How To Grow And Care For Polka Dot Plant

With foliage this cheery, it’s impossible to leave it behind at the garden store.

When you're looking for a plant that pops in your summer garden, turn to the polka dot plant. It not only has the most charming name around, it also has foliage to match. This plant has the most eye-catching leaves in the garden thanks to its mottled multi-color patterns. It's also one of the easiest plants to grow indoors, so if your green thumb needs some practice, this is a great pick for you.

Plant Attributes
Common Name Polka dot plant, flamingo plant, freckle face, measles plant, pink dot
Botanical Name Hypoestes phyllostachya
Family Acanthceae
Plant Type Annual, houseplant
Mature Size 1-2 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial, filtered, shade
Soil Type Organically rich, well-drained but moist, loamy, potting soil
Soil pH Slightly acidic (5.8 - 6.2)
Hardiness Zones  10-11 (USDA)
Native Area Africa

Polka Dot Plant Care

Polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya) can be easily grown in containers as houseplants. When grown indoors, they require bright, indirect light, and moderate water. Under these conditions, they'll stay relatively compact and will grow to about 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. They can also be grown outdoors as annuals, where they'll need partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Keep them consistently moist, and try to keep the soil from drying out too much. Polka dot plant is grown for its splashy foliage rather than its insignificant purple or pink flowers; pinch the plants when they grow leggy for bushier growth and to prevent flowering.


When it comes to growing polka dot plants in the South, you're looking for just enough light. Don't set your polka dot plant in full sun, which can burn up the foliage. At the same time, deep shade may result in spindly, less colorful plants. Polka dot plant does well in dappled shade or with a bit of morning sun. The amount of sunlight this plant will thrive on also depends on where you live. The farther north you are, the more direct sun it can take.

If you are growing polka dot plant indoors, set it in bright, indirect light a couple of feet from a window or by an eastern-facing window for a bit of morning sun.


Polka dot plant prefers organically rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. For containers, choose potting soil that contains peat or compost for organic matter as well as perlite or pumice for good drainage. In a flower bed, polka dot plant loves crumbly, fertile soil. Mix in peat to lighten heavy soils and add compost for nutrients.


Keep this tropical plant's soil moderately moist to prevent wilting and leaf drop. If it does wilt, polka dot plants usually bounce back with a good watering. Container plants do best when slightly moist, but not soggy, at all times. Water when the top 1/2 inch of soil is dry. For houseplants, reduce watering slightly in winter.

Temperature And Humidity

Polka dot plants take well to summer outdoors because they thrive in humidity. The plants can survive at 50°F but won't begin growing until outdoor temperatures remain at 60°F or higher. As an annual, polka dot plant naturally flowers and seeds in late summer or fall to complete its life cycle. But pinching back stems will extend its life, and it can survive winter in a frost-free climate or indoors. If your home has low humidity, give your plant an occasional misting with a spray bottle.


Feed container plants with a water-soluble fertilizer for houseplants once a month during the warm growing season. Give bedding plants a fresh layer of compost each spring. 

Types Of Polka Dot Plants

The most popular of the polka dot plants have leaves speckled with pink and green. Other varieties of polka dot plants have green foliage dotted with deep red or cream. The Splash Select™ series has leaves that appear dipped in rosy red, white, or bubblegum pink. The Proven Winners Hippo® series comes in green foliage dotted with rose (a deep pink), a scarlet red, and white.

Polka-dot plant
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Propagating Polka Dot Plant

Polka dot plants may not be long-lived, but it's very easy to propagate and produce a new generation of plants for your garden. Propagating patented plants is prohibited, so if you want another Splash Select Pink, pick one up at the garden center instead. Here's how to propagate polka dot plant from cuttings:

  1. Cut a four-inch section of stem with a sharp, sterile pair of pruners or flower snips.
  2. Remove leaves from the bottom half.
  3. Optional: Place the bottom end of the stem in a glass of water. Make certain at least one node on the stem is submerged. Set the glass near a window but not in direct light. Change the water at least once a week to keep it clean. Roots should begin forming in about a week and the plant can be transplanted after roots grow to about two inches long.
  4. Plant your cutting in a pot filled with moist, light, high-quality potting soil, sticking it about two inches deep. Some gardeners skip straight to this step and find the cuttings grow just as easily.
  5. Keep soil moist and continue providing bright, indirect light until the plant is well-rooted and growing. Pinch back any leggy stems.

