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Overwatered Staghorn Fern (Signs and How to Save)

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are an eye-catching addition to any landscape because of their striking beauty and the way they are grown.

As long as you give them plenty of humidity and water them frequently, they’re not difficult to maintain.

However, overwatering is one of the few ways to kill these tropical epiphytes. 

Overwatering causes staghorn fern basal fronds to mold brown or blacken with black spots. It will eventually cause root rot, which can be fatal to your fern. Prune affected fronds and roots, apply fungicide, and repot or remount in fresh medium. Adjust the watering schedule as needed.

Signs of an Overwatered Staghorn Fern

Staghorn ferns are indeed one-of-a-kind plants. They are unique because they use both roots and shield fronds at the base to absorb water and nutrients.

Fortunately, this makes spotting signs of overwatering above the soil line on these epiphytes easier.

Overwatering causes extensive damage to the rootball, connecting the plant to supports such as walls, rocks, or trellis.

However, keep an eye out for the following symptoms of an overwatered staghorn fern:

– Staghorn Fern Turning Yellow

Like many tropical plants, Staghorn ferns use chlorophyll in their leaves to convert sunlight into usable energy.

Unfortunately, leaf edema and damage are caused by too much moisture, which breaks down chlorophyll.

Excessive soil moisture also rots the roots, preventing the plant from absorbing essential nutrients.

As a result, leaf yellowing is one of the first signs of overwatering. In addition, a yellowish-brown stain can appear on the underside of the fronds.

– Browning or Blackening of Basal Fronds

When you overwater your staghorn fern, the base of the fronds is one of the first places to suffer.

The above image showing root plates. Basically stag horn ferns have 3 types of fronds.

Fertile (the ones that hang down), infertile( the ones that stick up) and the browns ones are fronds that evolved to act as an anchor to secure them to the surface of something.

If the antler fronds begin to blacken or brown near the bottom, you have most likely overwatered your fern.

Likewise, if your staghorn fern is thirsty, the tips of the basal fronds will wilt and brown.

– Black Spots on the Basal Fronds

Overly moist environments are ideal breeding grounds for a wide range of fungi.

This is especially true if your overwatered plant is situated in a warm area that encourages the growth of opportunistic fungi.

Rhizoctonia is the most common fungal disease affecting your overwatered staghorn fern.

It’s a pesky fungus that lives in the soil and causes problems like damping-off, leaf blight, stem rot, and root rot.

It is typical for the Rhizoctonia fungus to attack the base of fronds that contact wet soil or ground.

Due to this disease, the basal fronds are covered in brown or black spots. 

If you don’t treat these fungal diseases, they will eventually kill your fern because they attack the growing points.

When the first signs show up, you should stop watering and turn down the humidity. There are effective fungicides you can use to combat the problem. 

– Staghorn Fern Wilting

Water is necessary for your plant’s magnificent shape and appearance. The fronds of staghorn ferns tend to be firmly spread out when they are perched on walls.

However, prolonged overwatering will cause your plant to appear limp and the fronds to wilt.

Oxygen is lost from soil air pockets when there is too much moisture.

As a result, your plant’s roots can no longer breathe and die due to the lack of oxygen.

This soggy environment also encourages fungal growth, which leads to root rot.

Therefore, the foliage and rest of the plant aren’t getting enough absorption and water flow.

Lack of nutrients and water causes turgor pressure to decrease, making the fronds look deflated rather than firm or juicy.

At this point, your staghorn fern may look more like an eyesore than a masterpiece that draws people’s attention to your home decor.

– Small Dark Spots on Fronds

Overwatering causes small dark spots on the undersides of fronds. These small dark spots or lesions will ruin your plant’s natural greenery.

A lack of moisture around your plant or in the rhizomes can result in a different distribution of nutrients. Because of nutrient imbalance, these patches and spots appear.

– Staghorn Fern Soft Leaves

Leaf tissue suffers greatly from overwatering, especially in the early stages when too much water reaches the plant.

Leaf edema will cause extensive tissue and cell damage, resulting in a loss of overall turgor and firmness.

The leaves will receive insufficient nutrients and water when the roots are damaged. The result will be mushy and soft rather than perky and firm.

– Rotting Core

A severe case of overwatering will almost always result in root disease. This is because the decay will affect both the roots/rhizomes and the fronds.

A rotting core is often associated with dropping or collapsing antler fronds. Over time, they tend to develop an unpleasant odor.

Aside from overwatering, the following are some of the most common causes of a rotten staghorn fern base:

  • Use of incorrect soil medium
  • Waterlogged soil conditions
  • Absence of drainage holes
  • Insufficient light
  • Misting your plant too much

If the core of your Staghorn Fern rots, it is likely to die. This is because the plant’s main structure is located between the root ball and the shield fronts. As a result, a rotting core kills your plant from within.

– Root Rot

If the core of your Staghorn Fern rots, it is likely to die. The plant’s main structure is between the root ball and the shield fronts. As a result, a rotting core kills your plant from within.

