Australian tree fern indoors

Tree fern

Tree fern, any of a group of relatively primitive ferns in the order Cyatheales, most of them characterized by ascending trunklike stems and an arborescent (treelike) habit. Tree ferns are conspicuous plants of humid tropical forests around the world. Species found at lower elevations are often widespread colonizers of disturbed or successional habitats. A large number of species are restricted to very small ranges on islands or at higher elevations, often in more-mature forests on isolated tropical mountaintops.

Tree fern (Cyathea medullaris).Copyright John Shaw/Bruce Coleman Inc.

Tree ferns are primarily members of the families Cyatheaceae (five genera) and Dicksoniaceae (three genera) in the division Polypodiophyta. Hypotheses on the classification of tree ferns have evolved as new species and new information on the relationships between genera have been discovered. In addition to the two main families given above, the tree ferns include a few small peripheral relatives: Metaxyaceae, Cibotiaceae, Loxomataceae, Culcitaceae, Plagiogyriaceae, and Thyrsopteridaceae. The most obvious morphological difference between the two larger families is in their leaves. Instead of scales, Dicksoniaceae leaves are covered by various types of hairs, which are especially conspicuous on the petioles. In contrast, Cyatheaceae has scales (and often also sharp spines), especially on the petioles, although hairs also may be present on the leaves.

Instead of the bark and wood that characterize the trunks of seed plant trees, the trunks of tree ferns are composed of rhizomes modified to grow vertically and embedded in a dense mantle of adventitious roots. These trunks may reach heights of 25 metres (80 feet) or more in some species. The growing tip produces a cluster of often highly divided leaves that may reach several metres in length. The sori often have a membranous protective covering (indusium), which can take various forms, including umbrella-shaped, kidney-shaped, and globose. The spores are globose and trilete.

A number of tree ferns have become quite rare as a result of overcollection by humans. The root mantle on the trunk has been a commercial source of “orchid bark,” a fibrous nonrotting substrate for cultivating orchids and other epiphytic plants. The trunks have been carved into tiki statues and other craft items typically sold to tourists in tropical resorts. The trunk cross sections also produce a beautiful pattern of light and dark tissues originating from the vascular system of the stem and the leaf traces. These have been used for making various handcrafted items, including plates. Finally, a number of species have been collected from the wild for cultivation in greenhouses and conservatories. Governments have responded to these conservation threats by listing most tree ferns under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international commerce involving these plants without a special permit.

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Tree ferns have a lengthy fossil record stretching back to the Triassic Period (251 to 199.6 million years ago). Members of both Cyatheaceae and Dicksoniaceae appear to have been diverse and relatively common during the succeeding Jurassic Period (199.6 to 145.5 million years ago) and Cretaceous Period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago). However, the modern genera only become evident during the early Cenozoic (65.5 to 2.6 million years ago). Thus, the tree ferns apparently were affected by the mass extinction event recorded across nearly all groups of organisms at the close of the Cretaceous Period, which opened ecological niches for another period of diversification.

Tree fern. The name sounds like a bit of a contradiction, as we’re used to thinking of ferns as the lush green plants that fill the understory of our Northwest forests. But in other parts of the world, ferns get big. Really big. Specifically, this happens in Australia, where ferns grow to dinosaur-like proportions.

Enter the tree fern. Imagine your classic fern leave shape and then triple its size, and stick it on top of a furry, woody “trunk” that starts short, but can get many feet tall over time. Tree ferns come from tropical, subtropical and temperate areas, and the name actually refers to several different families of ferns with similarly tree-like growth habits.

Before delving into tree fern care, we should tell you why we’re crushing so hard on tree ferns this fall. As a statement plant, this one makes a big splash, with lush feathery fronds that unfurl from beautifully curled branches, stretching 4-6 feet long. Tree ferns may start small, but they grow big over time, 6-10 feet or higher. We’ve been incorporating this plant into a lot of our interior plant design projects of late, and just love the way they create a Northwest tropical feel.

Our Favorite Tree Fern Species

  • Dicksonia antarctica: Also called the “soft tree fern,” this species is native to eastern Australia. In their native habitat, they can grow up to 50 feet tall (!), but don’t worry – indoors, they’ll max out around 10′, depending on the environmental conditions (light, water, temp etc) and container size. We love them for their beautifully airy, bright green fronds and furry trunks.
  • Cyathea australis: This species’ nickname is the “rough tree fern,” because of the outcroppings on its furry trunk. But don’t be fooled; it may be called rough, but it’s a beautiful specimen. We love it because of the distinctive colorful “crown” that forms in the fronds, with darker green above and lighter green below.
  • Cyathea cooperi: This final species is also known as the “lacy tree fern,” and is the species most commonly cultivated as an ornamental indoor plant. We love it because the fonds, as they unfurl, are particularly attractive, from tightly wound stems that become lighter brown and then green as they open.

Tree Fern Care

It’s very important to know how to care for a tree fern before bringing one into your home as an indoor plant.

