Create a (Living!) Statement Wall Piece with a Staghorn Fern — Apartment Therapy Tutorials
At Potted, we love staghorn ferns…who doesn’t? They’re easy to take care of, do well in the shade and they look like amazing prehistoric creatures hanging on your wall. Win win! So after finishing our new book, “Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers,” we realized we really should have included a Staghorn project. So here it is especially for you.
Staghorns normally are mounted on plain wooden boards. Boring. We’ve seen a few projects where the board was cut into an object like a shield which was cool, but we thought it would be really fun to color our wood and create the whole project as a piece of art. Then after seeing some gorgeous furniture using dyed wood we thought hey, why not for our staghorn board? After all, isn’t that the basis of all DIY? You see something interesting and think, “Hmm, how could I make that my own?”
Here’s what you’ll need to make the board:
- Pine board cut 10″ wide by 24″ long
- Rit Fabric Dye in three colors
- Plastic bucket for each color
- Stirring stick
- Rubber gloves
- Measuring cup
- Boiling water
Start with the lightest color and pour it into one of the buckets making sure to shake it well first. We used one whole bottle.
Next we added our boiling water. We experimented using room temperature water too but the dye isn’t as vibrant. Since all the instructions are for fabric, we had to guess a little for our wood project but found that 8-10 cups of water worked well with one bottle. No need to add anything else. Stir well!
Tilt the container at a 45-degree angle and dip your board in like we did above.
Since you are going to want to hold your board in the dye for at least one minute (for lighter colors you might want to try up to five minutes), using a rock or something to support the bucket is a good idea.
After you’ve waited for the dye to penetrate the wood, pull the board out and you should have a nice diagonally dyed line on your board.
Note: the reason we used pine for this project is because it shows the beauty of the dye really well. Cedar or redwood will resist rot better, but it won’t look as crisp and vibrant.
Now turn the board around and do the other side making sure to keep the same angle. You don’t need to wait until it dries.
When you pull it out, you should have a nice “V” shape. Now let the board dry for 15 minutes or so while you boil more water and start with your second color.
Once your second color is mixed, dip the board again making sure to leave at least an inch of your original color peeking out the top.
This orange is a very strong color so we only waited one minute before we pulled it out. Shake off any drips and go ahead and dip the second side the same way.
Once both sides are done, this is what it should look like. Notice how the orange dye bleeds a little bit up the wood grain into the yellow dye. This is because the yellow dye wasn’t completely dry. But that’s okay…we like this effect and it’s why dye is so much more interesting than using paint.
Now mix and apply your final color the same way you did the first two.
Here’s the finished board with our three colors – yellow, orange and finally green (which goes brown over the orange). Let it dry and you’re ready to mount the staghorn.
Note: Since Rit Dye is water-based, you might also want to put two coats of a clear sealer on now before you mount the fern. The color will last much longer after waterings.
What you’ll need to mount the staghorn fern:
- Your beautiful board
- Staghorn fern
- Mounting hook
- Small nails with heads
- Sphagnum or Sheet Moss
- Fishing line
Start by nailing your mounting hook to the board. But before you nail, look at the board carefully as there may be one side that is prettier than the other. In the case of our board there was a small black mark on one side so that became our back.
Next flip the board over and lay your staghorn where you want to mount it. Since we’ve gone to all the trouble of dying our wood, we want to mount our fern as low as possible so you can see the dye job on the top. Once you have it where you want it, take a pencil and make marks about an inch away from the plant all the way around at one-inch intervals in a “U” shape. You don’t have to do the very top.
After you’re finished, remove the fern and pound your nails in where you’ve made the marks. Make sure to leave at least a quarter of an inch exposed so you have something to wrap your fishing line around.
While you’re attaching the nails, have your sphagnum moss soaking in water to really hydrate it. When you’re ready, squeeze out the excess water and begin making a little cocoon all around your plant, including the back. This will ensure your plant doesn’t dry out too quickly between waterings.
When the whole plant is covered, your nails will be difficult to see.
Now it’s time to attach the plant to the board. Start by making either a slip knot or just tying a simple knot on one of the nails. It really doesn’t matter which one, but we usually start on the top left.
Next begin crisscrossing your line back and forth making sure to wrap the filament several times around each nail before going back across to the other side. It can get a little frustrating when the line slips off the nail, so try pounding in your nail once you’ve wrapped your line several times. And if you are really having trouble with this step, try using staples. They aren’t as pretty, but they’re foolproof and in the end the moss and the plant will cover them up soon enough.
Once you’ve gone around all your nails and the plant is securely attached to the board, tie it off with a double knot and cut the end. And that’s it.
Staghorns prefer bright, indirect light though they can handle a couple of hours of morning sun. For indoor care, it’s best to put your fern in the shower once a week and give it a good soak. You want to get the moss saturated. Then you can let it dry out a bit until the next watering. Outside hose them off the same way. The larger and older the fern is, the less often you have to water as the plant will naturally create more dormant “shields” that are designed to sustain the plant for longer periods. Resist the urge to “groom” staghorns unless it’s an obviously dead leaf and never wipe the leaves as they have a coating that protects them from sun and elements.
Mounting and displaying staghorns can be addictive so get ready to have a lot of fun.
Annette Goliti Gutierrez and Mary Gray run Potted, a gardening and outdoor-lifestyle e-commerce site and shop in Los Angeles. They’ve just written their first book, Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers, filled with fresh ideas for making and embellishing interesting and stylish wall, garden and tabletop containers for plants.