Signs of root rot are not pretty, and they include:

  • Yellow & dull-looking fronds
  • A foul smell emitted by roots
  • Decayed roots that look brown or black
  • Soft or mushy roots
  • Dark brown or black patches/spots on fronds

Root rot is the final consequence of overwatering your plant. You must move quickly in this situation due to the limited amount of time available.

Before repotting or remounting your plant, remove any diseased, dying, or dead roots and fronds from the pot.

How to Save an Overwatered Staghorn Fern

After assessing all of the symptoms of your staghorn fern, you’ve concluded that overwatering is to blame.

Next, fix the problem and create an ideal environment for your plant to recover.

I hope you caught the problem before the roots and fronds were severely damaged.

If your plant has root rot, you’ll need to go to extraordinary lengths to save it from death.

Follow these simple steps to get your overwatered staghorn fern healthy and happy again.

(1) Change to a Fast-Draining Soil after Drying Out the Plant

Focusing on the soil medium is the fastest and most effective way to bring back to life a staghorn fern that has been slightly overwatered.

However, a wet soil medium can lead to root rot in this epiphytic plant’s roots, as they have fewer and smaller root systems.

In addition, if you let the medium drip for a long time before remounting, the soil or moss will get too wet and hurt the plant’s roots.

Instead of digging up and replacing the soil, it’s best to start fresh with a new pot and soil that drains well.

But, first, you’ll need to let your plant dry out, so it doesn’t get more damaged or rot.

I usually follow these steps to save my staghorn fern when it gets too much water (aka, it has not been infected by widespread rot disease).

  • Unmount or unpot your staghorn fern.
  • Start drying the soil medium and the plant using clean, sterilized kitchen towels or newspapers.
  • Boost the temperatures and amount of light getting to your plant. The increased heat will help speed up evaporation and dry out the medium faster.
  • Alternatively, you can use a hairdryer (set it on cool) and dry the soil medium closer to the root ball. Make sure the blow is gentle lest it damages the fragile roots.
  • Replant your staghorn fern in a new soil medium. Fill the container with dry, fast-draining soil medium and remount your plant.
  • If you’re potting in soil, ensure the pot is well-drained with suitable drainage holes to allow excess liquid to seep out.

After a few days or weeks, your staghorn fern should begin to recover. Fronds will recover their vibrant green, firm structure.

(2) Prune Dead and Diseased Roots & Fronds

Overwatering creates ideal conditions for the growth of rot diseases. If your plant continues to be overwatered, it will lose more of its fronds and roots.

Use a sterile pair of scissors or pruners to remove rotten or dead fronds or roots. 

After you clean up, make sure that the only roots and fronds left are healthy, firm, and springy.

If you don’t cut off the rotten parts, they will hold the rot disease and spread it to other plant parts. 

(3) Treat the Roots with a Fungicide 

To prevent the spread of rot disease and minimize future reinfections, all roots must be treated with an appropriate fungicide.

Adding hydrogen peroxide to the new potting mix or spraying the roots with it are effective methods.

I prefer to use a fungicide drench for Phytophthora and Pythium root rot.

If the root rot is not too bad, you can also use cinnamon, activated charcoal, and chamomile as natural antifungals.

If the overwatering has already caused fungal leaf spot diseases like Rhizoctonia, I recommend using a fungicide that contains Copper.

For the treatment of fungal diseases. Here are the fungicides I recommend:

For the treatment of fungal diseases. Here are the fungicides I recommend:

Name of The FungicideAmountAmount of Water
Bonide 811 Copper 4E Fungicide1-4 tablespoons (.05-2.0 fl oz)1 gallon of water
Garden Safe Brand Fungicide32 tablespoons (1 fl oz) 1 gallon of water
Southern Ag – Liquid Copper Fungicide3-4 tablespoons1 gallon of water

(4) Select the Right Pot 

The existing container may contain pathogens. Choose a new pot with drainage holes. Mature staghorn ferns are my favorite to mount.

If you plant your staghorn fern in a wire basket, make sure it’s two inches bigger than the existing pot.

(5) Repot the Staghorn Fern

  • Choose a good batch of porous, well-draining potting medium containing shredded pine bark or sphagnum peat moss.
  • Fill the pot with an inch of sphagnum peat moss and pack it in tightly.
  • Fill half of the pot with potting medium and a few shredded pine barks.
  • Plant your staghorn fern with the leaves exposed.
  • Press your plant down and spread the soil medium evenly across the pot.

(6) Adjust the Watering Schedule

Staghorn ferns require regular irrigation, but the base should dry out between waterings.

As a result, you should wait until your plant has begun to wilt before re-watering, typically once every week during the growing season.

Before re-watering, allow the top third of the pot to dry out completely.

How Often Do You Need to Water A Staghorn Fern?

During the hot, dry spring and summer months, you may need to water a staghorn fern once a week.

However, you should only use it once every two or three weeks during the colder months of winter and fall.