Water: The key to tree fern care is not to let your plant dry out. Remember: they come from the tropics, where the rain falls frequently and humidity is high. You’ll want to replicate this in your home. Never allow the pot to go fully dry. Water when the first inch or so of the soil has dried out. The plant can be planted in a large pot, which will assist with moisture retention.

Light: Tree ferns require bright light to thrive. They should be protected from harsh, direct light, but you’ll want to place your plant somewhere in your home where it will get your brightest, filtered or indirect light to encourage growth.

Pruning: It’s common for the lower leaves of tree ferns to die back. You can safely prune these. Over time, the “trunk” of the fern (exposed when you trim lower leaves) will grow to be quite tall.

Feeding: Mature tree ferns are heavy feeders. If you have a large specimen, feed it every two weeks or so during the period of active growth (spring-summer) with a liquid fertilizer.

We hope this encourages you to check out the wonderful world of tree ferns. What are your favorite species? Have you had success keeping these in your home as houseplants? Share with us in the comments!

Introduction to Cold Hardy Tree Ferns

Tree ferns are not really true trees, at least in terms of having a true trunk and branches. Ferns develop fronds and these fronds are not really branches, but extensions of the growing center or meristem that radiate 360 degrees, not unlike with palms, cycads and many other tropical plants.The fronds all start from curled up structures at the top of the fern call croziers. And a crozier, or fiddlehead, is really the very tip of a specialized root, called a rhizome, that has grown up all the way from the ground within the trunk itself. The trunk is really a solid, upright accumulation of above-ground rhizomes that support the fronds. Cutting through a fern trunk will reveal that it is made of these roots all tightly packed together in this rigid supporting structure. Like trunks in other plants, these rhizomes not only support the crown, but they also transport water and nutrients back and forth from/to soil and leaves.

Tree fern trunk showing leaf scars, and old hardened trunk that is more like concrete in texture

leaf bases of Cyathea princeps, and Cyathea medularis- note the scales on the croziers (like thick, stiff hairs)

Croziers of several different tree ferns (from left to right and top to bottom): Cyathea cooperi (photo by Cretaceous), Dicksonia antarctica (photo by Cretaceous), Angiopteris and Sadleria (photo by Cretaceous)

The leaves, or fronds, are further divided up into leaflets, which arise in a very symmetrical pattern from the rachis or central leaf structure. This symmetry is one of the characteristics that make ferns such wonderful and ornamental garden/potted plants. The leaflets are usually deeply divided creating a very even, symmetrical and intricate lacy pattern that is like living art.

close up of several tree fern leaves (from left to right and top to bottom): Cyathea, Antiopteris, Dicksonia (photo by Cretaceous) and Sadleria (photo by htop)

tall Cyathea from below showing radial symmetry

Ferns reproduce via spore formation. Spores are the nearly microscopic structures that form within darkened structures (sori or sporangia) on the undersides of mature fronds. If the plant is being grown in ideal conditions (for example, similar to its environment of origin) the spores may germinate in the surrounding soil and form new microscopic tree ferns. However, in most environments unlike those the plants came from, this is very unlikely to happen, and special steps need be taken if one wants to grow ferns from spore. But that is a discussion for another article. For more information on taking care of ferns and talking to those that grow a lot of ferns, visit the American Fern Society webpage.

Sori (sporangia) on the undersurface of a Cyathea cooperi

Tree fern petioles and rhizomes are often covered with either scales or hairs. Though these ferns may LOOK soft and luxuriant, most tree ferns have fairly rough fronds and these hairs/scales are not only NOT soft, they are also potent irritants. Getting these hairs or scales on one’s skin or in one’s eyes can be a very unpleasant experience. One of the names for Dicksonia antarctica is the Soft Fern, which is truly a misnomer, as it is a very rough, scaly, and bristly-haired plant that is not a comfort to rub up against.

Dicksonia antarctica or Dicksonia squarrosa may look soft and cuddly from a distance, but these hair fibers are rough and extremely irritating if they get in eyes, under one’s clothes or into one’s lungs (usually happens during pruning)

A few species of tree ferns can also be grown from cuttings, something which I personally have not had much luck with. Dicksonia antartica is one fern often propagated in this fashion, with the trunks being sawed off and rerooted, while the original tree grows another head. These beheaded trunks, sans fronds, can be found at nurseries sometimes. Cibotium glauca, a Hawaiian tree fern, is often grown from a cutting made off one of its suckers, but these are the ones I have never been able to root. Cyathea species and most other genera will not grow from trunk cuttings!

The term cold hardy is a relative term of course. No one in USDA zones 1-5 will have much luck growing these outdoors, even with substantial winter protection, though some manage somehow. But in the warmer zones, there are several species that perform pretty well, and the warmer and wetter it gets, the more options open to the would-be gardener/landscaper.

