The name peperomia might not roll off your tongue, but you could get lost in this wonderful genus of tropical plants. This genus has more than 1,000 known species, all with thick, fleshy leaves that contribute to their drought tolerance and vigor. If you haven't experienced much luck with flowering houseplants, you will appreciate that the peperomia sports foliage that is highly ornamental in its own right. Leaves can be textured or smooth; red, green, gray, or purple; variegated, marbled, or solid; large, heart-shaped, or tiny.
Plants in the Peperomia genus can look so different from one to the next that it's difficult to discern if they are even related. But one thing all peperomia plants have in common is that they are slow-growing and low maintenance.
|Botanical Name||Peperomia spp. (including P. caperata, P. obtusifolia, and others)|
|Common Names||Baby rubber plant, pepper elder, radiator plant, shining bush plant, emerald ripper pepper|
|Plant Type||Houseplant or tender perennial|
|Mature Size||6 to 12 inches tall depending on cultivar; some cultivars have a trailing habit|
|Sun Exposure||Medium to bright light indoors, part shade outdoors|
|Soil Type||Average potting soil to rich loam; good drainage|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic; 5.0 to 6.0|
|Bloom Time||Insignificant blooms in summer|
|Flower Color||Greenish-white or brown|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 12|
|Native Area||Mexico, South America, and West Indies|
How to Grow Peperomia
The peperomia plant is a smart choice for the beginning houseplant enthusiast. Not only are they forgiving plants that tolerate some benign neglect, but the spectacular variety of colors and textures between species means that you can amass an interesting collection of plants for every style and space, all of which require the same care.
Plant peperomia in a pot with ample drainage holes, using an orchid potting mix, then place the plant in bright indirect light. Peperomia plants require little in the way of attention. Water only when the soil is quite dry, and feeding is rarely, if ever, necessary.
Peperomia are subject to the same common pests that can affect most houseplants: mealybugs, spider mites, and whitefly. Insecticidal soap is the best non-toxic treatment for these pests. Leaf spots might occur, and the plants are susceptible to rot if the soil is consistently too moist.
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Peperomia Plant
Peperomia plants need medium to bright light to maintain their vibrant foliage colors. Morning light and filtered light is fine, as well as 12 to 16 hours of artificial light. Insufficient light will result in fewer leaves, leaf drop, and drab coloration.
Many peperomia species grow as epiphytes in the wild. This is similar to the way many orchids grow: think of a plant nestled in the nook of a tree, sending its roots into some slightly decaying bark. Choose soil that mimics these conditions—chunky, loose, and acidic. An orchid potting medium works well. Regular potting soil is fine too; you can always lighten it with a handful of peat moss or vermiculite.
The succulent leaves of peperomia plants indicate that the plants don't need frequent watering to maintain vigor. Allow the surface of the soil to dry out between waterings. Keeping the peperomia on the dry side is better than saturating it, which leads to root rot and fungus gnat problems.
Temperature and Humidity
Peperomia plants are hardy to USDA Growing Zone 10, which means they cannot be exposed to temperatures less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As tropical plants, peperomias prefer a warm and steamy environment, especially in the summer months when growth is most active. If your plant doesn't get an outdoor vacation in the summer, place it on a tray of pebbles and water to increase ambient humidity.
When it comes to fertilizing, less is more for the peperomia. Discolored or dropping leaves are usually a result of inadequate light or excessive watering, not poor nutrition. As a slow-growing epiphyte, the peperomia can go its entire life without supplemental fertilizer, getting what it needs from its planting media.
Potting and Repotting
Peperomia plants can live for years in a relatively small container. They enjoy a somewhat root-bound existence, and this combined with their slow growth rate means you can leave them alone unless you see roots coming out of the drainage holes. If that's the case, repot into a slightly larger container with an acidic potting mix or orchid bark.
Because of their thick, succulent nature, peperomia plants are easy to propagate by vegetative methods.
- Cut a leaf with an inch of stem from the mother plant in the spring, when growth is most active.
- Place the stem in a small container of sterile potting soil.
- Keep the soil constantly moist. You can cover the cutting with a cloche or a clear container to create a mini-greenhouse to retain moisture. Roots will form in a few weeks.
- Transplant the cutting into a larger container when it outgrows its original container.
Varieties of Peperomia
- Peperomia verticillata 'Belly Button' has a compact form and tiny leaves somewhat reminiscent of the baby tears plant.
- Peperomia metallica var. Colombiana dazzles with tricolored foliage of bronze, silver, and red.
- Peperomia nitida (cupid peperomia) is an ideal specimen for hanging baskets, with heart-shaped leaves edged in cream on trailing stems.
- P. perciliata has a tight growth habit and produces oval-shaped foliage and red trailing stems. .
- Peperomia caperata 'Suzanne' resembles Rex begonias, with its deeply ridged foliage and silver accents.
Growing in Containers
Container culture is the most popular way to grow peperomia plants because it allows a gardener to cultivate and maintain this slow-growing houseplant over many seasons. Choose a container that has excellent aeration to foster a healthy root system. An orchid pot with large openings is suitable, provided you use orchid bark that won't fall out of the drainage holes. Terracotta pots are also excellent containers for peperomia because their porous nature keeps soil from becoming soggy due to overwatering.
Peperomia vs. Rubber Plant
In spite of the common name of baby rubber plant, peperomia plants are not related to rubber plants, nor are they even members of the same genus. Rubber plants are members of the fig (Ficus) genus, while peperomia plants are their own genus with hundreds of species.
The rubber tree is capable of growing 100 feet tall, while the baby rubber plant will grow happily in a pot for its entire life cycle. Know which one you're buying or you might have to re-home your rubber tree as it grows.