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Fittonia—How to Grow Fittonia Houseplants

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Fittonia—How to Grow Fittonia Houseplants

An F. verschaffeltti 'White Dwarf'

Photo © Flickr/Sericea
Fittonia is a lovely plant with delicately veined, deep green leaves. Although the most popular vein color is silvery white, you can also readily find fittonia with veins in pink, white, and green. They are available as trailing houseplants or low-growing creepers that are perfectly fit for terrariums or bottle gardens. As beautiful as they are, fittonia are difficult to raise as conventional houseplants; they require very high, constant humidity (typical to a terrarium), but cannot stand stagnant conditions. Fittonia also dislike strong, direct sunlight and will quickly suffer from burn.

Growing Conditions:

Light: Indirect or dappled sunlight. They also thrive under fluorescent lights. Don't expose to full sunlight.
Water: Plants should be kept constantly moist, with high ambient humidity. Mist frequently or grow in a tray with pebbles and water.
Temperature: Average (around 70ºF). They can tolerate temperatures down to the mid-60s or into the low 80s.
Soil: Fittonia can be easily grown in conventional, peat-based potting soil. Make sure it can retain moisture, but will not remain soggy.
Fertilizer: Feed during the growing season with a weekly dose of weak liquid fertilizer or with controlled-release fertilizer.

Propagation:

Fittonia propagates readily from leaf-tip cuttings. Take the leat-tip cutting in late spring or early summer, right around the same time you repot the plant. Make sure to include at least two growing nodes on the cutting to obtain the best results. Once you've potted up the cutting in a peat-based soil mix, you can expect fittonia cuttings to sprout roots within two to three weeks. Use of a rooting hormone is not usually necessary, but if your conditions are less than ideal (e.g., they are too dry or temperatures less than 80ºF on a continual basis), rooting hormone might increase your chances of success.

Repotting:

Repot annually in spring or early summer, around the same time you repot the rest of your tropical houseplants. A healthy fittonia will quickly assume a sprawling growth habit, so if you have a large plant that you want to keep contained in a dish garden or terrarium, take leaf tip shoots for propagation, then root prune the parent plant and place it back into the same container with fresh soil. Always use fresh potting soil when you repot the plant to prevent soil compaction and water-logging. If you don't want to repot into the same container, step them up into the next size pot.

Varieties:

Fittonia belongs to the Acanthus family. They are native to South America, but have been in cultivation as houseplants as growers strive to produce compact forms with striking contrast. There are two main varieties of fittonia:
  • F. gigantea, which can reach 24 inches and has purple stems with dark green leaves and crimson veins.
  • F. verschaffeltti is a creeper that does best in dishes or hanging baskets. This is the "typical" fittonia, with a number of varieties, including 'Argyroneura' (silver-white veins) and 'Pearcey' (reddish veins). The 'Minima' and 'Argyroneura' varieties are well suited to terrarium culture.

Grower's Tips:

Fittonia is prone to collapse if it's allowed to dry out, and although it will recover quickly if thoroughly watered, repeated fainting spells will eventually take their toll. On the other hand, fittonia plants that are allowed to stagnate in water will develop yellowed, limp leaves. Finally, fittonia are prone to fungus gnats and mealy bugs, which are both attracted to their plant's soft, succulent stems and leaves. Ideally, most growers find it's easiest to grow these lovely but temperamental plants in terrariums or covered gardens where they can get the high humidity and diffuse light they love so much.
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