Macho. Macho Fern

Big, beautiful, and fabulous – these three words describe the Macho Fern.

This fern stands out because of its size. A mature fern can be six feet wide and four feet tall. That is big! 

Much of the size comes from the fronds, which reach four feet long. The leaflets, a lovely deep green color, have a sword-like shape and, as you would imagine, are much larger than most other ferns.  

The size of this fern is what attracted me — that and the fact that it could take a little sun. Hanging side by side on my back deck, two plants create a “fern screen” that adds privacy and coziness to my space. 

This is not a delicate plant but thrives in shade to partial shade locations. If in the direct sun, the fronds may burn. The Macho likes a loose organic mix of soil, nothing that will cling to the roots. This organic mixture will allow the water to drain, keeping the soil moist, not wet. It will also mean you may need to water more frequently.

The Macho fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) is native to the Southern United States and Puerto Rico. There is can often be found growing near riverbanks and in swampy areas. It is a perennial in USDA Zones 9-11 and not frost tolerant in other areas.

Friends have overwintered ferns. I have not been so lucky. When I first moved to the little house on a big hill, I tried everything to keep a fern alive in my bathroom. The room offers light, humidity, and my attention -but I was never successful and tired of sweeping up fallen leaves.

Last year I brought my Machos inside to a different location; I think the room was a little too shady and not warm enough. I have a new spot in mind for this winter. If it doesn’t work – I’m done and will accept and love them as annuals on my back porch. This will be another good reason to visit Jamie at Evan’s Greenhouse.

Back to the outside. Because of the size of Macho ferns and the fact that they can overpower smaller plants in a landscape design, Machos are best planted alone. Pedestal containers, hanging baskets, or on a plant stand are ways to show off their size and beauty. 

When the plant is young, you may want to use an all-purpose fertilizer every six weeks, once mature, maybe every six months. If you decide to propagate the Macho and create individual plants, do it by splitting the rhizomes. 

Because the plants tend to like being slightly root bound, you may need a knife to help make the division. After dividing and repotting using the loose organic soil, water the containers well and apply a small amount of fertilizer.

With all of this “talk” about Macho ferns, you may be wondering about its cousin, the Boston fern.  

The Boston fern is smaller, usually two–to-three feet tall. The fronds are smaller, more textured, and ever so lightly blueish-tinted. They are popular and readily available because of their compact size and easy maintenance.

Whether it’s the grand Macho or the ever-popular Boston, for me, porch sitting just isn’t the same without the draping greenery of ferns.