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Staghorn Fern Leaf Drop: How To Save A Staghorn Fern Losing Fronds

Staghorn Fern Leaf Drop: How To Save A Staghorn Fern Losing Fronds


By: Kristi Waterworth

Owning a staghorn fern is an exercise in balance. Balancing water and light, nutrients and keeping their roots exposed is like a highly technical dance that can keep you guessing. When your staghorn fern starts dropping leaves, you know something has gone wrong in the equation, but what? Read on for some possible solutions.

About Staghorn Fern Leaf Drop

Staghorn ferns have evolved to thrive in their natural habitat as epiphytes that live in the nooks and crannies in tropical forests. Instead of rooting in soil, they secure themselves to tree bark where they can take advantage of small dribblings of water and the decay of leaves and other organic matter.

Living among the branches is quite the life for them, which makes their transplantation into a home environment a challenging one. If your staghorn fern is losing leaves, there’s a good chance that something is wrong in the environment, not that a disease is responsible.

How to Save a Staghorn Fern

Shedding staghorn ferns are a good reason to panic, but before you do anything drastic, consult the list below to learn why your staghorn fern losing fronds could be a very minor issue.

It’s shedding old leaves as a normal part of aging. If just one or two leaves drop now and again, this is not reason to panic. Staghorn ferns do occasionally replace their old leaves with new growth, but the other leaves should still look very healthy and the roots nice and plump.

Incorrect watering. While it’s true that staghorn ferns live in humid environments, they don’t experience constant wetness all day and all night. When you water your fern, you should drench it, then withhold water until it’s completely dry again. Frequency will depend on your conditions and whether the plant is indoors or out. Stick a finger deep into the medium to ensure it’s ready before watering again.

Too little humidity. Staghorns are fickle beasts. They can’t tolerate too much water directly on their roots, but they also can’t handle it if the environment is too dry. They thrive in greenhouse environments for this reason. If you can’t keep your plant where humidity levels are high, like a bathroom or basement, consider a trick that orchid enthusiasts love and place it just above a bowl of water or an aquarium to increase the local humidity around the plant. It’s important that the staghorn fern not be immersed, but that the water be allowed to evaporate very close to the plant.

Sap-sucking insects. Generally, you can tell if sap-suckers are at the root of your leaf shedding problem. Leaves may develop yellow or brown spots where scale or mealybugs are actively feeding, not drying enough to drop until the infection is fairly severe. However, since many scale can look like part of a plant and other sap-suckers feed on the undersides of leaves, it’s possible to miss them on first inspection. Identify the pest in question before applying a non-oil-based insecticide.

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The Staghorn fern's (Platycerium bifurcatum) unusual growth habit makes it an interesting specimen for the home garden. The fern is native to tropical areas, but it also grows in Mediterranean climates and is hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 9 through 11. The fern produces two different types of leaves called fronds. The foliar and basal fronds grow tiny, star-shaped hairs that protect the staghorn fern from pests. Few insects attack the plant, although slugs, scales, spider mites and armored scale insects may cause some trouble.


How to Treat Problems With Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn fern is a fascinating and unusual plant that grows wild in steamy tropical jungles, where it is found attached to the bark of large trees. Although staghorn ferns are resistant to most pests and diseases, problems can develop and they can be somewhat difficult to eradicate. The best way to keep a staghorn fern healthy is to replicate its natural growing conditions as closely as possible.

Stop watering the staghorn fern immediately if you notice black spots on the fronds, and move the plant to an area with good air circulation. This is a symptom of a fungus called Rhizoctonia, caused by too much moisture. The fungus can spread rapidly and can eventually kill the staghorn if it isn't stopped early.

Mount the staghorn fern where the temperatures is at least 65 degrees F. If the temperature falls below 55 degrees F, the fern's growth will be stunted.

  • Staghorn fern is a fascinating and unusual plant that grows wild in steamy tropical jungles, where it is found attached to the bark of large trees.
  • The fungus can spread rapidly and can eventually kill the staghorn if it isn't stopped early.

Watch for pests such as brown and white scale, which look like a crust on the fronds, as well as mealybugs, which look like tiny pieces of cotton. An infestation can spread quickly and do serious damage--treat it with a non-oil based insecticide, following the instructions on the package. This product will be easier on the plant than an oil-based product.

Mist the fronds with a spray bottle if they're dusty. Never wipe the staghorn fern's fronds with a sponge or cloth, because this can remove the plant's protective fuzz and damage the plant.

Provide an appropriately sized, sturdy mounting surface for the staghorn fern. If it outgrows its mounting board, move it to a new one. It isn't necessary to remove the fern from its current board, just attach both plant and board to a larger, sturdier board.

  • Watch for pests such as brown and white scale, which look like a crust on the fronds, as well as mealybugs, which look like tiny pieces of cotton.
  • Never wipe the staghorn fern's fronds with a sponge or cloth, because this can remove the plant's protective fuzz and damage the plant.

Place the plant where it will receive bright but filtered light. Remember that, in nature, the staghorn fern receives dappled light filtered through branches and the forest canopy. Too little sun will encourage fungus, but too much direct sunlight will damage the plant.


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