Peperomia (Peperomia spp.) belongs to a wonderful genus of tropical plants native to Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. With more than 1,000 known species, these hearty plants boast 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 ornamental foliage. Its leaves can be textured or smooth in 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. All peperomia plants are low maintenance, slow-growing, and can be planted all year long.
|Common Names||Baby rubber plant, pepper elder, radiator plant, shining bush plant, emerald ripper pepper|
|Botanical Name||Peperomia spp. (including P. caperata, P. obtusifolia, and others)|
|Plant Type||Perennial, epiphyte|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full or partial|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||White, green, brown|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Central America, South America, and the Caribbean|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Peperomia Plant
Peperomia Plant Care
The peperomia plant is a smart choice for beginner houseplant enthusiasts. Not only are they forgiving plants that tolerate some benign neglect, but the spectacular variety of colors and textures available within the 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. You only need to water them when the soil is dry. Plant food or fertilizer is rarely necessary.
Peperomia plants need medium to bright light to maintain their vibrant foliage colors. Morning light and filtered light are fine, or you can do 12 to 16 hours of artificial light. Insufficient light will result in fewer leaves, leaf drop, and drab coloration. Direct sun rays should be avoided, as they can burn the leaves.
Many peperomia plant species grow as epiphytes, which means in the wild, they might settle into the nook of a tree and send their roots into some slightly decaying bark. The key to a thriving peperomia is choosing a soil blend that mimics these conditions—chunky, loose, and acidic. An orchid potting medium typically works well, but regular potting soil is fine too. You can always lighten it with a handful of peat moss or vermiculite.
The peperomia has succulent leaves that indicate that these 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. Soggy soil can lead to root rot and fungus gnat problems.
Temperature and Humidity
Outdoors, peperomia plants are hardy to USDA zone 10; they cannot be exposed to temperatures less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As tropical plants, peperomia plants prefer a warm and steamy environment, especially in the summer months when their 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, or invest in a small-scale humidifier to place nearby.
When it comes to fertilizing peperomia plants, less is more. Discolored or dropping leaves are usually a sign 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.
Types of Peperomia
There are hundreds of different varieties of peperomia plants, many of which make exceptional houseplants. Some of the most popular varietals include:
- Peperomia verticillata 'Belly Button': An eye-catching varietal with a compact form and tiny leaves, somewhat reminiscent of the baby tears plant
- Peperomia metallica var. Colombiana: A dazzling, tri-colored plant with foliage of bronze, silver, and red
- Peperomia nitida (cupid peperomia): A varietal that's ideal for hanging baskets, complete with heart-shaped leaves edged in cream
- P. perciliata: A trailing varietal that has a tight growth habit and produces oval-shaped foliage and red stems
- Peperomia caperata 'Suzanne': A unique plant with deeply ridged foliage and silver accents
Lightly prune peperomia plants in the early spring to correct any leggy, sparse growth. Pinching back the stems will help maximize the plant's lush appearance by encouraging more branching. Remove the end of each stem and the first set of leaves; you can pinch them off with your fingers or snip them off with hand pruners.
Propagating Peperomia Plants
Peperomia plants can be propagated at any time, although springtime is when its growth is more active and likely the best time. If you're already planning to prune your plants in the spring, you can take a stem's extra leggy growth and easily propagate from that stem cutting. Here's how:
- First, you'll need sterile pruning snips or scissors, a small pot, potting soil or orchid mix, plastic wrap, and a brightly lit location.
- Cut off a leaf including at least an inch of its stem from the mother plant.
- Place the cutting in a small container filled with potting soil, cut-end down. Place it in a bright spot with a lot of indirect light. Cover with plastic wrap to create a mini-greenhouse environment to help it retain moisture.
- Water consistently and never let the soil dry out. Roots will form within a few weeks; then, you can transplant your cutting into a larger container once it outgrows its original one.
