Polka dot plant care

The first time I met a polka dot plant, I wondered if it was real. I thought it looked like something a child might draw if you asked her to design plant leaves, seemingly spattered with splotches of pink paint. It’s such fun. And delicate, too. Just delightful!

The polka dot plant is often described as easy to grow but, to be honest, I haven’t found that to be entirely true. I’ve experimented to get just the right light to prevent legginess on the one hand or fading on the other, and I’ve come close to ruining my first polka dot by overwatering it after the leaves looked shriveled. I don’t mean to be discouraging — with just a few directions, you can nail polka dot plant care perfectly. And she’ll be totally worth it!

About the polka dot plant

The plant’s botanical name is Hypoestes phyllostachya (I’ve no idea how to pronounce that, but happily this isn’t a botany class). Other common (and easy to pronounce) names are measles plant, freckle face, flamingo plant, and pink dot plant. Pink isn’t the only color the leaves are painted, though. You can find polka dot plants with combinations of white, rose, red, burgundy, purple, lavender, and yellow foliage, too. In fact, there are over a hundred varieties of the polka dot plant!

A perennial in warm locations, the polka dot plant is native to Madagascar, South Africa, and East Asia, where it grows up to a couple of feet in height and width. It can be grown outdoors in zones 10 and 11 in the States, too, and in other zones as an annual. And, of course, it can be enjoyed year round anyplace as a houseplant.

The polka dot plant makes a lovely solo plant, but it’s also terrific nestled in a pot with other plants; just make sure all the plants have the same light and moisture preferences.

close up of a green and pink polka dot plant

Light

Your polka dot plant will thrive in bright, indirect light. Mine is on my desk in front of a south-facing window with a sheer linen curtain. A bright east-facing  or west-facing window should also be fine. 

The plant will tell you whether or not the light is right. For example, if it doesn’t get enough light it will get leggy (long-stemmed, with fewer leaves) or turn uniformly green rather than colorful. On the other hand, if the leaves are curling or drying up, or if the color seems to be fading, it’s getting too much light. 

Polka dot plants also do well under full-spectrum lights.

Soil and pots

Plant your polka dot plant in rich soil that drains well and stays medium moist. The plant is susceptible to root rot, so if the soil is very heavy, add some peat moss or perlite to lighten it just a bit. You want the roots to get some air and the soil to drain well, but you don’t want it to dry out too quickly, either.

Make sure the pot you choose has good drainage so the roots never sit in water.

Climate

A moderate temperature of about 65 to 80 degrees is perfect for your polka dot plant. (It’s sensitive to the cold if grown outdoors.) 

Polka dot plants also like humidity (ideally 50 percent). Some good ways to boost humidity for your plants:

  • Spray with water every day or so.
  • Plant in a terrarium.
  • Place in a humid location, such as a bathroom with a shower.
  • Place the pot on a tray of pebbles or stones, and then pour water into the tray. You don’t want the water to soak up into the bottom of the pot (root rot, remember!), so keep the level below the bottom of the pot in the tray. 
  • Group plants together. 
pink, white, and green polka dot plant leaves

Watering

Your polka dot plant likes to be evenly moist but never soggy. At the same time, it dries out quickly; if it doesn’t get enough moisture the leaves may start curling and shriveling (as it does if it gets too much sun). 

So I water mine moderately when the top half inch of soil is dry, while for most plants I wait for the top inch to dry. For my plant, in its terra cotta pot, that means watering twice a week. Depending on your pot and the size of your plant, it may need watering more or less frequently. Really, sticking your finger in the soil is the best way to tell when any plant needs a drink!

Tending

I pinch or cut back my polka dot plants whenever I water them. Otherwise, they can get very leggy very fast. Just cut or pinch back any leggy-looking stems to encourage bushier growth. 

I also recommend cutting off any flower spikes, if your plant starts to bloom. The flowers are small, lilac, hardly noticeable blooms, and the plant often dies after it flowers. Cutting off the flower spikes allows the plant to put that blooming energy into its beautiful foliage instead. 

Fertilizing

Polka dot plants are big eaters; they like to be fertilized. I fertilize mine once a month, early spring through fall, with a basic organic houseplant fertilizer. 

green and white polka dot plant clippings being propagated in soil

How to propagate a polka dot plant

All that pinching back of the leggy polka dot plant means there are plenty of cuttings for starting new plants! Remove all but a couple of leaves and then either:

  • Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and place it in soil, then keep it warm and moist while it grows roots. 

Or 

  • Put the cuttings in a little vase or glass of water. When the roots have grown a couple of inches, pot them in soil. (This is the method I use.)

You can also grow polka dot plants from seed.

Here are just a few sources for buying polka dot plants online. (I’ve had great luck buying plants online this year!)

Sweet Leaf Nursery — Pink polka dot plant

WonderlandHG — Red polka dot plant

Earthyychildren — Multicolor polka dot plant

(This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase through the link I’ll earn a little coffee change with no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting C2K!)

What perfect spot have you found for your polka dot plant? What’s your favorite polka dot color?

Be sure to check our other houseplant posts, including: 

ZZ plant care

How to take care of a string of pearls plant

How to repot a plant

How to care for the finicky fiddle leaf fig

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