Lemon Button Fern Care – Tips For Growing Lemon Button Ferns

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

Highly regarded for their use in shaded landscapes and flower beds, ferns are a welcome garden addition for those wishing to add dramatic height and texture to plantings. With an extensive range of varieties from which to choose, creating a visually interesting landscape using ferns may prove to be quite the difficult task for growers. One variety specifically, ‘Lemon Button’ fern, is a great choice for containers, for use as houseplants, and as planted in small shaded spaces in suitable regions.

What is a Lemon Button Fern?

Lemon button fern plants (Nephrolepis cordifolia “Duffii” or “Lemon Buttons”) are a small variety of Boston fern. Usually growing no larger than 1 foot (30 cm.) tall, these ferns are excellent additions to arranged outdoor container plantings, as well as great for use indoors as a houseplant.

Requiring a shady location with filtered light, growing lemon button ferns outdoors in the ground will require a frost-free growing zone. However, once established, ferns which receive optimal growing conditions are known to multiply.

Before planting, always make certain to check with local agricultural officials, as many varieties of fern may become invasive. Proper research before planting will ensure that other native plant species are not disturbed or displaced and continue to thrive.

Growing Lemon Button Ferns

Due to the nature of these plants, it is best to start with transplants, as seeds may not always grow true to type. While it may be possible to find these plants at local garden centers and plant nurseries, it is readily available online. When ordering plants online, always order from reputable sources as to ensure the arrival of high-quality and disease-free transplants.

Next, select a location or container suitable for transplant. Ferns require consistent moisture and indirect sunlight in order for optimal growing conditions to be met. Dig a hole or fill a container in/with well-draining soil. Carefully fill soil around the plant, and then water thoroughly.

Due to their tropical nature, plants will appreciate additional humidity when grown indoors. Harsh winter conditions can be especially stressful for these plants when grown indoors. While many houseplant enthusiasts choose to use a humidifier, others may place containers on top of plant trays filled with pebbles. Water is then added just below the level of the pebbles. Avoid allowing the planter to come into contact with the growing container as this may encourage fungal growth.

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How to Take Care of a Lemon Buttons Fern (Nephrolepis Cordifolia)

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Lemon buttons fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia "Lemon Buttons") is a kind of Southern sword fern, a wood fern that thrives in shady woodland areas. Growing to only 12 inches tall, lemon buttons fern is named for its demure size and rounded leaflets. It also is called fishbone fern. It is suitable for growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Lemon buttons ferns thrive in moist, well-drained, acidic soil with a pH of 4 to 7. This adaptable plant tolerates sea air and salty soil.

Water a lemon buttons fern deeply to saturate the soil around its root zone, and water it again when the top 3 inches of soil feels dry to the touch. Although the plant is relatively drought-tolerant, its soil should never become bone-dry.

Feed the fern once every six months using a time-released fertilizer with a balanced ratio, such as 13-13-13 fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer according to the recommendations on the product's label. Follow fertilization with a deep watering to prevent scorching and to distribute the fertilizer evenly throughout the fern's root zone.

Treat the fern for slugs if necessary. Slugs are indicated by the holes they chew in foliage and the silvery trails they leave behind. Moist, shady conditions are prime territory for the slimy pests. Apply slug baits as directed on that product's container label. Alternatively, use diatomaceous earth it is often effective because it lacerates the slugs' soft skin, which results in death by dehydration. Apply diatomaceous earth by distributing the gritty powder in a 1/2-inch wide ring around the plant.

Spread a layer of mulch around the plant in spring, and apply a fresh layer in autumn. Mulch such as bark chips keeps roots moist and cool. Limit the mulch layer to 2 to 3 inches thick because deeper mulch may harbor slugs.

Things You Will Need

Balanced, time-released fertilizer

Slug baits or diatomaceous earth

Lemon buttons fern is suitable for growing indoors. Place the fern in semi-shade, and water it as needed to keep the potting mixture moist but never soggy. Provide a regular, balanced, liquid fertilizer for the indoor plant once every week during spring and summer, and then withhold fertilizer during fall and winter. Dilute the fertilizer to one-half the strength recommended on the fertilizer container.

