Lemon button fern care

The Ultimate Guide to Lemon Button Fern Care (Nephrolepis Cordifolia ‘Duffii’)

Lemon button fern care is easy once you know a few basics. And this fern makes a great houseplant for any plant enthusiast due to it’s cute, compact form.

The lemon button fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’) is a dwarf cultivar of Nephrolepis cordifolia, a relative of the popular Boston fern.

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ has common names of “Lemon Button Fern” or “Lemon Buttons”, which describe its small, round, button-like leaves and the lemon scent given off when the leaves are crushed (although admittedly I’ve never smelled a lemon scent from mine).

Read on to learn how to care for a lemon button fern as well as propagation methods!

This article may contain affiliate links to products I know and love. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

PS: Love my pot in the picture above? Me too! You can buy the pot here (there’s also different colors!)

How to care for Lemon Button Ferns

Lemon button fern care is fairly easy once you know the basic care requirements. Luckily, the lemon button fern is a forgiving houseplant that can tolerate a range of conditions.

For Lemon Button Fern care, the 3 most important factors are the following:

  1. Provide moderate to bright indirect light. Light is like food to plants and also enables their roots to take in and process water more efficiently (reducing the risk of root rot). You can provide your lemon button fern the best indoor lighting environment by placing it in front of an east- or west-facing window. A few hours of direct sunlight won’t harm your plant, but avoid prolonged/all-day direct sunlight.

  2. Water your Lemon Buttons thoroughly once the top couple inches of soil has dried from the previous watering. Lemon button ferns can be forgiving about different watering regimes. Ideally, keep the soil moist but not soggy. However, the soil can dry out a bit between watering and the fern will still thrive. I personally like to water once my moisture meter reads 3. Or, you can stick your finger a couple inches into the soil to feel if it’s dry.

  3. Plant your Lemon Button Fern in a well-draining pot and potting mix. I make my own potting mix of equal parts coco coir, pumice (or perlite), and worm castings. Coco coir retains moisture, pumice/perlite improves drainage and airflow around the roots, and worm castings provide nutrients. Also, use a pot that has multiple drainage holes, as this again helps with drainage and airflow around the roots (helping to prevent root rot).

Following these 3 fundamental care requirements together will prevent most common problems that new plant owners face.

Now, let’s walk through each of these factors in more detail and discuss other less important but still helpful care tips and advice for your Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’).


How Much Light Does a Lemon Button Fern Need?
What Soil is Best for a Lemon Button Fern?
How Do You Repot a Lemon Button Fern? (with Pictures)
How Often Should I Water My Lemon Button Fern?
What Temperatures Can Lemon Button Ferns Tolerate?
What Kind of Fertilizer Do You Use for Lemon Button Ferns?
How Do You Propagate Lemon Button Ferns?
Is Lemon Button Fern Toxic to Cats or Dogs?
Why is My Lemon Button Fern Turning Brown?

How much light does a Lemon Button Fern need?

The ideal lighting conditions for lemon buttons is moderate to bright indirect light.

The main thing I would try to avoid is prolonged/all-day direct sunlight. This could burn your lemon button fern. However, an hour or two of direct sunlight won’t hurt.

As stated previously, light is like food to plants. It’s needed to help the entire system of the plant function properly and efficiently, which keeps your plant healthy and helps prevent root rot and disease.

I’ve grown lemon button ferns in front of both east- and west-facing windows, which provide bright indirect light, and they have done great. My ferns received a couple hours of direct light in these locations and it didn’t cause any problems.

A north-facing window, which would provide moderate indirect light, would also be ok for a lemon button fern.

These ferns can also thrive outdoors.

If your lemon buttons is outdoors, just make sure it’s in a shady location that receives 3 hours or less of direct sunlight.

And bring your lemon button fern indoors if you have a cold winter, as it cannot survive frost.

How big does a Lemon Button Fern get?

Lemon button ferns are a smaller type of fern. They generally grow to a height of only 12 inches.

Their small size makes them great for areas with limited space or terrariums.

Multiple lemon button ferns can also be grouped into a larger pot for a beautiful, full appearance without the worry of the ferns growing too tall and large.

What soil is best for a Lemon Button Fern?

The best soil for a lemon button fern is one that can retain some moisture but still drains excess water away.

I like to make the following soilless mix for my lemon button ferns:

1 Part Coco Coir or Peat Moss (to retain moisture)
1 Part Pumice or Perlite (to improve drainage and airflow)
1 Part Worm Castings (to add nutrients)

This potting mix provides a great combination of moisture retention, drainage, and nutrients.

If you prefer to buy a high-quality fern mix that’s ready to use, I recommend this fern potting mix.

It’s also important that you plant your fern in a pot with plenty of drainage holes. This really helps with preventing excess water buildup in your pot and keeping the roots healthy. It also helps provide airflow to the roots.

I like to use these types of plastic pots for my plants, and then I put them in a cute cover pot like this (see pictures in the next section on repotting).

How do you repot a Lemon Button Fern?

The roots of lemon button ferns can be pretty shallow, and this fern doesn’t grow super fast.

So, you will need to repot only every 2-3 years.

Once you see your fern’s roots filling it’s current container, it’s time to repot (shown below).

Lemon button fern roots
Lemon button ferns have fine roots. You can see above that the roots have filled it’s current container, so it’s time to repot.