How To Grow Polka Dot Plant From Seed

Polka dot plant can be grown from seed any time of year as a houseplant; start seeds eight to 10 weeks before your last frost date if you'll be taking them outdoors. The seeds can germinate in less than a week in soil that is at room temperature:

  1. Fill a small pot with moist potting mix. Use a well-drained potting mix that is porous and includes organic matter such as peat moss.
  2. Lightly press several seeds into the potting mix, spacing them out and leaving them exposed to light. You can use five seeds in a four-inch-diameter pot or eight seeds in a five-inch pot.
  3. Cover the pot with clear plastic and set in bright, indirect light. Spray the potting mix with water whenever needed to keep it moist.
  4. After the seeds sprout, remove the plastic. Water to keep the soil moderately moist.
  5. If you plan to move your polka dot plants outdoors, wait until temperatures consistently remain above 50°F before you begin to harden off your plant. Start by placing the pot in a shady spot for an hour on a warm day, then gradually increase the time outdoors and begin to introduce it to morning sun or filtered sunlight.

Potting And Repotting Polka Dot Plant

Polka dot plant is most often grown in a container, where it thrives with the perfect soil mix and consistent moisture. Select a potting mix that contains peat or compost for organic matter as well as perlite or pumice for good drainage. You can always mix in compost and perlite yourself to create a light, porous, fertile mixture. Use a container with drainage holes that is a couple of inches wider in diameter than the original nursery pot. Fill the container partway and set the plant so that the soil line is at the same level as in its original nursery pot. If you want to combine your polka dot plant with other flowers, you can space the plants more tightly together than you would in a garden bed, about six inches apart. Water well.

You'll know your polka dot plant has outgrown its container once roots start to emerge from the bottom. Select a new container about two inches wider and repot your plant.


If you'd like to bring your polka dot plant indoors for winter, move it before nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s. Start by setting your pot in a shadier spot for a couple of days so it can begin to adjust to lower light. Spray the plant with insecticidal soap to prevent insects from hitchhiking a ride into your home. Then bring the plant indoors and set it near a bright window but away from direct light. Let the soil surface dry slightly between waterings in winter, but don't let the soil completely dry out. You can bring the pot back outdoors in spring once temperatures stay above 50°F.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

While polka dot plants are relatively easy to grow, gardeners can run into some issues when cultivating them. Unfortunately, they can fall prey to scale, flies, and aphids. Telltale signs of pests are discolored foliage or leaves with holes in them. Keep a close eye on the foliage, and spray the plant with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to get rid of unwelcome visitors.

Root rot can kill plants that are overwatered or planted in heavy soil. Signs include wilting stems and leaves, yellowing leaves, and stunted plants. If the damage is minimal, you can dispose of affected stems and roots and replant the healthy portion of the plant in fresh, well-drained soil. Allow the top half inch of soil to dry out between waterings, and don't allow the pot to sit in a saucerful of water.

Polka dot plants can be infected with powdery mildew, especially in low light and excessive humidity. Increase airflow around the plant and don't overwater or get the foliage wet. Pick off affected leaves. If you catch the problem early, spraying the foliage with neem oil can help to control powdery mildew.

Common Problems With Polka Dot Plant

If the dramatic coloration on your polka dot plant turns lackluster, there are a number of possible causes. It's common to have problems with the foliage of a polka dot plant, but we have a few tips on how to fix them.

Color Fading Or Disappearing

If your leaves begin to lose their splashy color, light exposure is the most likely reason. With too little sunlight, leaves turn greener in order to better photosynthesize. The plants usually grow leggy as well. If your plant is in a very shady spot, move it to where it can catch a bit of dappled light or morning sun. On the other hand, if the leaves appear bleached and begin to brown around the edges, this can be the result of too much sun. Move the plants to a spot that provides more shade, especially during the hotter hours of the day.

Leaves Falling Off

It's natural for your plant to lose a few leaves here and there as it ages, but a more dramatic shedding of leaves is a sign of a problem. If the dropped leaves are crispy, dry, and turning brown, this is an indication of underwatering. Give your plant a good soak, and then keep up with a consistent watering schedule. If the shedded leaves are soft, yellow, or sickly looking, this is a sign of overwatering or disease. Remove unhealthy stems and roots, replant in fresh, rich, well-drained soil, and make sure not to overwater.

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