Polka Dot Plant – Hypoestes phyllostachya

Polka dot plants were first brought to England from Malagasy. For a time the plant was unfashionable but is once more popular, probably because of new varieties with even dottier leaves.

The polka dot plant is an upright sub-shrub with a woody base, soft upper stems and spear-shaped leaves noted for their mauve dots. Its other common name is Freckle Face.

Its small pinkish-mauve flowers appear in summer. They are, however, fairly insignificant: the main reason for growing the plant is for its attractive foliage.

Commercially produced plants are usually treated with a growth retardant to make them compact and bushy. Don’t be surprised if, once at home, your plant may start to grow taller. To keep it compact pinch out the growing tips of each stem frequently.

Display ideas

Choose containers of the same or complementary colours to the polka dots to avoid colour clashes with the plant. Baskets make particularly suitable containers for this delicate-looking plant.Polka Dot Plant - Hypoestes phyllostachya

Propagation

1. Take cuttings in spring and late summer. Use tip shoots only. Take 5-10cm (2— 4in) tip shoot cuttings with about 3-4 leaves.

2. Remove the lowest pair of leaves and dip cuttings in hormone rooting powder. Plant them in just moist rooting mixture. Keep from drying out by covering with a plastic bag.

3. Place in a bright and warm position. When some growth has been made, pinch out the tips to make plants bushy.

Growing from seed

Plant 4-5 seeds in pots in March—April. Cover pots with plastic and pinch out new plants when they are about 10-15cm (5-6in) tall to encourage growth.

Pests And Diseases

Leaves turn brown, wither at edges. This occurs if plant is too dry. Prevention: Water the plant regularly and mist daily.

Grey mildew in form of grey or brown spots on leaves. This may occur if plant is not getting enough light or is too cold or wet.

Prevention: Move the plant to a warmer and brighter place and allow it to dry out before watering again.

Brown scale insects sometimes appear under the leaves.

Treatment: Carefully remove the brown scale insects with cotton swab dipped in diluted methylated spirits.

Red spider mites will make leaves look dull. Prevention: Regular misting will discourage.

PLANT CARE

Easy to look after, but cut back regularly so that it does not exceed 40cm (16in). Pinch out young plants grown from seed or cuttings to make them bushy. Also pinch out flowers.

  • Potting: Repot each year in spring using a standard soil-based compost and relatively small pots.
  • If possible use soft water, and water frequently. Mist the plant often and ensure that it has high humidity by setting it on a bed of damp peat or on wet gravel.
  • Feeding: Feed it every 3 weeks from March—August. Use a standard liquid fertilizer according to pack instructions.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: Ideally place it in a position where it will get equal amounts of sun and shade. Control the light with a blind or curtain, if necessary. If too shady, spots will disappear. Bright light will bring out the best of leaf colour.
  • Temperature: Normal room temperatures suit it best but not below 13°C (55°F) in winter.

Buying Tips

  • They can be bought at any time of the year.
  • Choose small, compact plants with fresh and well-coloured foliage. Remember commercially produced plants are small.
  • They will last for many years, but are at their best when young. Older plants tend to become straggly and unattractive. It is best to replace them annually from cuttings.

An old favourite, the Polka Dot Plant is much in demand today.

Its jaunty dots will brighten any room: keep it in the sun to bring out its own colours more fully.

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