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Ferns/Stag horn fern


Pic of fern
Pic of fern  
QUESTION: I received this as a gift from a very special friend and I am afraid that it is
Dying. We live in Northern Ca. It gets the eastern sun for an hour
In the mornings. I've tried watering it more, then less.
Can you please help me!!!
Thank you

ANSWER: Jennifer hi;

From looking at the picture, and without knowing anything else about your staghorn, I would say it looks hungry but not in critical condition.  I do not see any indication of disease or insect pests.

The board needs to be mounted vertically in a shaded location so that the plant is able to capture rain and nutrition behind the shield (that is the rounded leaf on the bottom). You should also make sure that there is sufficient moss stuffed behind the plant to supply it with water and nutrients until it is able to sustain itself.  

If there is enough moss (lets say, two fistfuls), then I would mount the board, soak the moss, and sprinkle a teaspoon of Osmocote or a similar granular fertilizer. If there is not enough moss, then you would need to ascertain whether you can stuff some in the existing space or whether you would need to remount the staghorn. I can take you through the steps of doing that if you decide that it is necessary.

The light in the photo (again, hard to assess without standing right there and looking at it) looks a bit high.  I would say opt for a more shaded area.  Also, do not forget that this is a tropical plant so you would need to frost protect it over winter (if applicable in your area).

Your plant is quite young and immature and is definitely struggling.  It is a division that may have been recently separated from its mother plant and needs to adjust and learn to sustain itself.  I think it is very likely that it would be OK, but it will take time to show positive results.  Staghorns are slow growers but also slow to decline so it would require quite a bit of patience.  However, once established, you would be able to enjoy it forever with very little care.  

If needed, feel free to provide me with more information and additional photos (both close up and from further, showing the entire setting) so that I may make more educated observations.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: First of all Thank you for the much needed advice. I actually moved the fern so you could see the base better.  It gets early morning sun for 1.5 hours and then shade under a porch that is well ventilated on both ends.  It has been 100 degrees many days.  I have a water bottle that I spray the front about 5 times and then spray the back of the plant about the same everyday.  By it turning yellow I thought it might be a sign of over watering. But the back of it is dry.  I did have one several years ago that was a very young one also and was doing well with getting watered everyday by the sprinklers.  But the frost got it.  I have changed the location so it will only have filtered sun, put more moss on it, as it sounds like it needs more and the feed with Osmocote. How much should I feed it?
Thank you again for all your help

Spraying it every day without giving it a good soak may have contributed to the discoloration.  I liked your description of catching a stray sprinkler every day, because that is exactly what I recommend to staghorn owners: never water it but make sure it gets hit with the sprinklers every time you water your lawn.   I would definitely soak the moss heavily and add one teaspoon of the fertilizer (you can always add more, but you can never take out).  

The light situation appears appropriate.

For the long term, it should be mounted in a situation (such as the nook of an oak tree) where it can eventually outgrow the board and collect from nature.  If you attach it to an inanimate object (a wall or a fence, for example), then you would need to eventually provide a larger mount with more moss.

You mention frosts, though.  That means that if you allowed the plant to grow and establish outdoors and become immobile, then you would need to frost-protect it (with a blanket or water mist).



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Dan Carmi


I can answer all types of questions regarding ferns: their physiology, life cycle, taxonomy, culture (for both the professional and hobbyist), home and garden application and care, site suitability, and more. I can also answer questions in the fields of greenhouse production, foliage plants, and houseplant care, along with questions in the general field of ornamental horticulture. I may be able to identify fern and foliage plants by photo, but I am unlikely to be able to do it by description (though I will never turn down a challenge). I am not an expert in crop, field, and agronomic production. I am not an expert on annuals, perennials, tree & shrub crops.


I am a horticulturist with a formal education and twelve years experience in commercial fern and tropical foliage production. I also served as Adjunct Professor of Horticulture at Florida Southern College.

Florida's Nursery Growers and Landscape Association: current member and Action Chapter Board Member 2006-2008.

I have a BSc in Environmental Horticulture / Business from Florida Southern College, specializing in Greenhouse Management and Production.

Awards and Honors
FNGLA Action Chapter President's Award 2006-2007, numerous academic awards 2001-2005.

Past/Present Clients
Through my place of employment, I serve hundreds of commercial growers across the country and beyond.

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