How to grow and care for a polka dot plant

Pink and green polka dot plant leaves. Getty Images

Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) is bushy plant native to southern Africa, Madagascar and parts of southeast Asia. In the UK it’s a popular house plant and works well in terrariums. Also known as freckle face plant, it has brightly variegated, or spotted, leaves which look like polka dots. There’s a wide variety of polka dot plants to choose from, including those with purple, white, or red variegation, but most have green leaves with pink spots. Polka dot plant thrives in warm, humid conditions and bright, indirect light.

Polka dot plant has a moderate growth rate, although growth tends to slow in unfavourable conditions.

How to grow polka dot plant

Grow polka dot plant in peat-free house plant compost in a warm and humid environment, in bright but indirect sunlight. Water sparingly and remove developing flowers to keep it looking its best. In summer, feed fortnightly with a liquid house plant fertiliser.


Where to grow polka dot plant

Three colours of polka dot plant. Getty Images
Three colours of polka dot plant. Getty Images

Grow polka dot plant in a warm and humid environment, with a minimum temperature of around 15ºC and a humidity level of around 50 per cent. A warm bathrooms or terrarium is ideal, as long as there is sufficient light – polka dot plant thrives in bright but indirect sunlight and can stop growing if conditions are too dark.


How to plant polka dot plant

Plant polka dot plant in rich, well-drained potting mix.


How to care for polka dot plant

Close up of red and green variegation on hypoestes leaves. Getty Images
Close up of red and green variegation on hypoestes leaves. Getty Images

During the growing season, water your polka dot plant sparingly, when the top half-inch of soil has dried out. Reduce watering in winter, and increase again once you see the first signs of growth in spring.

Feed once a month with a general purpose, liquid fertiliser.

Remove any developing flowers to keep the plant looking its best.


How to propagate polka dot plant

You can propagate polka dot plants from stem cuttings rooted in water.

  • Using secateurs or scissors, cut 10cm sections of stem from the main plant. Remove the leaves on the lower half of the stem
  • Place the cuttings in a glass or jar of water, ensuring only the lower portion of the stem is submerged
  • Keep the cuttings in a bright, warm spot and replace the water weekly to keep it fresh
  • Roots should develop within a few weeks. When they are about 10cm long, pot up the cuttings into peat-free, well-drained house plant compost

Pests and diseases

Polka dot plant may be affected by house plant pests such as aphids, red spider mite and fungus gnats. Aphids are best removed by hand, while red spider mite thrives in dry conditions, so misting to increase humidity should stop it from breeding. Fungus gnats can be deterred by adding a thick layer of gravel over the surface of the compost.

Too much or too little light can cause leaves to lose their colour – direct sun can cause the variegation to fade.

Brown or drooping leaves are a sign of lack of water or humidity – water sparingly and move to a more humid environment or mist with water to raise ambient humidity.

Yellow leaves are a sign of overwatering – stop watering immediately and check the roots for signs of root rot. It may be necessary to repot the plant, removing any rotting bits of rootball.


Advice on buying polka dot plant

  • Polka dot plant needs a warm, humid environment with plenty of bright but indirect sunlight. Make sure you have these conditions before buying
  • Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting

Where to buy polka dot plant online

Varieties of polka dot plant

Hypoestes ‘White’ – a cheerful variety with green and ivory variegation. Height x Spread: 30cm x 40cm

Hypoestes ‘Pink’ – pink foliage splashed with dark green variegation. H x S: 30cm x 30cm

Hypoestes ‘Red’ – The leaves are really dark pink to red and have contrasting dark green variegation. H x S: 30cm x 30cm

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