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Ferns/Staghorn ferns


QUESTION: I have 2 stag horn ferns that I inherited from a neighbor about 15 years ago.  They are potted in moss in metal baskets.  They hang in my entry way where they get some morning sun & I water them about once a week.  They have done beautifully until this past year.  The leaves turn brown & spotted & fall off easily.  They just look sick.  I think they may be too big for the baskets but I have no idea how to remove them & transplant them.
The smaller one had a problem with a swarm of ants coming from the leaves.  That seems to have subsided when I had the nearby palms sprayed.
I would appreciate any advice you could give me.

ANSWER: Barbara hi;

There are a host of different reasons why a staghorn would be unhappy.  

This is a good video made by one of my customers, explaining how to split and remount a staghorn:

However, there might be other reasons for your plant to be unhappy and it may not need replanting.  To better help you, I would need some photos (from far and close) of the plant and the affected leaves.

Also, it would help to know what state and area you are in, and what kind of weather conditions the plant has been exposed to.  Also, look under the leaves for tiny raised white dots (these are scale insects which are very common, especially in Florida, and can kill your fern).  Small furry white critters called mealybugs are also possible culprits.

The ants are usually not the problem; they just take advantage of the dead areas in the heart of the plant.

I suggest, first and foremost, to try and establish why your plant is unhappy.  After that, we should be able to ascertain if we can save the existing plant or is it necessary to split it up.

Thanks for your question!


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

Thank you for the information. I am attaching some pictures so you can better see the problem  The smaller fern does have some white spots under the leaves, but they don't resemble the scale or whiteflies that I have seen before.  I live in Hawaii, the island of Kauai, North shore (humid, with quite a bit of rain).  As you can see in the pictures, they have completely overgrown their wire baskets.  That is one of my concerns if I should have to transplant them.
I am bewildered by your system of sending photos. (they are jpeg) I am unable to attach them.  is there an Email address I could send them to?

I am not familiar with the interface that the website uses to upload pictures so, if easier for you, you may send directly to my email

When properly mounted, staghorns should not 'outgrow' the container, as they simply spread onto the tree or whatever they are mounted onto.  But if the plants are free-hanging then, yes, they may outstrip their physical resources.



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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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