Dicksonia antarctica under snow (photo by kennedyh) and Blechnum gibbum fried by a cold snap of only 27F

But cold is not the only limitation of tree ferns, as it is not with most ferns. Heat, particularly dry heat, is very hard on most ferns, and dry, desert-like climates pose huge barriers to growing many ferns species, at least without some microclimate protection or outside a temperature/humidity-regulated greenhouse. I personally struggle much more with the few tree ferns I have in the summer than I do in the winters here in Southern California.

My Cyathea cooperi after heat wave

There are numerous techniques used for protecting ferns during periods of cold and heat. Basically, for heat, the main thing that needs to be done is keep these plants moist. The ‘business’ parts of the tree fern that need to be keep moist are the rhizomes (trunk) and crown. It helps to keep the leaves wet, but unfortunately they do not stay wet very long unless ones keeps them constantly misted. The true roots below the soil surface do not need to be kept constantly wet as they are protected somewhat by the soil. Roots kept wet all the time, particularly in poorly draining soils, will rot easily and then the whole tree will be lost. But keeping the trunk and crown moist during periods of excessive heat can mean the difference between a horrific, dead-looking stump and a luxurious set of fronds atop a healthy trunk. Most experienced tree fern growers in warm, dry climates either plant their trees in shaded, protected moist microclimates, perhaps near a pond or fountain. And most serious growers have drip systems set up at the tops of the trees keeping the trunks and crown wet most of the time. Still, periods of heat beyond the tolerable will damage the fronds and cause them to shrivel up and look unsightly.

Cold protection ranges from planting trees against buildings, under other trees or in other protected microclimates, to keeping them in pots and moving them indoors. Some will dig up their plants each fall and overwinter them in burlap. Still others wrap in various protective materials like bubble wrap, heavy blankets etc. For more on cold protections techniques, visit the Cold Hardy Tree fern page: http://www.angelfire.com/bc/eucalyptus/treeferns/tfprotection.html . This is an excellent web site for all sorts of information on tree fern cultivation, by the way.

though rarely threatened by cold, these Cyathea cooperis in Los Angeles are grown next to buildings, usually on the east side so they get mostly morning sun

Tree ferns all have very high light requirements. However some still manage to perform well as house plants, as long as one can keep them sufficiently moistened (lack of humidity is the second biggest problem when growing tree ferns indoors behind sufficient lighting). Few tree ferns can tolerate full sun in hot, arid climates, but in humid or cooler climates, many prefer full sun locations and stay much healthier with a lot of direct sunlight.

Blechnum gibbums in Los Angeles in nearly full sun on right. Dickosonia squarrosa grown in a pot and indoors here, but outdoors in shade most of the time (middle photo) and Cyathea cooperis along the road side in Australia (last photo by ginger 749)

Soils should be acid and well draining, though I have learned most common species seem to grow well in most soils as long as they are mulched well and not very basic (a rare condition in southern California). Though tree ferns will rot in poorly draining soils if kept excessively wet, they also suffer if soils dry out too much. This is why mulching soil is so important when growing these in the landscaping. Planting a lot of low-growing shrubs around their bases will also work well to protect the sensitive roots below from drying out too much.

These Cyathea cooperis live in a fern grove, which keeps the soil constantly moist

Fertilizers heavy on the nitrogen portion are recommended for tree ferns, but one should be careful not to over-fertilize them. It is much easier to give too much fertilizer than provide too little. In Southern California, most tree ferns need very little fertilizer other than mulch or compost as the soils tend to be pretty rich here.

The true Tree Ferns

Cibotium- these are Pacific Island or Central and South American trees and shrubs though only a few are common in cultivation. Cibotium glaucum, one the Hawaiian tree ferns, is probably the best known of this group and it is a wonderful tree fern that actually does have soft hairs (leaves still somewhat scaly and rough to the touch). One can see these all over the place as landscape plants if visiting Hawaii. But they are also commonly grown in more marginal climates like Southern California and similar Mediterranean climates. This tree grows slowly to up over 10 feet tall (VERY slowly in southern California). It is not one of the more hardy tree ferns tolerating temps down to about 28F before they suffer significant leaf damage. They also very much resent dry heat and winds, so best grown along the coast in protected courtyards in the marginal climates. These prefer minimal direct sunlight in marginal climates, but still need a lot of light and do not do very well as indoor ferns.

Cibotium glaucum in California and in Hawaii

Cibotium shiedei, or the Mexican tree Fern, is really more of a shrubby plant rather than a true tree fern, suckering and spreading in nature. But it is a very soft and user-friendly plant that tolerates even inland climates in protected gardens in southern California, as long as kept somewhat moist in hot summers.

Cibotium schiedei outdoors in California, and Cibotium chamissoi, another relatively commonly grown Hawaiian tree fern with slightly less droopy leaves

Cyathea- This is the largest family of tree ferns and there far too many species to touch upon here. Only 7 to 10 are ‘common’ in cultivation and considered cold hardy, while the rest are far too tropical in their requirements to be grown anywhere but in the tropics. Only 3 or 4 of the hardy species are likely to be encountered by most casual tropical plant collectors.

