My Staghorn Ferns were happily living on the coast of Southern California just 7 blocks away from the beach. Not a climate exactly like the tropical rainforests these epiphytes are native to, but they were pretty dang happy. I left 2 of them behind with friends when I moved to Tucson last year and brought this 1 with me mainly because I wanted the vintage daisy pot circa 1950’s. See how I potted my staghorn fern to grow in the desert – a gardening challenge I accept!
I’ve lived here a year now and so far so good when it comes to keeping this artsy plant alive. It’s not thriving by any means, but at least it’s looking mildly satisfied. The desert is even less like the tropics so keeping it going for the long haul is a stretch. I should say that mine is technically an elkhorn fern, which is also genus Platycerium, but they all get lumped together and called staghorn ferns. The care and growing conditions for them are the same.
I bought this plant at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market many moons past. My intentions were to mount it on a piece of driftwood to hang on my side fence but never got around to it. The last time it got repotted was 5 or 6 years ago so the time had come. Plus, I want the daisy pot for 1 of my houseplants!
Other reasons I wanted to repot this plant are: to better display it (the fronds were touching the ground and you couldn’t see its beauty), give it a proportionate home base, and to plant it in a mix more conducive to growing it in the desert. Now that I live in a hot, dry climate I’m thinking this fern has a much better chance in a pot than mounted on a piece of wood where it would dry out way too fast.
How I potted my staghorn fern to grow in the desert:
These epiphytic ferns don’t grow in the ground. You typically see them mounted on wood or growing in a moss basket. If you’re growing them in a pot like me, never use straight potting soil. The mix needs to drain really well yet be rich. In nature they get their nutrients from plant matter falling on them from above and whatever rain they’re getting just runs right off. The roots don’t like to stay water logged and a staghorn kept too wet will rot out.
This is the pot that my fern has been in for years. Time for a bigger pot & fresh mix.
1 – Resin pot bought at Homegoods. I sprayed it with 3 colors of paint to jazz it up.
Here’s the mix I blended up. It can be used anywhere, not just in a desert environment. I went with 1/3 succulent mix, 1/3 orchid bark and the rest comprised of 1/2 coco coir & 1/2 compost. I topped the pot off with a nice layer of orchid bark to up the ante on the aeration factor. By the way, this fern was growing outdoors in Santa Barbara and it lives outdoors here (in bright shade) too.
Succulent & cactus mix. I recently started using a local mix which is composed of coco fiber chips, pumice & compost. I’m liking it very much. If you can’t find 1 locally, here’s an organic mix you might consider.
Coco coir. You simply cover the brick with water, it breaks apart & you can use it. This environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss is pH neutral, increases nutrient holding capacity & improves aeration.
Orchid bark. All epiphytes love this. They grow on trees after all!
Compost. This is 1 of my favorite amendments which I use instead of fertilizer. Mine comes from a local company but this compost is a good option.
My oh my, this is a gorgeous Platycerium! This specimen grows at Lotusland near Santa Barbara, CA.
Some alternative mixes:
(These mixes hold a little more moisture than the one I blended up so be sure not to over water).
Potting soil, sphagnum moss and bark chips. Equal amounts.
Potting soil, coco coir or peat moss and bark chips. Equal amounts.
Coco coir, sphagnum moss or peat moss and pumice. Equal amounts.
Here’s a side view so you can see how the fern is growing. I love the look in the new pot.
It’s best to watch the video to see how I potted this baby up. As you’ll see at the end, the water immediately drains through the mix and that’s what you want. I won’t have to water it as much as I did before in that small pot. This fern now has plenty of nourishment which will help it survive here in the desert.
Are you as crazy about Staghorn Ferns as I am? If they catch your fancy, here’s one that you can grow in a potting or hanging basket in case you want to give it a try.
Happy gardening & thanks for stopping by,