Tree ferns consist of more than 800 different species and in the United States grow only in Hawaii. They get their name because they look like fern fronds growing from the top of a trunk that resembles a palm tree. In general, tree ferns do not require pruning except to remove damaged portions and suckers that develop along the sides of the trunk. Pruning tree ferns should be done in the early spring after the threat of frost is over.
Look at the main trunk of the tree fern, starting at the ground and going up to the base of the canopy. Identify any small side shoots emerging from the trunk and cut them off flush with the trunk using hand pruners.
Place a ladder next to the tree fern and climb up until you can easily reach the fronds on the top of the tree.
Identify any yellow or brown fronds the colour indicates they are dead or dying, typically from frost damage. Trace the fronds back to where they have green colouring, or to the centre of the tree if no green is visible on them. Cut the frond off of the tree fern using hand pruners or loppers for thicker frond stems.
Look at the remaining green fronds and identify any that are visibly broken or that are drooping downward. Prune these injured stems off of the tree as close to the main boot as possible to prevent disease from developing in them and spreading to the remainder of the tree fern.
If desired, you can plant the side shoots that you removed from the trunk and they will develop roots and grow into new tree fern plants. Clean your pruners with rubbing alcohol between cuts to avoid spreading disease.
Tree ferns contain tiny scales along the trunk that can become air borne during pruning. Protect yourself by always wearing gloves, a dust mask and safety glasses when pruning or handling tree ferns.