Easygoing and elegant, Chinese evergreens get their name from both the region they hail from and their evergreen nature. These plants in the Aglaonema genus primarily grow indigenously across Asia, in the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, and China in shady, moist areas.
Of the nearly two dozen species in the genus, there is some variation in the color and shape of the leaves, but most have a dark green base with silver variegation. You can also find yellow, cream, and pink types, however. The leaves are generally lanceolate and up to 12 inches long and three inches wide, but you can find those that are rounder or more narrow.
Outdoors, the plant develops a cream and white spadix with a light green spathe that resembles a peace lily in the summer, followed by red, fleshy berries. Blooming is uncommon in indoor plants, but it might happen in ideal conditions. The berries are rare indoors.
Despite its name, this isn’t a needled conifer like other evergreens such as spruces, pines, or yews. You’ll also see these plants called poison dart plants and Philippine evergreens.
- Genus: Aglaonema
- Native To: Asia
- Sun Exposure: Bright indirect or low light
- Soil Preference: Well-draining loam
- Soil pH: 5.5-6.5
- Blossom Color: Cream, white, pale green
- Toxicity: Mildly poisonous if ingested, causes contact dermatitis
Caring for Aglaonema Plants:
Most Chinese evergreens are intolerant of cold. They can become damaged anytime the temperatures drop below 60°F. If you live in a region with frigid winters, keep these plants in a warm room and away from windows or doors where they can be exposed to breezes or cold temperatures.
Even a closed single-pane window in an area with frigid winters will be too cold for this plant.
Cold damage appears as black, greasy-looking spots and patches. Anything below 45°F will likely kill the plant. Heat doesn’t phase the plant, however. Anything up to 90°F is acceptable, with brief periods above that tolerated.
Breeders have been working to cultivate options that are more tolerant of lower temperatures, but for now, these plants shouldn’t be exposed to cold.
This plant might develop brown leaf tips if exposed to drafts regularly. Keep it away from doorways or open windows.
Provide these plants with bright, indirect light. They don’t tolerate any direct light except for maybe a little in the early morning. Otherwise, keep it away from direct light at all times. A spot at least several feet away from a west, east, or south-facing window, or within a few feet of a north-facing window is perfect.
That said, they can tolerate lower light, though they might have leggier growth if it’s too dark for them. Those with dark leaves can tolerate lower light conditions. A darker corner of a room is likely fine, though a basement room without windows will be too dark.
Plants with lighter leaves or heavier variegation can tolerate more sun and will need more light to maintain their color.
Plants in lower light tend to have a spreading growth habit, while those in brighter light will grow more upright.
If you opt to grow in brighter light, the soil will dry out more quickly. You’ll need to be more diligent about watering.
Any standard potting mix on the market will be sufficient for your Aglaonema plant. This plant isn’t picky about its soil, so long as it’s well-draining. Any pot that you put it in will also need to have a drainage hole. If you use a catchment tray, be sure to empty it about 30 minutes after watering.
While the plants prefer higher relative humidity, from 30-80%, they will tolerate lower humidity. They might develop brown tips in low humidity.
Don’t allow the soil to dry out completely, but use caution not to overwater. The easiest way to tell if the soil is moist enough is to stick your finger into the soil. If it feels dry up to the first knuckle, or the top inch, it’s time to add water.
When you water, the soil should feel like a sponge that you have wrung out well. Too much water or standing water from poor draining soil or a pot without drainage will cause root rot.
Reduce water in the winter. Although the plant doesn’t go completely dormant in the winter, it will need less water because the growth slows. Water when the top two inches of soil have dried out.
If you don’t feel comfortable checking the moisture level with your finger, use a moisture meter. Water when the soil registers as just barely dry. Water until the soil is moderately moist.
Chinese evergreens aren’t heavy feeders. They need a mild, balanced fertilizer twice a year. Use a 3-3-3 or 5-5-5 water-soluble fertilizer in the early spring and again in the mid-summer. Don’t feed during the winter when the plant is dormant.
The plant will need to be repotted every so often. Alternatively, you can divide them and replant half back in the original pot. We’ll talk about division shortly. These plants are slow-growing, so repotting isn’t necessary yearly or even every two years. Don’t be surprised if you find you only need to repot every five years or more.
When you repot, choose a container one size up and add entirely new fresh soil. Using fresh soil rather than re-using the existing soil is necessary for several reasons. First, it ensures that the medium doesn’t become hydrophobic, or water-repellent, which happens with older soil.
