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Polka Dot Plant—How to Grow Hypoestes phyllostachya Indoors

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The polka dot plant is a lively and beautiful little plant with brightly spotted leaves that stand out especially well against other plants. Put them in a mass of ferns or ivies, and their colors will stand out in bright contrast. The most common polka dot plant on the market is the pink polka dot, but in recent years growers have introduced new varieties in colors such as white or red. They've also developed plants with deeper colors and brighter contrast, so your plants will pop even more. Polka dot plants are not especially difficult to grow, and their main drawback is their relatively short lifespan. After flowering, the plant will likely become dormant or die outright. As a result, it's best to buy new ones every spring and attempt to propagate new plants, although be warned: propagation isn't easy or very fast.

Growing Conditions:

  • Light: Bright light is best. Plants grown in poor light conditions are likely to have solid green leaves, which defeats the purpose of this neat little plant. If your plant isn't colorful enough, consider some direct sunlight, which should deepen the colors.
  • Water: Keep the soil moist in the summer growing season and reduce in the winter. If your plant flowers and then goes into a dormant phase, reduce water significantly, resuming regular watering only after the new growth emerges.
  • Fertilizer: During the growing season, feed weekly with a weak liquid fertilizer that includes micronutrients and encourages blooming.
  • Soil: A light, fast-draining potting soil is perfect. You can use fortified soils.

Propagation:

Polka dot plants can be grown either from seed or cuttings. If you are starting from seeds, sow the seeds indoors in early spring under lights and pinch out the weaker seedlings. Provide them with ample moisture and bright light to develop the best color. You can also start them from stem tip cuttings, but this isn't perhaps the best option. They are slow to root, so use rooting hormone and be patient.

Repotting:

Repot the plants in spring or when they become rootbound. In reality, most hypoestes will not live much beyond a year or two before they flower, and many people don't bother to keep the plants after they've bloomed and slipped into their dormant phase. If the plant stops growing in mid-summer, it's probably rootbound, so you can go ahead and repot.

Varieties:

The basic species, H. phyllostachya, is also sometimes labeled H. sanguinolenta and called the freckle face. Both are the same plant. Within the basic species, there are a number of varieties, all bred for their leaf coloration. The varieties 'Splash' and 'Confetti' are the standards, but even within these two main varieties there is significant variety in the final leaf coloration. Leaves range from pink-speckled to red-speckled with red leaf bases.

Grower's Tips:

These are not especially challenging plants to grow and will thrive in a grouping of other plants. They do appreciate occassional misting to raise the ambient humidity and you should pinch off shoots that reach 15" inches or so. This will encourage bushiness and keep the plant in a more manageable form. Left unpruned, the plant will grow into a small, loose shrub of about two feet. When it does flower, the flowers are insignificant lavender blooms that are produced from spikes. Pinch these off to prolong the plant's vitality, and flowering often seems to mark the beginning of the end for these plants. Lastly, watch out for scale, whitefly, and aphids on these plants and treat at the very first sign of infestation.
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