The latest indoor plant trend should have deer everywhere prancing with joy: Tropical staghorn ferns have antler-like fronds that — when affixed to a vertical surface — mimic a taxidermied buck.
“A lot of people who live in apartments want to bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor,” says Tom Hammond, a garden designer and woodworker who sells mounted staghorns at Ginkgo Gardens in Capitol Hill. “There’s a gravity toward these for certain people.”
The plant is an epiphyte, meaning it grows symbiotically on a host tree. Staghorn ferns (and other epiphytes like them, including orchids and bromeliads) don’t need soil to survive, but rather gather nutrients from the air and rain water, which carry healthy organic matter from the plant’s surroundings to its roots.
Because they most often grow vertically, using a tree as support, staghorn ferns are well suited for mounting. Distinct, relatively easy to care for and easy to make yourself, staghorn ferns affixed to a wooden surface are a 20-minutes-or-less DIY project that costs less than $30.
Hammond recommends feeding your fern seasonally with diluted houseplant fertilizer. That ensures it gets the three big nutrients found in nature: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. These ferns can survive on mounted boards for years if properly cared for. There’s a chance the plant outgrows its mounting piece, in which case you just repeat the process on a larger board.
“I’ve seen some grow to the size of half a Volkswagen in nature,” he says.
Here’s what you’ll need:
• A potted staghorn fern, available locally at Ginkgo Gardens on Capitol Hill.
• Sheet moss, available at garden and craft stores.
• A flat wooden surface you can hang. I used a wooden crate from the farmers market, but you could also use a cutting board or a plank of wood from the hardware store.
• A push-in hanger, available at hardware stores.
• Invisible nylon picture-hanging cord, available at hardware stores.
• Eight to 10 screws.
• A screwdriver.
• A pencil.
Using the pencil, trace a circle an inch wider than the diameter of the pot your fern is in. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
With the sketch as your guide, partially screw in one screw for every inch of your circle. Your screws should be secure in the wood, but with a small gap under the head. You will probably use about six or seven screws, depending on the size of your pot.
Push your hanger onto the back of your wooden surface. Be sure it’s oriented in the direction you’d like the piece to hang.
Tie a tight knot with the invisible cord onto one of the screws. Don’t cut it just yet!
Remove your fern from its pot and gently loosen the roots and remove excess soil.
Place the fern within your circle of screws. Be sure it’s positioned in the direction you’d like it to hang. There’s no wrong way here!
Cover the soil completely using sections of sheet moss. If the moss feels dry, dip it in water first. Be sure to leave the corklike circle at the base of the fern — called a shield frond — exposed. This helps the plant get nutrients and protects the roots. We want to keep it happy.
Wrap the invisible wire in a crisscross manner over the moss, winding it around opposing screw heads to secure it. Once the plant feels securely mounted, tie off the wire and snip it.
Hang your fern on an area of your wall where it gets plenty of light, usually near a south-facing window, and where you can easily reach it to take it down to water it. Staghorns thrive in humid environments. Run it under warm water in the shower for 10 to 20 minutes every other week, with some light misting in between to mimic tropical weather patterns. Do not detach it from the board.
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