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Winter Care for Tree Ferns: A Guide to Protecting Your Green Giants

Tree ferns are incredible time capsules; fossil records suggest that they first appeared on Earth during the late Jurassic period, approximately 180 million years ago. Nowadays, they are highly sought after for their exotic look, and stunning architectural silhouette. But these botanical beauties need special care to ensure they survive the colder months in the UK, and other parts of the world. Here, we will explore the ways in which we can protect tree ferns, ensuring their return to the garden with vibrant green fronds come spring.

Understanding Your Tree Fern Species

Before we get into how to protect our tree ferns, we must first understand that there are different types that can be found in the garden. Each species has varying levels of hardiness and requirements, so it’s important to get your plant identified correctly! The most common varieties are the Australian Tree Fern (Dicksonia Antarctica) and the New Zealand Tree Fern (Dicksonia Squarrosa). Dicksonia Antarctica tend to be a bit tougher, surviving colder months with healthy looking fronds coming through the next spring. Dicksonia Squarrosa can come back looking a little ‘burnt’, and may eve start producing growth from the base, making for a bit of an unkempt looking plant come spring! But, they do grow much quicker than the Dicksonia Antarctica variety. So if you’re going for instant impact that will be touch over winter in the UK, go for a Dicksonia Antarctica that is already quite established, at least a few feet tall.

Protect the Crown

This is a crucial step when it comes to your tree ferns winter care, as the crown houses the delicate growing point from which new fronds emerge. As the most vulnerable part of the plant, the crown requires special attention to prevent cold damage. Before the coldest months arrive, carefully gather the fronds and tie them together with twine. This will create an extra layer of insulation for the sensitive growth point in the centre, protecting it from frost and cold winds. After this is done, you can place a layer of straw, leaves, shredded paper or hessian fabric ontop of the crown, within the tied fronds. Be careful not to pack it in too tight, as this may damage the young fronds yet to emerge. By taking these steps, you significantly improve the plants winter resilience, and ensure that the new fronds will emerge healthy and vibrant in the coming growing season.

Mulching for Insulation

Mulching is an essential step in ensuring your tree fern succeeds over winter, despite the cold. Surround the base of the tree fern with a thick layer of organic mulch, such as well-rotted compost or straw, to insulate the root system. This barrier helps regulate the local soil temperature and moisture levels, preventing sudden temperature fluctuations which would inevitable stress and eventually kill the tree fern.

Wrap the Trunk

Did you know that the ‘trunk’ of a tree fern is not really a trunk at all, but actually a fibrous mass of aerial roots and the bases of old fronds! This area of the fern requires more water during summer months, and also requires protection during the winter. Wrap it with hessian or burlap to create a protective but breathable barrier against frost. This simple step effectively helps retain heat and shields the trunk from extreme cold, minimising the risk of frost damage.

Positioning and Wind Protection

When first buying and planting a tree fern, it is important to consider where it will live int he garden. Ideally it will be planted in a sheltered spot, away from the harsh winter winds. If you live in a particularly windy area, it might be a good idea to create a windbreak using fencing, planting or temporary barriers to minimise damage to the delicate fronds.

Watering Routine Adjustments

During the summer months, tree ferns generally require consistent moisture around the base, trunk and drown of the plant. However, during the winter it is important to adjust your regular watering routine. Reduce watering frequency, but ensure the soil around the trunk is consistently moist. Overly soggy conditions can lead to root root, and can also freeze, so it’s important to find the balance. You want a tree fern that is happy and hydrated, but not frozen and rotted!

As we approach the darker and colder months in the UK, it is essential to provide our tree ferns with the care they need, as this can make all the difference in their overall health, and ensure a happy plant come spring. By understanding your plants specific needs, implementing protective measures, and being proactive you how you maintain your garden, you can ensure that these wonderful plants make it through the winter, and emerge with vigour when spring arrives, and unfurl their magnificent fronds once again.

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