Kelways Guide to Tree Ferns
- Ongoing Care
- Winter Protection
- Growing Tree Ferns in Pots
- Common Tree Fern Problems
- Care Checklist
- Other Tree Fern Species
The Dicksonia antarctica (Soft Tree Fern) is the most commonly available, most affordable and easiest to grow of all the tree ferns.
With some consideration to its needs, and a little winter protection, this wonderful plant will thrive in a broad range of environments and micro-climates.
The Soft tree fern, naturally grows under trees and thrives in shade. However, provided it has adequate water, it will equally thrive in full sun.
Plants dislike constant buffeting by winds so site in a sheltered spot out of the prevailing wind. The key to growing a tree fern is water, and frond size is always pro-rata to the amount of water a plant receives.
Planting Pot Grown Tree Ferns
These should be planted in the same way as any other container grown plant. Water regularly after planting.
Planting Cut Trunk Tree Ferns
The soft tree fern is unique in its ability to regrow from seemingly lifeless logs. A trunk need only be placed around 10cm deep into the soil. The trunk will need a very stout stake to hold it firm; a trunk of 1m of more is best tied to one or more stout fencing posts.
Water copiously on a daily basis, or as often as possible as the new fronds emerge. It is vital to keep watering the trunk for at least 6 months after planting.
An established plant will thrive with very little care other than watering whenever possible. A spring feed of a general granular fertilizer around the base of the plant promotes frond growth. Boost during the growing season with a liquid feed of a seaweed based fertilizer or our special tree fern feed (link) applied with a watering can directly into the crown will really make a difference.
Miracle Gro Bonemeal
HSK Specialist Tree Fern Fertiliser
Old fronds should be cut back to no more than 15cm from the trunk when they go brown. Do not cut any closer to the trunk, because the old frond stalks ultimately help form the trunk as it increases in height.
Winter hardiness is the most common cause of concern for tree fern growers. The Achilles heel of a tree fern is the growing point at the top of the trunk. This must not be allowed to freeze.
The hardiness of a tree fern increased as the trunk gets taller because the growing point becomes naturally better insulated, as well as higher off the ground. The soft tree fern will take a temperature of -10C for short period, but it is prolonged winter freezing that can do irreparable damage.
At the end of October, wrap the top 50cm of trunk with several layers of fleece, or loft insulation. This can be left intact until the end of march. In milder areas, the trunk need only be wrapped if the weather becomes inclement. In a mild winter a plant may not need any protection at all. Do not worry about the fronds, it is the growing point that matters. Push straw or more loft insulation into the top of the trunk to help protect the top.
The soft tree fern can be grown for some years in a large pot. Most types of compost are fine, but the key is never to let the plant dry out. Its best to stand the pot in a tray of water and keep this constantly topped up, even in winter. Liquid feed can be added directly to the tray of water.
Small plants below 30cm of trunk, are quite frost tender and growing them in pots affords better winter protection by moving the plant into a glasshouse or a shed as required.
The most common problem is fronds reducing in size along with the trunk narrowing. This is invariably caused by the plant getting too dry. Increasing the amount of water the plant receives will gradually improve the frond size although it might take a couple of years for the plant to regain its stature.
Any of the tree ferns species we sell can be successfully grown in pots with plenty of water, if kept frost free during the winter but grown outside from April to October. Many can be planted and overwintered outside provided they are given thick insulation and regular inspections during the winter. See the individual recommendations for each species.
- Plant in a partially shaded spot
- Plant where sheltered from strong winds
- Add some organic matter at time of planting
- Stake new planted ferns securely for up to 2 years
- Water copiously initially, and regularly thereafter
- Protect the top of the trunk during periods of adverse weather