Tree fern care and growing tips for this beautiful architectural plant
Tree Fern care
Tree ferns are beautiful, elegant, architectural plants that are simply amazing. They are a tree-like fern that have a large thick truck with arching, spreading lance-shaped fronds at the top. These can reach 6ft (2 metres) long. There are two popular types which include the Dicksonia and the Cyathea, they are both extremely slow growing, with the main distinctive trunk only growing around 1-2 inches each year.
They thrive in partial and dense shade in damp conditions which mirror their natural environments under tree canopies in forests and woodlands where the soil is humus rich and retains moisture.
What is amazing about these plants is that they can be purchased as what seems like a lifeless log with no growth or roots. Once planted they burst into life within around 2-4 weeks (if planted in spring).
Tree fern – Wikimedia.org
Where to plant tree ferns
Tree ferns thrive in moist damp soil in partial or full shade, so a shady position in a sheltered garden corner protected from cold winds is ideal for them. They prefer slightly acidic soil humus rich soil.
All this being said, they will grow in full sun but watering is even more essential as they won’t recover very well if they become dry.
How to plant tree ferns
Tree ferns are commonly purchased as logs, simply plant the log in a sheltered position, in humus rich soil around 10cm deep into the soil. Although not always essential, it can be beneficial to stake the log until it is established. Once planted they need watering everyday, watering into the crown and giving the log a good soak. This needs to continued ideally daily, for the next 6 months. Water in winter to maintain damp soil conditions when needed. Once established they can be watered less but ensure they are kept damp and do not become dry.
If planting in a pot or container then they are best planted in a mixture of 50% ericaceous compost and 50% multi-purpose compost.
Tree fern winter care
Although they are frost hardy down to -10c, they can only cope with this temperature in small intervals. Tree ferns do need to be protected over the winter to protect the crown of the plant (this is at the very top of the log) where the new fronds emerge from each spring.
Tip: Always protect the crown from frost.
Wrap the trunk in several layers of garden fleece (never in polythene), put a ball of straw into the centre of the crown (where the fronds emerge each spring) to protect the centre of the tree. Then pull the fronds together and tie with string. Adding a layer of leaf mound around the base of the trunk a couple of inches thick will also provide protection and add much needed nutrients to the soil.
Remove the winter protection around March just as the new fronds start to emerge in spring.
Protecting pot grown tree ferns in winter
Pot grown plants can be moved into a sheltered position, it is recommended to wrap the pot in bubble wrap to protect the roots. They can be placed into a greenhouse over winter or brought into a conservatory or the home but protect them from direct sunlight.
They are very easy to care for and the only care they really need, except for winter protection and constant watering is cutting back old dead fronds (leaves) as they are replaced with new emerging ones. Simply cut back to around 15cm from the trunk, ensuring you do not cut all the way back to the trunk. They use the old fronds to form the main trunk as they grow so this is important to maintain a healthy plant.
Tip: Watering copiously in spring and summer, daily is essential.
For the first year we recommend not feeding the plant as you want to encourage the plant to establish and put out some roots, feeding will discourage this and promote top growth. In the second year we advise feeding with a balanced multi-purpose liquid feed every 2-3 weeks during the growing season. In spring add a granule feed around the base of the trunk as this will also encourage new fronds. Some gardeners have seen amazing success when feeding with seaweed based feeds which is not pressurising as they have lots of essential nutrients in.
Tree fern problems
They are generally problem free, but one of the main problems some gardeners see is that the fronds appear to be not growing very large and the trunk starting to narrow. This is caused by lack of water, so regular watering is essential to avoid this and maintain a healthy plant.
- Plant in partial or dense shade with plenty of room for the fronds to grow.
- Plant in humus rich soil and add some leaf mould when planting to the soil.
- Provide winter protection, in mild winters this is not always needed but is still advised.
- Water daily for 6 months, once planted and keep plant moist thereafter. Never allow to dry out.
Main image taken by Steve Parker on wikimedia.org