The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Macho Ferns

Macho Fern

Native to Florida, Macho ferns are large beautiful plants that thrive both indoors and outdoors. They are known for their characteristic bright green leaves that often span three and four feet as noted by Costa Farms. Whether you are looking to add some green color to your home or grow beautiful plants in your outdoor planters, you cannot go wrong with Macho ferns. That said, while these plants are not particularly delicate, they do need some care to grow. This guide will help you take care of your Macho Fern.

First, A Brief Overview of Macho Ferns

  • Nativity: Florida, the Virgin Islands, and Louisiana
  • Type: Epiphytic Perennial Plant
  • Common Name: Macho Fern
  • Other Names: Fishbone Fern, wild Boston Fern, Boston Sword Fern.
  • Botanical Name: Nephrolepis biserrata
  • Growth Zone: USDA 9-10
  • Leaf Width: 6 feet
  • Leaf Length: 3-4 feet
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to pets

CAUTION: You cannot harvest Macho ferns from the wild in Florida because they are protected by the state. You should only ever buy a Macho fern from reputable dealers.

Macho Ferns Hate Direct Light

Macho ferns will grow well both indoors and outdoors as long as the lighting conditions are ideal. When grown outdoors, these large plants thrive in partly or fully shaded locations. You can grow them in large urns or planters on your patio or under a covered porch. Avoid contact with direct sunlight at all costs as direct UV rays, especially those experienced in the afternoon, can burn the fronds. If you choose to grow your Macho ferns indoors, place them in an area that receives medium indirect light.

You can use sheer curtains to diffuse harsh UV rays and allow your plants to stay here for 4 to 6 hours a day. The best location is a West or North facing window as Hunker recommends. Nonetheless, the fact that they do not like direct sunlight does not mean that macho ferns grow well in the dark. Lack of sunlight can cause drooping leaves and stunted growth.

They Need Just Enough Water – Not Too Much, Not Too Little

Macho ferns don’t need a lot of water, but they are not drought tolerant either. You should always keep the soil in your planters moist but not wet. Insert two fingers knuckle deep into the soil and, if it is not moist, water the soil until excess water drains out of the hole at the bottom. Be careful not to overwater your macho ferns as this could cause water logging and root rot. Under watering, on the other hand, can cause the foliage to weaken and wilt. Keep the frequency at once or twice a week when growing your macho ferns indoors and twice or thrice outdoors. During hot and dry weather, you can water the ferns daily, then cut the frequency in winter.

They Thrive in Rich, Aerated Soil

In addition to moisture, macho ferns need airy and rich soil to grow well. This means that the best soil to grow these plants should be well-draining, airy, and organic matter rich. It should also be slightly acidic and heavy since macho ferns are epiphytic and require root compaction. According to The Spruce, macho ferns grow natively in slightly moist locations like swamps and wetlands.  You can make this soil mix at home or purchase sandy or loamy soil mixes at your local gardening store. Make sure your pick is rich in organic matter and nutritional content and has a pH of between 6 and 6.5, which according to Plant Index, is best for macho ferns.

You Don’t Need to Feed Them Constantly

Young Macho ferns need more frequent feeding than older plants. You should fertilize them once every six weeks in spring and summer with a balanced, all-purpose feed. However, older ferns can do with fertilization every 6 months throughout the year, except in winter and fall. If you prefer a more organic approach, you can add more organic matter and nutrients to the potting mix and avoid fertilizing your ferns altogether. However, you will need to fertilize your plants if they begin to show signs of stunted growth. Overfertilizing your macho ferns will not make them grow faster and could actually harm them, so stick to the recommended timelines. Use organic fertilizers with blood meal, vermicompost, and fish emulsion for the best results. When in doubt, less fertilizer is always more.

The Temperature and Humidity Is Average

According to Gardening Know How, macho ferns grow best in USDA zones between 9a and 10b. This means they prefer humid and warm conditions, which is what you should try to emulate. Essentially, you need to provide temperature conditions of between 50°F to 80°F (10°C to 26°C). If the temperature feels comfortable to you, it should also be good for your macho ferns. Temperatures above 80°F will cause leaf curling and wilting.

Tip: Macho ferns do not react well to cold and should be moved indoors during cold winters.

When it comes to humidity, macho ferns naturally thrive in humidity levels of over 70 percent. The best range to replicate for your ferns is between 60 and 80 percent. Levels as low as 30 percent can cause extreme stress to your ferns as well as wilting. If you live in an arid region, you can raise the humidity levels in your home through an electric humidifier. You can also place potted plants in trays filled with pebbles, gravel, and water or vivarium and greenhouses with controlled environments.

Look Out for Common Pests

Macho ferns are not very prone to pests and will usually remain pest-free for most of their lives. However, ferns grown outside are more susceptible to pest attacks than those grown indoors.

