General gardening topics

Tree fern care and growing tips for this beautiful architectural plant

Last updated on January 26th, 2022

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Tree Fern Care

Tree ferns are beautiful, elegant and architectural plants that are simply amazing. They are tree-like ferns 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 the partial and dense shade, in damp conditions that mirror their natural environment, underneath 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 plant that is ideal for partial or dense shade in moist conditions
Tree fern – Wikimedia.org

Where to buy


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 and humus-rich soil.

All this being said, they will also 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 ground. Although not always essential, it can be beneficial to stake the log until it is established. Once planted they will need watering every day, watering into the crown and giving the log a good soak. This needs to continue, ideally daily, for the next 6 months. Water in winter to maintain damp soil conditions when needed. Once established they can be watered less frequently, however, ensure they are kept damp and do not become dry.

If planting your fern in a pot or container 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.

Quick 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 them 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 some much needed nutrients to the soil.

Remove the winter protection around March just as the new fronds start to emerge in the spring.

Protecting pot grown tree ferns in winter

Pot grown plants can be moved into a sheltered position and it is highly 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 in the home, making sure to protect them from direct sunlight.

General care

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 step is important in maintaining a healthy plant.

Quick Tip: Water copiously in spring and summer (daily) is essential.

Feeding

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 granular 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 feed because is not pressurising as they have lots of essential nutrients in it.

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 a lack of water, so regular watering is essential to avoid this to maintain a healthy plant.

Final Tips

  • 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.
  • 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 them to dry out.

The main image was taken by Steve Parker on wikimedia.org

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

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