If you say "shrimp plant" to five gardeners, you're likely to get at least two to five different descriptions. To some, the shrimp plant will forever be the Pachystachys lutea, which is also known as the golden shrimp plant. To others, the name is applied to one of the various Justicia species, especially the J. brandegeana. To make matters slightly more confusing, the J. brandegeana is also known as the Beloperone guttata.
In this case, take a closer look at the shrimp plant referred to as the Justicia brandegeana shrimp plant also known as the Mexican shrimp plant. It is so dubbed for where it originated.
This plant features a shrimp-colored flower bract (extra leaf) that hangs from the stem tips. In their native environment, these plants grow up to six feet tall and have fairly brittle stems. Indoor growers are more likely to trim this plant to keep it a manageable size and thus reduce its tendency to snap.
Growing Conditions for Shrimp Plants
There are hundreds of species of Justicia shrubs all over the world. The J. brandegeana species, originally from Mexico and naturalized in Florida, is a popular landscape plant throughout the southern United States.
Care for this plant is relatively uncomplicated. Well-grown specimens should be provided with loads of water, fertilizer, warmth, and light. These conditions closely imitate their natural habitat, which is the understory or transitional areas in subtropical climates.
- Light: Provide bright indoor light, but not full midday sun. They are perfect for atriums or other areas that are flooded with bright, natural light.
- Water: They need plenty of water in the summer months. They should never be allowed to dry out. Dry plants are more prone to leaf drop. In the winter months, assuming you plan to keep it that long, cut the water back and do not let the temperatures get below 55 F.
- Fertilizer: Feed weekly with a weak liquid fertilizer that includes micronutrients and encourages blooming. These are relatively high feeders and will respond well to amply fertilization.
- Soil: A light, fast-draining potting soil is perfect. You can use fortified soils.
Shrimp plants are relatively easy to propagate from stem-tip cuttings. To propagate successfully, take a cutting and dip it into rooting hormone, then place into a pot with seedling soil or a sterile rooting mix. The key to successful cuttings is to provide plenty of warmth and humidity, so aim to keep your cuttings at around 80 F with high ambient humidity. Do not allow them to sit in water-logged soil.
Repot annually or every other year, depending on its growth rate. If you are growing in a large pot, you can move the plant outside to the patio during the summer, where it will likely grow much quicker and fill out the pot faster. At the end of the season, cut the plant back (you can cut the plant back almost all the way to soil, and it will spring back), then move it to its winter home. In the spring, repot it when the first flush of new growth emerges. If you keep it indoors all summer long, you should only have to repot it every other year.
Although a relatively hearty plant, there are a few cliff notes that can help you grow this plant and maintain this colorful, bushy evergreen shrub.
- These plants benefit from a hard pruning every spring (no matter whether you grow them inside or out). Hard pruning encourages bushiness in the plant and vigorous blooms.
- Shrimp plants are vulnerable to aphids and spider mites, so look for symptoms of infestation and treat immediately.
- Older plants are more brittle, so be careful not to break stems unless you are pruning.
- These plants are temperature sensitive. The plants will yellow or brown in temperatures below about 55 F, especially in arid conditions. However, they will readily grow back as soon as the temperatures warm up.