Cyathea cooperi is by far the most commonly grown species throughout the world- this is an Australian species that is fairly fast growing and can get up to nearly 30 feet tall. Though very common it is not one of the more hardy Cyathea species and can show signs of damage at or above 27F. Last year mine defoliated twice- once in the heat of summer (120F) and once in the winter (25F)… yet still it keeps on growing. There are several cultivars of this plant, the most familiar being ‘Brentwood’. Most Cyathea cooperi encountered in Australia are actually this form and it is a much more robust form that the more commonly grown, scrawny, sluggish ‘type’ form encountered in most landscapes in southern California. This is a tree that does best if grown in a location where it gets at least partial day sun, but not hot, afternoon sun if grown inland. One can see many of these grown about southern California that are very poorly grown primarily due to lack of afternoon sun protection and/or lack of keeping the crown and trunk wet in warm weather.

Cyathea cooperis in California- a very common landscaping plant. The second two photos are of the Brentwood form- middle photo in California, and the photo on the right shows these ferns lining a road in Australia (photo by ginger749)

Though much less common, Cyathea medularis is very tall and excellent landscape fern for marginal climates and seems to have a bit more cold tolerance than Cyathea cooperi. This is a fern native to New Zealand and some Polynesian islands and is one of the largest of the cold hardy tree ferns growing up to over 50’ tall. It has ornamental black leaf bases and horizontally oriented leaves. Though a slow grower, it picks up a speed a bit once it gets some size and can be an excellent landscape tree to plant other sensitive plants under.

Cyathea medularis in large shade structure, out in the open and under a palm canopy, all southern California

Less commonly encountered but successfully grown Cyatheas in southern California include Cyathea brownii (a huge species that can grow up to 100’ in its native Australia), Cyathea dregei (probably the most cold hardy of the tree ferns), Cyathea dealbata, Cyathea tomentosissima, Cyathea australis (C. cooperis are commonly misidentified as this), Cyathea princeps (one of the most beautiful but finicky species), Cyathea amaragarensis and Cyathea spinulosa.

Cyathea amaragarensis in California, Cyathea australis (in Australia- photo by kennedyh) and a young Cyathea brownii in California

Cyathea princeps, Cyathea spinulosa, and Cyathea tomentosissima, all in California

Dicksonia- this genus includes the most commonly grown tree fern in cultivation- the Male fern or Soft Fern, Dicksonia antarctica. It is a very common species seen frequently in landscapes from Britain, to the entire west coast of the US and, of course, Australia and Tasmania, its native lands. This is a long-lived, slow-growing species (lives hundreds of years and can grow up to 50 feet eventually, though usually not in cultivation, at least not in the more marginal climates). One can see these trees all over southern California as a basic component of public landscaping both inland and along the coast. It is a very durable species handling cold down to the low 20s, and tolerating some direct sun inland. However, hot, sunny days in summer still thrash this species and make it look unsightly if the trunk, crown and leaves are not watered frequently that time of the year.

Dicksonia antarcticas in California (left and right) and in the wild in Australia (middle). photo on left by Calif_Sue, and middle photo by kennedyh

Another Dicksonia species encountered more and more frequently is Dicksonia squarrosa. However, it is still somewhat rare in cultivation and large, mature palms are rare outside of New Zealand. This tree has a markedly black trunk covered with golden hairs, and the undersides of the leaves are distinctly light color. It is a species that sometimes grows suckers right against the base. It is cold hardy down to about 25F. My 1’ tall seedling had no damage at 25F and it was fully exposed to the elements. However, it definitely resents the hot summers and has to be watered nearly daily during heat waves.

Dicksonia squarrosas in California. Photo on right shows the whitish undersides of the leaves, a distinctive characteristic

Several other species encountered in cultivation include Dicksonia fibrosa (also from New Zealand) and Dickosnia sellowiana (from Mexico and South America).

Dicksonia fibrosa in Australia (photo by kennedyh) and Dicksonia sellowiana

Sadleria- this genus has only one commonly grown species: Sadleria cyatheoides and it is another commonly encountered landscape fern in Hawaii. However, in the hotter/colder southwest coast of California this is a tough grow in all but the most ideal microclimates as has a pretty narrow range of temperatures in which it is happy. Still, many try to grow it because of its wonderfully ornamental leaves that are very tightly spaced and intricately symmetrical. It is a costly and sensitive species and sought after by many growers. In Hawaii it is often a epiphytic species growing in tree trunks, including those of other tree ferns.

Sadleria cyathioides in California, and Hawaii on right (right photo by george4tax)

The ‘short’ tree ferns:

Blechnum is a genus of fern which has a few species that develop into small ‘trees’, or at least single-stem plants that looks like bonsai trees. The most commonly grown of these is Blechnum gibbum, the Silver Lady fern. It is a not a very cold hardy species, defoliating at or around 27F. But it does tolerate full sun fairly well in all but the hottest, driest inland climates, as long as it gets some regular watering. A similar looking species with slightly wider leaflets and new red leaves, Blechnum brasiliense, is similarly cold hardy, though less so to full sun, and an excellent, though somewhat finickier landscape plant for marginal warm climates.