OriginNew Zealand
Scientific NamePellaea rotundifolia
Common NameButton fern, Cliff brake, Green Cliff Brack
TypeGround fern
Maximum Growth12 to 18 inches (30.5 to 46 cm)
Watering NeedsWater when the soil is slightly dry
Light RequirementsLow light
Humidity40 to 50%
SoilA combination of soil, peat moss, and sand/gravel in 1:3 proportion. Add 1 tsp of lime each per quart of mixture
FertilizerMonthly application of all-purpose houseplant fertilizer Concentration must be diluted half the strength of the original recommendation
Temperature60 to 75 O F (16 to 24 O C)
PestsScale, mealybugs, spider mites
PropagationCan be grown from spores or the division of clumps
PruningPrune the button fern periodically
RepottingRe-pot when necessary
ToxicityNon-toxic to cats and dogs
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone9 through 12

To be able to make a successful journey with your button fern, you have to ensure that the following care and maintenance practices are employed.

In addition, it is a positive outlook that would make you planting experience worth it. So, keep reading and learn as much as you can.

How Much Light Does a Button Fern Need?

A shady environment with low light exposure is perfect for a button fern.

Having rainforest as their natural habitat, ferns are used to receiving only partial light.

Exposure to direct bright light can cause the entire foliage to turn brown.

The most ideal light orientation is a north-facing one. Placing your button fern in such a direction would provide just enough light source.

If your windows are facing east to west orientation, adding shades such as curtains would minimize the light intensity.

How to Water Button Fern?

Button fern is acquainted with a moist environment. Tolerant of receiving heavy rainfalls in the wild, it enjoys constant watering, especially during dry seasons. When the temperature is low, you should water less frequently.

Knowing when to water can be a little tricky because you have to consider other factors like temperature and light.

To be safe, provide water once you’ve noticed that the soil is slightly dry.

Do not wait for the soil to dry completely before watering because it’s going to dehydrate your button fern.

Below are some watering techniques to guide you:

Check The Soil Regularly

The best thing to know when your button fern needs water is to check the soil every day.

By doing this, you’ll have a feel of how moist the soil is before you give its daily dose of water.

Burrow a finger to at least half inch and feel the moisture. A soil that feels dry in your finger should be watered.

Water The Soil Deeply

The roots absorb water and minerals from the soil and channel them inside the plants. Wherever the water is, the roots will follow.

If you water your plant only on the surface, its roots won’t grow deep in the soil. As a result, your button fern will remain stunted.

Additionally, giving water at shallow levels can lead to underwatering even if you provide water regularly.

Such practice can lead to your button fern getting droopy and yellow.

Thoroughly Drain The Water

Root rot is one of the dangers of having excess water stuck at the bottom of your fern’s pot.

This happens when your soil isn’t well-draining or the pots don’t have functioning drainage holes.

Because you’re doing deep watering, it’s important to drain the water well. Allow the water to thoroughly pass and leave the soil before sitting it back.

Use Self-watering Container to Avoid Hassle

If you’re usually a busy person that you don’t have enough time to do regular watering, you can set up a self-watering container.

It is very convenient when you are travelling for a long time. You do not need to worry about watering your button ferns.

How Important Is Humidity?

High humidity is favorable for most ferns including button fern. Keep in mind that providing high moisture level is one of the challenges you’ll have to face with this indoor plant.

If your place has dry air circulating, you’d have to make few adjustments to create an ideal condition.

Relative humidity of 40 to 50% is best for button fern. A low level of moisture in the air could damage the younger ferns.

If you notice browning of fern tips as well as the yellowing of inner leaves, that’s an indication that your plant isn’t getting enough moisture.

There are simple ways to increase the level of humidity for your plants such as the following:

Mist Your Plants

This is the simplest way of adding moisture to the air. Using a spray bottle, spray water all around the plants until it creates dew on the leaves.

It’s good to do the misting in the morning to give enough time for water to evaporate. Wet foliage encourages the growth of fungus.

The frequency of misting is dependent on the moisture level inside your home. You can do it daily or a few days a week.

Use a Pebble Tray

A low-cost technology, pebble tray is a simple solution to your humidity problems. All you need is a tray, pebbles, and water to make this work.

Fill the tray with pebbles and pour water on it. The water level should not reach the top of the pebbles.

Allow the pots to sit on top of the pebbles, making sure that it is not submerged in water. The water vapor released adds moisture to the plant.

