Staghorn Ferns are unusual, eye-catching ancient plants that can be kept as houseplants with some special care. Unlike most houseplants, they don’t actually prefer to root in the soil. As epiphytes that root in trees, they need a different arrangement for their roots. To help you out, we’re going to cover some soil basics and share the best soil mix for Staghorn Ferns.

Soil Mix For Staghorn Ferns (Essential Tips)

The Best Soil for Staghorn Ferns – The Essentials

Staghorn Ferns naturally grow on trees, so they need a loose potting mix based on bark and relatively little mineral or rock. They don’t need high fertility, but aged compost or manure can help them grow over time. Balance drainage and moisture-holding capacity for this plant.

Why Soil Choice Matters

Why Soil Choice Matters

What does soil provide for Staghorn Ferns? First, good potting soil serves as a foundation for all types of ferns, providing an anchor in which roots can grow. 

But soil does more than just anchor a plant in place. The most suitable potting soil also provides nutrients, oxygen, and water that plants require. How does soil impact Staghorn Fern’s health?

  • Nutrients: Soil provides nutrients that plants need to survive, such as copper, nitrogen, magnesium, and phosphorus. Plants absorb minerals through the roots.
  • Water: Soil is full of pores or small spaces in between particles. Pores hole water and plants take up through their roots. The moisture then is distributed throughout the plant, along with oxygen and nutrients. Water also acts as a cooling system, keeping plants from overheating by evaporating through the foliage.
  • Air: Soil pores also contain air. Staghorn ferns use air to transform sugars into energy they need to survive.
  • Insulation: Soil acts as an insulator for aloe plant roots, which guards against significant temperature fluctuations.

For specialty houseplants like the Staghorn Fern, the use of the right material is key to growth. This plant can’t thrive in just any old garden soil or mix from the store. 

Staghorn Ferns can also be mounted on boards with garden moss used to keep moisture around their roots and word great as an indoor hanging plant as well. 

What are the primary components used in a potting soil mix?

What are the primary components used in a potting soil mix?

There is a wide variety of potting mixes available, but each is made up of similar components. The following materials are commonly used in potting mix.

  • Pine bark fines, which are finely ground bits of pine bark to offer an acidic organic material that holds water well.
  • Sphagnum peat moss typically holds the most water but provides little nutrients and compacts quickly unless other ingredients are added.
  • Coco coir, a by-product of coconuts that drains well but holds some water.
  • Compost and other organic materials, including aged hardwood chips and other forest products, provide nutrients and hold water well.
  • Gravel, rocks, and pebbles, fast-draining materials that are good for cacti in particular
  • Sand, another drainage-promoting material that can compact if overused.
  • Pumice, a light and well-draining volcanic stone that can replace perlite and vermiculite
  • Perlite and vermiculite, two expanded mineral materials that don’t provide nutrients but help loosen and encourage drainage in the soil mix.
  • Soil activators, additional products like humic acid or wetting agents.

Common signs you’re using the wrong soil mix for Staghorn Ferns

When a Staghorn Fern is kept in soil with the wrong moisture-holding capacity or pH level, they tend to suffer. Drooping fronds, yellowing, browning, and wrinkling all indicate something is wrong with the soil. 

These issues can also come from water problems, but improper moisture levels tend to be linked to poor soil choice as well.

The importance of well-draining potting soil for Staghorn Ferns

Since Staghorn Ferns prefer to stay moist, they could quickly rot if planted in dense sponge-like soil. This would hold too much water for them and put not only the roots in danger but the shield fronds of the fern. 

When mounted to a board, the sphagnum orchid moss or burlap used to wrap their roots serves as a very well-draining soil replacement that still holds plenty of moisture.

What pH levels in the soil are best suited to Staghorn Ferns?

When potted in a soil-free mix in a hanging basket or pot, the organic material and drainage of the mix matters more than the pH. Slightly acidic soils are preferred over those that are alkaline, making whole sphagnum moss an ideal material.

The Ultimate Staghorn Fern potting mix home recipe

The Ultimate Staghorn Fern potting mix home recipe

For potted or basket-planted Staghorn Ferns, try mixing:

  • 2 parts orchid bark
  • 2 parts sphagnum peat moss
  • 1 part vermiculite, perlite, or pumice
  • 1 part compost or heat-treated cow manure.

Mix the ingredients together and test for drainage, adding cacti mix or more orchid bark up to 50% by volume until it’s well-draining.

For board-mounted plants, a handful of whole sphagnum moss or compost wrapped in natural burlap is usually all that’s needed.

The best pre-mixed soils for Staghorn Ferns

In a pinch, cacti or orchid mix from any reputable source will work well for a smaller Staghorn Fern. These are also all good options: 

(Editors Note: Petal Republic participates in partnership programs with Amazon and other merchants to help connect readers with relevant products and services we may recommend).

Whole sphagnum moss works well for mounted ferns, but don’t confuse it for the fine and sifted peat moss used for containers. 

Staghorn Ferns need good drainage and a lot of organic material rather than mineral ingredients like rocks, vermiculite, and sand. Avoid cacti mixes that are heavy on pebbles and low on decomposed bark or compost.

Soil Mix for Staghorn Ferns FAQs:

How often should I switch soil for my Staghorn Fern? 

Staghorn Ferns only need new soil when their roots are visibly growing out of the pot or mount. They don’t need a lot of nutrients, so repotting isn’t needed to refresh the supply.

Can I use cactus soil for Staghorn Fern? 

Cactus soil that contains at least 70% organic material rather than expanded minerals will work well for this plant. Try buying a pumice or pebble-heavy mix and adding orchid bark or forest products to balance out your own mix.

Do Staghorn Ferns like wet or dry soil? 

They need moisture and don’t like to dry out, but they need good drainage to prevent rot. Consider that they naturally grow on the side of a tree where bark and moss help hold a little moisture without drowning them.

What are the primary considerations for soil when repotting Staghorn Ferns? 

Good drainage is most important, along with organic material and high bark or wood content.

Does the size of the plant affect the soil mix for Staghorn Ferns? 

Bigger plants do better when mounted in sphagnum moss or burlap rather than a soil mix. Smaller plants do well in well-draining mixes.

Does the potting container influence the type of soil mix for Staghorn Ferns? 

Baskets and pots need a standard soil mix high in organic material. If you choose a mount like a wood board or wire basket, you may need sphagnum moss or burlap instead with some compost mixed in around the roots.

Do Staghorn Ferns need deep potting containers? 

Staghorn Ferns root rather shallowly and prefer to stay crowded. Don’t pot them in deep or extra-large containers, keeping their roots slightly pressured by the size of the container instead.

Wrapping Up

Staghorn Ferns are interesting because they can be grown happily in a pot for many years and then transition into a wall decoration by being mounted on a board. By choosing the proper soil mix, you’ll set your staghorn ferns up for a long, healthy life.

In addition, don’t be afraid to remove and repot the small pups that form on the sides of these plants when they’re well-cared. Keep some loose, bark-rich potting soil on hand to pot up these offspring whenever they’re ready.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the meaning and symbolism of ferns.

Editorial Director | Full Bio | + posts

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

Author Andrew Gaumond

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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