Peperomia Plant Profile

South American Plant with Ornamental Leaves

Pepper elder (Peperomia pellucida)
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Peperomia is a relatively easy, compact, and attractive little plant to grow. They are neither as striking as begonias nor as hardy as dracaena, which may account for their relatively low profile in the world of houseplants. But these plants have all the features we look for in houseplants: variability, interesting leaves, and tolerance for a relatively wide range of conditions.

Although it may be tempting to think of Peperomia as succulents due to their thick, slightly succulent leaves, that would be a mistake because they prefer higher humidity and more water than most succulents. These plants are native to South American rain forests, where they grow quite happily in the loamy, dappled light, cool understory of the rainforest.

Botanical Name Part of the Piperaceae family, with over 1,000 species
Common Name Peperomia, Radiator Plant
Plant Type Tropical perennials
Mature Size Depends on the type. Typical plants can grow to about 12 inches high and 8 inches across.
Sun Exposure Moderate light
Soil Type A loose, well-drained, very rich potting mix
Soil pH 6 to 6.6
Bloom Time Year-round
Flower Color No flowers; ornamental foliage
Hardiness Zones 10 to 12
Native Areas Tropical regions of Central and South America

How to Grow Peperomia

Peperomia is not a particularly hard plant to grow, and its small size and delicate leaves make it perfect for desktops and dish gardens. They will rarely overtake their neighbors or shade them out. In short, they are perfectly mannered and attractive little plants. The biggest problem facing Peperomia is usually related to watering. They like steadily moist soil, but can be very sensitive to overwatering. Overwatered Peperomia tends to wilt or has raised, scab-like protrusions on their leaves.

Don't be alarmed if your plant loses a few bottom leaves, but massive leaf drop is usually due to a temperature change or fertilizer problem. Peperomia is susceptible to mealybugs, so keep an eye out for cottony white masses on the stems or undersides of leaves.

Light

Peperomia does well in light to moderate light, such as that found in a northern or east-facing window. They can be easily grown under fluorescent lights, making them appropriate for office settings.

Water

Keep the soil moist during the growing season. In the fall and winter, wait until the soil is dry to water the plant. You want the soil moist, but not soggy.

Temperature and Humidity

Peperomia do well in the relatively cool environment of most homes (although they dislike the dry air). Aim for 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide relatively high humidity through spraying or by setting the pot in a gravel tray filled with water.

Fertilizer

Fertilize bi-weekly during the spring growing season with diluted liquid fertilizer or use controlled-release fertilizer pellets at the beginning of the growing season. Do not fertilize in the winter.

Potting and Repotting

Peperomia thrives when slightly potbound, so choose a smaller pot. Repot plants in spring, especially to refresh the existing soil, but place either back into the same size container after root-pruning or go up only one pot size. The largest Peperomia remain relatively small, so they will never grow into large specimen plants.

Propagating

Most Peperomia species can be relatively easily propagated from leaf cuttings, similar to the way African violets are propagated. Remove large leaves with their stalks (petioles) and bury in seedling starting soil. Use of a rooting hormone ​can increase the odds of success. Place the cutting in a warm, bright place until new growth emerges.

Varieties

One of the great joys of Peperomia is the many leaf forms available. As with so many species, the selection of Peperomia has been whittled down to a few of the most popular species. These are the ones you're most likely to find in your local garden center. The most popular Peperomia are listed first:

  • P. 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.
  • P. argyreia: Sometimes called the Watermelon Peperomia, this plant features oval leaves with a silvery pattern marking its leaves. Like the C. caperata, this makes an excellent dish-garden plant.
  • P. obtusifolia: This plant has a more upright growth habit, with dark green (usually) and rounded leaves.

Pruning

Pruning your peperomia plant is not always necessary. You may want to prune the plant back if it reaches 15 inches or more. Use a knife or scissors. The goal of pruning is to control the size and growth, so just focus on damaged leaves, foliage, and stems that are especially large. Heavy pruning should be avoided as it will permanently damage the plant and inhibit growth.