The polka dot plant, also known as freckleface, is a short-stemmed houseplant that’s super cute and easily maintained. It gets its name from the spotty appearance of its leaves. If that isn’t enough to grab your attention, it also comes in several colour varieties.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different varieties of Hypoestes Phyllostachya, how to care for them and how to identify problems.
Ready to start caring for your own Polka Dot plant? Let’s get you armed with the facts.
Polka dot plant care – Hypoestes Phyllostachya
Polka dot plant overview
|Polka Dot plant, freckleface, pink dot, flamingo plant, measles plant
|Herbaceous, perennial, annual
|Slightly acidic to neutral (6.1 to 7.3)
|H2 to H1c RHS
|Best time to plant
|0.3-0.6 m (1-2 ft) tall, 0.3-0.6 m (1-2 ft) wide
|Different patterns of green with white, pink or red spots
|Lilac, pink or white
|Summer or early autumn
Varieties of polka dot plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya)
There are many varieties of polka dot plants all bred for their striking leaf colour and patterns.
They all come from the same species, Hypoestes Phyllostachya, even though they may look quite different. Here are four of the most popular varieties:
- Hypoestes Phyllostachya ‘Pink Brocade’
The ‘Pink Brocade’ shows off its green leaves with mottled pink spots.
- Hypoestes Phyllostachya ‘Carmina’
This variety can be seen sporting dark green and red-spotted leaves.
- Hypoestes Phyllostachya ‘Splash’
‘Splash’, as the name states is a mix of colours featuring mixes of greens with red, white or pink splotched across leaf surfaces. The different colours are often referred to as ‘red splash’, ‘pink splash’ and ‘white splash’.
- Hypoestes Phyllostachya ‘Confetti’
This variety boasts green leaves with spots of pink, white, red, rose or burgundy across their surfaces.
Hypoestes Phyllostachya is an evergreen shrub that can grow around 0.3 metres (1ft) tall and wide. The leaves are heavily spotted with pink, white or red as if splashed with paint. Sometimes these spots can bleed into each other causing a mottled pattern.
You can expect your plant to form bushy compact tufts if properly cared for. You can identify polka dot plants by their pointed, oval leaves that are splashed with colour. The most common colour variety of Hypoestes Phyllostachya has green leaves with pink spots.
Your polka dot plant may produce small, solitary pink, purple or white flowers at the nodes. They resemble honeysuckle flowers quite closely. If allowed to fruit, you’ll notice a many-seeded dehiscent capsule.
Polka dot plant natural habitat
The polka dot plant is native to Madagascar, but other species in the family Acanthaceae originate from South Africa and South-East Asia as well. This plant can usually be found in humid, forest environments. The plants grow in a bushy manner in partial shade and prefer tropical climates.
Growing polka dot plants
Hypoestes Phyllostachya plants are fairly easy to grow and care for. Warm temperatures and humidity are the keys to success when it comes to growing one of these beauties. You can expect to be quite involved in the care of polka dot plants. Here’s what you need to know:
Does a polka dot plant require special care?
These stunning plants need warm temperatures and high humidity to grow properly. If you live in a cold or very dry climate, you will need to pay extra attention to watering, temperature and humidity to keep your plant healthy.
Polka dot plants also need a lot of TLC. You’ll need to pinch back stems weekly, cut any flowers and fertilise regularly for the best results.
Polka dot plant care: Watering
Watering your Hypoestes Phyllostachya properly is one of the most important requirements for growing a healthy plant. They like their environment to be quite moist so don’t be scared to keep the soil slightly damp, just make sure it drains well.
How often do I water a polka dot plant?
Watering correctly is very important to keep your plant alive. Despite loving moisture, your polka dot plant will succumb to root rot if the soil is too wet or doesn’t drain properly.
When watering, make sure to water evenly. You want all the soil around the roots to get wet. Ideally, there should be some moisture in the soil at all times.
If the soil dries out completely, you can expect your plant to wilt and you might struggle to bring it back to life. If the soil doesn’t drain well and stays soggy for long periods after watering, you will see signs of root rot pretty quickly.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, make sure the top 1.5cm (½ in) of soil is dry before you water it. You can check this by simply using your finger to dig in the soil and feel for moisture. There’s also some specialised equipment available if you want an accurate reading of soil moisture levels, but this isn’t essential.
Do polka dot plants need humidity?
As well as adequate water and light, humidity is one of the most important elements for a polka dot plant. These plants grow naturally in areas with high humidity and will thrive when exposed to a bit of extra moisture in the air. A minimum humidity level of 50% is required.
If you’re worried about humidity, you can create a humidity tray for your plant, or simply place it in a well-lit area with naturally high humidity, like a kitchen or bathroom.
Humidity trays work best for container plants. Simply place the plants on a tray filled with rocks and water. Make sure the rocks stick out above the water’s surface so your plant pot isn’t sitting in the water. As the water from the tray evaporates, it will raise the humidity level around your plant.
If you want to place polka pot plants outside, choose a sunny, sheltered spot. You can put them near water to raise the humidity level or stand them on humidity trays. If you aren’t growing your plants as annuals, you’ll need to bring your plants inside when the temperature falls below 12℃.
Soil conditions that suit polka dot plants
Hypoestes Phyllostachya prefers evenly moist soil that drains well. The soil also needs to be humus-rich since these plants need plenty of nutrients to stay healthy. Planting a polka dot in rich soil will reduce the amount of fertiliser you need to use monthly.
