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Free Fern in distress

Hi. I have a free fern which is well established with a crown about 2 and a half feet above the ground. It is in a sheltered spot and usually survives winter unprotected. This year's snowfall has. Left the fronds brown and drooping. Can anyone recommend any remedial action?


  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,053
  • Paul B3Paul B3 Posts: 3,078
    Simply remove all the tattered fronds as close to the trunk as possible ; it will be fine .
    Feed and water generously when warmer weather arrives .
  • punkdocpunkdoc Posts: 13,741
    What Hosta says.
    Don't do anything until warmer weather is here.
    How can you lie there and think of England
    When you don't even know who's in the team

    S.Yorkshire/Derbyshire border
  • Tempted to leave the fronds in place until there is some new growth - better than a stump.
  • The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • PS: It was a Tree  Fern obvs. Anything but Free ;)
  • pbffpbff Posts: 433
    There was an excellent article by Alistair Urquhart in the Pteridologist Vol 6, Part 3 (the magazine produced by The British Pteridological Society) entitled 'Restoration of Tree Ferns', advising against removing old fronds which I thought might have some relevance to your problem - or at least makes for an interesting read.
    I quote the entire article to give it context:
    "It was in the spring of the year 2000 that I decided to introduce tree ferns into our garden at Wayside. Conditions where we garden are far from an ideal location for such an ambitious project but we were favoured by a succession of unusually mild winters for eight years.
    The species introduced were Dicksonia antarctica, Dicksonia fibrosa and Dicksonia squarrosa. My only example of D. squarrosa failed at the crown of a three foot trunk after a couple of seasons; it still lives but is now permanently under glass. D. fibrosa and D. antarctica flourished with fronds enduring through the period of mild winters. Problems began when the four successive winters of more normal severity caused defoliation, each new generation of fronds grew with less vigour, two D. antarctica were lost and the fronds of the only remaining D. fibrosa were reduced to no more than a foot in length.
    In 2012, faced with the prospect of losing all of the remaining tree ferns growing in the open garden I developed a restoration plan. The D. fibrosa was removed from the garden and replanted in the fern house border in hope that it would recover or at least provide a host for epiphytic ferns; a D. antarctica in a similar state was given the same treatment.
    I was aware that D. antarctica could be grafted on to dead trunks, although I could find no record of the technique involved. I reasoned that I had to fix a donor fern onto a dead trunk and encourage it to grow as an epiphyte until it could establish contact with the soil. I removed a dead D. antarctica from the garden with enough root to make it stable and put it in a large pot in the fern house. A rough graft was then made with as little damage as possible to the donor. To encourage initial growth I covered the area of graft with a plastic pot with its bottom removed and packed the void with a good ferny compost rich in leaf mould.
    My best example of D. antarctica was now the only tree fern left in the garden but it too had suffered reduction in frond growth and clearly there was little or no contact between the crown and the surface soil, due in part to its use as a scratching post by Polly and Scolly. I therefore decided to be proactive; I considered the growth to be largely epiphytic so gave it the same restoration method as with the graft to encourage additional root growth from the existing crown.
    The pots covering the graft were removed at the end of one season's growth, now packed with new root growth securing the graft. The following spring the trunk was wrapped in cling film which was then removed in the autumn. As I had hoped, the newly initiated roots had travelled down the trunk. 
    In the third year the fern was left to establish a root system in the pot. I removed the fern from the large pot in the following spring; it proved to be completely pot bound, and planted out in a sheltered position in the garden. The fern responded well to the planting continuing to initiate new fronds into October, with mature fronds large enough to shade the trunk. The trunk and graft were now entirely covered in moss, giving verismilitude to the completed restoration.
    The larger D. antarctica that remains in the open garden also produced a new root mass from the existing crown, but in this case the roots only travelled to the ground on the side not exposed to sunlight. The results on growth were positive; sixteen fronds were produced in the first year after new root contact with the soil and twenty in 2015, although the frond size has yet to return to former glories. It seems that although the fronds will tolerate, or even benefit from direct sunlight, the trunks require shade. Deterioration of growth appears to become critical when fronds are reduced to a size not able to shade the trunk.
    The D. antarctica and D. fibrosa planted in the fern house are recovering and proving to be suitable hosts for any spores that land on them.
    I plan to continue to grow D. antarctica in the open garden but as a result of observations I will make one change. I have in the past found that, unless there is perfect shelter, the delicate new fronds are damaged in contact with old fronds by equinoctial gales. 
    In order to protect new growth I have removed old fronds in spring. I now realise that this practice exposes trunks to sunlight until new fronds are fully formed. This practice will now cease."

  • Thanks. That's very helpful. The fern I'm talking about is a D.Antarctica and in a very sheltered spot where it receives almost no direct sunlight. The lesson seems to be leave it exactly as it is.
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