How to transplant a large tree fern

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12 Jun 2013

A Property24 reader asks:

Transplanting a Cyathea australis or tree fern is a task best suited for a cool day, and it is a good idea to thoroughly water the plant the day before the move.

How do I transplant a large tree fern?

Julie Lovemore, co-owner of Karibu, advises:

Transplanting a Cyathea australis or tree fern is a task best suited for a cool day, and it is a good idea to thoroughly water the plant the day before the move.

As you water your fern, carefully look at it and decide if it has an obvious ‘front’ or ‘best side’.

Trim off any tired, dead or broken fronds.  If there aren’t any, remove a couple of the bottom fronds anyway to reduce transpiration later.

Prepare a hole in your new location. Tree Ferns tend to be quite shallow rooted so a square hole about 50cm deep and 60cm wide should suffice. Keep the excavated soil in a pile close by.

Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and add a few forkfuls of compost and a generous handful of bone meal and mix well. Fill the hole with water and leave it to soak.

Now return to your tree fern and dig it out. Using the stem as the centre, mark out a 30cm square around the plant. Using a sharp spade, cut along the lines of the square and be sure to cut straight downward to the depth of your spade as this will make a clean cut through any roots that extend beyond the square. Your aim at this point is to keep as much soil as possible in tact around the roots, so proceed gently.

Use your fork and gently push the prongs down the side of the square and then horizontally under the plant. Do this on all four sides and you will see the plant begin to move and come loose. Now use the spade to complete the cut horizontally under the plant.

Lift the plant out of the ground, with the spade underneath it to keep the soil in place and carry it to its new location. Take a moment to remind yourself which is the ‘front’ of the plant (you do not want the best side facing the wall after all) and line the plant up accordingly next to the new hole.

It is important to ensure that the surface of the soil around the trunk is level with the surface of the surrounding soil in the new location – so adjust the depth of the new hole by adding more compost or moving some aside to deepen it before you gently lower your fern into its new home.  It is really useful at this point to have someone else hold the plant still and straight while you work.

Mix more compost and bone meal into the pile of soil you’ve set aside while digging the hole, and use this to backfill the hole, firming down the soil with your feet as you go.

A couple of stakes may be necessary for insurance. If so, hammer them into the firm soil beyond the hole you’ve dug and make sure your ties are fastened tightly to the stake but loosely enough around the trunk of the fern to allow both growth and gentle movement. Water gently and add a layer of compost or mulch.

Visit your tree fern regularly to check on its progress and water requirements.

Readers may submit questions to Property24’s Guest Expert panel and/or comment below. We may not be able to answer all questions received, but all will be considered. 

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