My Staghorn Fern Is Turning Yellow: How To Treat A Yellow Staghorn Fern

My Staghorn Fern Is Turning Yellow: How To Treat A Yellow Staghorn Fern

By: Ilana Goldowitz Jimenez, Plant Scientist & Writer

“My staghorn fern is turning yellow. What should I do?” Staghorn ferns (Platycerium species) are some of the most unusual-looking plants home gardeners can grow. They can also be expensive, and some species are hard to find, so it’s important to catch any problems early. Read on to learn how to keep yours healthy.

Causes of Staghorn Fern Turning Yellow

Don’t worry about occasional yellow fronds on a staghorn if the plant still has many green fronds and appears healthy. The yellowed fronds should be quickly replaced by growing green fronds. It is also normal for the basal fronds (those that wrap around the base of the plant) to be partially or entirely brown.

Yellow fronds on a staghorn could be due to watering or humidity problems. Overwatering can cause yellowing, rotting, or mold on the plant. Low humidity or lack of watering might also gradually cause fronds to go yellow.

Pest problems are another possibility. Check your ferns for pests such as mites and scale insects.

Provide your staghorn ferns with filtered light or bright shade. Full sun can burn the leaves and cause discoloration. Indoors, make sure the room is not too dim, or fronds may turn yellowish due to lack of light. Appropriate sun conditions are easy to provide if you mount the fern under a tree canopy or on a partially shaded patio.

Yellowing staghorn ferns might be nutrient deficient. Fertilize staghorn fern plants with a balanced liquid fertilizer each month during the growing season. Also, feed the fern with organic matter – even a banana peel placed among the fronds works.

How to Treat a Yellow Staghorn Fern

Very yellow fronds on a staghorn should be pruned out. Simply cut the yellow antler frond near its base, avoiding damage to other fronds. However, if many fronds on your fern have gone yellow, you’ll need to change something in the fern’s growing environment.

To prevent more damage to yellowing staghorn ferns, take measures to improve their overall health.

Correct any watering or drainage problems. Many species require a humid environment but can be damaged by overwatering. Mist the leaves frequently when the air is dry. Water when the mounting medium is dry, but be sure the medium is able to drain quickly to prevent rot problems.

As epiphytes (plants that grow high in trees or on rocks, often out of contact with soil), staghorn ferns will do best if they’re mounted to a board, tree, or other surface, or placed in a hanging basket. If you grow yours in a pot, be sure the growing medium is very well drained and airy. Sphagnum moss and bark chips sold for growing orchids are good choices. You can also include compost or a small amount of potting soil in a hanging basket mix, but be sure the mixture drains quickly.

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Comments (21)

Lily Roberts

No but have you been watering the fern? Looks like it might have dried out. You may get new fronds if you can manage water and light requirements. I wouldn't cut any more holes, it's hard on the plant. Where were they originally attached?

Mare TN z7a

They were originally attached on the dark spot to the left of where it is now. The whole thing is so wrapped in base leaves that it's hard to tell when it needs water. I don't want it to rot under there. After the fronds broke off, the base went quite a while without water. I gave it a soak before I made the hole and put the fronds back in.

The place where the fronds used to be is darkened as if rotting, so I wasn't sure what was happening with the roots.

Lily Roberts

It doesn't look good for re-growth unless you get a new frond, but I'm guessing there's not enough air circulation under the basal fronds and there's rot. I'm wondering how it is attached to the board? (I defied instruction and have mine growing in a non-glazed terra cotta pot ,heavy so it won't tip. I did this because of the worry of not enough air being attached to a board). Can you tell how yours is attached?

Mare TN z7a

I'm not sure, because it had already completely covered it's moss with basal fronds when I got it! However, the other ferns at the shop were attached with fishing line. I too suspected the roots were a little too sealed in to be healthy.


The plant is made up of roots, rhizome, base (or nest) fronds, and fertile fronds, The fronds grow out of the rhizome (the main part of the plant). If the plant had dried out the fertile fronds would have withered and hung on for quite a while. Because they fell off green it suggests they had rotted off. More than likely the rhizome has rotted as well. Why it rotted could have been a number of reasons. Over watering is a definite suspect, especially if it gets too cold. But it could also be the quality of the water. If some of the rhizome is still okay then it could produce more growing points. If rotten it's completely gone. Hard to check on that unless you pull it apart.

Mare TN z7a

The fronds have been falling off for a while now. :( I watered it very sparingly, but I think those base fronds still held in a great deal of moisture. This was the last set of fronds, so I guess it's likely the rhizomes have been rotting for a while now.