Materials needed to repot a lemon button fern:

Lemon button fern soil recipe and repotting materials

To repot your lemon button fern, I recommend making a potting mix consisting of 1 part coco coir (can substitute with peat moss), 1 part pumice (can substitute with perlite), and 1 part worm castings.

After combining those 3 ingredients, you’ll have the potting mix show below on the left. Then, fill the bottom of your container with this mix and make sure your fern will sit at the same level that it does in its current pot (bottom right photo). If you bury the fern too deep, the center of the plant could rot.

Note: If you don’t want to mix your own potting medium, then I recommend this ready-to-use fern potting mix.

I also like to plant my houseplants in these clear plastic pots because they have lots of drainage holes (to prevent root rot and increase airflow around roots) and because I can see how the roots are doing without removing the plant.

Next, remove your lemon button fern from it’s current container and place it in the center of the new pot. Then, fill in the sides and empty spaces with your potting mix (lower left photo). You can then water the fern and allow the excess water to completely drain from the drainage holes.

Finally, place the plastic pot in a nice looking cover pot (lower right photo). This 6.1 inch cover pot fits these clear 6-inch plastic pots perfectly.

The reason I don’t pot directly into decorative pots is because they rarely have enough drainage holes, so it’s very easy to overwater your plant without realizing it. A two-pot system like I’ve described above gives you much more control over watering and observing the health of your plant’s roots.

How often should I water my Lemon Button Fern?

Lemon button ferns ideally like their soil to be slightly moist but not soggy.

However, lemon buttons can also tolerate their soil drying out a bit more than other ferns. In fact, I know some people who wait for the soil to dry out completely before watering again, and their lemon button ferns are very healthy.

So, this means the lemon button fern can be quite forgiving and can tolerate a variety of watering regimes.

If you have a moisture meter, water once the meter reads 3. Or, you can stick your finger into the soil a couple inches to feel if it’s dry. If so, it’s time to water.

What temperatures can Lemon Button Ferns tolerate?

Lemon button ferns do best in temperatures from 60 to 80°F or 15 to 27°C. So, normal indoor home temperatures are just fine for this fern.

If you are growing your lemon buttons outside in a shady location, consider bringing it inside if the temperature drops below 50°F or 10°C.

What kind of fertilizer do you use for Lemon Button Ferns?

Lemon button ferns are slow growers, so they don’t need much fertilizer. You can fertilize your plant about once per month during the growing season (April to September) with dyna-gro 9-3-6 fertilizer diluted to half or quarter strength.

Or, you can use an organic fertilizer like worm castings or fish emulsion.

Fertilizer is not needed during winter.

Also, don’t feel the need to fertilize your lemon button fern right after you buy it. The nursery has probably already done this, so give it several months to adjust to it’s new environment.

How do you propagate Lemon Button Ferns?

You can propagate your lemon button fern a couple different ways.

The first propagation method for lemon button ferns is to separate baby ferns that sprout from the rhizomes or “runners” from the parent plant.

The rhizome grows from the parent plant horizontally and lies either on the soil surface or just below the surface. (See image below)

Parts of a fern. Pinna, frond, fiddlehead, rachis, rhizome, blade, stipe, and root.
Parts of a fern. While this is an image of a generic fern, the parts are still applicable to the lemon button fern.

Baby lemon button ferns will sprout from the rhizome and can be separated and potted for propagation.

The second method of propagation for lemon button ferns is root division. This is best for a large plant that you’d like to divide in half. Simply remove your lemon button fern from its pot and gently pull apart the root ball to divide the plant in half.

Then, you can plant the two ferns in their own pot.

Is Lemon Button Fern toxic to cats or dogs?

No, lemon button ferns are not toxic or poisonous to cats or dogs according to the ASPCA.

Why is my Lemon Button Fern turning brown?

Your lemon button fern could be turning brown for a few different reasons.

  1. First, know that it is normal for some fronds to turn brown. Don’t be too concerned if a few fronds turn brown or die, especially if they’re near the base of the plant. This is just part of nature. As long as the majority of the plant is healthy, you can just snip away the dead fronds and continue enjoying your plant.

    I LOVE these pruning shears for trimming away dead fronds on my lemon buttons. The fronds are very thin and delicate, so the microtip of these shears makes it easy to cut only the frond I want and not accidently cut a healthy one.

    Now, if more than just a few fronds are turning brown and you think there’s an actual problem, then consider the following potential issues:

  2. Underwatering: If the leaves are turning brown and crispy and the soil has been very dry, your lemon button fern probably needs more water. Give it a good soak and try not to let it dry out as much in the future. You can also prune away any dead parts.

  3. Overwatering: If entire fronds on your lemon button fern are dying and the soil is very wet and heavy, it is likely being overwatered. First, make sure your fern is getting enough light and is planted in a well-draining soil (as previously discussed in this article). Then, only water your fern once the top few inches of soil is dry.

  4. Too much direct sunlight: If your lemon button fern is receiving direct sunlight all day, the fronds might be burning. Move your fern to a location with moderate to bright indirect light indoors (in front of a window) or a shady location outdoors (receiving 3 hours or less of direct sunlight).

The Ultimate Guide to Lemon Button Fern Care (Nephrolepis Cordifolia ‘Duffii’)

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