Platycerium is the family of ferns we know as 'Stag Horn Ferns'. They are native to different parts of the world, mostly Australia, Africa, South America, New Guinea and Southeast Asia. Most are quite easy to grow in southern California, requiring only a little extra care. Most people grow them on boards of Cedar or Redwood. The type of wood does not matter much, but those two tend to last longer and are fairly inexpensive to use. Some people start them on the trunks of larger trees and they attach to the trunk and expand from there. These plants are 'epiphytes' and do not take any energy from the host plant.
Most use some Sphagnum moss "also known as Green Moss" just under the main plant to them off to a good start. The Sphagnum helps hold moisture so they don't dry out in-between watering.
These ferns will usually grow well if placed in an area with part shade most of the day. A little 'full sun' is usually OK for just an hour or two, but if they get too much sun their leaves may be a little yellow, a lot of sun will burn the leaves. As you get further inland, and thus into hotter and dryer weather, they will require more shade. There are two types of leaves. The 'shield frond' lies flat and forms the back of the plant. The 'spore frond' grows out and away from the 'shield frond'. When matrue the 'spore frond' will have a brown color on the lower side, this is how ferns reproduce, from the 'spore' that flakes off as those fronds mature.
Water and Fertilize
Keep them moist, but not wet all of the time. Give them a good watering with a hose or sprinkler; let them dry out some before the next irrigation. If you keep them constantly wet, the 'shield fronds' will turn dark brown or black and the plant will not do well. We recommend using "GroPower Tablets"about 4 times a year to fertilize them, to make the plant grow faster and have larger fronds. Regular "GroPower" works well also, but you should probably apply it more often, perhaps monthly for best results. They can live a long time without any plant food, but the fronds will be smaller and lighter green. They just look a lot better with regular feeding. In the wild, they are primarily fed with bird droppings when they grow in the trees.
Bananas: some think this is a great way to feed them. In reality bananas have very little nitrogen, which is the ingredient most ferns thrive on. So eat your bananas and feed the ferns with GroPower, or the general purpose plant food of your choice.
Propagating and Dividing
Dividing them is the easiest and fastest way to propagate new plants. Your 'divisions' should be about 8" to 10" across and try to get about 1.5" (or more) of the fiber in the back. You can divide off smaller ones, but they are not as 'sturdy' and it will take longer to get them re-established. Do not try to take off the really small 'pups', these are too small and may die off. Even if they survive, it takes a long time to really get them growing well. Leave the little pups on the parent plant or include them with a larger division.
In our opinion you can divide them any time of the year, but the best time is in the growing season (April through the end of summer) and if they are divided then they seem to take right off. If you do it when it is cold, you don't see much activity for a few months until the weather warms some. I think almost all divisions will survive no matter when they are done, if they get decent sized pieces. If they are too small, they may not survive the colder months.
When we divide them at our nursery the survival rate is about 99% - we have very few failures, and those are always the smaller ones. We do divide and remount them for customers all year round, also we do not divide down to the 'very small' ones for customers, we just tell them "they may not survive", they are fine with that. I think we send out about 200 divisions and remounts for customers in a years time. Someone may bring in one fairly large plant and leave with 6 or 7 nice size divisons.
Platycerium superbum, which we know as "Moose Horn" does not have pups, the only way this can be reproduced is from 'spore' off of mature spore fronds. This is a slow and quite time consuming process and difficult for most to do. Even if you can finally get some spore growing, the small plants (less than 3") in diameter can be cleaned out in a few days by a fungus. Let someone else worry about those.
Pretty much all of the other Stag Horns can be divided, provided the divisions are not too small (there are a few exceptions, you can contact us for more details). When we mount them on cedar boards we put a circle of small 1" galvanized finishing nails. These are placed at the outermost part where the new fern is to be mounted. Place some Green Moss on the board, then the new division on top of that. Use #15 test monofilament line (fishing line). You crisscross back and forth many times to hold the new mount to the boards. You should try to go in all directions to make it as stable as possible. Cut the line and then flatten the nails to the board so they almost do not show. If your division is quite large you can buy plastic straps (zip ties) at hardware stores to hold more weight, so they don't fall off.
Walter Andersen Nursery has built its reputation on providing the highest quality plant material and the best customer service backed by a professional staff. This, along with the widest variety of plant material available anywhere in San Diego has kept generations of San Diegans coming to Walter Andersen Nursery year after year.Contact them directly at 619 224 8271 (San Diego Store) or 858 513 4900 (Poway Store).