The beauty of the polka dot plant lies in its variegated leaves that are sure to catch anyone’s attention. They are not particularly difficult to care for, which is why they are good choices for intermediate gardeners who have a good grasp of the basics. However, because of their preference for warmer temperatures, they are usually grown as annuals in colder regions.
Polka dot plants come in many varieties. The most common one has pink leaves with green spots (or, polka dots) on them. However, there are varieties that display even deeper contrasts featuring brighter colors which makes them perfect for aesthetic decorations.
Growing The Polka Dot Plant
The best attribute of the polka dot plant is its appearance. If you live in a warmer area, then taking care of them becomes even easier. As they are perfect for being grown in containers, they are among the best options for adding plant life to the indoors.
Here are some quick details about this vibrant, leafy plant:
- Latin name: Hypoestes phyllostachya
- Other names: Flamingo plant, freckle face, measles plant, baby’s tears.
- Native to: Madagascar, South Africa, South East Asia
- Invasiveness: Very invasive in parts of Australia. Not at all in the U.S.
- Tenderness: Perennial Herbaceous
- Sun: Partial Sun
- Water: Always keep the soil moderately moist. But avoid making the soil soggy.
- Soil: Well-drained, always moist.
- Hardiness zone: Zones 10 and 11
- When to plant: Spring, after the threat of frost has passed.
- Spacing: 10” for specimens in the soil. 5” to 6” for container-grown specimens.
- Plant height: 1 to 2 feet.
- Bloom period: Summer/Early Fall
- Time to maturity: About 2 weeks.
- Container friendly: Can be grown in pots, indoors and outdoors.
- Fertilizer: 20-20-20
- Toxicity: Non-toxic
- Deer resistant: Yes.
- Pest resistant: The colorful leaves may attract a few pests.
The most critical points for caring for the polka dot plant are humidity and temperature. They like being toasty because of their tropical origin. They are also quite heavy feeders and need regular fertilizing. Additionally, they like being in moist soil all the time, so they need a pretty watchful eye.
The Polka Dot plant grows pretty quickly and is very adaptable to changes. However, because of their lifespan of about 1 year, some gardeners tend to grow them as annuals. Their variety of colors makes them suitable for any room in any house. They are also quite short in height, so they can be used to cover up the ground outdoors.
During summer, the polka dot plants sporadically bloom small pink or lilac flowers on spikes. These are not very attractive and are usually removed to help with the plant’s growth. Their colors are the most vibrant during summer.
Additional Resource: How To Prune A Polka Dot Plant
During summer, make sure the soil is always moist. Do not let the soil dry out entirely since this will result in wilting foliage. However, avoid overwatering since soggy soil can result in root rot. During winter, reduce watering slightly, but you can resume the regular schedule in spring when new growth sprouts.
The polka dot plants prefer places that have some shade outdoors. It is very important to keep the light in the preferred range because too little or too much can cause faded leaves. For indoor specimens, the best option is indirect and bright light, preferably from the south or east-facing windows.
The polka dot plants like soil rich in organics and feature nice drainage. You can try mixing a bit of perlite or pumice to make the soil drain even better. An organic potting mixture is usually good enough for most varieties of the polka dot plant.
The polka dot plants are considerably heavy eaters. Give them monthly doses of houseplant-specific organic fertilizers during summer and spring. For in-ground plants, add a compost layer to the soil every spring. Be careful of brown, crispy leaf tips as that is a good sign there is too much fertilizer.
The polka dot plants are considered to be completely safe in most parts of the world. However, in New South Wales and Queensland in Australia, the polka dot plant is classified as a weed. The plant can become invasive if they are planted outdoors in the ground in warm climates.
Growing The Polka Dot Plant in containers
The polka dot plants are very container-friendly. In fact, some gardeners believe they are best kept in containers and indoors, where they can easily stand out. Container plants require a greater amount of watering, however, so keep that in mind.
Even though the polka dot plant is generally small, it can grow quite a bit if planted in a large container. They also prefer humid conditions. So for indoor container specimens, maintain a humidity level above 50%.
Care & tips
Polka dot plants can appear to be dead once their flowers bloom. As such, make sure to be on the lookout and clip off the flowers as soon as they appear. This will ensure the plant remains vibrant for a lot longer than its usual 1 year period.
It can also tend to become quite leggy and grow long branches. To avoid that, regular trimming is a must. You can pinch back or cut the top 2 leaves on every stem every week to make the polka dot plant grow bushier. It also helps in keeping the plant healthy.
However, for wintry areas, make sure to bring the plant indoors since the polka dot plant cannot endure the frost at all. When spring comes and the threat of frost is gone, the plant can be replaced outside.
The polka dot plant’s vibrant leaves can attract pests like whiteflies, aphids, and mealybugs. They can also suffer from diseases such as powdery mildew and root rot. A common indicator of an ill plant is the discoloration of the leaves.
If the leaves are curling up, then it might be because of too much sun. So move it to a shadier spot. Too little humidity or water can make the leaves turn brown while overwatering can make the leaves become yellow.
Propagating The Polka Dot Plant
The polka dot plant can be propagated using stem cuttings or seeds. For stem cuttings, cut off a bit of the stem from anywhere on the plant that is at least 4 inches in length. Then place it in a jar filled with water. Maintain the water level and keep adding to it when it evaporates. Replace the water each week to avoid algae or bacterial growth. When the root becomes about 2 inches in length, the polka dot plant can be replanted in a well-prepared pot.
The stem cutting can also be rooted in soil. In that case, after planting it, keep the soil evenly moist. Finally, cover the stem cuttings with clear plastic wrap. Keep it like that until the cutting develops leaves. The process can take anywhere between a few weeks to a few months.
Uses for The Polka Dot Plant
Polka dot plants are entirely aesthetic and ornamental plants. But their beauty can act as stress reducers as well as help with air filtration.
The plants are completely harmless to humans and pets.
There are more than 150 types of polka dot plants. Each of them has a unique color combination that can give a different kind of vibe to your decorations! So if you are looking for an easy-to-care-for plant that adds to the décor all year round, the polka dot plant is a good choice.