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Peperomia—Growing Peperomia Species Indoors

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Peperomia—Growing Peperomia Species Indoors

A P. caperata 'Emerald Ripple'

Photo © Viperalus/Flickr
Peperomia is a relatively easy, compact, and attractive little plant to grow. They are neither as striking as begonias nor as hardy as dracaena, which may account for their relatively low profile in the world of houseplants. But these plants have all the features we look for in houseplants: variability, interesting leaves, and tolerance for a relatively wide range of conditions. Although it may be tempting to think of Peperomia as succulents, due to their thick, slightly succulent leaves, that would be a mistake because they generally prefer higher humidity and more water than most succulents. In fact, these plants are native to South American rain forests, where they grow quite happily in the loamy, dappled light, cool understory of the rain forest.

Growing Conditions:

Light: Peperomia do well in light to moderate light, such as found in a northern or east-facing window. They can be easily grown under fluorescent lights.
Water: Keep the soil moist during the growing season and provide relatively high humidity through spraying or by setting the pot in a gravel tray.
Temperature: Average. Peperomia do well in the relatively cool environment of most homes (although they dislike the dry). Aim for 65˚F to 75˚F.
Soil: A loose, well-drained, very rich potting mix.
Fertilizer: Fertilize biweekly during the growing season with a diluted liquid fertilizer or use controlled-release fertilizer pellets at the beginning of the growing season.

Propagation:

Most Peperomia species can be relatively easily propagated from leaf cuttings, similar to the way African violets are propagated. Remove large leaves with their stalks (petioles) and bury in seedling starting soil. Use of a rooting hormone can increase odds of success. Place the cutting in a warm, bright place until new growth emerges.

Repotting:

Peperomia thrives when slightly pot-bound, so don't over pot them. Repot plants in spring, especially to refresh the existing soil, but place either back into the same size container after root-pruning or go up only one pot size. The largest Peperomia remain relatively small, so they will never grow into large specimen plants.

Varieties:

One of the great joys of Peperomia is the many leaf forms available. As with so many species, the selection of Peperomia has been whittled down to a few of the most popular species, and these are the ones you're most likely to find in your local garden center. Nevertheless, the others offer some interesting textures and leaf shapes if they can be found. The most popular Peperomia are listed first:
  • P. caperata. This is by far the most popular Peperomia available. It features wrinkled, slightly heart-shaped leaves with a hint of red, purple or orange and dark veins.
  • P. argyreia. Sometimes called the watermelon Peperomia, this plant features oval leaves with a silvery pattern marking its leaves. Like the C. caperata, this makes an excellent dish-garden plant.
  • P. obtusifolia. This plant has a more upright growth habit, with dark green (usually) and rounded leaves.

Grower's Tips:

Peperomia are not particularly hard plants to grow, and their small size and delicate leaves make them perfect for desktops and dish gardens. They will rarely overtake their neighbors or shade them out. In short, they are perfectly mannered and attractive little plants. The biggest problem facing Peperomia are usually related to watering. They like steadily moist soil, but can be very sensitive to overwatering. Overwatered Peperomia tend to wilt (paradoxically) or have raised, scab-like protrusions on their leaves. Don't be alarmed if your plant loses a few bottom leaves, but massive leaf-drop is usually due to a temperature change or fertilizer problem. Lastly, Peperomia are susceptible to mealybugs, so keep an eye out for cottony white masses on the stems or undersides of leaves.
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