Well draining soil is also a must since polka dot plants are very sensitive to developing root rot.
The best soil for polka dot plants
Polka dot plants prefer humus-rich soil with a pH of around 6.1 to 7.3. Choose an organic potting soil mix and add some extra pumice or perlite to further improve drainage.
Polka dot plant fertiliser
If you have container plants, make sure to feed them with organic fertiliser meant for potted plants. For garden plants, you’ll need to mix in a good amount of compost. Polka dot plants are heavy feeders so make sure you give them enough organic nutrients.
How do I fertilise polka dot plants?
Potted polka dot plants need to be fed once a month with an organic fertiliser. If you’re using a liquid fertiliser, increase feedings to twice a week. Make sure to water your plant after feeding to make sure the roots don’t get burned. Watering will also help the fertiliser to soak into the soil.
For garden plants, you’ll need to mix a good amount of compost into the soil every spring. If you think your plants need more nutrients, add a layer of compost on top of the soil or lightly mix it in without disturbing the plant.
Only fertilise polka dot plants during the active growing season from spring to autumn.
Lighting for polka dot plants
Polka dot plants grow best in areas with partial shade. If you give them too much or too little light, the colours of the leaves will fade. Your plant might also become leggy.
What lighting conditions are best for Hypoestes Phyllostachya?
The best lighting conditions for polka dot plants are medium-light. They prefer to grow in an area that gets morning sun but afternoon shade. Too much light will cause leaf burn and fade colours. You might also notice your plant dropping its leaves prematurely.
How do I stop my Hypoestes Phyllostachya plant from getting leggy?
If your plant is planted in an area with very low light, you will notice it growing longer stems with larger distances between the nodes. To stop this from happening, move your plant to an area with partial sun. Morning sun with afternoon shade is best. Bright indirect light also works for potted plants.
You can also counter leggy growth by regularly pruning your polka dot plant. Simply cut off the first two nodes with leaves on the tips of the stems. By doing this, you’re forcing your plant to grow from nodes lower down on the stems. In time, this will cause bushy growth.
If your goal is to grow a short but dense plant, trim the tips of stems weekly. If your plant is a leggy mess, cut it down to just above the last node. This will force the plant to sprout new growth from the base.
Temperatures for polka dot plants
Polka dot plants are only hardy in RSH zones H2 and H1c. In any other areas, your polka dot plant will need to be a houseplant or annual.
If you live in an area where temperatures regularly drop below 15.5°C (60°F) then this plant might not be for you unless you’re willing to grow it as a houseplant.
Polka dot plant care – propagation and repotting
These stunning plants can be grown from seeds and cuttings. A great way to preserve your plants in a non-tropical climate is by taking stem cuttings before the first frost hits. Frost will kill off your outside plants, but your cuttings will live on if protected in a heated greenhouse or indoors.
How do I propagate polka dot plants?
Polka dot plant propagation is really simple. If you’re growing plants from seed, the best time to sow them is in spring. Simply sow the seeds on top of warm, moist soil inside a seed tray. Place the tray where it will get morning sun.
Your seeds should sprout in a couple of days. Allow the seedlings to grow for a couple of weeks to become strong enough for a transplant. A good indication that they are ready is when they grow their first set of true leaves.
If you’ll be planting outdoors, make sure the threat of frost has passed, this is usually at the end of May.
If you’ll be propagating from cuttings, you will need to take a 10cm (4in) piece of stem from anywhere on the plant. Make sure to use sharp, sterilised scissors to prevent any contamination.
Dip the end of the cutting in hormone rooting powder and then place it in a glass jar of water or into moist soil. If you’re planting in soil make sure to cover the plant in clear plastic wrap to increase humidity. You can remove the clear wrap when you notice new leaves or obvious growth.
To test for roots, gently tug on the cutting. If it doesn’t come out of the soil, it’s established itself. Once you’re sure that the plant has a nice root system and is actively growing, you can repot or transplant it outside.
Diseases and pests that affect polka dot plants
Healthy polka dot plants usually don’t have any problems with pests and diseases. If your plant is under stress, however, it’ll be more susceptible. The most common pests are aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies.
Diseases you should look out for include root rot, leaf spot diseases and powdery mildew. You can tell your plant needs some extra care when foliage becomes discoloured, leaves have holes in them, the plant appears sickly and struggles to grow and you can see small insects moving on your plants.
Are polka dot plants toxic?
Polka dot plants are safe to grow around pets and small children. If large amounts of foliage are consumed it might cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
Buying polka dot plants
You can buy polka dot plants at your local garden centre or online. They should be available from around spring into summer.
Can I grow a polka dot plant outside?
Yes, but only as annuals as they will die over winter. They will grow as perennials in tropical climates.
Can I place my polka dot plant outside in warmer weather?
Definitely. Polka dot plants can be grown completely outdoors during the warm months of summer. Just make sure to bring them inside when autumn hits. Frost will kill your plants pretty quickly.
Should I avoid positioning my polka dot plant in direct sunlight?
These plants prefer bright indirect light. They don’t do so well when exposed to direct sunlight all day long or when grown in very low light conditions.
What’s the ideal temperature for polka dot plants?
Polka dot plants like it warm. They don’t do well when temperatures drop below 15.5°C (60°F).