This Staghorn was a birthday gift I've been trying to keep alive for several years, but I could never find a spot on the wall that got good (or really any) sun. Do these plants really do all that well hanging on a wall indoors?

I'd like to get another one, though the ones that are the size mine used to be seem expensive. I wouldn't necessarily try to keep it on a wall this time if they struggle to thrive there.


I've only ever had them growing outside on tree trunks/limbs. One small one I gave to my father many years ago he put on a cherry tree. It grew to a massive size, about 2 metres across. Over the years many pieces were taken off and given away. It was always full of water, either from rain or from the garden hose. You could push on the nest fronds and squeeze water out. It was full of all sorts of insects that lived and died in there (to the benefit of the plant). My father used to drop banana skins in it as well and that attracted even more insects. But eventually the cherry tree died, after about 30 years, and began to collapse. My sister broke the plant up and gave away dozens and dozens of pieces. What she kept and tried to grow mostly died (she had never had a 'green thumb', LOL).

So I don't really know why yours would have rotted. I've read about so many people who have lost them from over watering yet my father's stag thrived with over watering. I've seen hundreds of them growing naturally in the wild and many of those have been soggy wet. That's what makes me wonder whether water quality is the real issue, tap water compared to rain water.

Mare TN z7a

Perhaps so. my Dad has also been trying to nurture a couple of wall-mounted staghorns, and when the first one he got seemed to be suffering, the person he purchased it from suggested watering with distilled water instead of tap.

However, it's also had problems with fronds dropping off even after he switched to distilled. His also has many fewer base fronds with sphagnum underneath still showing, as compared to mine, so his would have had much more ventilation under there, although he watered it more frequently than I did.

There's a pretty staghorn with offshoots growing in a conservatory maintained inside a hotel near me. I wonder if they'd just give me one of the babies, haha.

Photo Synthesis

There's a significant difference in growing plants indoors versus growing them outdoors. The main one being that outside plants are regularly bathed in ultraviolet rays every single day. This acts as a natural defense against fungal infections. Plants grown indoors don't get exposed to these UV rays. So you have to take this into account when you water your plants. Staghorn ferns aren't picky about having tap water used on them. Just check your local forecast and you will see what the UV index is for your area on any given day. Here's mine, for example.

I grow mine outdoors for most of the year. It hangs on the front of my house, and the only care it gets from me is the occasional blast from the gardenhose. Not once do I worry about "overwatering" it. Ultraviolet rays from the sun keeps any fungi from gaining a foothold on my plants. If I were to water them like this when it's grown indoors, then it would also be suffering from the same causes that yours is. I run my ceiling fan to help my staghorn dry out afterwards.

Another thing worth mentioning is the fact that your plant isn't getting enough light where you had it hanging on the wall. Indirect sunlight outdoors is significantly brighter than indirect sunlight indoors. When a plant isn't getting sufficient sunlight to photosynthesize the energy it needs to thrive, then you're essentially robbing your plant of its ability to feed itself. This can result in having a a weaker plant that is more prone to fungal infections.

I bought this one and mounted it back in the spring. At the time, it didn't have any basal shields on it, but this past month, it finally started growing several of them going in every direction. For the longest time I didn't think that it ever was going to. Here it is getting some morning sun. It also gets some sun late in the evening, but throughout most of the day, it gets shaded by the overhang from my roof.

Help with Staghorn Fern

I purchased this Staghorn back in September, and mounted it to the board it's on currently. Despite this being the off season for growth and the older basal fronds drying out etc, there has been a tremendous output of growth. The fern has put out several new fronds since purchase.

I water the fern on a weekly schedule, and have set a reminder on my phone to water it at the same time of day. I went to water it yesterday and noticed that one of the newer fronds has yellowed at the tip. Is it a water issue? Or a fertilizer issue? I haven't fertilized it yet since purchase,since I wanted to give the plant time to adjust to it's new location and epiphytic life (the fern was previously planted in potting soil).

Pictures are of the yellowing frond and the basal frond it's attached to. I'm planning to split this pup off from the mother when spring hits. Here's a picture of the main fern:

And the new growth on the other side from the second pup:

Propagating Staghorn Fern

Staghorn ferns can be propagated by spore or division. Large, mature staghorn can be easily divided into smaller plants, and even small "chunks" that include a leaf and a bit of root ball can be potted individually. Make sure new divisions are kept warm and moist until they are growing independently. Don't get discouraged if newly-cut divisions take a little time to root (or if it takes a few tries)—propagating ferns takes some practice, and even experienced gardeners don't always find it easy.

Watch the video: Staghorn Ferns Ask the Grower