Despite their grandeur and nativity to hotter climes, tree ferns are relatively easy to look after in the UK. In fact, with the right care they do extremely well in British gardens due to their hardy nature and flexibility to microclimates.
Advice on buying tree ferns / what to look for in a tree fern
The most important part of purchasing a tree fern is knowing what to look for, because if you select a fern which is not healthy then no matter how well you look after it, unfortunately it will not thrive.
Good crown development - tree fern enthusiasts know the crown is the secret. Look for a uniform rosette of emerging crosiers in the growing season, the more the better.
No incisions or damage to the trunk
Healthy looking fronds, with no signs of frost or wind damage
Reputable supplier - some tree ferns are harvested from the wild illegally, threatening rainforests - all tree ferns must come with CITES certificates and DEFRA plant passports
How to plant your tree fern
Tree ferns are best planted in the ground between 10-20cm deep. The need to plant them is only to ensure they are stabilised, so if you want to gain a bit of height then they can be planted with a stake tied to the trunk to ensure they are steady. Staking will be essential for ferns over 5ft height to hold it firmly, and for safety.
Tree ferns can be planted in a pot if this is the only practical option but ensure it is one of generous size. Plant in a large terracotta pot at least double the circumference of the fern. Ideally an auto irrigation system would be set up, to control the moisture being fed to the fern. If the tree fern begins to look distressed (shrivelled leaves, stunted growth) then pot up the fern into a larger pot - this should be done after 4-5 years regardless.
Contrary to understanding, treeferns do well in full sunlight as long as their trunks can be kept reasonably cool (shaded by the canopy of the fronds). Like a lot of other plants they like their roots cool and crown in the sun. It is common for the ferns fronds to be mistaken for having been scorched by the sun in full sunlight, when in fact this is mostly due to a lack of water.
It is best to avoid deep shade and dry areas, especially where established trees are as the roots can be known to infiltrate the root system of the tree fern looking for the moisture. The tree fern nevertheless likes to be in association with other plants and prefers not to be exposed and in isolation or subject to strong beating winds.