No home is complete without a gorgeous polka dot plant adorning a desk or window sill! Loved by green-fingered collectors for their fun and vibrant foliage, they’re an excellent plant to add to your collection.
They need quite a bit of care to thrive, however, so in this guide, our gardening pros reveal their top tricks and tips.
What Is a Polka Dot Plant?
Hypoestes phyllostachya, commonly known as the polka dot plant, is a tropical houseplant native to Madagascar. This spotted leaf plant is well-loved by collectors and indoor gardeners due to its colorful foliage and bushy shape. Each leaf has dots and splashes of variegation ranging in color from white to pink, red and purple, which is where the ‘polka dot’ nickname comes from.
The polka dot plant has a bushy, compact shape and rarely grows to a height of more than 12 inches (30 cm). The leaves of this spotted houseplant are oval-shaped, around 2 inches long, and deeply variegated. Depending on the cultivar and how much light the plant gets, the variegation can take the shape of small, confetti-like dots, or large, colorful splashes, with only a touch of green.
Polka dot plant flowers are small and not too showy, but they add to the plant’s charm. Flowering usually takes place in autumn, and it signals the beginning of the dormancy period. Some gardeners prefer to prune the flowers to make the plant grow for longer.
There are more than 100 varieties of polka dot plants to choose from. Some cultivars, such as Red Splash, Pink Brocade, or White Splash, have large splashes of variegation, while cultivars such as Confetti have smaller, colorful dots. The leaf color also dictates the color of the blooms. Plants with white variegation will have white flowers, while a pink polka dot plant will have pink or purple blooms.
Is Polka Dot Plant Toxic?
No. The polka dot plant is not toxic to cats and dogs, making it a perfect addition to a pet-friendly home.
Polka Dot Plant Care Guide
The polka dot plant is incredibly common in the houseplant trade, and you can find it virtually everywhere. It’s also very showy, so buying one can be very tempting. However, this plant is by no means low-maintenance and requires constant attention.
Not only that, but it is a short-lived plant and will complete its life cycle in about a year. But with the right growing guide, you can enjoy its colorful foliage for longer.
Let’s take a closer look at how to care for the polka dot plant.
– Light Requirements
The polka dot plant grows best in bright indirect light. Although it can tolerate low light conditions, it will gradually lose its vibrant colors and start becoming leggy. On the other hand, too much light will scorch the delicate leaves and dry out the soil too quickly.
We recommend keeping the polka dot plant on a windowsill, preferably in a room with eastern or northeastern exposure. A couple of hours of direct sunlight in the morning will maintain its confetti-like variegation while keeping it perky. Avoid exposing it to full sun any time after noon to prevent it from wilting.
– Temperature Requirements
The polka dot plant is a tropical plant that prefers warm temperatures, ranging from 70 to 80 F (21 to 27 C). If you plan to grow the polka dot plant outdoors, you can do so in USDA zones 10 and 11. However, keep in mind that the plant will rarely grow for more than a year, and most gardeners prefer to dig it out and replace it with new plants in spring.
When growing the polka dot plant indoors, make sure it’s not exposed to any sudden drafts or changes in temperature. Hot drafts are particularly dangerous, such as the ones coming from heating vents or radiators. If you notice that the leaves are starting to curl up and feel a bit crinkled, it could indicate that a hot draft is drying out the plant.
– Humidity Requirements
Aim for a humidity level of at least 50 percent when growing the polka dot plant indoors. You can increase the humidity around the plant by placing it on top of a pebble tray or next to a humidifier. Misting also works, although it’s not as effective as using a pebble tray. We also have a little gardening secret to share: the polka dot plant will tolerate growing in a dry room if the soil is kept adequately moist.
– Water Requirements
Never let your polka dot plant go thirsty. It has a low resistance to drought, and skipping a single day in your watering routine can result in dramatic wilting. Luckily, the plant will perk back up after it’s been watered. However, if you forget to water it regularly, this will result in stress and leggy growth.
During the hotter months, you will need to water your polka dot plant as often as twice a week, sometimes even more. A plant growing next to the window or in a dry room will need more water than one growing in a terrarium, for example.
Our recommendation is to always check the top of the soil with your finger and make sure that it is constantly moist. Always use the soak-and-drain method for watering this very thirsty plant.