Fresh soil also adds nutrients, and prevents compaction.
You’ll know its time to repot when you see roots coming out of the drainage hole or circling the top of the soil.
Avoid moving up to a pot that is too large. A large pot encourages overwatering because you have to add an excessive amount of water in order to reach the roots. Aim for something that is just a few inches wider than the base of the plant.
If you don’t need to repot your plant because it hasn’t outgrown its container, replace the potting soil every two years.
If your plant happens to flower, you can remove the flower if you don’t want to deal with any messy berries that might follow. This also encourages slower and more compact growth, extending the life of your plant.
You should also remove any leaves that are yellow, brown, damaged, or diseased. Wipe the leaves regularly to remove any dust using a soft, moist cloth.
Use caution when working with this plant, as the calcium oxalate crystals in the sap cause skin irritation and can irritate the mucous membranes. The plant can be toxic to pets or humans if ingested.
Best Species and Cultivars
The plants have been cultivated in the West for over 150 years, and dozens of cultivars and hybrids are currently on the market. There has been a lot of breeding, so the plant’s lineage isn’t always spelled out clearly.
Many cultivars and hybrids won’t specify the species on the growing card. You’ll often just see the genus followed by the cultivar name.
For instance, A. ‘Stardust’ is a hybrid with bright pink leaves speckled in light green and silver. A. ‘Red Valentine’ hybrid leaves have a green base with light pink blotches. A. ‘Silver Bay’ is a common option with silver mottled leaves on a green base.
Here are a few common species that you’ll see on the market:
Often mistaken for dumb cane, this Chinese evergreen hails from the Philippines. It grows up to a foot-and-a-half tall with green and silver-mottled leaves.
Spotted Chinese evergreen is well-named because it has deep green leaves with silver-cream spots. Some have silver veining, as well.
This species tends to have shorter, wider leaves.
If you’re a fan of variegated plants, ‘Tricolor’ is a must-have, with its mottled dark green, medium green, and silver leaves. Rather than the indefinite margins of other Aglaonema plants, each blotch of color has distinct, angular margins. It’s unlike anything else out there.
‘Bicolor’ is similar but lacks the medium green hue.
The rotundum species has wider, rounder leaves than most other species, with a deltoid shape. Some cultivars, such as ‘Aceh,’ have distinct veins that contrast with the dark green, glossy leaves.
Division is the best way to propagate Aglaonema plants. To divide a plant, remove it from the opt and knock away as much of the loose soil as you can. Gently tease apart the plant near the middle. You might need to use a pair of scissors to separate the roots.
Each section of root needs to have a few stems and leaves attached. Repot each section in its own container.
You can also propagate the plants by taking stem cuttings. Look for a stem with at least two leaves, and use a sharp, clean pair of clippers or a knife to sever the stem.
Bury the cutting in potting soil so that a fourth of the stem is buried and the stem stays upright on its own. Water the soil so that it feels moist but not wet, and place the cutting in an area with bright, indirect light. Roots should begin forming within a few weeks.
Common Problems, Pests, and Diseases
Chinese evergreens are rarely impacted by pests or diseases. Sometimes when stressed by too much or too little water, you’ll encounter common houseplant pests like aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale.
Typically, you’ll notice yellowing or browning on the foliage.
If you’ve never dealt with any of these pests before, the easiest method is to isolate the plant away from any other houseplants.
Set the plant in a tub or sink and spray it with lukewarm water to knock loose any bugs. You can also wipe or scrape off any insects that you see. After the plant dries, treat it with insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill the remaining insects.
You’ll need to do this every week or so until there are no more signs of insects present.
If you overwater, the leaves might turn yellow or brown and soggy. That’s because the roots are rotting under the soil from a lack of oxygen.
In addition to root rot from too much water, these plants might contract bacterial leaf spot, though it’s uncommon. Leaf spot is typically transmitted via infected plants or tools. This disease is cause by the bacteria Erwinia chrysanthemi, Pseudomonas cichorii, or Xanthomonas campestris dieffenbachiae.
The bacteria is spread through water, so be careful not to wet the leaves when you water. Make sure to water at the soil level.
If you see spotting on the leaves of your plants, there is no cure for this disease. You’ll need to dispose of the plant to avoid spreading the disease to other plants in your home.