The Polka dot plant, scientifically known as Hypoestes Phyllostachya, is a popular plant renowned for its colorful foliage. While Polka dot care comes with its quirks, these can be easy to care for.
The first known and popularized variety of Polka dot plants had small leaves with pink spots in contrast to its dark green base leaf. To date, there have been several hybrids produced by various growers. The plant is now available with white, red, maroon, lighter green spots, and even reverse colors where the spots are dark green, and the base leaf is colored differently.
The colorful leaves of the Polka dot plant can roughly grow to a size of 2 in, and the plant can grow up to 4 ft in the wild. This plant can produce inflorescence given the correct conditions. Flowers are often lilac and are arranged in spike-like racemes. The flowers can be removed as they tend to take up all the plant’s energy and eventually make it leggy.
Hypoestes Phyllostachys has been extensively used to cover garden beds for a pop of color or as centerpieces in houses. They make wonderful terrarium plants just like nerve plants.
Learn more about how to take care of them here, where we are focusing on growing the polka dot plant indoors.
Quick Polka Dot Plant Care Summary
Plant name: Hypoestes phyllostachya
Common names: Polka dot plant, freckle face, morning glory lobelia
Common cultivars: Carmina (bright red spots), Pink Brocade (mottled pink spots), Purpurina (purplish leaves), Wit (marbled white)
Native to: Madagascar and indigenous to Nigeria
Lighting: Can tolerate low light, but prefers bright, indirect light. Will reveal brighter colors in bright light.
Care: Water plants when the first half inch of the medium is dried. Avoid overwatering and feed your plant with diluted liquid fertilizer regularly. Humidity and good light are key!
Common problems: Mealy bugs, aphids, leaf scales, powdery mildew, and root rot.
Toxicity: Considered to be non-toxic to animals and humans.
How To Care For Polka Dot Plant Indoors
- Bringing the plant home
- Light conditions
- Toxicity Information
- Pests and other common issues
Bringing the Plant Home
The Polka dot plant is often sold in small pots of around 3 to 5 inches in size. If you plan on using it as a ground cover, you may need to purchase more than one pot. This species comes in an array of colors, with some having heavy coloration that the leaf is entirely pink or white. As an indoor plant, you can just have one or combine multiple (with different colors) into a larger (wider) planting pot.
As a routine, check your plant for any possible pest infestation or even just the condition of the roots. Polka dot plants are often compact, and pests are easy to miss. Be vigilant when buying a new plant.
Keep the plant away from other indoor plants for a week or two and regularly check for signs if pests.
If needed, water the plant when you bring it home. These plants can be a bit dramatic and might struggle for a couple of days as they get used to their new home.
Light Requirements for Polka Dot Plant
To keep the colors of Polka Dot plant leaves bright and vibrant good light conditions are a must.
Bright, indirect light will work best for Polka dot plant.
Indoors, a spot near a window with morning sun will give your plant a good amount of healthy sunlight. Whichever direction your windows are facing, too much light may hurt your plant. If the sun is too strong you can diffuse the light. Provide a sheer curtain for your plant to soften the light it receives.
Artificial light from grow lights can also work if you do not have a bright place you can put your plant in.
When given enough light, Polka dot plants can produce flowers. It will be up to you if you will cut the flowers or keep them. Keep in mind that flowers can cause the plant to be leggy as it expends too much energy on allowing them to bloom.
Another reason for the plant being too leggy is lack of light. The leaves of the plant tend to reach out for places with better lighting.
Watering Your Polka Dot Plant
One of the most important things when it comes to polka dot plant care is a good watering routine.
These plants prefer their medium to be consistently moist which means you will need to water your plant often unless you are growing it in a terrarium. The leaves easily wilt or turn crispy if the potting mix stays dry for too long.
Water when the first half-inch of soil turns a little dry. Your plant will also tell you if it badly needs watering – drooping leaves and stems are a sure sign that the plant needs watering. After giving it a good soaking, the plant will quickly bounce back. Although this is a good tell-tale sign for when you need to water your plant, routinely letting it droop will stress the plant.
Frequency of watering will greatly depend on the soil mix you are using as well as the humidity of your house.
Cut back a little on watering during winter. Watering it with your regular routine may cause overwatering or chilling of the roots.
Rainwater or filtered water is best (distilled water too). Always water with room temperature water.
Ideal Humidity and Temperature for Polka Dot Plant
The air humidity of your home is what determines if this your Polka dot plant care will be easy or not.
