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Ground Cover

Miniature Brass Buttons Plant: Planting Leptinella Tips


9 min read

The fern-like New Zealand brass buttons plant is a great alternative to your lawn, but you might be concerned about how to grow it successfully.

Brass buttons are feathery-looking black and green plants that are easy to plant and easy to maintain. Botanically known as Leptinella gruveri, these plants are native to New Zealand, South America and the Falkland Islands.

They can be found in open, damp places, forming a dense mat of foliage, making them perfect as a ground cover plant. The name of this creeping herbaceous perennial comes from its cluster of flowers that give it its button-like appearance.

Brass button plants in your lawn can add aesthetic appeal to your landscape. The best part? They require little maintenance and grow fast!

Quick Care Guide

Common NameBrass button plant
Scientific NameLeptinella spp.
FamilyAsteraceae
Height and Spread1/2″ to 2″ tall, 12″ wide
LightPartial shade to full sun
WaterEven, regular watering
SoilTolerates most soil conditions
FertilizerHalf-strength, all-purpose fertilizer once or twice per year
Pests and DiseasesNone

All About Brass Button Plants

Leptinella species, commonly known as the brass buttons plant is a plant in the family Asteraceae. It’s native to New Zealand and parts of Australia where it grows in moist, shady areas. The plant is an excellent lawn alternative, with a short stature and ability to tolerate foot-traffic.

Most cultivars of this plant have small, fern-like leaves and grow no more than a couple of inches tall. They’re often planted in between pavers and stone walkways, and are used as ground cover in garden areas all over the world.

Brass buttons has small yellow or greenish flowers that bloom from early summer through mid summer. In extreme heat or cold, the plant may die due to their shallow root system. In New Zealand brass buttons love semi-riparian or alpine settings.

Types of Miniature Brass Buttons

There are a few different varieties of Leptinella plants to consider when planting out your ground cover landscape.

Platt’s Black Brass Button

Leptinella Platt's Black Baby Tears
Black foliage with yellow white flowers. Source: D.Eickhoff

This variety of Leptinella gruveri is a perfect option for planting along the edges of the pathways or between flagstones. They’ve got feathery, bronze or black foliage.

This cultivar of New Zealand brass buttons produces miniature green flowers during the summer season. They grow perfectly in a soil that doesn’t dry out completely and when watered well, can spread out and form a dense mat.

Leptinella squalida

Leptinella Squalida
Dense, light-green matted foliage. Source: Mollivan Jon

Forming a mass of tiny fern-like leaves, pressed tightly against each other, Leptinella squalida is a variety of brass button with a greenish bronze look. Leptinella squalida can grow up to 2″ (5cm) tall and has evergreen foliage.

You can use this Leptinella squalida to form a turf-like carpet. It can spread up to 8″ and can be grown in most types of soil. Leptinella squalida produces yellow and green flowers in June and July. It’s also quite easy to find Leptinella squalida in plant nurseries.

Leptinella gruveri

Leptinella Gruveri
Classic darker green foliage. Source: MeganEHansen

If you’re looking for a filler to cover up gaps between flagstones in moist and shady areas, this is one of the best perennials to consider. It forms evergreen foliage that quickly fills gaps and helps keep the weeds at bay.

You can use it as a lawn substitute for smaller areas. Its green flowers that bloom during early and mid-summer are gorgeous but also blend in to the landscape. Be it a container, rock garden or small lawn, New Zealand brass buttons, Leptinella gruveri can make any place it’s planted in look great.

Leptinella minor

Leptinella minor
White flowers, whispy foliage. Source: Mollivan Jon

This variety has tiny, feather-like, evergreen foliage with a deep green and bronze tinge. Leptinella minor is a kind of brass buttons that’s easy to grow in all sorts of soil. You’ve to keep watering it regularly to avoid the soil from drying out.

You can easily propagate it by dividing the clump and slicing them into small pieces in spring or early fall. It works very well as a ground cover for alpine trough gardens or forming a moss-like carpet in containers.

