How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Chinese Money Plants
The Chinese Money Plant is one of the most popular indoor houseplants. Their relative ease of care, coupled with their quick growth rates make them a wonderful choice for many indoor gardeners. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton walks through each step of how to plant, grow, and care for Chinese money plants.
Need a small houseplant for your home office desk? Maybe you’re looking for something with a more unusual look, or a plant that isn’t too needy when it comes to watering or maintenance. Your answer to all of these scenarios is the Chinese Money Plant.
Pilea peperomioides has only grown in popularity in recent years, remaining one of the most sought-after houseplants. They can be tough to find, but they are worth some extra detective work to get your hands on. The chinese money plant is easy to care for, and can do well in a variety of different growing environments.
They don’t have many needs and will fit right into any houseplant collection. You can’t go wrong adding one of these plants (or many) to your indoor garden. Let’s take a deeper look to see if this popular houseplant is a perfect fit for your indoor garden.
Chinest Money Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Pilea peperomioides
Native Area China
Exposure Bright Indirect Light
Height 12 inches
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Aphids, Spider Mites, Mealybug
Soil Type Light and Well-draining
Hardiness Zone USDA Zone 10
What is a Chinese Money Plant?
The Chinese Money Plant has many common names, including UFO plant or Pancake plant due to the shape of the leaves. It is botanically known as Pilea peperomioides, and sometimes just Pilea for short.
The Pilea genus contains hundreds of plant species, but only a few are common in cultivation as ornamental plants.
You may know Pilea nummulariifolia as Creeping Charlie, also grown indoors but often used as a groundcover in outdoor beds. Pilea cadierei is another popular species with interesting leaves, known as the Aluminium Plant or Watermelon Pilea.
However, no plant in this genus is as popular or well-known indoors as the Pilea.
The Pilea genus falls under the Nettle family – Urticaceae. The family name comes from the nettle genus Urtica, but includes more than 53 genera in total and more than 2,500 species of plant. Although it is named after nettles, Pilea makes up the largest percentage of plants within this family.
Pilea peperomioides has only recently become widespread, with the first instance of Western botanists collecting the plant occurring in 1906. This is much later than other popular houseplants in cultivation for at least a few hundred years, making the Chinese Money Plant a comparatively recent find.
In 1906, Scottish botanist George Forrest explored the remote Yunnan Province and was one of the first scientists to do so. He gathered a sample of this Pilea in the Cang Mountains in that year, and then again four years later.
But knowledge of this plant remained limited. Over 30 years later, it is believed that Norwegian missionary Agnar Espegren came across the plant in the same region after he fled from nearby Hunan.
He brought the plant back to his home country in 1946, where it spread throughout Scandinavia. This story is the reason for another common nickname of this species – missionary plant.
Pilea spread slowly from family to family, never studied in depth by scientists or even interested horticulturalists in early years. In the 1980s, Dr. Phillip Cribb and Leonard Forman did some digging for a Royal Horticultural Society publication and tracked the plant’s arrival in England back to this Scandinavian origin.
According to the authors, this is the long journey of the Pilea:
“A family, the Sidebottoms, in St Mawes, Cornwall, had first acquired a plant some 20 years previously. The family had a Norwegian au pair, Modil Wigg, and their young daughter, Jill, then aged nine, went to Jaeren in Norway for a holiday with the Wigg family, who gave the girl a small specimen of the plant to bring back to England. This valuable piece of information provided what turned out to be the all important link with Scandinavia, to where the line of enquiry then moved.”
The first image of the plant was published in Kew Magazine in 1984, sparking its popularity as a go-to houseplant.
Chinese Money Plants are – you guessed it – native to China. Specifically, they are found in the southwest of Sichuan province and the west of Yunnan province.
They are not easy to find in their native habitats, believed to be endangered in the wild. However, their frequent propagation and cultivation as an indoor plant mean Pilea peperomioides shows no signs of becoming extinct overall.
The pilea is known for their fascinating glossy leaves. They are rounded – like a coin – and emerge on long cascading petioles attached to a central stem. They remain compact, only reaching about 12 inches in height, but their leaves can grow to around 4 inches in diameter with the right care.
