Staghorn ferns are popular household plants that are grown for the unique appearance of their fronds. They can also grow up to several feet in length, but if you want to get a staghorn fern solely to see it grow huge, you may be in for a long wait. Let’s look at how fast staghorn ferns grow.
Staghorn ferns are a slow-growing epiphyte and grow at a rate of 4 feet (1.22 m) every 10 to 20 years. This comes down to about 2 to 5 inches (5.08 to 12.7 cm) every year. You can help your staghorn fern grow at the higher end of this range with a few simple optimizations to sunlight, fertilization, and watering.
In the remainder of this article, we’ll discuss how long you can expect your staghorn fern to grow up to be and how you can help your Fern grow faster. Read on to learn more.
The Growth Rate of Staghorn Ferns
2 to 5 inches (5.08 to 12.7 cm) per year probably seems meager at first glance. Especially when you consider that the average plant grows up to 1-inch (2.54 cm) per week.
This slow growth rate is not specific to the staghorn fern, though. The staghorn fern is an epiphyte–an organism that naturally grows the surfaces of other plants, typically tree trunks and branches.
Like all life, epiphytes need the energy to survive and grow. Plants usually derive nutrients from the soil and then convert these nutrients to energy in a process known as photosynthesis.
Epiphytes, however, typically do not have access to the soil. They get their nutrients (and water) from the air, rain, and surrounding debris using their fronds. They can’t get very many nutrients this way, though.
The limited amount of nutrients available to epiphytes results in a limited rate of growth.
Indeed, you’ll likely have to wait months, perhaps even years, before seeing significant growth on your staghorn fern. Growing one from scratch is a long-term process that will take many years, so it is advisable to get staghorn ferns that are already of a desirable size.
The good news is that staghorn ferns are low-maintenance plants, so you can consider them a long-term background project while focusing on the rest of your collection if you’re an active gardener.
Another upsize to the slow growth rate is that you won’t have to deal with the Ferns outgrowing their initial spot. For several years, at least.
This is helpful if you’re someone who wants to decorate their indoors without necessarily getting into the gardening and growing aspect of things.
Staghorn serns live for decades in the absence of damaging conditions. Their growth rate may be slow, but give it enough time, and you’ll probably see them outgrow the average indoor plant.
How You Can Help Your Staghorn Fern Grow Faster
Like many other plants, staghorn ferns grow fastest during the summer and slower during the winter. Growth does slow briefly at the beginning of summer as the plant starts producing spores for reproduction, but it soon returns to normal.
You should capitalize on their summer growing period by providing your staghorn fern with the best care. Proper care can make a significant difference in the rate of growth.
The good news is that staghorn ferns are low-maintenance plants, so there’s not a lot you have to do. There are only a few key factors affecting growth you need to consider and optimize.
Provide Adequate Sunlight
Staghorn ferns are best placed under bright, indirect sunlight. Exposure to direct sunlight, especially during the hotter summer months, can often be too much to tolerate.
If your staghorn fern doesn’t have protection from the sun, don’t leave it outdoors. If you’re growing outdoors, protect your Fern from the afternoon sun by providing it with partial shade.
You can leave exposed staghorn ferns outdoors during the winter, but you’d have to bring them back indoors by nightfall because of the danger frost presents.
A common symptom of overexposure to sunlight is pale or yellowed leaves.
When growing indoors, the ideal spot for a staghorn fern would be a few feet away from a window that receives plenty of sunlight.
Sunlight bounces and reflects off surfaces, so even if your fern isn’t right under the sunlight, it can still benefit from being close to it.
While too much sun is bad because it can damage your fern, you also don’t want to be too conservative.
Too little sunlight means your fern won’t be able to carry out photosynthesis and convert gathered nutrients to food. As a result, it will grow slower. If it receives little to no sunlight, it will starve.
To get a better idea of how much sunlight staghorn ferns need, it can be helpful to think of their existence in the wild.
Staghorn ferns commonly grow on tree trunks and branches, sheltered from direct sunlight by the dense canopy overhead while remaining close enough to direct sunlight to carry out photosynthesis.