Refill water when it nears a critical level. You also need to clean or replace the pebbles once it starts growing algae.

Turn on A Humidifier

If you own a humidifier at home, you may want to try it out with your plants. During the winter season, when air is generally dry inside, a humidifier benefits both the human and the plants.

Always use clean or filtered water in your humidifiers.

Hard water contains large quantities of minerals that can later build up and damage your humidifier.

Group Your Plants

Tropical indoor plants are all suckers of high humidity. You can group them to create a beneficial synergy.

When plants are grouped, the tendency is for one plant to benefit from the moisture released by the other.

Instead of letting this moisture just float around, why not let another plant catch it?

The proximity of these plants from each other will allow them to utilize moisture as compared with having them separated.

What Temperature Range Is Ideal for Button Fern?

Button fern loves a warm growing condition. A temperature ranging from 60 to 75 O F (16 to 24 O C) is preferable.

But it can also tolerate a cold temperature up to 25 O F (-4 O C).

There are times when temperature changes drastically and it can cause stress among your button ferns.

In this case, you have to control other factors to ensure that the plant won’t suffer.

Here are a few tips on how to adjust to changes in temperature:

Increase or Decrease Water

Water adjustment is a solution that looks simple but can address numerous problems in a button ferns.

When temperature changes, the amount of water you pour into the pots should also change.

Temperature influences the rate of evaporation. So, it’s understandable that water loss is higher during hot days and lower in cold ones.

You can increase the frequency of your watering to compensate for water loss. You can also limit it when it’s necessary.

When your button fern starts limping when the temperature is hotter, that’s an indication that it needs extra water.

Turn on Your Air Conditioner or Your Heater

Your indoor plants would benefit from the cooling (air conditioner) or heating (heater) effects of these home appliances.

Put your fern somewhere near an air conditioner or heater but never place them directly in front of it.

They create cold and heat drafts which are both destructive to plants.

Provide Insulation

This can be done during winter when the temperature is low enough to have your button fern freezing. Insulators provide extra warmth.

Common insulation materials include blankets, styrofoam, and bubble wrap.

Prune your Button Fern

Removing extra leaves during hot seasons would help your button fern conserve moisture.

Transpiration happens through the stomatal openings of the leaves.

Reducing the leaves would reduce transpiration. It then helps the plant use water more efficiently.

How to Mix a Good Potting Soil for Button Fern?

To come up with a good combination of potting mix, you have to consider that it should have these qualities: high water holding capacity, well-draining, well-aerated, and high in organic matter.

To achieve this, you can combine soil, peat moss, and sand/gravel in 1:3 proportion.

Add 1 tsp of lime each per quart of the mixture would help increase the soil’s acidity. Your indoor button fern thrives best in pH 4-7 which is acidic.

Remember to use sterilized soil to prevent the growth of pathogens. Soil-borne diseases are more likely to develop when soil is contaminated with pathogens.

How Much Fertilizer Does a Button Fern Need?

Button fern, in general, doesn’t require much of fertilizers. But if you want to develop healthy foliage, added nutrients are surely appreciated.

Button ferns would need more nitrogen because of its leafy nature.

An all-purpose, balanced houseplant fertilizer can be used. You can opt for water-soluble or liquid fertilizer which can be applied every month.

Below are some of the techniques to remember when fertilizing button ferns:

Choose the Right Timing

March to October are the months where active growths period for button ferns. This is the perfect timing to apply fertilizer.

Winter is a dormant season where very little to no growth occurs. By this time, applying fertilizer would be meaningless.

Use the Right Concentration

When it comes to fertilizer, being accurate is important. If you’re careless, your button fern would end up being burned.

Liquid fertilizers should be diluted half the strength of its original recommendation. Add water to lower the concentration.

Signs of overfertilization include browning of leaf tips, wilting and distorted leaves.

If you notice these symptoms on your button fern, it may be an indication that you’ve been applying fertilizer excessively.

How to Propagate a Button Fern?

Button ferns do not produce flowers meaning they won’t produce seeds as well. What they have are spores which they make use of to produce their kind.

Spores produce the male gametes and an egg, which later join together to get fertilized.

