Trees

Complete Guide to Dicksonia Antarctica: How to Grow & Care for Tree Ferns

Read our complete guide to Tree Ferns for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting and caring for "Dicksonia Antarctica"
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If you’re looking to add a splash of the tropics to your landscape, consider planting the Dicksonia Antarctica tree fern.

This evergreen tree fern is native to eastern Australia, where it commonly grows in the coastal regions of Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, and the southeast portions of Queensland. In most locations, it is readily available and affordable; it’s also the easiest of all tree ferns to grow.

A member of the Dicksoniaceae family, this tree fern is also referred to as a man fern, a soft tree fern, a wooly tree fern, and the Tasmanian tree fern.

Because they’re easy to grow and are relatively low-maintenance, they make an excellent addition to the landscapes of both novice and experienced gardeners.

If you’re interested in planting Dicksonia Antarctica tree ferns, read on to learn more about this tropical plant, including what it looks like and how to properly plant and care for it.

Description of the Dicksonia Antarctica Tree Fern

Tree ferns are considered true ferns. Like other species of ferns, they do not produce flowers or seeds; rather, they reproduce from spores that grow on the underside of their fronds or from offsets.

  • The soft tree fern features a thick erect trunk that is covered with wool-like fibers. At the top of the trunk sits a collection of large, wispy fronds.
  • Thick, fibrous roots surround the trunk of the man fern. On most soft tree ferns, the fronds remain green all year long; however, they do turn brown and hang down from the top of the trunk on some species, similar to the fronds of a palm tree.
  • This plant looks like a giant fern that has been elevated above the ground by a trunk.

In its natural habitat, wooly tree ferns are most commonly found growing in tropical rain forests, along humid coastlines, beside the beds of creeks, and can sometimes be seen growing in cloud forests.

The soft tree fern can grow to 20 feet or more; however, it takes quite a while to reach that height, as it is a very slow-growing plant. Furthermore, when cultivated, it usually doesn’t exceed heights of 15 feet.

The large, roughly textured, and are dark green colored fronds form a canopy at the top of the trunk, which typically ranges in size from 6 feet to 19 feet in diameter. The soft tree fern features both fertile and sterile fronds, and they usually grow in alternating layers.

Tasmanian Tree Fern Live Plant, From Amazon

The Dicsonia Antarctica also contains long, erect rhizomes along the base, which have a hairy appearance and texture. As noted above, the soft tree fern does not produce any flowers, therefore, it does not produce any fragrance.

In its native Australia, habitat destruction and over-zealous plant sellers has significantly impacted the population of the wooly tree fern.  If you do decide to plant this tropical, aesthetically pleasing plant to your garden, be sure to purchase it from a reputable seller to ensure that it has been obtained in a responsible manner.

Where to Plant Soft Tree Ferns

In its natural habitat, the soft tree fern thrives in full shade to partial sun, as it grows underneath the protection of taller trees; however, as long as it is provided with adequate amounts of water, it can fare well in full sun.

Do note that tree ferns do not like to be battered by the wind on a constant basis, as the wind can tear apart their fronds. Therefore, if you are planting it outdoors or in a container that you intend on keeping outside, make sure to choose a location where it will be sheltered from the wind.

The climate requirements do vary from species to species, as some require an environment that is completely free of frost, while others can withstand minimal amounts of frost.

While some species have been known to withstand temperatures as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius), prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can damage the trunk of the tree.

Therefore, if you are planting this tree in a location where the temperature drops significantly, make sure to take the necessary precautions to protect it from the cold. Regardless of their ability to withstand cold temperatures, all species of wooly tree ferns do require high humidity levels; otherwise, the trunk and fronds will dry out.

If you are planting a soft tree fern in a container, make sure that it contains drainage holes to ensure proper drainage. If the Dicksonia Antarctica is allowed to sit in water for too long, it can suffer root rot.

A group of mature Tasmanian Tree Ferns
A group of mature Tasmanian Tree Ferns

Tasmanian Tree Fern Soil Requirements

Dicksonia Antarctica can grow in pretty much any type of soil, as long as it is well-draining; however, it does the best when it is grown in relatively fertile soil that contains organic matter. There aren’t any specific pH requirements for the soil, either.

