Peperomia (Peperomia spp.) is a genus of plants containing more than 1,500 species, with the common types often being grown as compact houseplants. Also known as radiator plants, they are neither as striking as begonias nor as hardy as dracaena, which might account for their relatively low profile in the world of houseplants. But these plants have all the features we look for in a good houseplant: They tolerate a range of growing conditions, sport interesting foliage, and stay relatively small.
The species vary in appearance, though many feature leaves that are rounded and slightly thick. And while many peperomia plants have bright green leaves, the foliage can come in different colors, textures, and patterns. In general, they make for slow-growing and low-maintenance plants. You typically can plant them anytime as houseplants, though planting at the start of the growing season in the spring is ideal.
|Botanical Name||Peperomia spp.|
|Common Name||Peperomia, radiator plant|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||Typically less than 1 foot tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, medium moisture, well-draining|
|Soil pH||6 to 6.6|
|Bloom Time||Year-round (insignificant blooms)|
|Flower Color||Usually yellow to brown|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 12|
|Native Areas||Tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America|
How to Grow Peperomia
Peperomia is not a particularly difficult plant to grow, and its small size makes it perfect for desktops and container gardens. These plants will rarely overtake their neighbors or shade them out.
The biggest problem facing peperomia plants is usually related to incorrect watering and humidity. These plants are native to Central and South American subtropical and tropical regions, where they often grow in the cool and moist understory of rainforests. As houseplants, they like moderate soil moisture and high humidity, but they can be very sensitive to overwatering. Overwatered peperomia tends to wilt or can form raised, scab-like protrusions on the leaves.
Fortunately, peperomia plants aren't prone to developing any serious pest or disease problems. Don't be alarmed if your plant loses a few bottom leaves, as this is normal. But a massive leaf drop is usually due to a drastic temperature change or a fertilizer problem. Plus, peperomia plants can be susceptible to mealybugs, so keep an eye out for cottony white masses on the stems or undersides of leaves.
Peperomia generally prefers to grow in partial shade. Avoid exposing the plants to direct afternoon sunlight, which can burn the foliage. Indoors, place them where they can receive bright, indirect light from a window. They can tolerate low-light situations, though the foliage might not be as vibrant. They also can do well growing under fluorescent lighting.
A loose, well-draining soil is key for peperomia plants. Opt for a houseplant potting mix with peat moss.
These plants like regular watering but not to the point that the soil gets soggy. Allow the soil to dry to the touch in between waterings. And slightly cut back on watering in the late fall and winter when the plant is not actively growing.
Temperature and Humidity
Peperomia plants typically do well in room temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. But be sure to protect them from drafts and airflow from air-conditioning and heating vents, which can cause extreme temperature fluctuations. Moreover, they prefer moderate to high humidity levels. To raise humidity, you can mist the leaves or set the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water, as long as the bottom of the pot doesn’t touch the water.
Fertilize every other week during the growing season (spring to fall) with a diluted liquid fertilizer, or use slow-release fertilizer pellets at the beginning of the growing season. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Potting and Repotting
Peperomia thrives when it's slightly potbound, so choose a pot that just fits its root ball. Repot plants in the spring every two to three years, even if it's just to refresh the soil. You can either replace them in their existing container if the roots still fit or go up to a slightly larger pot size.
Most peperomia species are easy to propagate from leaf cuttings, similar to the way African violets are propagated. Remove large leaves with their stalks (petioles), and bury them in seedling starter soil. The use of a rooting hormone can increase the odds of success. Place the cutting in a warm, bright place until new growth emerges, and then transplant it to its permanent container.
Pruning your peperomia plant isn't usually necessary. But you might want to prune back the plant if it stretches taller than a foot. Use a sterilized knife or scissors. The goal of pruning is to maintain the size you desire, though heavy pruning should be avoided as it will permanently damage the plant and inhibit growth. Cut off dead or damaged growth as needed.
Varieties of Peperomia
One of the great joys of peperomia is the many leaf forms available. These are the ones you're most likely to find at your local garden center:
- Peperomia caperata: This is by far the most popular peperomia available. It features wrinkled, slightly heart-shaped leaves with a hint of red, purple, or orange and dark veins.
- Peperomia argyreia: Sometimes called the watermelon peperomia, this plant features oval leaves with a silvery pattern marking its leaves. It grows especially well in containers.
- Peperomia obtusifolia: This plant has an upright growth habit, with dark green (usually) and rounded leaves.