Tree Fern?

NEIL53(ENGLAND)May 30, 2005

Dear all.

Last year my Wife bought me an Australian Tree Fern ,

I left it in its pot and placed in a greenhouse over winter packed with straw. I have brought it out now the chance of bad frosts are over. Now the problem, have I killed it? It is dry as a bone, fronds dry and brown.

Is it dead, if it is my wife will NOT be pleased. Should I have been going in the greenhouse and watering it?


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stephenpope2000uk(Brighton, UK)

There's no such thing as an 'Australian Tree Fern' - that's just a confusing marketing term. As you're a Brit, like me, you almost certainly have Dicksonia antarctica, a temperate rainforest species from Tasmania, also Victoria and New South Wales on the Australian mainland. Fortunately for us in the UK, it's almost completely hardy in all the mild lowland areas of England and Wales. So, assuming you're not living up a mountain in the Lake District, or on top of the Pennines, you should have left your tree fern outside all winter - where it could have stayed nice and damp! Not much will kill Dicksonia antarctica, but dessicating it is probably the worst thing you could do.

For the future: scan the internet (the Palm Centre website has good Dicksnia care advice, do a Google search) and maybe the Cold Hardy Tree Ferns website. But for now: get it out into the garden immediately, sink it into a sheltered, semi-shaded planting hole filled with rich peaty general purpose compost, and spread mases of extra compost all around the surface area. Soak thoroughly with a hose. Saturate it. Soak the trunk every day throughout the summer - stop some time in autumn. No extra water in winter.

That's it. All that matters is that you keep the trunk wet throughout our warm and dry months - but dry and and protected (a ball of straw or dry leaves in the crown) through the frosty winter period.

I hope it's not too late to revive your tree fern. Chances are, you'll be okay if you plant it out and rehydrate it immediately - no indigenous Jurassic-era Australian plant would have survived to the 21st century unless it had a serious degree of drought tolerance in its genes. You've had a lucky escape - get the hose on that fern!

Steve - Brighton, Sussex Coast, UK

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 2:18PM
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Thank you.
I have hosed it for an hour then placed it in container of water to let the soil swell. Fingers crossed.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 2:35PM
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stephenpope2000uk(Brighton, UK)

Don't go overboard on trying to make this a happy pot plant - you need to plant the trunk somewhere permanent in the garden as soon as possible. [If you only have a hard courtyard, choose the largest tub you can manage - I use 90-litre dustbins.] Prepare a planting hole in a suitable sheltered area that you can easily keep damp (no point choosing an exposed dry spot where the hose doesn't reach) and lay on at least a sackfull of rich peaty general purpose or ericaceous compost to fill in with. Be generous with the compost now and you will be rewarded with long-term moisture retention for the future - and that's the secret of healthy Dicksonias in our otherwise imhospitably dry summer climate here in the UK. Spread a new sack of compost around the base of the trunk every season to replenish all the organic matter that will get be broken down by the heavy watering regime. Masses of daily trunk-watering in the summer months, none at all in frosty midwinter, and maybe just an occasional damping down for the mildest remainder of the year, depending on the rainfall at the time. Apart from our dryish late spring to early autumn period - Easter to Bonfire Night, say - we're usually quite wet enough for tree ferns here without you lifting a finger.

Steve - Brighton, Sussex Coast, UK

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 2:10PM
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