Staghorn ferns differ from other Ferns in terms of water consumption.
Generally speaking, they don’t need a lot of water because their fronds help them absorb it from the air.
A good routine to start is watering the plant once a week. Adjust from there based on the hydration of the soil.
The amount of water your staghorn fern will need depends on its growing medium. A mounted staghorn fern will lose water faster than one grown in a soil-based medium.
You want to rewater the plant when the soil dries out. You can check how hydrated the soil is by sticking your finger in it and checking for moisture. If the soil is moist, wait another day or two and check again.
You can damage your staghorn fern by overwatering it, so don’t let water stagnate on the soil or potting mix. It’s better to be conservative when watering this plant because it is relatively drought-resistant when mature.
A brief period of dryness won’t hurt, but waterlogged soils will cause root rot–a deadly condition that can cause irreversible damage and set back years of progress.
Wilting leaves are a common symptom of underwatering, whereas browning leaves and fronds indicate overwatering.
Keep Your Staghorn Fern in a Humid Environment
The tropical staghorn ferns enjoy high-humidity environments. In fact, their overall health begins to suffer when the humidity gets too low.
High humidity is more conducive to water and nutrient acquisition from the air. It also reduces water loss due to evaporation and transpiration, greatly decreasing how much water your staghorn fern will need.
You can use a humidifier to increase localized humidity. Alternatively, you can mist the plant regularly. Most gardeners mist their staghorn ferns weekly, every other day, daily, or anywhere in between.
Misting increases the risk of fungal growth, but a fungal infection of staghorn ferns that receive their fill of sunlight is so rare that this isn’t a major concern. A fungal infection will appear as black spots on the leaves.
Fertilizer isn’t as effective when it comes to staghorn ferns because they don’t draw a substantial amount of nutrients from the soil, but every little bit helps.
Considering how convenient fertilization is, it makes sense to fertilize your staghorn ferns for the additional benefits to health and growth.
It’s best to use store-bought liquid food fertilizer for this purpose. Using liquid-based fertilizer is important so that your staghorn fern absorbs more of it. The staghorn fern has no particular nutrient needs, so use a 1:1:1 or all-purpose fertilizer.
Fertilize monthly during the growing season. Refrain from fertilizing during the winter months.
You can also supplement your fertilization routine using homemade fertilizer. You’ll need to collect decaying matter and leftovers in a compost bin, though.
Using compost increases the organic matter in the soil, something that staghorn ferns love. It also increases the soil’s ability to retain moisture, so you won’t have to water as frequently.
You may have heard about using coffee beans as a fertilizer for staghorn ferns–it’s become quite a popular trend among backyard gardeners. Combined with banana peels, coffee grounds can make a great addition to your staghorn fern’s diet.
You can learn more about using coffee grounds as a fertilizer for staghorn ferns and its associated risks here: Are Coffee Grounds Good For Staghorn Ferns?
Eliminate Suboptimal Conditions
Once you’ve done what you can to increase the growth rate, take some time to account for and correct things that may be slowing it down.
- Pests and disease. Staghorn ferns are susceptible to common household pests such as aphids, especially in their early years.
- Winter frosts. Staghorn ferns can’t tolerate temperatures below 15°C or 60°F, let alone sub-zero temperatures. If it’s not practical to bring them in, cover them with an insulative sheet.
- Overwatering. Staghorn ferns are very susceptible to overwatering. Check your potting mix or growing medium thoroughly before each watering.
Staghorn ferns are slow-growing epiphytes that grow on other plants in the wild. Interestingly, they don’t damage or steal nutrients from the host plants–they get the entirety of their nutrients from the air and water.
They grow 2 to 5 inches (5.08 to 12.7 cm) per year, but you can help yours grow faster by providing it with plenty of indirect sunlight, frequent watering without going overboard (never let water stagnate), misting it daily, adding fertilizer to the growing medium.
Keep an eye out for harmful conditions such as pests, diseases, or winter frosts, as they can slow growth.