Blechnum gibbums in California

Blechnum brasiliense (new leaves are bright red)

Blechnum moorei and Blechnum tabulare in California

Angiopteris is a genus of tree ferns that really have only a short thick trunk. The most common species, Angiopteris evecta, or Mule’s foot fern, is a huge species with a spread of up to 20 feet or more. Though this plant is extremely marginal in dry climates like southern California, it has some cold hardiness in wetter climates like south central Florida where it is still exposed to periodic frosts and rare freezes. It is very needy of humidity.

Angioptera evectas in Hawaii and in the southern half of Florida

For more on Cold Hardy Tree Ferns visit this website: http://www.angelfire.com/bc/eucalyptus/treeferns/#blechnum

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on January 31, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

What Is A Tree Fern: Different Fern Tree Types And Planting Tree Ferns

Australian tree ferns add tropical appeal to your garden. They look especially nice growing beside a pond where they create the atmosphere of an oasis in the garden. These unusual plants have a thick, straight, woolly trunk topped with large, frilly fronds.

What is a Tree Fern?

Tree ferns are true ferns. Like other ferns, they never flower or produce seeds. They reproduce from spores that grow on the undersides of the fronds or from offsets.

A tree fern’s unusual trunk consists of a thin stem surrounded by thick, fibrous roots. The fronds on many tree ferns remain green throughout the year. In a few species, they turn brown and hang around the top of the trunk, much like palm tree leaves.

Planting Tree Ferns

Growing conditions for tree ferns include moist, humus-rich soil. Most prefer partial shade but a few can take full sun. The species vary on their climate requirements, with some needing a frost-free environment while others can tolerate a light to medium frost. They need a climate with high humidity to keep the fronds and trunk from drying out.

Tree ferns are available as containerized plants or as lengths of trunk. Transplant containerized plants at the same depth as in their original contained. Plant lengths of trunk just deep enough to keep them stable and upright. Water them daily until fronds emerge, but don’t feed them for a full year after planting.

You can also pot up the offsets that grow at the base of mature trees. Remove them carefully and plant them in a large pot. Bury the base just deep enough to hold the plant upright.

Additional Tree Fern Information

Because of their unusual structure, tree ferns need special care. Since the visible part of the trunk is made of roots, you should water the trunk as well as the soil. Keep the trunk moist, especially during hot weather.

Fertilize tree ferns for the first time one year after planting. It’s okay to apply a slow-release fertilizer to the soil around the trunk, but the fern responds best to a direct application of liquid fertilizer. Spray both the trunk and the soil monthly, but avoid spraying the fronds with fertilizer.

Spaeropteris cooperii needs a frost-free environment, but here are some fern tree types that can take a little frost:

  • Soft tree fern (Dicksonia antartica)
  • Golden tree fern (D. fibrosa)
  • New Zealand tree fern (D. squarrosa)

In areas that get lots of frost, grow tree fern in containers that you can bring indoors for winter.

Indoor Australian Tree Fern

Australian Tree Firn image by Dreadman from Fotolia.com

The Australian tree fern (Sphaeropteris cooperi) can give any indoor setting a tropical appearance. This tree fern can easily grow 20 feet in height with a 15-foot spread. The fern has a single trunk that has a unique furry appearance. The evergreen foliage is lacy and measures over a foot in length. The tree is only capable of living indoors or outside in tropical conditions in Zone 10. It flourishes when grown in a container as a deck or patio plant and moved indoors during cool weather.

Light Requirements

The Australian tree fern flourishes in shady conditions. Place it in a window where direct sunlight will not reach the plant during the height of the day. Filtered light situations are ideal for indoor growth. Direct sunlight from a south-facing window can easily burn the tree’s foliage when focused through the window glass. The tree is often set outside in the shade beside a pool, patio, deck or pond during the height of summer when there is no danger of frost. It benefits from the added air circulation it receives outside.

Soil Requirements

The tree enjoys well-draining, sandy soil conditions that are slightly acidic. A high quality potting soil is normally ideal for the Australian tree fern’s requirements.

Humidity

The Australian tree fern requires a humid environment to flourish. When the tree suffers from lack of humidity the fronds will often dry and shrivel at the ends. Spray the plant daily to add moisture to its indoor environment. Place the entire pot in a saucer filled with pebbles and rocks. The water evaporates from around the pebbles and forms humidity around the tree, without allowing the roots to sit in water. Adding a humidifier to the room in dry wintertime conditions is also ideal for the plant’s health.

Watering Needs

Keep the soil moist to the touch but not overly damp. The Australian tree fern enjoys moist soil conditions and will suffer if it becomes too dry. The tree enjoys being taken outdoors in the height of summer and hosed off.

Fertilizing During Growth

Fertilize the Australian tree fern once a month in the spring and summer, using a diluted fish emulsion. The substance is available at most garden centers. Follow the instructions on the label for application. The fertilizer will not burn the tree’s root system when the plant is grown indoors in a container, as commercial chemical fertilizers often do.