Caring for Leptinella Plants

New Zealand brass buttons plants are extremely low-maintenance.  Being the perfect filler for pathways and narrow corridors, all you need to do is water them regularly and mow them regularly to avoid overgrowth.

Here’s a quick rundown on how to take care of this evergreen herbaceous groundcover.

Light and Temperature

Brass buttons is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9. It needs a decent amount of sunlight. If you live in cooler climates, a preferable location would be somewhere that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. However, in hotter climates, brass buttons tend to grow better in partial shade.

In drought and intense heat, brass buttons may die back. The same goes for extreme cold, or general winters in cooler climates. Keeping the soil adequately moist should assist with keeping the plant alive in either condition, and it may remain evergreen in good conditions.

Water and Humidity

You’ll have to water your brass buttons frequently. They’re intolerant to drought and depend on regular watering for survival. They’re shallow-rooted plants, so any period of dry soil is enough to kill them. Keep the soil moist, and increase watering in hot summers that may include drought.

Soil

These plants are tolerant almost any kind of soil. However, the most critical requirement for its growth is to have well-draining soil. They prefer slightly acidic soil that’s rich in organic matter, but remain adaptable to other soil types including alkaline and neutral pH soil.

It may not grow as well in compacted, heavy clay soil. You’ll need to amend the soil before planting brass buttons again.

Fertilizer

Once your plant is well-established, only then you should fertilize it. Use a half-strength, all-purpose fertilizer once or twice per year. You can fertilize the plant in early spring and then in early summer. Don’t worry about fall or winter fertilizing, as the growth rate slows down during those seasons.

Repotting the Brass Buttons Plant

Repotting is easy, as they’re hardy to intensive handling. You can move them from container to container in early spring without a problem, as well as dig them up from certain areas of your yard and transplant them in others. They should spread quickly.

Brass Buttons Plant Propagation

Once established, these plants are crazy growers and can spread quite fast. You may want to propagate it by division, splitting up the bunches and sowing them in different locations in your yard. The best season to propagate brass buttons is spring or early fall. Make sure to space the plants 9-12” apart when sowing.

Pruning the Brass Buttons Plant

To prevent overgrowth, thin 2-3 times per year. You can use a lawn mower for larger surfaces and pruning shears for smaller containers.

Troubleshooting

If you’re addressing their water needs and fertilizing them well, you shouldn’t have too many problems with this plant. However, there are a few things you need to watch out for.

Growing Problems

Climate can affect plant growth. If you are living in a place that is dry, you’ll need to water brass buttons quite frequently to keep them in their original condition. Similarly, for light soils, regular watering is a must. Also, they have a tendency to spread indefinitely. You have to remain vigilant in pruning them to keep them from overtaking your garden.

Pests and Diseases

Brass buttons are generally pest-free. You’re unlikely to face any problems related to pest or diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is New Zealand brass button a fern?

A: No, it has a fern-like appearance, but it’s not actually a fern.

Q: Can I grow brass buttons in a container and put in my room?

A: Yes! You can grow in a container as long as you place in an area of your house that gets bright, indirect light.

Q: How often do I need to fertilize?

A: Twice per year. Once in early spring and then in early summer using a half-strength, all-purpose fertilizer is sufficient for healthy growth

Q: It snows too much where I live. Is it okay to grow brass buttons in my lawn?

A: If you’re able to protect the leaves from snow, they’ll turn brown but will stay in place. Exposure to cold will cause the leaves to die and fall. New growth will come out in spring.

Q: Are brass buttons invasive?

A: Certain species of plants with the common name ‘brass buttons’ are invasive in parts of North America. However, Leptinella gruveri is not. It can be aggressive, though so prune and divide it regularly.

Q: How tall does brass buttons grow?

A: They don’t get larger than 2 inches tall.

Q: How fast does brass buttons spread?

A: It spreads quickly, taking up around 12 inches in one year in optimal conditions.

Q: Are brass buttons perennial?

A: In their hardiness zones of 7 through 9, they are perennial evergreens.

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