How to Grow Peperomia From Seed
To grow peperomia from seed, you'll need a soilless seed starting mix, sufficient water, and a warm, bright sunny spot to germinate peperomia seeds. Keep the soil consistently moist until germination occurs. It can take 15 to 30 days for seedlings to emerge. Transplant the young seedlings into a container with a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 (orchid mix works well). Place the plant in a bright spot with indirect sun. Avoid overwatering as the plant grows.
Potting and Repotting Peperomia Plants
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 until you see roots coming out of the drainage holes. If you're moving your seedling from a small, 2-inch container, upgrade to a container that is 2-inches deeper and wider at the brim. Use an acidic potting mix or orchid bark.
Container culture is the most popular way to grow peperomia plants. 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 too wet if you overwater by mistake.
Peperomia will turn to mush outdoors if you get freezing temperatures. Bring your peperomia plant inside if you live in a zone that is less than 10 on the hardiness zone map. In the winter, you can significantly reduce the amount of water it gets. Some do not water this plant at all during the winter months.
How to Get Peperomia to Bloom
Peperomia rarely flower when kept as houseplants, but they occasionally do. Their unscented blooms appear as spindly spikes of brown and greenish-white. They don't look like flowers; you might even think they're offshoots, detracting from the look of the plant. You can cut them at the base of the shoot or leave them to fall off once the flower withers naturally. Its natural bloom time is summer, but if you have lighting and temperatures indoors that mimic summer, it can bloom anytime indoors.
Peperomia plants are subject to common pests that can affect most houseplants: mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies. Insecticidal soap is the easiest treatment for these pests.
Common Problems With Peperomia
Peperomia is a low-maintenance plant that doesn't need much water. Once you've identified a bright but not direct sun location—and you remember to check the soil every once in a while—this slow-grower is not usually fussy. However, here are some signs that your plant might need some additional care.
Discolored, Droopy Leaves and Rotting Smell
Root rot is a disease that is caused by overwatering your plant. You may also notice a rotting smell. Mushy stems are often a sign of a fungal infection. To prevent root rot or fungal disease, make sure that the plant’s soil is completely dry to the touch before you water it. If you catch it quick enough, you can remedy this plant without throwing it all out. Sterilize your pot in a diluted bleach solution. You will need fresh, well-draining soil. Pull out the infected plant from the pot, and cut away any rotting, black or dark brown, mushy roots. Wash the remaining healthy roots. Lay the plant out and allow the roots to dry for a few hours. Then, repot it in the clean pot with fresh soil.
Leaves Curling or Yellowing
In most cases, when peperomia leaves turn yellow or start curling, it means it's getting too much water. Remove the yellowed leaves. You can remove the plant from the pot and add some rocks to the bottom layer of the pot to improve drainage. This prevents the bottom of the roots from sitting in standing water.
Ring spot is caused by the cucumber mosaic virus and is diagnosed when you see deformed leaves. It is often the cause of the plant being overwatered. Pull off the deformed leaves, and the plant should grow back healthy. To prevent this disease from reoccurring, make sure you water the plant only when the soil is dry.
If you notice that your plant seems to be wilting, then it is probably not getting enough air to its roots. Repot the plant and use more gravel into the potting soil.
Overwatering causes whitish mold to grow on the surface of the soil. To prevent this condition, only water when the soil is dry. To fix it, remove the top layer of soil and replace it. Or, if the mold appears to go down deep, wash the pot and completely replace the soil with a sterile mix.
If your peperomia is losing its leaves and you're not overwatering the plant, then try to move it to a spot with a little more bright light. Do not put it in direct sun, but you can relocate the plant near a window with direct light.
Are peperomias easy to care for?
Peperomias are an easy plant to maintain, requiring very little water.
How fast does peperomia grow?
Indoors, peperomias rarely needing repotting as it's a very slow grower. However, if you live in the correct hardiness zone and your plant lives outdoors, you may notice its growth rate increase.
How long can peperomia live?
Peperomias can live for many years in a small pot—never needing much care or attention, only requiring a little water here and there and some indirect light.