A mounted staghorn fern makes a splendid display for either a shelf or wall.
Staghorn ferns are amazing plants that are often mounted on flat boards or planks. An epiphytic fern, staghorn ferns have two distinct leaf forms: small, flat leaves cover the root structure and take up water and nutrients, and green, pronged fronds emerge from this base. The pronged fronds can reach 3 feet in length. Don’t remove the brown, flat leaves at the base of the plant—these are essential.
My home is short on wall space, so I wanted to make a staghorn fern mount that could rest on a shelf. This take on the traditionally mounted staghorn fern is versatile: by creating a shadow box the mount can function as a freestanding display for either a shelf or a wall.
You can build your own shadow box or find an old box to reuse for this project. Choose a rot-resistant wood such as cedar, cypress, or redwood. The best time to mount a staghorn fern is in spring, at the beginning of its growing season. If you wanted to substitute another plant you could use an epiphytic orchid or rabbit’s foot fern.
- Sphagnum moss
- 11- × 11-inch-square piece of water-resistant wood (for the back of the box) (A)
- An additional piece of the same wood that can be cut into four pieces to make the sides of the box (B)
- 12 small nails or screws (C)
- Staghorn fern (D)
- Green sheet moss (E)
- Sphagnum moss (F)
- Clear monofilament fishing line (G)
- Two screws (optional; for hanging the box)
- 16-inch (approximately) length of wire (optional; for hanging the box)
- Large bowl (H)
- Saw (I)
- Tape measure (J)
- Hammer (K)
- Drill (L)
- 1/16-inch drill bit (M)
- Scissors (N)
Place the sphagnum moss in the bowl and fill it with water until the sphagnum moss is fully immersed. Soak the sphagnum moss in water for at least an hour.
If you are constructing the box, cut the wood to size. You can also have a lumberyard cut it down for you.
Make the box. Using a hammer and nails (or a drill and drill bit), attach an 11- × 4-inch side piece to the 11- × 11-piece of wood. Attach the side piece to the back piece at each corner. Attach the other 11- × 4-inch side piece to the opposite side of the back piece. If you are using old wood that splits easily, predrill pilot holes to start the holes for the nails or use screws instead of nails—they won’t crack the wood as easily. Attach the two longer side pieces using four nails (or screws) for each side. Attach the longer sides to the back piece of wood at each corner and then attach toward the front to the neighboring side piece; this will stabilize the front of the box.
Place the fern in the box in a spot you find visually pleasing. I set my fern off center.
Set the fern aside. In the spot where you want to position your fern, drill a circle of holes through the base of the box that is between 1 and 2 inches larger than the diameter of the base of the fern you are mounting. The holes should be about 1 inch apart. For example, if you are using a 6-inch potted fern, you would drill a circle of holes that is 7 1/2-inches in diameter.
Squeeze the water out of the sphagnum moss. Reserve a small amount of moss to use in step 9, and make a nest out of the rest of the moss in the middle of the circle of holes.
Pull the fern out of the pot and use your fingers to remove any excess soil from the root ball.
Place the fern in the nest of sphagnum moss and pack more sphagnum moss around the fern’s root ball.
Place the green sheet moss over the layer of sphagnum moss (it is just for additional color until the fern grows over the moss).
Begin wrapping the fishing line around the moss. At the back of the box, tie a knot in the fishing line that’s too big to fit through a hole and thread the fishing line through a hole. Wrap it around the moss and thread it back through another hole.
Continue threading the fishing line through the holes and around the moss until the moss is securely tied to the back of the box. Avoid drawing the fishing line over the plant itself. Once the fern and moss are secured, thread the fishing line through a hole to the back of the box and tie a snug knot so that the fishing line doesn’t slip back through the hole.
If you wish to hang the shadow box, drill a screw into the back of the side pieces of wood. (Don’t screw them into the back of the box; the wood is too thin and the screws will pop through to the front.) Secure a wire from one screw to the other and use the wire to hang the mount on the wall.
To water, soak the mounted fern in a sink, large basin, or tub. Use room temperature water and soak the fern for 10 to 15 minutes to be sure that the root ball is saturated. Another option is to water the root ball with a hose or watering can, again with room temperature water. Let the water drain and the staghorn fern dry a bit before returning it to the shelf or wall. Water regularly throughout the growing season, and water more frequently as the temperature rises. The chief concern with indoor staghorn ferns is a lack of humidity; they should be misted frequently (at least once a day) and given ample ambient humidity during the warm growing season.
Staghorn ferns like bright light, but not direct sunlight. They can handle more sunlight if they’re given enough water, warmth, and humidity.
The most common staghorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatum, is native to Australia and can survive nearly freezing temperatures, but they thrive in warm, humid conditions.
Feed your staghorn fern up to once a month with a balanced watersoluble fertilizer during its active growing season with a solution that’s diluted to one half the recommended solution. Suspend fertilizing during the dormant season.
Once your staghorn fern has grown large enough, you can propagate it by division. The best time to divide a plant is in early spring. To propagate your plant, untie the fishing line and remove the plant from the mount. Use a sharp knife to cut between rhizomes and include at least two leaves in each division plus a bit of the root ball. Pot the new divisions individually and keep them warm and moist until they begin to grow independently.
If your staghorn grows small pups—the plantlets at the base of the fronds—they can be removed once they are at least four inches wide. Cut them off with a sharp knife, wrap their roots in sphagnum moss, and mount them.
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