These compact plants are beloved for their size and ease of care. Not only is it one of social media’s favorite houseplants, but it has also won the Royal Horticultural Societies Award of Garden Merit.
Where to Buy
Chinese Money Plants are not very rare, usually available in nurseries or online in countries around the world. However, due to their popularity, they are often sold out, so getting your hands on one can be tricky.
If you can’t find one available to purchase, find a friend with a Pilea and propagate your own. These plants are incredibly easy to propagate as they produce offshoots that can simply be replanted in potting soil (take a look below for more detailed instructions).
By propagating, you can grow as many new Pileas as you like without the added cost. This is a common growing tactic with more rare plants.
As mentioned before, Pileas are endangered in their natural habitats. These plants are relatively slow growers and, although they can acclimatize to a range of conditions, they don’t do very well outdoors in most US regions. It’s best to keep them indoors, where you can enjoy their beauty year-round.
Your Pilea needs to be planted in a well-draining potting mix. They don’t require large containers due to their size, but your chosen container does need to have drainage holes. Without drainage, this plant will succumb to root rot and will eventually die.
Any container materials are suitable for this plant, but they look particularly good in terra cotta or ceramic pots that add some contrast.
If you have an eye on a pot that doesn’t have any drainage holes, use it as a pot cover instead. Place the plant in a plastic pot one size down from the cover and nestle it inside.
Make sure you remove the plastic pot to water and only return it once all the excess has drained to stop water from collecting at the bottom of the cover.
How to Grow
When growing a Pilea, there are several factors you’ll need to consider and get right for them to reach their optimal health. You’ll need to make sure they have the right amount of water, appropriate lighting, enough room to grow in their pot, and the right soil. Pileas can live a long time. They live longer than many houseplants, but you’ll need to make sure they have proper care to live their longest life. Let’s take a deeper look at what you can expect when growing this hardy indoor plant.
Chinese Money Plants appreciate plenty of bright indirect light. This will keep the leaves large and lush without burning due to direct sun exposure. They can also handle moderate light well, but may not grow as large.
Despite their reputation for adapting well to a wide range of conditions, they not a houseplant that tolerates low light conditions. The leaves will become small and diminished and the lower leaves may fall off, shaded by the foliage above.
Direct sunlight is also not suitable for these delicate plants. In direct sun, the leaves will turn a greyish brown, indicating sunburn. If placed on a windowsill that receives any full sun during the day, you can protect these plants by filtering the light with a sheer curtain.
Alternatively, move it to a moderately bright spot away from the window but out of low light conditions.
The large coin-shaped leaves surround the plant at all angles, taking in as much sunlight as possible for photosynthesis. These leaves will slowly move and rotate towards the nearest light source to maximize their energy.
To stop your plant from becoming unbalanced and to preserve its circular shape, rotate the pot once a week to even out light exposure.
Pileas have relatively thick, almost succulent-like leaves. They also don’t have many leaves and a thick stem that stores plenty of water. This means Pileas are not high water users and can be left to dry out before the next watering.
Testing the soil with your finger, water when the soil is almost completely dry. You can also use the weight of the pot as a gauge – simply pick it up and if it is still heavy, wait a few more days before watering again.
These plants are very susceptible to root rot and should not be overwatered. The stem becomes mushy and the petioles that hold up the leaves turn soft, causing the leaves to keel over or fall off the plant.
Underwatering is also a concern but is far less likely due to their tolerance for drier soils. If you ever notice the leaves starting to droop over, simply water and it should return to normal. If the leaves start to dry out and turn brown at the edges, bottom watering is preferred to completely saturate the soil and return the plant to good health.
Given their watering preferences, it follows that these plants need well-draining potting soil. It shouldn’t be dense or compacted, keeping too much moisture around the roots and suffocating them. It needs to be rich in nutrients to maintain the glossy green sheen of the leaves.
General potting mixes typically don’t drain well enough for indoor plants. Evaporation is much slower indoors as the lighting conditions are less harsh, meaning moisture remains in the soil for longer.
Instead, look for a specialized potting mix designed for houseplants. They contain the right components for indoor growth, keeping most houseplants happy and healthy.
