Macho ferns (Nephrolepis biserrata) are large, beautiful ferns characterized by bold, bright green fronds that can grow up to 3 to 4 feet long, dwarfing other common fern varieties such as Boston ferns and Kimberly queen ferns. Native to Florida, macho ferns grow well both indoors and outdoors. Macho ferns are great plants for large outdoor pots or planters, or for that spacious room in your home that needs a splash of green. While they are not particularly delicate ferns, macho ferns do require a specific set of growing conditions in order to thrive.
|Botanical Name||Nephrolepis biserrata|
|Common Name||Macho fern, broad sword fern|
|Mature Size||3-4 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial, shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-draining|
|Hardiness Zones||9a, 9b, 10a, 10b|
|Native Area||North America|
Macho Fern Care
If you are familiar with caring for other types of ferns, caring for the macho fern is not much different. Macho ferns thrive in warm, shady conditions with consistent moisture and are typically found growing naturally near swamps and other wet sites throughout the Southern United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This bold fern grows nicely both indoors and outdoors and is generally a low-fuss plant that is easy to maintain. Although for those who tend to under-water their plants, the macho fern probably is not for you!
The macho fern is a protected species in Florida and it is illegal to harvest these ferns from the wild. Always ensure that you are getting your macho fern from a reputable dealer.
When grown outdoors, macho ferns should be placed in a shady or partly shaded location. They are frequently grown in large planters under covered porches or in the shade of an outdoor patio. Avoid placing these ferns in spots that receive direct sunlight throughout the day, especially the intense afternoon sun, as the delicate fronds can get easily burnt.
Indoors, macho ferns do best in medium to bright indirect light, but can also tolerate low light locations. Use a sheer curtain to diffuse harsh sunlight and protect your macho fern from any direct sunlight in your home.
Macho ferns require moist but well-draining soil that is airy, rich in organic matter, and slightly acidic. These ferns are epiphytic, so avoiding heavy soil that will compact around the roots of the plant is extremely important. Consider that macho ferns are often found growing natively near wetlands and swamps when you are picking out the soil for your fern. A mixture of regular potting soil, peat moss or coco coir, perlite, and orchid bark is a good homemade soil mix for macho ferns.
Ensure that the soil around your macho fern stays consistently moist, but not wet. Macho ferns are not drought tolerant so the soil should never be allowed to dry out completely. When grown indoors, macho ferns may need to be watered once or twice a week depending on the temperature.
Temperature and Humidity
Macho ferns can grow year-round in USDA zones 9a through 10b, and they enjoy warm, humid conditions. These ferns can be found growing natively in Florida, Louisiana, and Hawaii where the temperature and humidity conditions are ideal. As with many ferns, macho ferns are not frost-tolerant and will need to be moved indoors or grown as a houseplant in regions that experience cold winters.
Young plants require frequent fertilization and should be fertilized with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer once every six weeks throughout the spring and summer. Mature and established macho ferns don’t need to be fertilized as often, and do well with an application of balanced, all-purpose fertilizer once every 6 months.
Propagating Macho Ferns
Healthy, mature macho ferns are best propagated by division. To divide a macho fern, dig up the plant to expose the rhizomes and roots. Choose a section of the rhizomes and separate them from the main plant. Depending on the rhizome system, you may need to use a sharp knife to cut through some of the rhizomes. Then, plant the separated clumps in separate containers, or separate locations in your garden, and water thoroughly.
Potting and Repotting Macho Ferns
If you are growing your macho fern in a pot or container, you should be prepared to repot this fern every one to two years depending on its growth rate. Macho ferns can tolerate being moderately root bound, but appreciate regular repotting to provide them with extra space on a regular basis. Only move up one pot size every time that you repot your macho fern, and be careful not to break too many of the delicate roots during repotting.
Macho ferns can grow outdoors year-round in USDA zones 9a through 10b, but otherwise will need to be overwintered indoors. Any time you are bringing outdoor plants indoors you will want to apply a precautionary pest treatment to avoid bringing pests indoors. If possible, it is also a good idea to quarantine the plant for at least one to two weeks in an isolated room so that if pests are present they do not spread to any of your other indoor plants.
Ferns grown outdoors are more likely to develop pests or diseases than ferns grown indoors, however, macho ferns are generally pest and disease-free plants. Keep an eye out for some common pests such as mealybugs, scale, aphids, and fern mites. Treat affected plants with rubbing alcohol or insecticide to clear up any infestations.
Florida Plant Collecting, Transport Regulations & Permitting. University of Florida Herbarium.
Gliman, Edward F. Nephrolepis Exalta Boston Fern, Sword Fern. University of Florida IFAS Extension, 2015,