I‘d like to take a little detour away from sewing today, if you’ll permit me. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that I have two domestic obsessions: my cats and my houseplants. My plant habit started innocently enough. I started picking them up here and there at Ikea and Home Depot, but over the years I’ve gotten bored with the more traditional offerings and have started buying more exotic plants whenever I stumble on them. I love weird, architectural species and I don’t think a room ever looks finished without a pop of green. It still feels like a miracle that you can grow beautiful things inside and I’ve gotten to a point where I’m using apps and spreadsheets to keep track of my inventory and various watering and fertilizing needs. When I get into something, I get into it.
On a recent visit to my hometown, we visited Colasanti’s, a great nursery I’ve gone to since I was a kid. They always have a wide selection of weird green babies, and I pretty much started hyperventilating when I laid eyes on a Staghorn Fern. These are epiphytes, which is a fancy way of saying air plant. In the wild, these plants grow on vertical surfaces like tree trunks and rocks, so as a houseplant they are happiest when mounted and hung on the wall. The beauty of these plants is that they look like deer antlers – it’s like living taxidermy! They are easy to care for and look so beautiful and unexpected in an interior that I thought I’d share a tutorial on how to mount one should you ever stumble upon one at a nursery.
- A staghorn fern (you can buy them online here)
- A piece of wood to use as a mounting surface – weathered and salvaged wood looks particularly nice
- Potting soil
- Long strand spaghnum moss or sheet moss
- Nails – preferably galvanized to avoid rusting
- Fishing line
- A bowl for tracing
- A hammer
- A pencil
- Picture hanging hardware
Unfortunately I didn’t have any old weathered wood lying around, but I did have some scraps of plywood left over from my cutting table DIY. I cut a piece roughly 14″ x 14″, stained it using my beloved Minwax White Wash Pickling Stain and sealed it with Minwax Polycrylic Finish. Plywood does not hold up well over time so I will likely have to remount this as the plant grows. You can really mount these plants to anything vertical so don’t be afraid to get creative. It would look great mounted to raw lumber, sliced tree trunks, driftwood, you name it.
PREPPING THE BOARD
Once you have your surface prepared, you’ll want to use a bowl a little bigger than the plant to trace a circle. This will act as your guide for the nails. I used regular construction nails, but next time I would probably choose something with a broader head to make it easier to hold on to the fishing line. Hammer in the nails an inch or so apart, but not so far in that they go through to the other side.
You can install your mounting hardware before or after – I used these saw toothed hangers and hammered them in with the accompanying brass nails.
Once your board is ready, spread a few handfuls of potting mix in your circle. Since these are air plants, they don’t need a ton of growing medium, but you want something for the roots to sink into.
We can’t just plop the plant unto this soil. We need to break up the roots a little and flatten it out a bit so the plant isn’t projecting too far from the board. Be gentle as you break the roots apart with your fingers.
One important thing to note is that you cannot remove the hard, brown leaves on your plant. These are called basal fronds and they create the protective shield for the plant. In my case, the leaves were growing away from the base so I made sure that when the plant was hung, the shield was on the top side so that the leaves could grow downward. Place the plant on the board and add a little additional soil over the top of the plant.
WRAPPING THE BASE IN MOSS
These plants love humidity and moisture, so they need to be wrapped in moss to both contain the growing medium and keep the roots moist. All of my research indicates that spaghnum moss is the way to go. While I love the look of green sheet moss, it can be a challenge to find it in the sphagnum variety, so I used dried long strand moss I found online. Loose moss is obviously more challenging to contain, but it’s cheaper and I like the way the warm brown texture looks next to the green pop of the leaves. If you are using dried moss, soak it in room temperature water for a half hour or so to soften it up.
Squeeze the water out of the moss and wrap the plant with it. I used quite a lot as I wanted a nice, thick moisture containing barrier. Compress it as much as possible with your hands. I also stuck bits and pieces in to fill in any spaces between the nails.
Once you have a nice thick mass of moss with no visible soil, tie a fishing line to one of your nails. Criss-cross from one nail to another, wrapping a few times around each nail, careful not to catch the leaves with the line.
Go back and forth many times over, criss-crossing frequently. If you are using loose moss, this step is critical to make sure everything is secure. At the end, wrap the line around the perimeter of the nails a few times to make sure none of the loose moss can fall out.
Before hanging, bring your board to the tub and use a cup to give the base a good soaking with room temperature water. Try to avoid getting too much water on the leaves as they are prone to fungus. Let it drain for an hour or so and you’re ready to hang it!
As the plant grows, you may need to remount it to a larger surface but since they are slow growers this could take years. Water weekly in the tub or sink, more often if it is hot out. You can check the soil by sticking your finger in the moss. They also love a good misting so keep a spray bottle nearby (I try to do it every day). In terms of sun, they like bright, indirect light. This is a fantastic article on the staghorn fern if you want more information about these amazing plants!
Thank you for humoring my plant obsession. I may share a few more posts about my favourite green dudes in the future since I think houseplants get a bad rep for being hard to care for. Like any hobby, once you nail down a few basic principles it becomes much easier to get going.