Living up to its name, the Macho Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) forms big, large fronds, resulting in a robust plant with an unmistakable tropical feel.
The airy foliage can be an elegant addition to your living space but does well on shaded patios as well and can be grown in large containers or hanging baskets.
There aren’t any unusual difficulties in growing this fern, especially in zones 9 to 10. Once you manage to get the basics down, you’ll have a thriving Macho Fern decorating your porch or indoor living space.
Here are my tips on how to get the best care for your Nephrolepis biserrata.
Size & Growth
The Nephrolepis biserrata is also known as the Giant Sword Fern. And indeed, the plant can spread out to as much as 6 feet and reach a height of around 4 feet.
Of course, indoor conditions may not live up to the conditions in the plant’s natural habitat, so the plant may stay smaller and its fronds may not swing out as much.
For best results, grow the plant in shaded or partly shaded areas. Indoors, the plant should not be grown near southern and western windows.
A location, where the plant gets a bit of sun in the mornings is ideal. Strong, direct sunlight will scorch the delicate fronds of the fern.
A shaded porch or patio works well, or when the plant is used as a groundcover in a shaded area with dappled sun.
Although not a sensitive plant, the Macho Fern should be protected from strong winds.
The macho fern has moderate watering needs. Water just enough to keep the top layer of the soil moist, but not wet.
Soggy, wet soil will not be beneficial to the plant, causing fungal growth and rotting that will eventually kill off the Macho Fern.
Water when the top layer of the soil starts to dry out. On hot summer days, you may need to water it daily, other times you may need to water it less frequently.
Always check the soil by poking a finger up to the knuckle and make an assessment of how most or dry the soil is.
If left without water for too long, the plant will wilt and dry, so keep an eye on its hydration levels, especially during hot summer heats or dry weather.
The soil of the Macho fern should be well-aerated to promote fast drainage. Soils prone to waterlogging won’t keep this fern happy and can result in root rot issues.
Another thing to take into account is the pH of the soil. This fern enjoys slightly acidic soil, so a soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5 is best for the Nephrolepis biserrata.
The quality of the soil is just as important as a good watering regimen. So opt for potting mixes that are designed for tropical plants. Look for mixes that contain peat, perlite, sphagnum moss, or other well-draining mixes.
Temperature & Humidity
The optimal temperature range for the macho fern is between 50° to 80°F. Within this range, the plant can steadily grow and produce lush foliage.
Not being a frost-resistant plant, it’s crucial to take this plant indoors once temperatures close in on the lower temperature range accepted by this plant.
In areas where temperatures stay within the optimal range all year round, the plant can be grown outdoors without any further overwintering measures.
This fern enjoys a humid environment, and it benefits from frequent misting, especially in dry and hot weather, whether kept outdoors or in.
Adding a bit of fertilizer to the soil of your Macho fern will help it grow more vibrant fronds and speed up its growth.
But this isn’t a fern that would require or would benefit from regular or frequent fertilizing. You can use an all-purpose plant fertilizer at the beginning of spring or during summer, but not in fall or winter.
I prefer using a time-release organic fertilizer when potting the fern, but a diluted, water soluble fertilizer is also an excellent option.
Whatever you do, don’t overfertilize as that will cause fertilizer burn and can potentially have devastating effects on the fern.
Potting & Repotting
If you’re growing the Nephrolepis biserrata indoors or on your porch or patio, pick a large container or hanging basket to allow the leaves to spread out well.
Repotting is usually due every 1 or 2 years, depending on the growth rate of the fern. Move to a pot one size up. Oversizing the pot carries the risk of the soil taking too long to dry, which in turn can cause rotting at the root level.
Replant in early spring, before the plant’s metabolism kicks in again in preparation for the new growth season. Use a well-draining mix to freshen up the potting soil.
How to Propagate Macho Fern?
If you’re repotting your fern, it’s as good a time as any to divide it and pot up clumps of the main rhizome.
Division is the most common way these ferns are propagated, and they carry a high success rate.
There is one disadvantage, though — the resulting ferns will not be as full or as even as the main plant. But don’t worry, as they grow and develop, they will even out eventually.
Also, because the root ball can be quite strong, don’t hold back on using a bit of force and pruning shears to divide the rhizome. These ferns are strong, and they will bounce back from a bit of roughhousing.
Pot up the new divisions and resume normal Macho Fern plant care routine to see your ferns grow and develop.
The Macho or Giant Sword Fern is the ideal container plant when it comes to decorating front porches or patios that don’t get direct light and would be deemed as shaded or part shaded.
Be advised, however, that as far as size goes, this fern lives up to its name, so it does need some room to grow and spread.
If you can grow the plant outdoors, do so as it will live up to its full potential much more easily than indoors.