Australian Tree Fern Brent Tucker
esides being a fanatic for orchids, begonias, and anything else tropical, I have a fancy for ferns. I grow many different perennial fern varieties in the garden, as well as tropical ferns on the front porch and back patio. I have a penchant for texture and there are many forms of texture found in ferns. One of my favorite ferns for texture is the Australian Tree fern. The Australian Tree fern is a tropical fern from, you guessed it, Australia and it is a fast grower reaching up to ten feet or more when well grown. It is called a tree fern because its stem creates a trunk as it grows upwards giving the appearance of a tree. The fronds, or leaves, can grow up to 6 feet or more in length and several feet in width. The Australian Tree fern is the perfect “statement” plant for large containers for the summer patio, sunroom, or conservatory. As it matures the fern can be under planted with flowering annuals like impatiens or begonias, as well as, foliage plants like ivy or philodendrons. Like most ferns, the Australian Tree fern prefers bright shade with some morning sun, but afternoon sun can burn the leaves. Too little light will create a weak plant. The most important factor for good
health is plenty of water. Never allow the plant to dry out completely, but with that being said don’t drown it either. If you have a well rooted or root bound tree fern it will drink water rather fast so I recommend checking it for water daily. If it dries too quickly each day a saucer can be placed underneath the pot and this saucer should be filled with water as you are watering the pot. This will help keep the root ball from drying too quickly between water applications. The objective is evenly moist soil with slight drying to the top of the root ball. With all this watering you will need to apply a fertilizer once a month. I personally use Jack’s Classic all-purpose fertilizer. If it were necessary to pot up your tree fern, especially if it dries rather quickly I would recommend potting it into a pot about two to four inches larger than it is currently in. Use a quick draining container soil such as a Pro Mix brand. This will allow the plant to not dry out too quickly until it is rooted in well again. Potting in spring or summer is best. Average summer temperatures are fine for the tree fern and in fact it will tolerate temps down into the upper 30s F in the fall. Of course when fall comes around, you’ll need to bring the tree fern indoors for winter. I have found it easiest to place the tree fern in the basement under a light (for about 12 hours) or at least an unheated room in the house by a window. It will appreciate its winter stay indoors where it’s cool. Don’t forget to check it for water every few days until you
get a feel on how quickly it dries. In winter your tree fern won’t go through as much water and you can keep it just a bit drier but again don’t allow the root ball to completely dry. Also, if your fern has many fronds you can remove up to half of the oldest ones to help keep the plant from transpiring too quickly. The only pests I have seen attracted to tree ferns are scale and mealy bugs. Using a system insecticide once a month can control these, and if a frond has a high pest
population just cut the whole frond off. Removing this population will help keep the rest of the plant from infestation. You’ll be impressed with how quickly the Australian Tree fern grows, and you’ll be the envy of your neighbors and friends. Happy growing. Brent Tucker is Horticulturist of Seasonal Displays and Events at Powell Gardens. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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