How to Plant the Tree Fern

  • Whether you are planting in the ground or in a container, when planting a soft tree fern, dig a hole in the soil that’s double the size of the root ball of the plant.
  • Mix in between five and 10 gallons of compost to the soil and mix it together. If the soil is not well-draining, mix in perlite, too.
  • Place the root ball into the hole and plant it at the same depth that it was growing in its pot; in other words, the entire root ball should be covered, but do not place it any deeper than it was in the pot it came in.
  • Once positioned, fill the hole and cover the root ball with soil, gently tamp it down, and thoroughly water.

Soft Tree Fern Watering and Feeding Requirements

This tree fern grows in moist, tropical environments; as such, it does require a good amount watering. It does best in locations that receive at least 4 inches of rainfall a year.

In locations where the annual rainfall rate is lower than 4 inches, moist gully locations offer the most suitable environment for these trees.

When cultivated for landscaping, the soft tree fern does need to be watered on a regular basis to ensure it receives the moisture that it needs to thrive. This plant is not drought-tolerant and cannot tolerate dry roots; if the roots become dry for an excessive amount of time, the tree can perish.

While the wooly tree fern does require moist soil, the soil should not be drenched. If the tree sits in stagnant water for too long, it can suffer root rot, which can damage or kill it. Therefore, as mentioned several times, be sure to plant the tree in quick-draining soil.

To determine when it’s time to water the plant, feel the soil around the base. Place your finger about 1-inch into the ground; if it feels dry, the plant needs to be watered.

In regard to feeding, after the first year of planting, during the growing season (mid-spring to mid-summer), apply a liquid fertilizer on a monthly basis. Be sure to dilute the fertilizer as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, you can feed the tree with slow-release fertilizer in mid-spring.

Tree ferns are a great way to add a tropical feel
Tree ferns are a great way to add a tropical feel

Soft Tree Fern Grooming and Maintenance

The Dicksonia Antarctica does not require an extensive amount of maintenance or grooming. In fact, horticulturists recommend not removing the spent fronds from the canopy, as when they fall, they protect the trunk of the tree from chilly temperatures, winds, and dehydration.

While you can remove the brown fronds, do so with caution; do not cut them any more than 6 inches from the trunk.

Cold Weather Protection

While some species of wooly tree ferns can tolerate cold temperatures and frost, most cannot; and even those that can tolerate the cold should not be exposed to excessive coldness for prolonged periods of time.

With that said, hardiness does tend to increase as the tree matures and grows taller.

Container-grown tree ferns should be taken inside when the weather turns cold. For tree ferns that are planted in the ground, place a handful of straw in the grown of the tree and fold the fronds in over themselves.

This will help to protect the fronds from damage during the cold weather.

Tasmanian Tree Fern Propagation

Though the Dicksonia Antarctica propagates through spores that grow on the underside of the plant’s fronds, this is not the most commonly used form of propagation because it only produced spores after it reaches 20 years of age.

Instead, propagation usually occurs via plantlets that grow at the base of rhizomes. Remove the plantlets from the ground, cover the base in growth hormone, and set them in a container of soil. Keep the plantlet moist and warm.

Summing It Up

The Tasmanian tree fern is an eye-catching plant that will add an instant tropical vibe to your garden. It’s relatively easy to plant and care for, too, which further adds to its appeal. By following the tips mentioned above, you can successfully grow and maintain soft tree ferns.

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Hollie Carter

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at hollie@gardenbeast.com or follow on twitter https://twitter.com/greenholliec

1 Comment

  1. HELP – I’ve recently bought a trachycarpus fortunei around 13feet. Moved from pot to soil which is rich good draining soil. Unfortunately, after some three weeks it’s looking very poor. The overall colour has reduced to a pale green with yellow going brown dried out leaves. The trunk hair is now grey and old fonds are now dry and falling off. Its looking very sad. Any suggestions?

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