If you can’t find a houseplant potting mix at your local nursery or online, you can also mix your own. Most houseplant mixes have added peat moss and perlite to lighten the mixture and improve drainage. But, when making your own, coconut coir is preferred as a sustainable alternative to peat moss.
Before planting or repotting, combine two parts potting soil with one part coconut coir and one part perlite. If you plan to place your plant in medium rather than bright indirect light, you can also add some fine bark to further improve drainage.
When repotting, try to match the soil consistency of the mixture to what your plant was previously in. This will limit chances of shock and ensure there are no drainage or moisture issues later.
Temperature and Humidity
Pileas are one of the few houseplants not too bothered by temperature and humidity conditions. Due to their forest habitats, they will grow better in warm and humid conditions, but most general indoor conditions are perfectly suitable for this plant.
These houseplants are hardier than most, but it’s better not to expose them to temperatures below 50F for long periods. This can damage the leaves and stop the soil from drying out, increasing the risks of rot.
Keep the humidity above 40% throughout the year and your plant should be happy. If you notice the leaves start to turn brown at the edges or dry out, check your humidity levels as they may be the culprit. They can handle periods of dryness but will start to struggle if the air is dry for too long.
The nutrients in the soil should be enough to sustain the small plant until the next soil refresh. However, if you’ve kept your Pilea in the same pot for a while, fertilizing can give it the boost it needs to stay strong and healthy.
Add a balanced liquid fertilizer to the soil once every 4-6 weeks in spring and summer. These fertilizers are quickly made available to the roots as they are diluted in water, but that also means they are washed away faster, requiring a top-up within a few weeks.
Slow-release fertilizers, available in pellets or handy sticks that are buried in the soil, are also suitable. However, it’s important to read the instructions carefully and not to apply too much. These small houseplants don’t require nutrients in large amounts, so overfertilization is a real risk.
As summer comes to an end, you can stop fertilizing. As the plant slows growth over this time, fertilizing will only lead to a build-up of salts in the soil, causing the roots and leaves to burn.
If you fear you have overfertilized, flush the soil with distilled or filtered water and hold off on fertilizing again for several months. Avoid overfertilizing altogether by reading the instructions carefully and only adding a half-strength dose at each application.
These compact houseplants are incredibly low maintenance. They don’t need to be misted, pruned, or generally fawned over to stay happy.
As the leaves can attract dust, all they ask for is a wipe down every couple of months with a damp cloth. Beyond that, your plants will look as good as new without any additional maintenance.
Chinese Money Plants are one of the easiest houseplants to propagate. That’s because they do all the work for you. There is no worry about making the correct cut or damaging a node, as these plants produce offshoots.
You’ll notice these offshoots popping up from the soil or even from a node along the stem. They look like tiny versions of the parent plant, similar to the pups of the popular Spider Plant.
These offshoots start out by drawing their energy from the main plant. But, once they have grown large enough and have a few roots of their own, they just need to be popped into some propagating mix to grow into fully-fledged mature plants.
Start by identifying a node that is at least a few inches tall. This means it is mature enough to be separated from the main plant without struggling. They will continue to grow without being removed, so you can wait a little longer if you want to start out with a fuller plant.
Once identified, slowly and gently remove the soil around the offshoot, tracing it down to the base of the plant. Using a sharp pair of pruning shears, cut off the root connecting the two to free the offshoot from the parent plant.
Plant the offshoot into a small pot with the same soil mix mentioned above. Keep the soil moist to limit shock and encourage root growth. Once you spot new growth appearing, you can move the plant to a larger pot or keep it in its existing pot until it has outgrown the space.
Pileas will produce several offshoots in their lifetime, throughout spring and summer. Removing them will only direct more energy into keeping the existing plant healthy, giving you even more plants that are stronger and happier in the long run.
These small plants remain compact when mature and don’t typically outgrow their pots in short spaces of time, although they can shoot up when young and in the right environment. Once the plant has matured, repotting is usually recommended to top up the soil, rather than to give the plant more space to grow.
Until the plant reaches full size, an annual repotting is recommended. This will allow you to adjust the space to help the plant reach its final height faster and to remove any offshoots for propagation at the same time. Once it has matured, you can wait two to three years before changing the pot again.