Here are basic steps on how to propagate using spores:

  • Collect spores from mature fronds by allowing it to dry in between sheets of paper for two weeks and then tapping it to drop the spores. Spores are very small that they look like dust.
  • Place the spores in clear plastic and set aside. You can microwave the soil for 3 to 5 minutes to kill fungi and other harmful organisms.
  • Prepare the potting mix and dampen it. Sprinkle the spores on top of the spoil, cover the container then put it in a window that has a north-facing direction.
  • Wait for 6 to 8 weeks for the prothallia to grow. These heart-shaped, green structures produce male and female gametes. Make sure that soil is always moist.
  • When the prothallia are about the size of ⅜”, it means that it’s already producing sperm. Spray the prothallia with water to facilitate the transfer of sperm to eggs, thus fertilization.
  • Wait for another 6 to 8 weeks for smaller ferns to germinate. Thin out to allow enough space for growth.
  • Acclimatize the newly grown ferns by opening the container little by little every day for about two weeks. After this, place them shady area with little exposure to sunlight.
  • Transfer the small ferns to different pots and allow it to grow.

Propagating a button fern using spores would take such a long time. That’s why you may prefer another method by a division of the rhizomes. This method is less laborious and kind of straightforward.

Below is the step by step procedure on how to propagate by division:

  • Carefully remove the fern from its pot. Do this only when the fern is ready for propagation which is indicated by their overcrowded appearance.
  • Cut the root ball using a knife. Divide it into equal portions of 2 to 3 depending on the size of your plant.
  • Prepare a good potting mix and transfer the divided portions individually. Water thoroughly and allow the pot to drain.
  • Place the newly propagated button fern under the shade until they establish roots. And don’t forget to water regularly.

When and How to Re-pot a Button Fern?

There’s no exact date to remember when it comes to repotting a button fern.

You just have to observe if you button fern is filling up the container so much that it looks overcrowded.

At times, pots that become bulgy and broken is a clear indication.

Those are signs that the button fern is screaming for help to get enough space. It’s repotting time, then.

The step by step procedure on repotting button fern is discussed under the propagation by division heading.

Why Do You Prune and Trim Button Fern?

Button ferns tend to develop lush fronds. If we want to keep as much foliage as we want, we need to occasionally trim some leaves off.

Also, your plant must grow in proportion to the size of its pots.

Trimming off your button fern can do a lot of benefits to your fern. Here, I have listed some benefits for you:

  • Pruning maintains the fern’s aesthetics. Regular trimming helps the button fern remain in proportion. Of course, not all fronds are of the same size and orientation. If a certain leaf looks off, feel free to cut it out.
  • Pruning promotes the growth of button fern. If you want your button fern to look dense, pruning is a good method. It helps get rid of the old leaves making room for young ones to flourish.
  • Pruning helps the fern conserve moisture. As mentioned earlier, pruning the leaves would lower the rate of transpiration especially during hot seasons.
  • Pruning is a way to manage pests and diseases. Once leaves get infected with pests or diseases, you have to remove them to avoid contaminating the other parts. This is also considered as pruning.

NephrolepisLemon Button Fern

a.k.a., Lemon Fern - Lemon Buttons - Erect Sword Fern

Nephrolepis cordifolia 'Duffii'

The Nephrolepis, or Lemon Button Fern, is one of the most pleasant small ferns an Indoor Gardener can grow. Once it finds its place in your home, and you establish its care cycle, it's pretty much care-free.

A small fern that grows to about a foot high and not much more across, it boasts tiny arching stems. Leaves are round with very small serrated edges that alternate up the stem.

When handled, there's a lemon scent, which - in addition to its yellowish gold color - gives the fern its name.

The Nephrolepis is the smallest of the Boston ferns and good for the beginning Indoor Gardener. The plant usually starts off in a small pot of no more than 4 inches, and never progresses much out of a 6- to 8-inch container.

Eventually, you might need to pot up to a 10-inch, but that's for an older plant. The Lemon Button Fern does well in terrariums, also.

Be careful not to confuse it with the Button Fern, Pallaea rotundifolia, which has glossier leaves and requires very different care. From a distance, it's easy to make the mistake.

He's also been quite jealous of the other plants I've repotted and though he wasn't root-bound, I finally potted him up. He hated that container, though, drooping and dropping fronds. The second is a terracotta pot that I put into an outer tin container, with stones on the bottom for humidity. You can see the process in the photos. He perked up a bit, but that was short-lived.

