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How To Care For a Polka Dot Plant

By Staff Writer
Share to PinterestHow To Care For a Polka Dot Plant

Polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya) go by many names, and you may know them by one of these alternative monikers. Freckle face plant, measles plant, baby's tears plant, and the pink dot plant all refer to a plant with oval leaves and variegated terrazzo-like splotches ranging from hot or pale pink to lush green and creamy white. Even the stems can be colorful!

The different cultivars are from hot and humid Madagascar, South Africa, or Southeast Asia. They're low-maintenance, grow low, and are best employed as houseplants, although they do add a little something something to patio containers and flower beds.


Bringing your polka dot plant home

Share to Pinterestwoman choosing a polka dot plant from the garden center

You'll need to be mindful of your region's climate when purchasing polka dot plants. These cuties aren't going to make it outside during a Northeast winter, but you can overwinter them indoors in places like the Midwest.

If you live in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, your polka dot plants should survive the winter outdoors in one piece. Look for healthy young specimens without yellowing leaves, drooping stems, light brown spots, and blisters on the foliage.


Planting your polka dot plant

Share to Pinterestsmall polka dot plant in a cute pig planter

The polka dot plant requires rich, well-draining soil. Your planter should have multiple drainage holes, so see to that before you get your hands dirty. Purchase an organic potting medium with peat moss and fill your pot halfway.

Once the moist soil is in and you've created an indentation, you can insert a mature polka dot plant, covering just the roots.


A healthy start: sunlight requirements for polka dot plants

Share to Pinterestpotted polka dot plants in a sunny window

Too little light and your plant will get leggy, but direct sun is also a no-no, or your polka dot plant will feel enervated and look washed out. Shady conditions with filtered sun are optimal, so placing your pots two feet away from eastern or southern-facing windows should fit the bill.

Your plant will also get leggy as it ages, so don't be alarmed if this occurs in ideal lighting conditions. You can also grow these plants with artificial light.


A healthy start: watering

Share to Pinterestclose up of pink-spotted polka dot plant leaves

Hydrate your polka dot plant generously during active growth but allow the top 25% of the soil to dry in between waterings to prevent root rot, which can kill the plant. The goal is a moist but not soggy environment.

Your plant will give you clues when it's thirsty—it will go limp, and a solid drink of water should make it perk right back up.


A healthy start: humidity levels

Share to Pinterestvarious indoor plants grouped together

Polka dot plants prefer warm, steamy conditions. You can mimic their tropical origins by misting your plant a few times a day or using a humidifier. Grouping plants is also a good idea as transpiration can humidify the environment.

Your polka dot plant should thrive if you can maintain an indoor temperature of seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit.


A healthy start: special nutrients

Share to Pinterestpolka dot plant

You can fertilize monthly, but don't start supplementing with nutrients until your plant has settled. Wait at least a month after you plant your specimen before diluting a balanced organic liquid fertilizer suitable for indoor plants according to package instructions and applying it to the soil.

Polka dot plants are heavy feeders, and this should provide a nice boost of nourishment, especially during the growing period.


Healthy growth: pruning your polka dot plant

Share to Pinterestpolka dot plants planted outside in a garden

Your average polka dot plant won't grow much taller than 12 inches. To get the most out of your specimen and keep it looking robust, you'll want to prune or pinch off the purple flowers as soon as they appear, or the plant will go dormant shortly after the blooms emerge.

Pruning the foliage can make your plant look healthier and fuller, but be sure to use sterilized shears.


Healthy growth: repotting your polka dot plant

Share to Pinterestclose up of root bound polka dot plant being repotted

If you notice your polka dot plant's roots growing out of the pot's drainage holes, your plant is rootbound and has essentially outgrown its planter. It needs more room to be comfortable and grow to its full potential, and you can make its home a little more spacious by repotting in the spring.

Procure a pot that's just one size up—or two inches wider and two inches deeper—than the current pot, and proceed with transplanting.


Can I propagate my polka dot plant?

Share to Pinterestsmall seedlings of polka dot plant

You can propagate your polka dot plant using seeds sown in spring or via stem cuttings rooted in water or soil. Use a sterilized pair of scissors to snip off a two- to four-inch piece. Place it in water until a two-inch root has developed. This could take a few months, so switch out your water every second week.

You'll need a rooting hormone if you're using soil instead of water; you'll know you have roots when a gentle pull meets resistance. It's best to plant the cuttings during the warmer months.


Common diseases

Share to Pinterestclose up of powdery mildew on a plant leaf

Polka dot plants can succumb to powdery mildew, rust, southern blight, and root rot. These issues are usually down to overwatering. Yellowing leaves often indicate that you should reduce the amount of water you're giving your plant or improve the growing medium's drainage capabilities.

You can try treating these problems by removing the yellow leaves and dodgy roots and applying a fungicide to the other roots before repotting the plant in better conditions.


Common pests

Share to Pinterestclose up of aphids on the underside of a houseplant leaf

You may struggle with aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, thrips, and white flies. A moving aphid will catch your eye, or you'll notice a whitish mealybug underneath the foliage and mistake it for mold.

These pests suck the sap out of plants. Quarantine your polka dot so the pests don't spread to your other plant babies. Apply a mix of mild dishwashing soap with water, or use a neem oil solution spray weekly for a month.


Displaying your polka dot plant

Share to Pinterestbeautiful pink-spotted polka dot plant

Polka dot plants play well with others. You can pop them in a container with coleus or pair them with ferns in a terrarium. They look fantastic in window boxes and complement impatiens and caladiums in flower beds, in the right climates.

Polka dot plants have a stylish but understated beauty that will brighten up your interiors with naturally vibrant hues.


Similar plants

Share to Pinterestpolka dot begonia in a pot on a shelf

You could opt for calathea ornata, AKA the pinstripe plant. It's a beginner-friendly plant with pleasant hints of pink, albeit in stripes rather than dots. The pinstripe plant is often confused with the polka dot plant's pink brocade cultivar.

The polka dot begonia (begonia maculata) could be the polka dot plant's twin, but it has elongated leaves and a purple underside.


Cautions and additional information

Share to Pinterestclose up of polka dot plants

Polka dot plants are deer-resistant and non-invasive. They're non-toxic and shouldn't pose a significant risk to pets and kids, but we recommend keeping them out of the way of paws and little hands because they can cause digestive issues if ingested as well as burning and irritation in the mouth.


Varieties of polka dot plant

Share to Pinterestdifferent types of polka dot plants

You'll notice at least three varieties of polka dot plants at nurseries and online. The confetti cultivar has blush-colored speckles on green leaves and reaches double the height of other polka dot varieties.

The red splash cultivar is the color of amaranth, with green speckles, and the pink brocade cultivar is another pink-on-green variety. There's also the wit variety with white marbling, and the purpuriana, which has purplish foliage.



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