How to Save a Dying Staghorn Fern

Written By:
Scott Carroll
Published On:
April 10, 2023
Staghorn fern

Staghorn ferns are fantastic plants that add a tropical feel to any home or garden. However, while normally, these plants are relatively easy to care for, sometimes they can experience problems that lead to their demise.

Fortunately, if you intervene early enough, there are steps you can take to save your staghorn fern. In this guide, we break down some of these steps to save your fern so you continue to enjoy its tropical bless for years to come!

Common staghorn fern problems

Before we discuss the steps to save a dying staghorn fern, it’s important to identify the signs that your plant is struggling, these commonly include:

  • Yellowing leaves: indicating that your fern is not getting enough nutrients and water, or it can result from too much direct sunlight or extreme cold. 
  • Wilting fronds: demonstrates that the fern could be overwatered, leading to root rot. 
  • Brown spots: a sign of disease, pest infestation or excessive exposure to direct sunlight or extreme cold. 

Staghorn fern 2.

8 methods to save a dying staghorn fern

If you’ve noticed these issues with your staghorn fern, it may not be too late to rehabilitate the plant. In sum, there are 8 methods that you can utilise to save your fern: 

  1. Assess watering habits 
  2. Correct front rots 
  3. Provide sufficient humidity 
  4. Change location 
  5. Utilise fertilisers
  6. Add moss 
  7. Remounting 
  8. Cull dead roots

Below, we’ll break down what these methods involve and how they can help save your dying staghorn fern. 

1. Assess watering habits 

While it is tricky, determining whether you’re overwatering or underwatering your staghorn fern can be useful for rehabilitation. 

Generally overwatered staghorn ferns may have yellowing leaves or fronds that feel mushy. Additionally, the soil may also have a foul odour, and there may be signs of fungal growth.

Meanwhile, if your fern is not receiving enough water, the fronds may wilt or curl, and the soil may be dry to the touch. The leaves may also turn brown and crispy, especially around the edges. 

Our tip is to check the soil moisture regularly by sticking your finger about an inch into the soil to feel for moisture. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water your plant.

2. Correct frond rots 

Correcting frond roots is essential for reviving a dying staghorn fern. Frond roots are tiny structures that grow at the bottom of the fern’s fronds, helping it absorb water and nutrients. Over time, these roots can detach or get damaged, making it hard for the fern to get the necessary nutrients to survive.

Use scissors or pruning shears to gently remove dead or damaged roots to correct the frond roots. This step will enhance the plant’s health, enabling it to absorb the water and nutrients required to thrive. After eliminating the frond roots, thoroughly clean the remaining roots, using a soft brush to remove debris accumulated over time.

3. Provide sufficient humidity

Staghorn ferns are native to tropical regions and require high humidity levels to thrive. To provide sufficient humidity for your staghorn fern, you can take the following steps:

  1. Mist the fronds: Use a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water to mist the fronds, focusing on the underside where the spores and roots are located. We recommend avoiding using cold water, as this can shock the plant and cause damage.
  2. Use a humidifier: Another option is to use a humidifier in the room where your fern is located. We find that the optimum humidity level is between 50% and 80%.
  3. Create a humidity tray: You can also create a humidity tray by filling a shallow tray with pebbles and adding water until it reaches just below the surface of the pebbles. Place the fern on top of the pebbles, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the pot. As the water evaporates, it will create a humid microclimate around the fern.
  4. Group plants together: Grouping plants together can also help to increase humidity levels. Plants release moisture through transpiration, and by grouping them together, you can create a humid microclimate.

At the end of the day, keeping your fern in a humid environment will also help prevent the fronds from drying out and browning, keeping your plant looking healthy and vibrant.

4. Change location 

One of the main reasons to change the location of a staghorn fern is to find a spot that provides the ideal amount of light. These plants thrive in bright, indirect light, and too much direct sunlight can cause the fronds to burn or turn brown. If your fern is located in an area that receives too much direct sunlight, moving it to a shadier spot can help prevent damage to the fronds and give the plant a chance to recover.

Another reason to change the location of a staghorn fern is to provide better airflow. Poor air circulation can lead to issues such as mould, fungal growth, and insect infestations, which can all contribute to the decline of the plant’s health. 

Moving the fern to an area with better airflow can help prevent these problems and promote healthy growth.

5. Utilise fertilisers 

To help your staghorn fern recover, it is essential to provide it with proper nutrients. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertiliser every four to six weeks during the growing season, diluting it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It is best to avoid fertilising the fern during the dormant season to prevent further stress on the plant.

6. Add moss

Adding moss to a dying staghorn fern can be a helpful technique in reviving the plant. Moss can help improve the humidity levels around the fern and provide it with the necessary moisture to recover.

It’s important to note that while moss can be beneficial to staghorn ferns, too much moss can also create problems. Excessive moss can trap moisture around the plant and lead to issues such as fungal growth and rot. As with any plant care technique, it’s important to find the right balance and make adjustments as needed to promote healthy growth and prevent further damage.

7. Remounting

Over time, staghorn ferns can outgrow their mounting surface or become detached, which can lead to issues with water and nutrient absorption. Accordingly, remounting can help provide the plant with a fresh start and the necessary support to thrive. 

To remount a staghorn fern, simply follow these instructions:

  1. Remove the fern from its current mounting surface: Use a knife or pruning shears to gently cut away any remaining roots or plant material. If the fern is completely detached, remove any dead or damaged roots and clean the remaining roots with a soft brush.
  2. Choose a new mounting surface for the fern: Staghorn ferns can be mounted on a variety of materials, including bark, cork, or a wooden board. Soak the mounting material in water for several hours to ensure that it’s moist and pliable.
  3. Pace the fern on top of the material and secure it in place: Use a fishing line or string to position the fern so that its basal fronds (the larger, shield-like fronds at the base of the plant) are facing outward. The fern should be securely attached to the mounting surface, but not too tightly, as this can impede water and nutrient absorption.

8. Cull dead roots

To cull dead or dying roots, you should gently remove them using a pair of scissors or pruning shears. It’s important to be careful not to damage the healthy roots that are still attached to the plant. Once you’ve removed the dead or dying roots, give the healthy roots a thorough cleaning to remove any debris that may have accumulated.

After culling the dead or dying roots, it’s also a good idea to repot the fern into fresh potting soil as this can provide the plant with the fresh nutrients it needs to recover.

Will my staghorn fern grow back?

If you take the necessary steps to revive a dying staghorn fern, it can grow and thrive again. However, it’s important to note that reviving a dying fern can take time and patience.

One of the most crucial steps in saving a dying staghorn fern is identifying and correcting the issue’s cause. This could include addressing issues with watering, humidity, or sunlight and correcting any root problems. Once these issues have been addressed, the fern will have a better chance of regaining its health.


1. Can you use Seasol on staghorns?

When it comes to staghorn ferns, Seasol can be used as a natural fertiliser to help provide the plant with the nutrients it needs to grow and thrive.

2. Can staghorn ferns stay in pots?

Staghorn ferns can be grown in pots, but they prefer to be mounted on a surface such as a piece of wood or bark.

3. How long do staghorns live?

Staghorn ferns can live for several decades if they are well-cared for, with some specimens living for up to 100 years in the wild.

4. Should you cut off dead ferns?

Yes, it’s important to remove dead fronds and roots from your staghorn fern to promote healthy growth and prevent the spread of disease. Use clean, sharp pruning tools and make clean cuts to avoid damaging the plant.