Deb Babcock: Add interest to your indoor decor with the polka dot plant

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

One of the prettiest colored-foliage plants that is growing in popularity for the indoors is the polka-dot plant, Hypoestes phyllostachya. The olive-green leaves are accented with soft pink, bright red, silver or white dots or splotches on pretty, pointed, oval leaves, depending upon the variety. It’s a compact, bushy plant that prefers bright light and as much humidity as you can generate.

It doesn’t require much water during the winter, but don’t let the soil completely dry out between waterings. If you note that the leaves are wilting, it likely is being under-watered and will perk up once it receives some moisture. Hypoestes phyllostachya should be fertilized every couple of weeks during its active growth during the summer.

It grows to about 15 by 15 inches and will have a nice, dense shape if you pinch back leaves occasionally as the plant grows. As the plant ages, the stems become woody, and the plant can get rather leggy. It’s a good idea to propagate this plant every few years by taking a few soft wood tip cuttings at least 2 inches long and placing them in a planting medium such as peat, perlite or vermiculite. This plant also grows easily from seed.

The name of this plant comes from the Greek hypo, meaning under, and estia, meaning house. This refers to the growing peculiarity of the flower that tends to hide underneath the leaves.

Native to the island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Hypoestes phyllostachya didn’t used to be a popular houseplant. Until recently, when plant breeders cultivated and hybridized this plant to attain more attractive colors, it was not very showy.

Because this plant cannot tolerate frost, we cannot plant it outdoors in the Yampa Valley since even our summer evening temperatures drop to frosty ranges quite often. In environments more moderate than ours, it makes a pretty border plant.

This small plant will add interest to most any space and looks great as a colorful contrast to an array of green plants in your home or office.

Deb Babcock is a volunteer master gardener through the Routt County CSU Extension office. Call 970-879-0825 or email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us.

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