. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, meaning they get moisture and nutrients from the air.

Staghorn fern produces two distinctly different fronds, basal or foliar. Basal fronds are also called shields; they are small, flat leaves that cover the roots and help the plants attach to the structure they are growing on. These fronds are sterile and function to collect water and fallen plant debris. Foliar fronds, also called fertile fronds, are the more eye-catching upright fronds produced by the plant. The underside of foliar fronds is where you’ll find brownish reproductive structures called sporangia. Gardeners may be concerned by their appearance, but they’re normal.

Remounting

Large, mature staghorn ferns can be divided into separate plants. For this project you’ll need sphagnum moss and a surface to mount the plant on. We used both an old piece of untreated wood and a hanging basket. You’ll also need some old stockings or tights. First soak the sphagnum moss for a couple of hours. We carefully cut the two mature plants apart, taking care to separate different basal fronds.

Cutting a mature staghorn away from its original mount and into two “new” plants. UF/IFAS, some rights reserved

A cross-section view of the staghorn after being separated.
UF/IFAS, some rights reserved

Mounting to a Board

We then cut away some of the old roots and plant matter to be able to get it to fit on our mounting board. Place a handful or two of sphagnum moss on the board and then place your plant on top. Tie your plant on with pantyhose. Pantyhose are better than microfilament or wire because it will eventually rot away and not end up cutting into the plant.

Securing the staghorn fern to a wooden mount with pantyhose.
UF/IFAS, some rights reserved

Hanging in a Wire Basket

Cut down the liner in your basket enough that it will allow your plant to stick through the wire side. Add enough sphagnum moss so that your staghorn will sit near the top of the basket.

Cutting away part of the coir liner allows the staghorn to grow through freely.

Place your plant in the basket and gently bring the leaves of your plant through the edges of the basket. This allows the plant to grow out the side of the basket.

Carefully pull some of the fronds through so the staghorn fern can grow in its natural upright position.

Add more sphagnum moss on top of the roots. For a little extra beauty add bromeliad or orchid plants on top of your basket.

The finished product.

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Staghorn Fern

How to Make a Hanging Basket

Welcome spring—and all of your guests—with a simple hanging basket on your front porch. Hanging basket gardening is an easy way to add color to your yard without the commitment (and space) of a larger garden plan. A coco fiber basket makes an attractive home for an assortment of plants, while a wire hanging basket with a coco liner gives an arrangement a more delicate look. You can use different combinations of your favorite plants; just be sure that they are suitable to the spot where you plan to hang your basket. Follow our guide to make your very own homemade hanging basket to enjoy. It takes less than 30 minutes!

Image zoom William N. Hopkins

Choosing a Basket and Liner

Aside from choosing a hanging basket that complements your home, try going for a bigger basket—it’ll hold water better. Typical hanging baskets are made of wire, coco fiber, or plastic and come in diameters of 8 to 24 inches. Liners for wire baskets include sphagnum moss, coco fiber, burlap, plastic, and pressed paperboard. Sphagnum moss and coco fiber are porous, so they’ll dry out more quickly than pressed paperboard or plastic; however, softer materials make it easier to poke planting holes on the outside of the basket. If you’re using sphagnum moss for your basket, assemble it first. If you’re using a paperboard liner, drill drainage holes in the bottom before planting.

You have two options for hanging the basket. Either install a hook on the ceiling or wall of a porch, patio, or deck, or hang it from a freestanding shepherd’s hook driven in the ground. A hook in the ground allows you to place it in any place you feel needs height and color. Keep in mind that a wet basket full of plants will be heavier than a dry basket, so your hook will need to be able to support the weight.

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Soil for Hanging Baskets

Fill the basket with a lightweight potting mix. You can buy a packaged mix or make your own potting mix with equal parts peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Some prepackaged mixes contain slow-release fertilizer, allowing you to forgo semiweekly treatments with a quick-acting, water-soluble fertilizer. These help the soil hold nutrients during frequent watering. You can also add compost to the potting mix to give your plants a boost. Mix in water-absorbing crystals or line the container with a water-absorbing mat to maintain moisture. Fill the soil within an inch or two of the rim for ease in watering—if you overstuff it, water may drip out the sides.

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Hanging Basket Flowers

Pick out a variety of plants with different textures and colors for a bright and beautiful hanging basket. Baskets packed with a single kind of flower can also have loads of impact. When using multiple species, include tall, midrange, and trailing forms for variety. Place taller plants near the center and trailing plants along the edges to cover the sides. Try to include varying bloom sizes. For example, vinca, miniature rose, and petunia offer large flowers, while hyssop, lobelia, and calibrachoa have dainty blooms. Plants with a mounding or spilling habit work well in baskets.

Think about whether your basket will hang in a sunny or shady spot, then select plants accordingly. You’ll also want to consider if your plants will get along well—large, fast-growing plants may out-compete smaller ones.

