Macho fern, Nephrolepis biserrata, are large, dramatic ferns to grow indoors. They grow much larger than other types of fern and are suited to indoor cultivation.
What is Macho Fern?
Macho fern, also known as giant sword fern, is a tropical fern also often grown as a houseplant in temperate climes. It can also be placed outdoors in summer before being placed indoors for the winter months.
This fern is endemic to Florida, Mexico, the West Indies, Central, and South America, as well as parts of Africa and southeastern Asia. It is at home in a moist, humid, and warm environment.
Unfortunately, this fern is threatened in Florida and some parts of its native range by those illegally harvesting these ferns from the wild. To make sure that you are not contributing to ecosystem destruction, it is vital to purchase a macho fern from a reputable plant dealer.
The macho fern takes its name from its size and vigorous growth habit, and its graceful yet bold and dramatic look.
Where to Grow Macho Fern
The most important things to think about when growing macho ferns are the growing conditions these ferns require when it comes to light, temperatures, and humidity, and the growing medium when they are grown in containers.
Like most other ferns, macho ferns need bright but indirect light. They can cope with low light levels and are fairly tolerant, but cannot cope with being positioned in a location where they get direct sun during the hottest part of the day.
An east-facing window, for example, where these ferns can get morning light but be shielded from the hot sun during the afternoon, can be ideal. If they get too much direct light, sun scorch can occur.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
Macho ferns grow in warm and humid conditions in their natural range, and the same conditions much be provided indoors to grow them successfully.
These ferns like the temperatures usually found indoors, and since they are not frost tolerant, must be kept indoors over the winter months in colder climate areas, though they can be placed outside in summer.
Ideally, temperatures should remain at all times between 10 and 26 degrees Celsius to grow these ferns.
Since they like humid conditions, these ferns are well suited to placement in a humid location within a home – such as a steamy bathroom or near a kitchen sink, for example.
To prevent humidity from dropping too low it can also be a good idea to mist plants regularly, to group houseplants together, and also to sit the pot for a macho fern atop a pebble-filled tray topped up with water.
Soil/ Growing Medium
When selecting a growing medium for macho ferns, it is very important to select the right option. The medium that you choose should be moist but free draining. It should be well-aerated, not compacted, and slightly on the acidic side. A pH of 6 to 6.5 is ideal. It should also be rich in organic matter.
To make your own potting mix for macho ferns, combine a multipurpose peat-free potting mix with coconut coir, grit, and orchid bark. This is one recipe that can help to provide the optimal conditions.
Planting Macho Fern
Macho ferns can be purchased as potted plants or propagated most easily through the division of a mature specimen. The rhizomes can be divided into sections, and each section is potted up and grown as individual plants.
When choosing containers for macho ferns, make sure these are of sufficient size to accommodate the current root system of the plant, with just a little space around the edge. Take care when planting a macho fern in a container not to damage the fragile rhizomes of the plant. And ensure that you place the fern at the same depth it was at in its previous pot.
Caring for Macho Fern
Of course, even a well-placed macho fern does require some care. Though generally relatively easy to care for, it is important to get it right – especially when it comes to watering.
When watering macho ferns remember that these ferns require consistent moisture in their growing medium throughout the year.
These ferns are not as drought tolerant as some other ferns grown indoors can be and so you should be careful not to let the growing medium dry out. However, you should also avoid creating overly wet conditions, as waterlogging can lead to root rot and other problems for these plants.
How much and how frequently you will need to water will depend on the season, the light levels, the temperatures and humidity, and several other factors.
In the spring and summer, you can expect to water around once or twice a week. In winter, water needs will be significantly reduced and you should water much more sparingly.
Young macho fern plants will benefit from some aid as they grow and will appreciate being fed with a balanced, organic liquid plant feed once every month to six weeks or so through the spring and summer.
Once mature, however, these ferns will not typically require feeding. But you can if you wish give them a boost with a balanced, organic feed every 6 months or so.
Macho ferns typically need to be repotted once every couple of years or so, but perhaps even annually if they grow very swiftly. These ferns do not mind being root bound to a degree, but you should repot them regularly to maintain their growth rate if you want a large, healthy fern.
Take care not to damage the roots when repotting, and select a pot just a little larger each time you repot to ensure that waterlogging is not more likely to occur.