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Canberra Today 4°/9° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Bark is the staghorn’s best friend

Staghorn… most unusual, as they don’t produce flowers and don’t need soil to grow. Photo: Jackie Warburton

Staghorn is most unusual to grow as it doesn’t produce flowers and doesn’t need soil to grow, writes gardening columnist JACKIE WARBURTON.

In its habitat, Staghorn likes to cling to the bark of trees, where there is moisture in the understory of a sub-tropical forest.

Jackie Warburton.

Long-living, slow-growing Staghorn (Platycerium bifurcatum) can be grown in Canberra in a protected spot and needs little care when established. 

The shield fronds protect its root ball from drying out and, in habitat, collects falling leaves that, in turn, become organic matter and release nutrients to the plant. 

This is difficult to replicate in the home garden, but by placing, compost and peat around the root ball will keep it moist. Misting sprays and drippers will help, too. 

If dividing an old stag, gently remove small offshoots of the main plant ensuring you have fertile fronds, which are the leaves with rusty cinnamon spots on the underside and also sterile fronds, which are all green fronds. 

Propagating by division is best done early spring just before the plant becomes active or, if you need to do it now, it will need a little more TLC. Use a good quality piece of hardwood timber or bark and lay the plant on to the board with some compost and peat around the root ball. Tie on with a fishing line and lay it flat for several weeks so it can attach itself to the board. It can then be hung. 

Propagating ferns by spores is very tricky in a home environment because fog tents and temperature control is required. Propagating from spores can take months, if not years, to grow but it’s not impossible and can be done with lots of research. 

Division will give fewer problems and a faster, bigger, low-maintenance plant in the long run. 

When growing Staghorn in Canberra we need to mimic its habitat conditions. It would like to be grown in a bright, outdoor location well under a pergola and away from frost or in a glasshouse with no direct sun. 

It needs moisture in the warmer months and keeping it dry through winter should stop it from freezing. Get them growing in spring with a weak seaweed solution. 

Their counterpart the elk-horn (Platycerium superbum), which is the same species of fern, looks different with slender leaves and grows multiple plants with its fanning fronds. It grows low and wide, whereas a staghorn is a more upright plant, with one big leaf.

Zinnias… a terrific old-fashioned, long-flowering plant for a cottage garden or a wild garden. Photo: Jackie Warburton

ZINNIAS are flowering at the moment and are a terrific old-fashioned, long-flowering plant for a cottage garden or a wild garden. Its flowers are bright and cheerful, ranging in colour through yellows, pinks and reds. 

It thrives on very little water once established and doesn’t mind full sun and a bit of heat. 

Deadheading the plant encourages more flowering growth and a neater looking plant. Its flowers encourage beneficial insects and bees to the garden. 

I plant them around my vegetables and fruit trees for colour and a shade for the tree roots as well. 

There are also dwarf varieties only 15 centimtres tall and have a more  compact growth. 

Harvesting the seed for sowing next year is easy. Remove the flower heads when they are dry in autumn and place them in an envelope or paper bag to dry over winter and sow again in spring. Plant in full sun and shelter from the wind. 

This technique of seed collecting can be done for other summer annuals such as cosmos, sunflowers and even herbs such as parsley and basil. 


  • Plant sweet peas in soil sprinkled with lime. 
  • Keep picking tomatoes and zucchini for more yield. 
  • Deadhead herbs to keep foliage growing strong. 
  • Fertilise lawns coming into winter and water well.

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Ian Meikle, editor

Jackie Warburton

Jackie Warburton

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