Ferns are among the oldest living plants on earth and there are both indoor and outdoor types of ferns. They normally have fronds (leaves) that drape and flow, adding a dramatic touch to a garden or indoor setting.

List of Fern Varieties

More than 20,000 known species of ferns grow around the world. Many types of ferns flourish both outdoors and as houseplants. Outdoor ferns thrive best in partially shaded areas and those grown indoors flourish in bright light, provided they are not placed in the path of direct sunlight. Ferns rarely suffer from diseases or insect infestations and are easily grown by even the most novice gardeners.

List of Indoor Ferns

When growing ferns indoors, choose a spacious area, as they tend to grow long leaves or fronds that shoot out in all directions. Indoor ferns are especially suited to hanging from ceiling hooks in remote corners of rooms that receive the maximum amount of light but are rarely, if ever, touched by the direct light of the sun.

  1. Boston Ferns: These are the most popular of the houseplant varieties, although they also grow wild outdoors in many regions. They have dark green leaves with many deep, evenly spaced indentations in the edges. Boston ferns benefit from frequent but light misting of the fronds and can grow to gargantuan proportions. Boston Fern
  2. Holly Ferns: This variety has three to four inch dark green leaves that resemble those on holly bushes and are heat, light and water tolerant. They are available in three species including Japanese, Hawaiian and East Indian holly ferns. Japanese Holly Fern
  3. Maidenhair Ferns: As one of the most delicate types of indoor ferns, this unique plant has thin black stems and small, dainty leaves. They are a challenge to grow as they prosper best in atmospheres with high humidity but their leaves cannot withstand misting. Maidenhair ferns grow well in the corners of large bathrooms because of the humidity but cannot survive in direct sunlight. Maidenhair Ferns
  4. Staghorn Ferns: Although this species commonly grows on the bark of trees in Asia, Africa and Australia, it is a good houseplant if planted in a coarse soil with good drainage. The plant has two sets of fronds. The green fronds are fertile, resemble stag horns, have spores on their underside and grow up to four feet long. The brown infertile fronds grow outside the green ones and are short, flat and round. Staghorn Fern

List of Outdoor Fern Varieties

If you want to add drama to the landscape design of your backyard or flower garden, planting ferns is the answer.

  1. Ostrich Ferns: This is one of the tallest and most majestic of outdoor fern varieties, with fronds that often grow to five feet in length. The leaves on ostrich ferns grow in an upward sweep that resembles a vase. Ostrich ferns like moist soil and shade. To make them more compact, water them infrequently at ground level, taking care not to get any moisture on the delicate leaves. Ostrich Ferns
  2. Japanese Painted Ferns: If you live in an area with harsh winters, this is the perfect outdoor fern for your garden as it can withstand temperatures as low as -30F degrees. The tapered fronds on this fern are beautiful mixes of purple and silver and only grow up to 18 inches long. Japanese Painted Fern
  3. Australian Tree Fern: As the name implies, this plant is actually a tree that normally grows to about 30 feet tall, with eight-foot fronds and trunks around six inches in circumference. It thrives all over the rain forests in New Zealand and Australia, so only plant it in a climate with heavy precipitation and warm temperatures. Australian Tree Fern
  4. Asparagus Ferns: Although there are three varieties of this fern, the most common type has fine, needle-like leaves that are irritating to the skin. They thrive well in bright light and often proliferate so well they take over entire gardens, so keep them in check with frequent pruning. Asparagus Fern
  5. Bird Nest Ferns: Bird nest ferns are like garden garnishes, as they are compact and provide a great contrast for a garden’s flowering plants. They prefer shade and can grow on rocks and trees as well as in soil. Bird Nest Fern
  6. Cinnamon Ferns: This fern frequently grows wild along creeks and streams, so it requires a lot of water if planted in a garden. It grows about five feet tall and has two kinds of fronds. The bright green ones are infertile and the fertile ones have a deep, brown cinnamon color. Cinnamon Fern

Propagate Your Own Ferns

Whether you decide to plant a fern in a garden or a pot, be prepared to be awed by their beauty and hardiness. If you happen upon one that seems a bit sickly and reluctant to grow, simply snip a few of the fronds and put them in water until tiny roots form and start a new plant. Ferns are easy to propagate, so you will probably never have to buy new ones to replenish your home or garden.

Tree Fern Growing Guide – How To Grow, Plant & Maintain

Tree ferns are some of the most elegant and beautiful plants for your unique property development needs. In most cases, these ferns tend to have a tree-like design which comprises of a thick and large trunk with spreading lance-shaped fronds at the top section. Some trees are known to reach as high as 6ft, and some of the popular types are the Cyathea and Dicksonia. Both of these trees both grow slowly, and they also have distinctive trunk shape growing at an average of 1-2 inches every year. These types of trees thrive in shady and damp conditions, which is where they are mostly found in their natural environment. More so, these trees also grow in the woodlands whereby the soil humus is potent, and it retains sufficient moisture.

