Have you been bitten by the tree fern bug yet?
This bite isnt something you might suffer from a nibbling plant pest, but an emotional desire to share part of a growing horticultural quirk. Tree ferns
are rather amazing, elegant palm-like plants with huge fronds and they have become highly desirable. Why do we love tree ferns?
Tree ferns are the most amazing plants! Dicksonia antarctica is probably the best known.
, which is perhaps the best known tree fern, is said to be one of the worlds oldest plants. No wonder we love it so much! It is native to Australia and Tasmania and is extremely slow growing, hence the rather high price tag. In a world of fast-moving madness its comforting to learn that not everything moves at the speed of light. These ferns grow about 2.5cm in a year. Or if conditions are ideal there might be a growth spurt which could result in about 30cms of growth over 10 years.
Tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, awaiting despatch from Perfectplants.co.uk
Where do tree ferns come from?
These are rainforest
under-storey plants where its shady and damp and its clear to see that they therefore wouldnt be happy in strong sunlight.
The rainforest is full of lush planting and the canopy not only keeps out a lot of sun, but creates a moist and humid micro climate.
What do tree ferns need?
So what do these ancient ferns need in order to survive here in the UK? Firstly, they like to be positioned in full to partial shade. Secondly, they need protection in the winter. Thirdly, these are plants that dont like to dry out. The trunk and crown are the vital areas which need to be watered regularly. The trunk needs to stay damp, even in winter. Whats more, its important to protect the crown of this plant from damage as all new growth comes from the top of the stem.
It's the stem and crown of the tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, that must be kept moist and fed.
All this might seem to be too much trouble for anyone other than an enthusiast. But there appears to be plenty of people queuing up to see if they have green fingers and enough skill to give Dicksonia antarctica a fighting chance. There are, in fact, thousands of people who have found a suitable spot for them in the garden
Find the right spot and a tree fern can look stunning in the garden.
Perhaps they are a bit of a status symbol that tells others that the owner is skilled in horticultural matters. Or maybe its just that people now have a growing appreciation of architectural plant beauty.
There's no denying that the shape of plants can be very pleasing.
How do you plant a tree fern?
Planting a tree fern
is a bit of a tricky business. Not because it takes particular skill, but rather that its not quite what were used to. The roots of the tree actually form the trunk. This should be placed in humus-rich soil which ideally will have a neutral to acid PH reading. A tree fern needs to be planted at the same level that it comes out of its pot. In other words, dont be tempted to stick too much of the trunk down into the soil.
Plant your tree fern down into the soil to a similar depth that it occupied in the pot.
After the first year or so, a tree fern will enjoy a liquid feed to the fronds and trunk around once per month during the spring and summer. The plant actually absorbs nutrients through the trunk and crown so this is the key to good health. It does, however, benefit from being encouraged to find its own food during the first year, which will ultimately strengthen the root system.
Tree fern logs awaiting planting. The roots aren't what we are used to!
Tree fern logs in winter
If you purchase your tree fern in winter, it might arrive looking rather like a bare log. In this case, soak the base of the trunk before planting it just low enough into the soil in order to allow the plant to stand upright. You would be wise to water it every day until the fronds begin to emerge. These are plants that look great next to a woodland-type stream or pond and they team well with ferns and woodland plants.
In the UK it might be wise to bring your tree fern under shelter for the winter. If its to stay out in the garden you can place a handful of straw in the crown and fold the fronds over the top before wrapping with horticultural fleece. Dicksonia antarctica is, in fact, said to be hardy down to about -10 degrees, but the foliage usually dies back at around -2 degrees.
Wrap it up for winter!
How to propagate a tree fern
Fancy having a go at propagation? Its the spores on the undersides of the fronds that you need to look for. Also offsets (young plants) which develop from the trunk. However, a tree fern doesnt reach reproductive maturity until around 25 years old, so you might have to wait a while!
Tree ferns take at least 25 years to be mature enough to produce young offsets.
Watch a video about tree ferns here:
Hardy palms for the UK climate
Palms, as you might imagine, are not native to the UK. But there are some that are considered to be relatively hardy. Which palm trees are hardy?
- Chamaerops humilis, otherwise known as the dwarf or Mediterranean fan palm. This will tolerate temperatures down to around -12 degrees C, or even lower. It has fan-shaped leaves and will grow up to 3m tall.
Chamaerops humilis is a fan palm which is fairly hardy in the UK.
- Trachycarpus fortunei, or the Chusan palm. This palm has fan-shaped leaves and can withstand temperatures as low as -12 degrees C, although the fronds tend to be damaged by winds. It can reach 12m or so if its happy.
- Trachycarpus wagnerianus. Another fan-shaped palm, this is a cultivated version of fan palm which has good, stiff leaves which tend to be able to cope with the wind. Also hardy down to around -12 degrees C.
Trachycarpus fortunei is a larger hardy fern that does well here in the UK.
- Phoenix canariensis: the Canary Island date palm has big, feathery fronds and can be grown outdoors in the UK. However, its only hardy to around -8 degrees C so will probably need some winter protection unless it occupies a really sheltered spot. It can eventually grow to about 15m tall, given ideal conditions. .
Phoenix canariensis is a graceful palm with arching fronds.