Polka dot plant care & info | Hypoestes phyllostachya

Is your home in need of a pop of color? You’ll love Hypoestes phyllostachya, also known as the polka dot plant. Polka dot plant care is a breeze and this species is available in a whole range of different tones of green, silver and pink.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about polka dot plant care and growing this tiny houseplant in your own home.

Name(s) (common, scientific) Polka dot plant, freckle face plant, measles plant, Hypoestes phyllostachya
Difficulty level Medium
Recommended lighting Bright indirect
Water Keep lightly moist
Soil Nutrient-richt, well-draining

Polka dot plant natural habitat

Polka dot plants are native to Madagascar, although other members of the family Acanthaceae originate from South Africa and Southeast Asia as well.

In its natural habitat, the polka dot plant grows in humid tropical forest areas in a shrubby manner.

Did you know? Hypoestes phyllostachya is also a naturalized species in other areas in the world, like parts of India and Costa Rica. In the latter country, the plant has been shown to possibly cause trouble because local butterflies have trouble figuring out how to lay eggs on it!

Feldman & Haber, 1998
Close-up top view of dark pink and black leaves of polka dot plant | Full polka dot plant care guide

Polka dot plant care: light and temperature

Light

If you want to keep those beautiful variegated leaves, you’ll need to make sure that your polka dot plants get plenty of bright but indirect light. If there’s not enough light, the color and variegation will fade. The plants themselves can (and will!) get leggy as they stretch out in search of more sunlight.

What this means for polka dot plant care is that you’ll want your plants close to a window. Full sun will be a bit too much, so use a sheer curtain if the light is overly harsh.

It might take a bit of tinkering but if you manage to get the light levels right, your polka dot plant will continue producing those beautiful mottled leaves.

Did you know? Even professional growers tend to have trouble controlling height in this species. Nurseries that produce polka dot plants often have to use chemicals to make sure they don’t produce tall shoots.

Wang & Grueber, 1992.

Temperature

Since they’re tropical plants, polka dot plants like to be kept nice and toasty at around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 26 degrees Celsius). Since they don’t like to get a chill, be sure to keep them away from drafty areas.

When it comes to humidity, polka dot plants like a minimum of 50%. They naturally grow in humid, tropical areas, after all.

If the air in your home is on the dry side, there are various things you can do to create a more humid microclimate for your plants. For example, you can group all your humidity-loving plants together in bathrooms, make use of pebble trays, or buy a humidifier.

Green and white spotted Hypoestes, a popular houseplant.

Polka dot plant care: soil and planting

Soil

Polka dot plants tend to do best in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you can easily mix your own! It’s all about creating a mixture of elements that promote drainage and elements that retain some water so the soil doesn’t go dry too quickly. After all, these guys do react quite dramatically to their soil becoming too dry.

For example, you can use general potting soil mixed with perlite for drainage and throw in a layer of compost for extra nutrients.

Planting

When it comes to planting your polka dot plants, the most important thing is drainage. Any planter will work as long as it has a drainage hole at the bottom, although if you’re prone to forgetting to water you might want to go for plastic rather than porous terracotta.

If you don’t want your polka dot plants to grow too leggy, it’s recommended to keep them in smaller pots. This helps limit their growth; they don’t mind being a little root-bound.

If you do want your plant to go wild, you can grow it in a larger container. Placing it outside, at least during the summer months, also helps. A lot of gardeners plant this species in large pots, which gives it more room to get a bit out of control.

Tip: Hypoestes phyllostachya is also on Houseplant Central’s list of easy terrarium plants. Because it’s such a sucker for humidity and can be kept small, it’s the perfect choice for a plant terrarium.

Top view of pink and green polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) | Full polka dot plant care guide

Polka dot plant care: watering

Polka dot plants like to be kept evenly moist at all times. However, the trick is to keep the soil from becoming too soggy, which can lead to fungal and bacterial infections. Houseplants just don’t like wet feet!

Depending on how dry your house is and how much sunlight your plants get, you may only need to water about twice a week. In winter it will be even less, as light is limited and your polka dot plant won’t be actively growing.