Planting a Hanging Basket

Be careful not to overfill your basket. If it looks sparse now, don’t worry; it’ll grow in later. Generally, a 12”-14” basket can handle 3-6 plants, whereas a 16”-18” basket can hold around 5-7 plants. As you insert each plant into the basket, press down the soil around its base to secure.

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Watering Plants in Your Hanging Basket

Water the soil mix thoroughly after planting. Thereafter, you may have to water daily in hot weather. Use a watering wand so you don’t have to take the basket down each time. Lifting a basket is a quick way to judge if it needs water. The lighter the basket, the drier the soil. If the basket dries out during the season, the top of the soil may crust over. Break open the crust and wet the soil ball thoroughly. Every so often, take down the basket and completely soak it until water drains out of the bottom. Pinch the tops of plants if they begin to look leggy, and rotate the basket weekly so they all get equal sunlight.

Successful Container Gardens

Making Hanging Baskets

Hanging baskets are container gardens that are suspended overhead. They are great for giving the illusion of bringing down the height of very tall spaces and making great visual impact.

Planting hanging baskets is not much different than planting containers that are on the ground.

As far as a choice of container there are basically three: solid plastic, wood and wire. Plastic and wood are very easily handled by filling with media and planting. With wire, you need to first line the container with something to keep the soil from falling out. This is done with either sphagnum moss or pre-formed coir basket liners. If using sphagnum moss, wet the most thoroughly before using. Then, taking handfuls off moss, pack it into the wire basket from the inside of the basket. Do this until the whole frame has been lined forming a pocket in the center that is then filled with media.

There are also pre-formed liners made from coir (coconut fiber). These forms come in various sizes and are placed over the top of the container and gently pushed down so the liner conforms to the container. With lined wire baskets, watering and keeping the container moist is of major concern. These types of containers loose a tremendous amount of moisture through the sides as well as through normal drainage out of the bottom. To reduce the moisture loss and cut down on watering frequency, it sometimes helps to incorporate a barrier to reduce moisture loss. Simply lining the inside of the moss lined basket with plastic prior to filling with media will help reduce moisture loss. Be sure to punch a few holes in the bottom of the liner for drainage. There are also coir liners available that have a plastic liner sandwiched between the coir layers to help reduce moisture loss.

After lining, fill the container with media.

Most hanging baskets are planted at the top. If you are using moss or coir fiber lined baskets, you also have the opportunity to plant through the sides. If baskets will be hung at or slightly below eye level, follow a traditional planting scheme for ground containers. Locate upright or taller plants in the center with shorter and trailing material towards the middle and edge.

If the basket will be located well above eye level, the tall center plants can be eliminated and use mainly rounded or trailing forms of plants. Baskets planted only with trailing types of plants may take a while to achieve a “full” look but soon will hide the basket completely. Some trailing types to consider are the trailing petunia, bacopa, scavola, sweet potato, verbena, calibrachoa, dichondra, ivy and lysimachia.

Planting through the sides has its advantages if you want a completely full looking basket and only want to use non-trailing types of plants. Plants such as wax begonia, pansies, alyssum, brachyscome or impatiens can be used. To plant into the side walls, the suggested method is after you have lined the basket with moss or inserted the liner, cut holes into the sides of the liner spaced around the basket starting at the bottom. Fill with media into the bottom of the hole. Insert the plants though the hole and fill in with soil to the level where the next series of holes will be cut. Insert plants and finish off with media, planting the top last.

After planting, water thoroughly to get media around the roots of the plants. Also keep the moss moist to help the plants to root quicker.

One of the major maintenance issues with baskets is watering. Both solid baskets and especially moss lined baskets dry out quickly. This is especially true later in the season. When watering, fill the top of the container with water and allow it to drip out of the bottom of the basket each time you apply water. Try to maintain uniform soil moisture. Feel the soil or watch the plants for signs of slight wilting. Frequent severe wilting will impact upon the quality of the basket. With frequent watering, fertilizer application becomes important. Apply fertilizer every two weeks or use one of the slow-release types of fertilizer mentioned in the fertilizer section. Combining slow release with a half strength liquid fertilizer program will insure good looking baskets through the season.

HOW TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL HANGING BASKETS

Instructions

1. Line your basket with moss by spreading it like a blanket to cover all of the wire frame. Start from the base, making it sure it is thick and compact, as it has to be able to hold all of the compost. Move your way up the sides right to the top rim, making sure there are no holes showing for the compost to fall through. Keep patting the moss into the sides to make it more compact.

2. Cut a small piece of plastic and place it on the moss at the base of the basket. This will help retain more of the water after watering.

3. Start putting in the compost. As you add the compost, keep pushing it down and to the sides – this will make more room to get in as much as you can and will also stop it condensing down once you start watering (try not to make it too solid). Fill the compost right up to the rim of the basket.