Polka dot plants prefer to be in a humid environment. A minimum level of 50% humidity will keep the plant happy, but more is better. They will tolerate lower humidity if they are happy with other things in their plant life.
If you see your Polka dot plant struggling – drooping leaves often, leaves drying, brown tips, we recommend placing it in a terrarium. They make excellent terrarium plants, and they will thrive in an enclosure.
Hypoestes Phyllostachys are plants that are native to temperate countries. This means that they thrive better under warm temperatures. Ideally, your plants will grow well and show vibrant colors in 70°F to 80°F (20 to 27°C.). Lower room temperatures are OK too. They won’t tolerate too much cold air, especially frost. When grown indoors, keep away from cold drafts.
How to Clean and Prune Polka Dot Plants?
To keep the plant clean regularly mist it. Misting will also give a temporary boost in air humidity around the plant which it will appreciate.
Regularly remove dead leaves from your plant. Dead leaves attract pests and fungal growth and can harm the healthy parts of your plant.
Other than that pruning will only be necessary if the plant is outgrowing its pot or if it is becoming leggy. Maintain your desired shape for the plant by cutting the unruly stems.
You can pinch the top growths of your Polka dot plant to encourage horizontal growth and make the plant look bushier. You can also prune your plant if it became too leggy to keep it full and compact.
How Often Should You Fertilize Polka Dot Plants?
If you just brought your plant home, you can wait a couple of weeks before you start fertilizing.
Polka dot plants need regular feeding, especially during the growing season. Use a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength and incorporate in one of your watering schedules. Use the fertilizer as indicated on the box, as the frequency and amount of fertilizer used vary depending on the type of fertilizer and manufacturer.
General houseplant fertilizer is OK as is any other all purpose plant fertilizer.
What Kind of Soil for Polka Dot Plants?
Nutrient-rich soil is best for Polka dot plants. This will help maintain the bright color of the plant and promote good and fast growth. Soil must be able to retain moisture and drain well.
Most general potting soils fit that description and are good enough for Polka dot plants. If you want to improve drainage of the general potting soil you can mix in some perlite or pumice.
Mixes for tropical houseplants are OK too.
When the pot the plant is in is becoming too small, it’s time to repot to give it more room to grow (or cut it back and use the same pot).
If you are potting up, the pot should ideally be 2 to 3 inches larger than the previous one to accommodate growth. Your choice of pot will also affect your watering routine. That is, terra cotta pots allow moisture to escape from its pores. Expect to be watering your plant more often if you put them in a clay or terra cotta.
Indoors, it may be a better idea to use plastic or melamine pots. This will keep the moisture intact for a longer period. Roots will also start poking out of the pot, which means that the plant needs to be repotted in a bigger container. These plants tend to stop growing if they become pot-bound.
This plant can easily be propagated through stem cuttings. A 3-4-inch stem cutting will root fast in water or directly in the soil. When cutting, use clean shears to ensure that you are not introducing any contaminants to the plant. Remove the bottom leaves closest to the nodes as this will attract pests and diseases.
Keep your propagations away from direct bright light until they form roots and the plants bounce back.
Although a bit tedious, some gardeners grow this plant from seeds. Expect your seeds to germinate within a week after planting. When grown from seeds, Hypoestes usually tend to initially produce green leaves and eventually colored ones.
Are Polka Dot Plants safe for Cats, Dogs and Humans?
All known varieties of Hypoestes phyllostachya are non-toxic to humans and animals (ASPCA).
The plant should not be ingested as the plant, even if non-toxic, isn’t edible. If the plant is ingested, discomfort is possible.
Keep in mind toxicity information about plants can change over time.
Pests and diseases
Polka dot plants tend to attract a few pests, such as mealybugs, aphids, and scales. They’re easy to miss especially when you have a very bushy plant. At the first sign of infestation, immediately treat your plant. If you are not sold on using industrial pesticides, diluted alcohol works wonders for mealybugs and scales. The alcohol immediately dehydrates the insects’ bodies. Wipe them off with a clean cloth or cotton.
Scales are harder to detect, especially since the foliage of this plant is on the darker side. These pests hide under the leaves and on the petioles of your plant. Motile when young, scales tend to permanently cling to the leaf as they mature and absorb its nutrients.
Sickly Polka dot plants look droopy even after watering and may start showing signs of yellowing. In addition to pests, root rots and powdery mildew are also common. Root rot is most often caused by overwatering and lack of good airflow.