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Kelways Guide to Ferns


Making the Most of Your Fern

How to grow Ferns

Most hardy garden ferns thrive best in a shady or part shaded area, and many will grow happily in full sun. Most are happiest in a moist soil which does not get too dry, although there are plenty of ferns which thrive equally well in dry stone walls and in the dust dry soil underneath mature trees. There is a fern for just about any part of the garden!

As a general rule, if you have a partially shaded spot, which does not get too dry in the summer, then you will be able to grow the majority of hardy ferns successfully.

Ferns may be evergreen or deciduous. Choose the evergreen types for winter interest adding solid structure and form to the border. Use deciduous ferns for a dramatic seasonal effect, especially when the young crosiers unfurl in the spring, often in shades of bright crisp green or red.

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Evergreen Ferns

These pretty much look after themselves. Give them a tidy up in the spring by cutting off the older dead fronds to open up the crowns to the new crosiers. These ferns are often the most tolerant of dry sunny conditions

Deciduous Ferns

These tend to have softer more delicate fronds and so are more suited to a more shaded spot. In the autumn, cut off all the dying fronds so that the new crosiers can emerge the following spring.



As with all plants, some time spent preparing the planting hole will reap rewards later because the plant will establish so much quicker. A generous helping of garden compost in the planting hole will provide nutrient for the newly planted fern as well as retaining moisture as the roots establish.

Container grown ferns can be planted throughout the year, with the optimum time being spring or early autumn. Autumn is a particular good time to plant ferns into soil which is likely to get dry in the summer. Plant to the same level of soil as in the pot. Many crown-forming ferns do not like to be planted too deeply. Mulch with bark chippings after planting to conserve moisture and to reduce any weed growth in the vicinity of the plants.

Pests and diseases

In general ferns are pretty much trouble free, being rarely eaten by rabbits and deer. They do not generally suffer from aphids or other sap-sucking insects. Slugs can sometimes be a nuisance. Some of the denser growing ferns may get occasional leaf spots but this can usually be prevented and cured by good plant hygiene and periodically removing dead fronds.

Tree ferns

Tree Ferns

The following care notes relate to Dicksonia antarctica, care of other species of tree ferns will be found adjacent to the specific plants in the web store.

This hardy tree fern is one of the most exciting plants to become widely available to gardeners in recent years. They can be used with great success in the garden to give an exotic and architectural effect like no other plant. The trunks are slow to increase in height growing at the rate of about 3cm per year, so when buying a plant it is best not to think of it increasing substantially in height in the near future. The fronds however are vigorous and even a short plant can have fronds that are 1.5m or more in length, and can easily add 1.5m in height to the plant in addition to the trunk.

The best conditions for growing Dicksonias are moist soil, humidity, part or full shade, and shelter from strong winds. They will however happily grow in full sun provided they do not run short of water.

When planting a bare trunk, dig a shallow hole and add some organic matter such as garden compost. Site the trunk no more than about 5cm into the ground. A robust stake will be useful to support the plant from blowing over. Water as often as you can, both into the soil and all over the trunk and into the crown. Maintain this discipline throughout the first growing season. You cannot over water a tree fern! Within 6 months the trunk should have rooted into the ground. A pot grown plant, which has already rooted, should be planted at the same level as it was in the pot.

Tree ferns can be grown successfully in pots. Plant the trunk no more than 5cm deep and stake. Use a good quality potting compost. Stand the pot in a shallow tray of water and keep this topped up. It is vital that the plant does not dry out, even in the winter.

Tree ferns benefit from regular feeding. Use a small handful of granular feed around the base of the plant in the spring, and then water periodically with a liquid seaweed feed or our own specially formulated feed.

Winter Protection

Dicksonia antarctica may need a little winter protection depending on your own microclimate and prevailing weather conditions. Larger plants are also hardier than smaller ones.

At the end of October push a couple of handfuls of straw into the crown of the plant. This keeps the crown dry and also insulates the growing point from frost damage. This is all the protection a tree fern will need to sustain it through an “average” winter over most of the UK. If however a prolonged cold spell is forecast where the temperature remains below freezing for several days at a time, then wrap the trunk to insulate it. You can use horticultural fleece, bubble wrap, loft insulation or a blanket. As soon as the cold spell is over, remove the wrappings and give the trunk a good water, as the plants can get dry even in the winter. Do not worry about protecting the fronds because if damaged they will soon regrow. Small plants are best covered totally in a fleece blanket or brought into a greenhouse, shed, or garage for the duration of severe weather.

Do not let the plant dry out during the winter, as this is a frequent cause of failure, rather than the cold. However do not water into the crown during the winter. In early to mid April depending on your locality, remove the straw and the new fronds will soon emerge.