To check, you just need to press your finger a couple of inches into the soil. If it’s damp to the touch, you don’t need to water just yet. If the soil feels dry and your polka dot plant is looking a bit droopy, that means you’ve waited too long. Don’t worry, it’ll bounce back with a good drink!

Polka dot plant fertilizer

If you want your polka dot plants to look their best, they benefit from being fed once a month during the growing season. After all, these guys are pretty quick growers.

A diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer is typically enough to do the job. As mentioned above, you can also use a bit of compost for the extra nutrients.

If you notice the very tips of the leaves becoming brown and crispy, you may be using too much fertilizer. Luckily, you can just flush the soil with some distilled water, snip off the affected leaf and carry on from there. No need for panic, just adjust your care as you go along.

Pink polka dot plant houseplant (Hypoestes phyllostachya).

Polka dot plant propagation

The easiest way to propagate polka dot plants is by using the stem cuttings in water method. It really is a breeze and the success rate is pretty close to 100%! Here’s how you do it.

  • Using sharp, sterilized scissors or a knife, cut a section of plant, at least two inches long, just below a node where the roots will grow from. Along with at least one node, your cutting should also include at least two healthy leaves near the top, although any leaves close to the bottom can be cut off.
  • Place the cutting in a container of water and keep it in a warm spot with indirect sunlight.
  • Replace the water every few days. In about a week, you should start to see the roots forming.
  • Once the roots are at least an inch long, you can transplant the cutting into a pot with fresh soil. Now you’ll have even more plants to enjoy for yourself or to gift to your friends!

Need more detailed instructions? Have a look at the full guide to propagating a polka dot plant.

Tip: Because polka dot plants benefit from regular pruning, you’ll have stem cuttings aplenty. One thing you can do to achieve a fuller look on your plant is just to place these cuttings back into the original planter. They’ll root and give a nice, bushy appearance.

Close-up of leaves of green and white polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya).
If your polka dot plant is getting leggy like this one, just snip off its head. You’ll have a bushy plant again and you can re-root the part you pruned!

Problems with polka dot plant

The same problems that plague most indoor plants also affect polka dot plant care, although they’re known to be pretty hardy overall.

You’ll want to be on the lookout for the usual problems:

  • Overwatering leads to root rot and yellow to black leaves.
  • Underwatering leads to curled, wilted leaves.
  • The usual pests, such as spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids can be a problem as well. Make sure you check on the leaves often, especially the undersides.
  • As it was mentioned above, polka dot plants have the potential to become leggy. Fortunately, regular pruning and adequate lighting can help keep this habit under control. Don’t forget to replant the cuttings as described in the section on polka dot plant propagation!
  • Inadequate lighting can also lead to variegation loss. The plant will produce leaves with more green coloration and less of those lovely silvers and pinks.

Buying polka dot plant

When it comes to buying polka dot plants, there are many different cultivars to look out for. Most of them feature green mottled with silver or pink, although in some the green patches are almost black.

A few popular Hypoestes phyllostachya cultivars include ‘Carmina’, ‘Pink Brocade’, and the ‘Splash’ Series. They’re all bred for their vivid leaf color, so it just comes down to your preference for the pattern.

Tip: Love the amazing colors and papery leaves of the polka dot plant? Don’t forget to also check out Fittonia, a similarly spectacular indoor plant that also stays small.

Is Polka dot plant toxic to cats and dogs?

According to the ASPCA, polka dot plants are non-toxic to pets.


If you have any more questions about polka dot plant care or if you want to share your own experiences with this cheerful houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 🌱

Sources & credit:

Wang, C., & Grueber, K. L. (1992). CONTROLLING HEIGHT AND FLOWERING IN HYPOESTES PHYLLOSTACHYA. HortScience27(11), 1178g-1178.

Feldman, T. S., & Haber, W. A. (1998). Oviposition behavior, host plant use, and diet breadth of Anthanassa butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) using plants in the Acanthaceae in a Costa Rican community. Florida Entomologist, 396-406.

Photos 2 and 5 © Annatamila on Adobe Stock.

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