Plant Crush: Meet The Tree Fern

Posted on Sep 22, 2016 in Nursery | 24 Comments

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.

Tree Fern Care - Pistils Nursery

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.

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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 - Pistils Nursery

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.

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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

Tree Fern Care - Pistils Nursery
liquid fertilizer.

Tree Fern Care - Pistils Nursery

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!

24 Comments

  1. Jules
    November 19, 2016

    I love tree ferns! I was thinking of planting one outside in an area that gets half-day sun, do you think they will grow well in our PNW environment?

    Thanks, Jules

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 4, 2017

      Hey Jules!

      Unfortunately tree ferns are tropical and can only be indoors year-round here in the PNW. The exception would be that you can move them outdoors during the summer, provided they’re protected from too much direct sun.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  2. Emily
    January 5, 2017

    Love these! (Love all plants actually…) Would love to see the online selection for plants in your web shop grow to include tree ferns! (I’m too far to drive, but hooked on all your good stuff!!)

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 6, 2017

      Thanks, Emily! We’d love to be able to ship the tree ferns, and will definitely keep an eye out for plants small enough to get in boxes!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  3. Maria Angelica
    January 6, 2017

    Anyone know the names of these ferns so I can look for them by me (Chicago) or online. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 6, 2017

      Hey Maria,

      The names of the fern species featured here are: Dicksonia antarctica, Cyathea australis and Cyathea cooperi. Hope this helps!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  4. Josh
    January 16, 2017

    Such an awesome addition to an indoor collection for a statement plant! I enjoyed the article as well.
    Curious (since my online research is dead ends) – are these considered toxic or non-toxic to dogs?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Apologies for the delayed response. Unfortunately my research came to dead ends as well. Our general rule is better safe than sorry when it comes to toxicity!

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Reply
  5. Dave
    January 31, 2017

    Was just at a local plant center and noted a few (what I was convinced was…) young tree ferns in pots. I have an extensive collection of orchids – you might say an experienced grower…but humidity in a northeast USA home is abysmal at this time of year…how tough are these? I believe that I was looking at Cyathea cooperi at the garden center…very tempted to buy one. What are its chances in less than optimal humidities?

    Reply
    • Dalanna Haas
      March 20, 2017

      I just keep mine in a big galvanized bucket, when I’m watering it I add an inch or two of water to the bucket so it can evaporate around the plant, I live in Pennsylvania and my house is HOT and dry in the winter. My plant is doing well, it’s like 6ft tall!! However the taller leaves have been getting themselves into some direct morning sun and they get brown right away. No direct light for these

      Reply
      • Ash
        November 26, 2017

        Do you think if it would work to place the pot in a tray with water init ? indoors ?
        I am in Zone 6,guess same as Pennsylvania.

        How long you have your tree for ?

        Reply
  6. Julie McManus
    January 31, 2017

    Help! I had an awesome tree fern that I brought inside in the fall. It did ok for the first few months, but now there’s basically on one frond left and it’s not looking good. It’s near a window, but doesn’t get a ton of light. I’ve watered it regularly. How can I revive this fern?

    Reply
  7. Assurance Trees Newcastle
    February 2, 2017

    Thoroughly enjoyed the article and the suggestion! The article’s right though! Ferns here grow huge!

    Josh, there are certain ferns that can be toxic to pets. So if you’re planning on having one inside the home, most common is the asparagus fern, make sure that the type of fern you will be getting is safe for your pets. Cheers!

    Reply
  8. Kelsey Hofferbert
    March 6, 2017

    Any recommendations on fertilizer?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      We like liquid, organic fertilizer. Something balanced and intended for houseplants. Dilute a bit more than recommended on the package. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  9. KPYianni
    April 22, 2017

    Just a note on native habitat, tree ferns are not tropical but temperate rainforest plants. Although their native habitat starts in the subtropics they do much better in the southern states of Australia and particularly Tasmania where it’s wet and cold.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Thank you for the correction! Appreciate it 🙂

      Reply
  10. Leslie
    April 23, 2017

    Hi…I just bought (from a seed catalog nursery) a tiny tiny tree fern…it’s in a 2″ pot and I’d like to know how to care for it. Didn’t realize it was going to be so small. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

    Reply
  11. Tyler
    June 3, 2017

    I recently brought home a young tree fern, and place it in a room with a window facing south. The indirect lighting should be fairly sufficient, but not bright bright. However, a week later, one of the newer frond started turning brown /getting dry from the tips. Meanwhile, two new fronds were unfolding/ growing, and today I noticed that their blades are a lot further apart from each other compared to the old fronds. Should I be concerned?

    Reply
  12. Suzanne Stavalone
    July 31, 2017

    Hello what type of liquid fertilizer would you recommend. I have a tree fern and never fertilized it. I didn’t know it needed fertilizer. It was doing wonderful for the last 2 years but I have noticed this summer it is dying back. 🙁 I don’t want to lose this little guy. I really really like it. Thanks in advance for your help. 🙂

    Reply
  13. Autumn
    August 5, 2017

    Great article, thank you! Hoping someone can help…I have an indoor Australian tree fern in Kansas. It’s putting our new fronds constantly, but at an equal rate has fronds withering, then turning brown and crispy. I water at least weekly, and have a small humidifier that sits in the pot and runs periodically during the day… It gets a lot of indirect light, maybe just a small amount of direct light late in the day…. Suggestions on what I can try to stop the rapid death rate of fronds??

    Including a photo that shows a drooping frond that will soon turn brown and crunchy

    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Sarah
      November 5, 2017

      Autumn,
      I have the same issue with my Australian Tree Fern. This is my first fern and I have been reading extensively on what I could be doing wrong but I can not find an answer. The picture shows my fern outside and this was only to take the photo. I normally keep it inside where it receives indirect sunlight. Did you ever figure out what the problem was? Thank you in advance!

      Reply
  14. Manuel
    September 9, 2017

    I would like to know if you could help me to discover what kind of fern is the one that appears in the following photograph:

    Reply
  15. Wayne
    November 20, 2017

    Good day

    What do I do when my tree fern is growing to high? I ideally do not want to replant it. Can I restrict the height, cut back/off.

    Thanks

    Reply

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