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Plant antlers

Versatile staghorn fern is a conversation starter


Each winter, I am amazed at how easy it is to care for my staghorn ferns (Platycerium) and how tolerant they are of indoor conditions. This tropical plant is not winter hardy in Kentucky, so it resides happily inside in my kitchen during the winter months. 

The staghorn is an epiphyte, which means in its native habitat, it gets water and nutrients from the air. While this is true when growing it outside, once it is inside, I have to provide everything the plant needs. Since I don’t live in a tropical rainforest, when they are growing outside, I water them once or twice a week by spraying them down with the garden hose. Once they are inside, I water them only once every two or three weeks by placing them in the kitchen sink, spraying them with water and letting them drip-dry in the drain rack. I fertilize them only two or three times a year and only when they are outside for the summer.

Staghorn ferns grow best in shade to part shade. They thrive in the heat and humidity of a typical Kentucky summer and make a flawless transition into the warm, dry air of my house. You can grow them in a variety of ways—from planting them in a small container of soil to mounting them on a board or branch. The basal fronds are like shields that cover the root system and help take up nutrients. The large, showy foliar fronds do resemble antlers and can grow quite large, depending on environment.  

This fern has a contemporary look, but is right at home in any style garden or home interior. Its unique look often sparks great conversations. If you enjoy growing plants both indoors and out, perhaps this year you can give staghorn fern a try.

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.

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