4. Select your plants, the quantity you need and your colour combination. For a 12 inch basket I use 4 established plants, and for a 14 inch basket I use 5.

For the centre, choose an upright plant i.e. something with a bit more height like a geranium, fuchsia, verbena or begonia. Around the rim, choose trailing plants that are going to hang over the side of your basket like bacopa, calibrachoa, diascia or trailing fuchsia. Unless I am asked to, I do not plant around the sides of the basket, as .I find that once the top trailing plants grow, they cover the sides of the basket, There is also more room for the other plants to grow.

5. Start with the centre plant first. In the middle of the basket scrape away the compost to make a hole big enough to place the plant into, then cover over the base of the plant with new compost. The base of the plant should always be level with the compost in the basket.

6. For a 12 inch basket you then want to place your chosen trailing plants in a triangle shape, near the basket rim. Position them so they are slightly leaning over the side. For a 14 inch basket you want to place your plants around the rim like a clock face at positions 12, 3, 6 and 9. Again, place each plant into a dug away hole and cover its base with new compost. Pat down the compost.

7. Finally, leave your basket in a warm, light place to settle down and grow on for a few days before hanging outside.

8. Once hanging outside, remember to water daily.

You may think the basket looks empty once you have completed the above steps, but the idea is to give the plants enough room and compost for them to grow and flourish. It will not take long before they have spread into each other and look magnificent!

Potting A Staghorn Fern: Growing Staghorn Ferns In Baskets

Big and unique, staghorn ferns are a surefire conversation starter. By nature, staghorn ferns are epiphytic plants that grow by attaching themselves to tree trunks or limbs. They aren’t parasitic because they draw no nutrition from the tree. Instead, they feed on decomposing plant matter, including leaves. So can staghorn ferns be potted? Read on to learn more about potting a staghorn fern.

Can Staghorn Ferns Be Potted?

This is a good question since staghorns generally don’t naturally grow in soil. The key to growing staghorn ferns in baskets or pots is to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. But, yes, they can grow in pots.

How to Grow Staghorn Ferns in Pots

If you’re interested in potting a staghorn fern, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Wire or mesh baskets are well-suited for growing staghorn ferns, but you actually can grow one in a standard pot. Fill the pot with a loose, well-drained potting mixture: preferably something like shredded pine bark, sphagnum moss or similar.

Be sure to repot when the plant gets crowded. Also, remember that it’s easier to overwater in a regular pot because drainage is limited. Water carefully to prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged.

Growing Staghorn Fern in a Wire Basket

To grow staghorn ferns in baskets, begin by lining the basket with at least an inch (2.5 cm.) of moistened sphagnum moss, then fill the basket with a very well drained potting mix, such as one containing a mixture of equal parts bark chips, sphagnum moss and regular potting mix.

Staghorn ferns in baskets do best in large baskets measuring at least 14 inches (36 cm.), but 18 inches (46 cm.) or more is even better.

Caring for Staghorn Fern in a Wire Basket or Pot

Staghorn ferns prefer partial shade or indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight, which is too intense. On the other hand, staghorn ferns in too much shade tend to grow slowly and are more likely to develop problems with pests or disease.

Feed staghorn ferns every month during spring and summer, then cut back to every other month when growth slows in fall and winter. Look for a balanced fertilizer with an NPK ratio such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20.

Don’t water your staghorn fern until the fronds look slightly wilted and the potting medium feels dry to the touch. Otherwise, it’s easy to overwater, which can be deadly. Once a week is usually enough during warm weather, and much less when the weather is cool or damp.

How to Pot a Staghorn Fern in a Hanging Basket

large staghorns 2 image by mdb from Fotolia.com

The staghorn fern is a tropical epiphyte that can be grown attached to a tree, piece of wood or a basket of moss. In nature, they are often found attached to trees in tropical zones. Soil is not needed, as the fern absorbs nutrients from the air and decomposing plant matter in its center through the leaves.

In cooler climates, staghorn ferns can be grown indoors or protected from the weather during colder months. Mounted in a hanging basket, the plant will grow quite large with a little basic care.

Soak a supply of sphagnum moss. Squeeze out excess water, leaving the moss damp.

Use the damp moss to line a wire hanging basket. Pack the center of the basket with a mixture of equal parts moss, wood chips and potting soil.

Place the staghorn fern into the moss through the openings in the wire basket with the leaves facing outward. Orient the fern so that it is approximately two-thirds of the way down the basket and the smallest leaves of the fern are pointed upward.

Use wire or fishing line to secure the staghorn fern into the moss. Intertwine and wrap the wire around openings in the hanging basket so that the moss stays packed and the fern will not fall out.

Hang the basket from a strong chain in the shade, away from direct sunlight.

