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Button Fern Care (Complete Guide)

If you’re up for a tropical vibe for your home, button ferns must be on your list. As non-flowering plants, ferns are simply popular for its leafy fronds coming in various shades of green.

Taking care of it isn’t much of a hassle too as long as you provide the right growing conditions.

An ideal growing condition for button fern requires the right amount of light, moisture, humidity, temperature, and nutrients. Additionally, they need maintenance care like pruning and management of diseases and pests. If you’re patient to put in all the work needed, you’d be rewarded with such healthy foliage.

What Does a Button Fern Look Like?

Indoor potted button fern.

Adorned with tiny round-like leaves, button fern is a small ground fern naturally found in the forest. 

It belongs to the Pteridaceae family along with other fern varieties cultivated as ornamentals.

It can be a perfect table topper in creative pots or a hanging ornament in baskets.

Button Fern Care Details

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 75OF (16 to 24OC)
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

How to Care for Button Fern?

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.

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Button Fern 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 Fern

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.

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What Temperature Range Is Ideal for Button Fern?

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

But it can also tolerate a cold temperature up to 25OF (-4OC).

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 need 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 them 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 them 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 the 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.

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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 pruning.

Common Button Fern Problems and How to Fix Them


Scale, spider mites, and mealybugs are the usual enemies of ferns. Though it isn’t much of a problem, there’s also the tendency of these insects getting out of hand.

You have to spot them at the onset of their attack to prevent them from pestering your button fern.

So, what do you do when you spot these insects hanging out? The following are simple ways to eliminate them.

Handpick the Insects

Yes, that sounds quite simple. When you see some foreign organisms present in the leaves, be quick to remove and get rid of them. 

Spray with Water

Another easy trick to remove pests is by spraying them off with water. The strong pressure you apply is enough to wipe them out.  

You can do this as often as possible until they’re completely out of sight. Just be careful not to damage the foliage.

The best time to do spraying is in the morning. This is to give enough time for the wet foliage to dry throughout the day.

Spray Neem Oil with Dishwashing Liquid or Insecticidal Soap

Adding a little dose of dishwashing liquid or insecticidal soap to neem oil can do a miracle. Sometimes, water isn’t enough to remove the pests so we need a little help.

This homemade solution is not difficult to make so you can prepare it in advance just in case. The diluted solution will poison the pests and eventually kill them.

Use A Cotton Ball Dipped in Alcohol

Alcohol is an effective germ killer. They can also be an effective insect killer.

By using a cotton ball, you’ll be able to target the exact cluster of insects to kill. Slightly rub the cotton on the surface of the leaves.

Use Organic Pesticides

If you don’t have much time making your DIY pesticide solution, there are available ready to use products online. All you need is browse, add to cart and check out.

Organic pesticides are better to use at home than synthetic ones. After all, you don’t want harmful chemicals to float in the air of your lovely home.

Button Fern Diseases

Button ferns are prone to different diseases. These diseases are also a result of various causes. They can be inflicted by a pathogen or they can be a result of malpractice or unfavorable conditions. To get to know more about these diseases here is some information we need to get familiar with:

Bacterial Blight

Is caused by Pseudomonas cichorii or P. gladioli, this pathogen creates spots on the leaves.

These spots become red to brown later. They also contain a ring that looks purple.

Leaf Spots

Inflicted by Aphelenchoides fragariae, this pathogen attacks the base of the fronds. You’ll notice small green spots appearing in the infected area which later becomes brown or black.

Pythium Root Rot

Pythium is the reason behind this disease. Plants infected by pythium would turn gray or yellow. They would also look wilted. Once you check the roots, they would appear brown and slimy, an indication that it’s rotten.

Rhizoctonia Blight

Caused by Rhizoctonia solani, a plant with this pathogen will develop irregular-shaped brown spots. This disease spreads faster leading to huge damage to the plant.

Diseases caused by pathogens have a common solution. That is to apply a fungicide to kill the culprit.

However, you can avoid these diseases by taking on preventive measures early on.

  • First, you need to make sure that you purchase a disease-free button fern.
  • Second, you need to use sterilized soil to ensure that it’s clean from pathogens.
  • Last, you have to avoid wetting your foliage when you water because it will encourage the growth of fungus.

Button Fern Leaves Curling

Button fern leaves curling primarily due to underwatering or overwatering. Also overfertilizing can be an issue for this. We’ve mentioned earlier that too much fertilizer can burn the roots. Overly moist soil encourages fungal growth which leads to root rot.

A quick fix to an overfertilized plant is to leach off the excess fertilizer with water. If you use organic fertilizer it will not cause any burn effect because it is very slow releasing.

Button Fern Dry Leaves

Drought is such a stressful condition that it leads to this problem. An indication of this issue is the graying of fronds and the remarkably fewer number of runners. 

To avoid this, make sure to provide enough water to your button fern. Remember that it loves moist soil. Leaving the soil to dry out completely before watering it again is not a good routine.

Is Button Fern Toxic to My Pets?

No, it’s not. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) listed button fern as non-toxic to both cats and dogs.

This means that your pets at home are safe just in case they ingest this fern accidentally or deliberately.

Button Fern Care Tips

  • Love your button fern as much as you love the other houseplants. We all have the tendency to pick our favorites. Understandably, button fern isn’t much of a unique plant to catch so much of your attention. That’s okay but make sure to give equal care to all your plants.
  • Humidity is one key to success. The biggest challenge when it comes to taking care of ferns indoors is the lack of humidity. If you want to make it work with button fern, you have to put in extra effort in increasing humidity at home.


Why is my button fern dying?

There are various reasons for this. Primarily, it may be due to unfavorable growing conditions. You’re probably not hitting on the right spot to lay down a good condition for your button fern. Another reason is that the plant may have been diseased and has rotten roots.

Why is my button fern turning brown?

Overwatering or underwatering can be the cause. Other factors include too much light, low humidity, presence of pests, infection from a disease, or overfertilization.

How big can button ferns get?

Button ferns are called buttons for a reason. Unlike other fern varieties, it can grow only up to 12 to 18 inches in height.

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