I swear, though, that he wanted "bling." Who would ever imagine a houseplant wanting Bling? Just on a whim I wrapped a very colorful, wiggly, thin gift ribbon around the tin planter and Mr. Pesky looked remarkably better. That ony lasted a while.

At this point I was getting rather frustrated, not knowing what else to do for him. I checked all my sources - it seemed I was following all the directions for correct Button Fern care. He looked just like the photos - almost.

Something on the edge of my awareness had me go a bit deeper in my Internet research. "Lemon Button Fern" with a different taxonomy altogether kept popping up in my searches. On a whim, I clicked on some of those pages. These photos looked like my plant, too!

On closer examination, though, after enlarging the photos and reading more details I realized that it was no wonder that my Button Fern was so pesky - he wasn't a Button Fern at all!

Now that he's properly named and the watering schedule, humidity level, and soil mixture adjusted, my Lemon Button Fern - Nephrolepis - is recuperating very well.

The lesson I learned: Pay more attention to the plant and less to the books!

Watch the base of the fronds. If they turn brown, you're either under- or over-watering. Care for the Lemon Button Fern is similar to that for any of the Boston Ferns, but as with any plant, pay attention to its particular needs in your location.

  • LIGHT: low, filtered shade no direct afternoon sun
  • WATER: moderate keep soil moist - don't let it dry out don't allow it to get soggy
  • SOIL: mix peat moss into potting soil well draining
  • HUMIDITY: high use gravel tray
  • MISTING: only if home air is very dry
  • FERTILIZER: spring-early fall, once per 3-4 weeks liquid fertilizer, half strength
  • TEMP: 60s - high 80s


  • HEIGHT: 6-12 inches
  • WIDTH: 12-18 inches

  • usually pest free
  • possible summer aphids


  • NATURAL: Tubers can start new plants
  • HOUSEPLANT: Divide rootball


  • As long as you don't mistake the Nephrolepis for the Button Fern as I did, this is an easy-to-get-along-with houseplant for the beginner Indoor Gardener.
  • Non-toxic to pets.
  • Plays well with others, either in terrariums or combination plantings.


Due to its small size, the Lemon Button Fern can easily live on a side table in a sitting area or serve as a low-height centerpiece during an intimate dinner.


  • Small containers, 6 - 8 inches
  • Small hanging baskets
  • Tree fern fiber basket
  • Terrariums

For Botanists, Scientists,
Outdoor Gardeners,
and School Reports

Nephrolepis cordifolia 'Duffii' is a cultivar its natural predecessors are from the West Indies, Florida, Central America, South America


  • spreads by underground tubers
  • spore dispersal
  • grows on rock, soil, palms
  • evergreen
  • spores look like small dots around the leaf edges

There's some disagreement on the Family, Subfamily, and even Phylum levels among sources. Here are all of them:

    KINGDOM: Plantae
    PHYLUM: Pteridophyta / Polypodiopsida
    CLASS: Filicopsida
    ORDER: Polypodiales
    FAMILY: Polypodiaceae / Nephrolepidaeae / Dryopteridaceae / Oleandraceae
    SUBFAMILY: Nepetoideae / Lomariopsidaceae
    TRIBE: Nepeteae
    GENUS: Nephrolepis
    SPECIES: cordifolia
    CULTIVAR: 'Duffii'

If you're serious about growing ferns
- or someone you know is -
a membership and subscription to the
American Fern Society

and their magazine
is just about essential.
Keep up with new varieties to grow, techniques for planting,
and how to maintain health for your ferns.
The magazine provides info for
both indoor and outdoor enthusiasts.

Indoor-Gardener.com reports information from research and does not guarantee any of the plants mentioned, for medicinal, decorative, or other uses. Neither the FDA nor any physicians have endorsed the uses of plants mentioned on the website. Use plants as food or medicinal products only at your own risk.

If you're an Indoor Gardener
who likes to "keep it in the family" -
look into the Rabbit Foot Fern

a close cousin in the
Polypodiaceae family of ferns
(at least according to some sources).

Watch the video: How To Collect Ferns For Free And Grow Them. Zero Cost Indoor Plant. Fern HuntingSmiley Plants

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