The polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) is an eye-catching little plant with brightly spotted leaves that stand out against most other foliage. The most common polka dot plant on the market features leaves with a pink base color and green spots. But there are several other varieties available that are spotted or mottled with purple, white, red, and more. Breeders also have developed plants with deeper colors and brighter contrast, so the plants pop even more.
Polka dot plants are not especially difficult to grow, but because they are only native to warm climates many gardeners treat them as annuals and replace them with new plants each year. They also can be grown in containers and as houseplants. They're best planted in the spring, they have a moderate growth rate, and they remain relatively small once they're mature, especially when grown indoors.
|Botanical Name||Hypoestes phyllostachya|
|Common Names||Polka dot plant, flamingo plant, freckle face, measles plant, pink dot|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||1 to 2 feet tall and roughly 1 foot wide|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Organically rich, medium moisture, well-draining|
|Soil pH||5.6 to 6.5|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11|
How to Grow Polka Dot Plants
Warm temperatures and humidity are key to growing polka dot plants. Expect to water regularly unless you get sufficient rainfall. They also need regular feeding throughout the growing season (spring to fall).
These plants do have a tendency to get leggy, so to promote a bushier growth habit, pinch back the top two leaves on each stem on a weekly basis. This also can help the plant to grow healthier and more vigorously.
Moreover, polka dot plants bloom sporadically, typically during the summer, with insignificant lilac flowers on spikes. You can pinch off these flower spikes to keep the plant’s energy focused on growing its vibrant foliage.
When grown outdoors, polka dot plants like a spot with some shade. In fact, a planting site that's too bright can fade the foliage colors and lessen the ornamental value of the plant. Bright, indirect light is ideal indoors, such as that from an east- or south-facing window.
Polka dot plants prefer organically rich soil with good drainage. An all-purpose organic potting mix will typically suit these plants just fine. Mix in some pumice or perlite if you need to improve the soil drainage.
These plants like a moderate amount of moisture in the soil at all times. Avoid letting the soil dry out, which can cause the foliage to wilt and the plant to struggle. But also never let the soil become soggy, which can cause root rot and kill a plant. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top half-inch of soil has dried out; keep in mind that container plants will generally need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground. Furthermore, slightly reduce watering in the winter, and resume your normal routine once growth picks up again in the spring.
Temperature and Humidity
Polka dot plants are only hardy in USDA growing zones 10 and 11, preferring temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They should be planted outside in the spring after the threat of frost has passed and brought inside if you plan to overwinter them well before the first frost of the fall. Moreover, they like humid conditions, preferring a minimum humidity level of 50%. If you need to raise humidity, you can mist your plant’s leaves or place its pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water as long as the bottom of the pot isn’t touching the water.
These plants are fairly heavy feeders. Outdoors in garden soil, they’ll appreciate a layer of compost mixed into the soil each spring. Feed container plants with an organic fertilizer designed for houseplants once a month during the growing season.
Propagating Polka Dot Plants
Polka dot plants can be grown either from seeds or stem cuttings. If you are starting from seeds, sow them in the early spring, placing them on the surface of warm, moist soil. They should sprout in a few days, and the seedlings should be ready for transplanting in a couple weeks. For cuttings, trim roughly a 5-inch stem length from an established plant, and dip the end in rooting hormone. Then, plant the cutting in warm, moist soil; roots should start to grow in about a week.
Common Pests and Diseases
Watch out for scale, whiteflies, mealy bugs, and aphids on your polka dot plants. You might notice foliage that's discolored, has holes, or otherwise appears unhealthy, along with small bugs moving on the plants. Plants grown indoors under suboptimal conditions typically have more problems with pests and diseases than those grown outside in the correct environment.
Varieties of Polka Dot Plants
Within the main species, Hypoestes phyllostachya, there are many varieties; all are bred for their leaf coloration. They include:
- ‘Camina’: Dark green and red-spotted leaves
- ‘Confetti’: Leaves in green and spots of white, pink, rose, red, or burgundy
- ‘Pink Brocade’: Green leaves with mottled pink spots
- ‘Splash’ series: Leaves in mixes of greens with splotches of pinks, reds, or whites