Tree Fern Growing Guide

One of the most amazing factors about this type of plant is that it can be purchased as what seems like a lifeless log, but after some time, a tree grows which is full of life. These trees tend to also thrive under tree canopies in areas such as woodlands and forests, where the soil is rich in humus.

How to plant tree ferns

In most cases, the tree ferns are mostly bought as logs. All you need to do is to plant the log in a sheltered location which is rich in humus and to levels of as much as 10cm deep. While this might not be a caveat, it will go a long way to ensure the log is stable until the tree grows. Once the tree is planted, you might only need to engage in the watering procedure and no other significant farming procedure. You want to ensure that sufficient water reaches into the crown and and that you also provide the log with sufficient amount of water as well. This procedure has to be conducted as regularly as possible, preferably daily until the tree achieves the appropriate growth goals. During winter, you might also want to maintain the tree in damp soil conditions in relation to what you deem suitable. Once the tree grows, ensure that it has sufficient water such that it does not become dry.If you plan to plant in a pot or a container, then the tree is best planted in a mixture of compost.

Tree fern winter care

While these trees tend to be frost hardy down to as much as – 10 degrees Celsius, they can only take this type of temperature for so long. For this reason, ensure that you provide your trees with sufficient protection, especially at the crown of the plant and the location where the fronds emerge from each spring as well.
Using a garden fleece, wrap the entire trunk in several layers and always avoid polyethylene. Following this, place a ball of straw into the central section of the crown, especially where the fronds are found for added protection. You should then pull the fronds in cohesion and tie them with a robust string. A good recommendation for you would be to add a layer of leaf mound around the base of the trunk for added protection and nutrient delivery.

Protecting pot grown tree ferns in winter

Pot grown plants are easy to move into a sheltered location, and you are recommended to ensure the pot is wrapped in a bubble for optimal protection. These trees can also be position in a greenhouse during the winter or transferred into a conservatory to avoid direct sunlight. At times, the snow falls heavy, and this means that plants often find it challenging to naturally acquire the basic needs for growth and development.

For this reason, you want to protect the plants growing outdoors to avoid causing damage to the fronds. A good recommendation would be to place some straw on the crown and fold the fronds as well. More so, you might also consider the container grown plants, which should be placed in a location with sufficient shelter and with the container bubble wrapped. Apply this technique also during late October, but ensure that you remove them during spring, especially before the fronds start growing. You might need a significant amount wrapping before you achieve a much more exposed garden.

How to care for tree ferns

One of the main benefits of these trees is that they are simple to care for, and will only require some level of informed decision making. This is especially true during the winter time of the year whereby regular watering is required as the old dead fronds are replaced with lively ones. A good recommendation would be to cut back to around an average of 20cm from the trunk, to ensure that you cut to the appropriate level. You can also use the old fronds from the main trunk as they grow since this is important for maintaining health.

Feeding

For the first few months, it is recommended that you proceed with caution when it comes to applying nutrients and supplements for the unique needs of your plant. This is mainly because any mediocre planting techniques might compromise the growth and development of fern tree. During the second year of development, you can easily use supplements such as the multi-purpose liquid feed, especially during the growing season. During the spring season, you may also add granules around of the base of the trunk, and this will play an important role in encouraging the development of new fronds. A significant portion of gardeners have experienced notable success when it comes to supplementing fern trees, and you should consider this as well.

Tree fern complications

Broadly speaking, these trees tend to grow without any complications. With that being said, one main complication would be when the fronds fail to grow appropriately, and the trunk decreases in size. This is mainly caused due to a lack of water and optimal ecosystem conditions. In this case, ensure that the tree the appropriate basic needs for optimal development.

Container Cultivation

Tree ferns can be grown in containers, and outdoors or in large conservatories or greenhouses that have sufficient light. In addition to this, the location has to have filtered light and adequate humidity, along with using loam based ericaceous compost as well. You may also consider adding as much as 20 percent of the peat free potting elements for optimal humus.
Following this, you should also apply a unique plant supplement to ensure that the plant grows appropriately. The supplement can be applied as much as once a week during the growing season or by adding a controlled release supplement at the base of the plant.

Propagation

With the appropriate health and development conditions, these particular plants can be propagated from the spores that occur on the underside sections of the leaves. Having said that, cold temperatures or challenging living conditions may compromise the development of spores. Therefore, the simplest technique to propagate the tree ferns would be to use the offsets. Simply put, these are the young plants that grow the trunk and the roots. More so, the offsets develop gradually, so you might consider leaving them to mature until they can be easy to handle. Following this, consider the following steps:

Sever the offsets cleanly from the parent roots or trunks

Put them in a container with loam-based ericaceous compost, which is deep enough for the trees to sit in
Water the trees and place them in a container with a propagator with an average temperature of 16-20 degrees celsius
Once the novel growth development is seen, you can then consider introducing them to the rugged outdoors
A fern that is provided with the appropriate living conditions grows fast and might achieve outstanding heights over a few years.