Water the staghorn fern by soaking the moss once a week during hot, dry weather and less often during rainy or cool weather. Allow the medium to dry out completely between waterings.

Fertilize with a diluted solution of liquid fertilizer once a month during the growing season and every other month during the cooler months.

Move the staghorn fern indoors when freezing temperatures are expected.

I’m serving up buckets of artsy plant fun here: Staghorn Ferns are just the right amount of cool with a dash of wackiness thrown in. They’re epiphytes, just like orchids and bromeliads, which means they grow on other plants in their native environment, which is the tropical rainforest. They do great outdoors in temperate climates but also make fine houseplants with a little effort. This is all about how to grow a Staghorn Fern indoors, even though are homes are nothing like the rainforest.

Staghorn Ferns can be grown in a pot, in a wire basket as well as on a wire frame. They’re commonly seen growing on a piece of wood, like a hunk of bark, driftwood or a tree branch. These epiphytes prefer to grow this way because it allows for maximum air circulation which is something they love.

Things you need to know to grow a Staghorn Fern:

Exposure

Staghorn Ferns like bright, natural light but no direct sun. They typically grow under the canopies of trees which provide light shade. An east exposure in your home is fine as well as west or south but with these last 2, make sure your fern is at least 10′ away from a hot window. Conversely, if the light is too low, it’ll slowly decline. In the winter when the light levels are lower, you might have to move it to a brighter spot.

Watering

This is the most challenging care point for most people as they like to be kept evenly moist but not soaking wet. Because they’re epipyhtes, their roots really need to breathe. Just think of how they get watered in the rainforest where it rains a lot but they’re somewhat protected by the plants growing above: it rains, they take what moisture they need & then it all drains off. Remember, they’re growing attached to other plants up off the ground.

As a general rule of thumb, watering a Staghorn Fern every 7-10 days is the way to go. In the winter, water less. If yours is growing on wood, take it to the sink & run water over it & let it all drain out. These ferns absorb water through their leaf fronds & shield fronds as well as their roots so you want to make sure to wet all parts. The other thing you can do is turn it face down & soak it for 10 minutes or so.

Head’s up: speaking of those shield fronds (the dried mass the leaf fronds emerge from), don’t remove any any of them even though you might be tempted to by their “dead looking” appearance. They anchor & protect the plant.

My Staghorn Fern grows in a pot. I water it by pouring a good amount of water over the leaf & shield fronds & lightly watering the roots.

Here you can really see those dry shield fronds. By the way, the leaf fronds have a waxy somewhat fuzzy coating which they need. Don’t try to wipe it off!

Humidity

The humidity levels in the rainforests are over 70%. Unless you live in the tropics or subtropics, the humidity level in your home will be a lot less. Because I live in the desert, I run water over the leaf & shield fronds (not the soil) every 2-3 days. Your Staghorn Fern would appreciate a good misting every few days to up the ante a wee bit on the humidity level.

Fertilizing

When growing outdoors, Staghorn Ferns get their nourishment from organic matter which falls on them from the plants above. Indoors, this plant would like to be fed a few times a year in spring, summer & early fall. I’ve used a balanced orchid fertilizer diluted to 1/2 strength which I poured over the leaf & shield fronds as the roots. You can also use a fertilizer formulated for air plants.

I know someone who uses liquid kelp fertilizer on his Stag Ferns & they’re doing great. There’s also info floating around about banana peels tucked into the shield fronds but I’ve never tried that. I imagine a dead & decaying peel might attract fruit flies but maybe not. Let me know if this method has worked for you indoors!

Temperature

As I always say, if your house is comfortable for you, then your plants will be comfortable too. My Staghorn Fern is growing outdoors here in Tucson but I have plans on moving it inside very soon. It made it through the winter with a 9 or 10 nights around freezing but the hot, dry summer temps. are rough on it.

Mine have never gotten any but I’ve heard they can get scale. I’d recommend removing them by hand or with a cotton swab but I’ve done a post here with more info on this pest.

If your Staghorn Fern is growing on wood, then sheet moss is most likely it’s growing medium. If yours is in a pot like mine, then the water must readily drain out which means never use straight potting soil. I used a mix of 1/2 succulent & cactus mix & 1/2 orchid bark for mine in pots.

Here’s 1 mounted & growing on wood in case you haven’t seen something like this before.

A few reasons Staghorn Ferns can be a challenge when grown indoors:

1- The light level is too low.

2- They get overwatered.

3- Not enough humidity.

4- Poor air circulation.

This gorgeous Staghorn Fern grows at Lotusland in Montecito, CA. You can see how big they really get!

If you’re interested in giving this artistic and unusual plant a try, here’s a source for 1 mounted on wood as well as 1 in a pot.

The first time I saw a Staghorn Fern mounted on wood my heart went pitter patter. And it still does!

Happy gardening,

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