Tree ferns are among the most magnificent and resilient of all plant species and posses an architectural quality almost unique in nature. Unfortunately it is the very fact of its uniqueness that causes concern when it comes to looking after them.
Luckily, feeding a tree fern is relatively easily because - like most other plants - they are able to retrieve nutrients from the soil using its root system. However, they also have a secondary formation of roots within the trunk which reaches close to the top of the crown. This enables tree ferns to also feed on accumulated debris, bird and animal droppings that are washed into the crown by way of their specialist fronds during rainfall.
Feeding from the crown will be important when you first purchase a tree fern as they will generally come cut at the base and therefore without a root system. In this condition they are still able to survive but they look more like a detached elephant leg than anything else. At this time feeding is important as the tree fern will be stressed and will have little energy reserves with which to produce new leaves and an essential, replacement root system.
It is good practice to soak a new, cut tree fern in a bath of water for an hour or so before planting, but is also well worth adding a half to quarter dose of soluble plant feed in with the water – especially if bought during the spring and summer months. To prevent fertilizer wastage only apply soluble fertilizers via the crown but as the plant becomes established it will do well with a regular mulch at the base. Continue to regularly water the trunk and crown until the first frond unfurls, at which point a half dose of soluble plant fertilizer can be applied once a week. As soon as the tree fern starts producing new fronds on a regular basis it can then be fed the recommended dose of plant fertiliser once or twice a week.
When trees ferns are established they can utilise a surprisingly large amount of nutrition, and in a good year are able to produce a second ring of fronds on top of the first. If you intend heavily feeding your tree ferns then it will be important to also water them regularly – at least twice a day morning and evening – so that they do not suffer with root burn.
Once the growing season moves into the autumn period it’s best to end feeding to allow the existing fronds to harden up for the winter. As soon as the first frond opens in the spring feeding can once again commence at the half dose concentration.
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