An excellent example would be the trunk of the Australian tree fern, which often starts as a low and broad clip which will grow to sizes of as much as 6 feet. This often occurs in as little as one year, and the tree grows upward into a singular and small truck that is festooned with ginger finger like projections. Additionally, the fronds are wide, and the bright green triangular leaves and foliage will spread to as much as 15 feet. The leaves won’t change in color during the fall season and the tree also does not have any fruits or flowers.

Growing Conditions

Classified as a tropical plant, the tree fern is highly adaptable to a host of unique growing climates, and it also thrives due to its perennial properties. In fact, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture rates its hardiness levels at 8 to 11, and it can thrive at temperatures that range in between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. More so, the ferns can also grow in various types of soil conditions including sandy, clay, and loam, but the most preferable are growing in rich and moist soil with humus. While the tree ferns love the shade in general, they also tend to survive well in conditions with medium shade to locations that have full sun.

It is also important to note that the tree fern is not entirely resistant to drought and you may have to consider regular watering. With sufficient amounts of moisture and the appropriate growing conditions, you tree fern can reduce its expected growth span by as much as half. This is because these plants tend to be tolerant of various living conditions which make them a highly preferred plant species.

Another equally important tree fern growing guide is that you should be aware that they thrive well tropical environments which are also humid. In fact, the ferns can sometimes be found growing in the large and ancient forests that are found in the temperate and Amazon. One important factor is that a healthy tree fern will require sufficient humidity and supplements. At the same time, the tree should also be kept away from excessive sunlight and winter conditions. Similar to all plants in the ecosystem today, they require specific living conditions to achieve the best growth results.

Where to plant tree ferns

Tree ferns tend to thrive in damp soil or full or partial shade. Therefore, a good recommendation for you would be to consider a sheltered location to achieve the best results. With that being said, these trees will grow well in the full sun, but will also require additional water to maintain optimal growth and development results.

Just as previously mentioned, propagation is best done through the spores. For this reason, it’s a procedure that is best left to professional growers.

Repotting

A good recommendation for you would be to repot the plant annually into larger pots with fresh and free draining potting soil. When the plant achieves the ideal size that is available in the growing space, then you should consider stopping the repotting to control the growth. In the final instance, the tree will most likely outgrow both the pot and the room as well.

Varieties

There are various types of tree ferns. For instance, one of the most common is the one sold as the Australian tree fern and is usually classified as a Cyathea Cooperi. Having said that, there are well over 1,000 types of tree ferns, which are all found in the subtropical and tropical conditions. The Tasmanian and the New Zealand species tend to be affiliated with the Dicksonia Antarctica. Furthermore, this plant tends to have a narrower as when compared to the Australian tree fern, but with almost similar growing conditions.

Tips

  • Consider the growing the tree fern in dense or partial shade with sufficient room for the frond growth
  • Plant the trees in humus rich soil and add some lead mold during the planting season in the soil
  • Provide sufficient winter protection during mild winters and the appropriate basic needs
  • Ensure the tree is watered every day for optimal growth and development.
  • Water daily for six months, once planted and kept the plant moist after that. Never allow to dry out
  • Ensure the tree has sufficient nutrients and the correct application of fertilizer and supplements
  • Never grow the tree in salty or dry conditions since this might compromise growth

Tree Fern Advice

I too have a tree fern in my garden that has produced smaller leaves this year. I think all the rain has washed all the nutrients out of the soil. Dicksonia Antarctica are surface feeders and will benefit from adding a deep mulching of leaf mulch and bark chips around the base of the plant. They have extensive root systems in the soil. If a Dicksonia is to thrive and produce good sized fronds (8 – 10 ft. long), it must be encouraged to develop a good basal root system. Over several years, Dicksonias can form a big mat of roots and this should be encouraged as it is not enough for the plant to survive on the moisture and feed absorbed by the ‘trunk roots’ alone.

Is there any reason why you have your tree ferns in pots? The plant will grow with far more vigour and prove to be hardier if it is planted in a good, free-draining, but moist, humus enriched soil. Large pots are OK as a temporary measure whilst you are deliberating a final planting site, but they are not ideal in the long term and even with the relatively shorter leaves produced, are likely to topple over in high wind.

The fronds should be left on the plant unless they have died off and then should be cut back. The green fronds continue to produce food for the plant. Removing them before they have died off reduces the amount of food produced resulting in shorter and fewer leaves the following season. A tree fern’s performance is related to the previous year’s growing conditions and these determine the amount of carbohydrates it manages to store in the leaf bases and central core. The more food manufactured and stored, the greater the quantity and quality of fronds produced during the ensuing growing season.

You may be interested in these Fleece Plant Jackets they are available in different sizes and are great for protecting tree ferns against frost. I use them and tie the fronds up before fitting the jacket over. I am going to use Strulch around the base of my tree ferns this winter too this will keep the moisture and nutrients in.

I hope this has helped and that you will consider moving your tree ferns into the ground, I think this is the way forward for you.

Good luck.

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