Treating and Preventing Common Pests

You can prevent and treat common macho fern pests by taking several precautionary steps. Remember to keep a close eye on your ferns because pests are easier to control the earlier they are detected.


  • Separate infested ferns from the rest as soon as possible.
  • Regularly weed and prune your ferns.
  • Maintain a regular watering routine and schedule.
  • Disinfect all the tools you use to prune and propagate your ferns.
  • Avoid overfertilizing your ferns.
  • Prune and destroy infected parts of the ferns.
  • Check the ferns for fest infestations regularly.


If your ferns are already infested, you can treat them by getting rid of infested parts or picking off the insects by hand. This is appropriate for mild infestations. You can also use a toothbrush to scrape off the pests or blast them with water. If the infestation is severe, dip cotton wool in alcohol and dab the pests, then wash the leaves with a mixture of insecticidal soap and Neem oil.

Common Diseases

As is the case with pests, macho ferns are also highly immune to diseases. However, stress caused by overfertilization and over or underwatering can make them susceptible to fungal diseases.


The best way to prevent fungal diseases is to avoid stressing your macho ferns. This involves maintaining a proper watering schedule and keeping the plant dry, well aerated, and under optimal humidity and sufficient indirect light. When replanting your ferns, clean your pots and tools thoroughly.


If your plant is already infected with a fungal disease, you can wipe off the affected parts with alcohol. This could prevent the spread of the disease if it was just in its early stages. You can also prune off infected plants or discard the fern entirely if the spread is too severe. Before you get rid of your Macho Fern, see if you can find a healthy stem for propagation. Wash it with soap first before propagating it.

You Can Propagate Macho Ferns

There are several ways to propagate ferns, but the division yields the best results in this case. To divide and propagate a macho fern, you should:

  • Expose the roots and rhizomes of your fern by digging up the roots.
  • Select a section of the plant’s rhizomes and separate them from the fern.
  • Cut through the clumps using a sharp knife to create several divisions.
  • Plant the separated rhizomes in your garden or different containers.
  • Water thoroughly.

It is best to propagate macho ferns during their active growth period, which is in early spring.

You Will Need to Pot and Repot Macho Ferns

If you are growing your macho ferns in an urn or pot, you should repot it once every one or two years. As we mentioned earlier, macho ferns will do well with some root compaction, but some extra space will also help aeration. You can provide this by repotting to a pot one size larger than the previous one, ideally giving the roots about an inch of growing space.Small macho ferns can grow well in a 6-inch pot, while mature plants may require between 8 and 12 inches. The size of the pot will obviously depend on the macho fern’s size. Depending on what you have available, a terra cotta or plastic pot will do. Terra cotta is preferable because it is well aerated.

Tip: Macho fern roots are very delicate. Be careful with them during repotting to avoid breakage.

When choosing a pot to repot your macho ferns, look out for one with a drainage hole at the bottom. This feature allows excess water to drain out of the pot, preventing root rot.

How to Repot a Macho Fern

As with propagation, the best time to repot macho ferns is in early summer or early spring, during the plants’ active growth phase. It is time to repot your fern when the leaves start to grow over the pot. Here are the simple steps you should follow:

  • Pick a pot one size larger than the current one.
  • If it is an old pot, clean it thoroughly with soap and bleach water.
  • Line the base of the pit with pebbles or stones for proper drainage.
  • Add several inches of potting mix to the pot.
  • Carefully remove the macho fern from its current pot and place it in the potting mix.
  • Fill the rest of the port with three-quarter parts of soil
  • Use your hands to remove air pockets from the soil by firmly pressing it.
  • Moisten the soil with clean water.
  • Place the newly repotted plant in a suitable location.

When transferring your macho fern to the new pot, grab the base of the fronds, not the roots. Invert the old pot over a table and tap it lightly to let the fern slip out on its own. Do not pull it out yourself, as you could rip out the leaves.

Pruning Is Crucial to Rapid Growth

Another way you take care of your macho fern is by pruning. Macho ferns grow vigorously during early spring and early summer, so this is the best time for heavy pruning. While you can do some light pruning during dormant seasons, it is best to avoid pruning your macho fern in fall and winter as this could cause stress to the plant. Perform heavy pruning when you need more rapid growth and to prevent the older leaves from leaching out all the nutrients. Remember to clean your tools before and after.


If you have grown other types of ferns before, taking care of a Macho Fern should be a breeze. Macho ferns are not very fussy and are very immune to pests and diseases if grown under optimal conditions. Overall, they do well in moist, warm, and shady conditions akin to those found in the Virgin Islands and Florida. They are easy to maintain, don’t need too much or too little water, and can be grown both indoors and outdoors. Follow this guide, and your macho ferns should grow large and healthy.

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