– Soil Requirements
The soil used for potting the polka dot plant should be nutrient-rich, well-draining, moisture-retentive, and aerated. Soil also plays an essential role in helping you find the balance between keeping this plant well-watered and making sure it doesn’t have wet feet.
Making your own soil mix for the polka dot plant is surprisingly easy. The blend we usually go for is two parts universal potting mix and one part perlite or pumice. This ensures that the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly and that the roots aren’t constantly sitting in water.
– Fertilizer Requirements
The polka dot plant enjoys a nutrient boost once a month, throughout spring and summer. We recommend using a balanced, liquid fertilizer with a nutrient ratio of 10-10-10. This will sustain its rapid growth and will even result in flowering.
– Keeping a Polka Dot Plant Bushy
To keep your polka dot plant’s bushy shape, we recommend pruning the stem tips regularly. Use a sharp, sterilized blade and cut the tip below the leaf nodes. After a couple of weeks, you will notice that two new stems will start growing from the cut tip.
Not only that, but the leaves on the main stem will develop axillary buds, which also grow into stems. Wait until each new stem has three pairs of leaves, then prune the tips again. Repeat this process as often as needed.
If your polka dot plant has grown very leggy, with long stems and big gaps between the leaves, it’s worth giving it a more drastic ‘haircut’. We recommend doing this in late autumn, just before the plant enters its dormancy period.
Cut as much of the stems as you can, leaving only 2 inches (5 cm) above the soil surface. Make sure the stems have a few leaves attached to allow the plant to perform photosynthesis. The plant will grow new, bushy stems in spring.
– Repotting Polka Dot Plant
The polka dot plant has a very fast growth rate and will need to be repotted at least once a year. Often, you will have to repot it soon after buying it, given the fact that most nursery plants are pot-bound.
Give the plant a couple of weeks to acclimatize to its new home, then gently lift it from the nursery pot and inspect the roots. If they are growing in a compact mass or starting to come out of the drainage holes, repot the plant to a container that’s one size larger.
Polka Dot Plant Propagation Guide
The easiest way to propagate the polka dot plant is through stem cuttings. Given the fact that it needs regular pruning, you’ll have a constant supply of cuttings throughout the year. The best time to propagate this plant is in spring and summer when it is actively growing.
To propagate your polka dot plant, use a sharp, sterilized pair of scissors and cut several stems. Trim some of the leaves at the bottom until you’re left with a bare stem that’s about 2 inches (5 cm) long. Place the cuttings in a shallow container with water, and keep them in a room with bright indirect light. The stems will develop roots in no time and should be ready to transplant into the soil after about three weeks.
Common Pests and Problems
This delicate plant can attract an entire host of pests and problems, especially if it’s not provided with the right growing conditions. Here are the main signs that your polka dot plant is struggling.
– Soft, Drooping Leaves
A classic sign that your polka dot plant is thirsty. Keep the soil moist but not soaked, and avoid letting the plant dry out completely.
– Curled, Crispy Leaves
This indicates that the air in the room is too dry or that the plant is getting too much sun. Keep your polka dot plant on top of a pebble tray, and make sure it doesn’t receive direct sunlight after the early hours of the morning.
– Yellowing Leaves
This could be a sign of overwatering. If you notice that the yellow leaves are starting to turn soft and brown, it could even indicate root rot. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots. Trim off any roots that are soft and black, then repot the plant in a well-draining soil mix.
– Leggy Growth
Your polka dot is not getting enough sunlight. Move it to a brighter part of your home, but avoid direct sun exposure for long periods.
The polka dot plant can be susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs, fungus gnats, and thrips. Plants grown outdoors can also attract aphids and the blackfly.
Grown for its spotted, colorful leaves, the polka dot plant is extremely popular among houseplant collectors. Successfully growing your own can be a challenge, but with this guide, you have all the tips you need for success.
Let’s go over the basics:
- It is a very fast grower and needs regular pruning to maintain its bushy shape.
- This plant is very sensitive to drought, so make sure that the soil is always kept moist.
- You can easily propagate the polka dot plant through stem cuttings.
- The polka dot plant is short-lived, but if you remember to prune it regularly, keep it well-watered and provide it with bright indirect light, you can enjoy it for more than a year.
So if you’re looking to add a gorgeous, vivid mini shrub to your home, a polka dot plant is a top choice!
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