Repotting is best done in spring up until early summer when the plant is actively growing. This limits chances of transplant shock and helps the plant establish itself in its new pot quicker. Make sure the plant is well-watered a few days before to make the roots pliable.
Start by removing the plant from its existing pot and shaking off the old soil. Remove any offshoots with a clean pair of shears at the root level to replant.
Fill the bottom layer of a pot one to two sizes up with the soil mix mentioned above. Lay the plant in the new pot and fill in the gaps with extra soil mix until it is filled to a few inches below the rim. Press down around the base to anchor the plant in place and remove any large air pockets.
Water immediately after repotting and return the plant to its previous home. Keeping conditions consistent will help it establish quicker and will limit any potential yellowing or leaf drop that can occur after repotting.
Unfortunately, as with many houseplants, Pileas can become susceptible to some problems when being grown indoors. They are prone to certain pests, and if they don’t get enough (or too much) sunlight, they can start showing signs of distress. Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems that you’ll encounter when growing Pileas.
Every plant parent will likely experience a wilted or drooping Pilea at some point in its life. Moisture is typically the culprit – usually overwatering, but potentially underwatering.
When overwatered, the petioles and leaves become soft and mushy, unable to hold up the leaves. It can also lead to root rot, which stops the plant from taking up any more water or nutrients.
When underwatered, the cells lack the moisture needed to maintain the shape of the plant, causing the leaves to droop.
Taking a look at the soil, identify which cause is most likely. Adjust your watering schedule and your plant should return to normal after a few days. If it doesn’t, you may have a case of root rot on your hands, which requires root trimming and repotting to resolve.
Wilting can also occur after moving the plant or repotting. They do not appreciate changes in conditions and become stressed when moved. Try to keep conditions as consistent as possible throughout the year. This problem is usually not life-threatening and the plant should return to normal once it adjusts.
Leaves falling off your plant can be alarming, but it is not always cause for concern. As the plant ages, older leaves will fall off as part of the plant’s natural lifecycle. These are usually the lower leaves, and only one or two will fall off at a time.
Further leaf loss can be a sign of overwatering. Leave the soil to dry out before watering again to prevent further leaf drop and adjust your watering schedule.
Healthy Pileas typically have flat leaves, slightly curved at the point where the petiole meets the leaf. If this shape begins to change, it can be a sign of stress.
Leaves curling inward or outward usually mean your plant is exposed to too much direct sunlight. The leaves begin to curl to protect themselves and conserve moisture. Move your plant to an area away from direct sun, ensure it has enough water, and they should become flat again.
Exposure to drafts can also cause the leaves to curl. While airflow around your plants is important, strong drafts can have the opposite effect on health. Keep your Pilea away from any open windows with direct winds (especially excessively cold or hot winds) and away from the path of air conditioners.
Brown leaf tips are caused by either underwatering or a lack of humidity. This is not a common issue as the leaves hold so much water, but leaving them to dry out for long periods can cause the edges to change color.
Greyish brown spots on a few leaves closest to the light source point to a problem with sunburn. When exposed to intense direct sunlight, the leaves face damage that will not return to normal if the plant is moved. Protect the leaves from direct sun exposure with a sheer curtain or by keeping them away from windows.
Random brown patches can also mean overfertilization. When fertilizers build up in the soil without being used up by the plants, the salts can burn the roots and leaves, resulting in damage. Follow the instructions on your product and use a half-strength amount to avoid any chances of overfertilization.
Flipping over the leaves, you may notice small white grainy spots on the leaf. Unlike the other issues, this one indicates no health issues.
These grains are mineral deposits that build up on the leaves. You can leave them as is or simply wipe them off. Either way, they do no harm to the plant.
Unfortunately, Chinese Money Plants are not immune to pest problems. Common houseplant bugs, from aphids to mealybugs and more, can all impact the health of your plant.
As the leaves are small, your first signs will be the presence of physical bugs. They can hide out in the stems, so make sure you take a close look.
Others leave signs behind. Mealybugs leave trails of white powder behind them, while spider mites spin webs between the leaves and stem.
Remove any pests with horticultural oil or an insecticidal soap for large infestations. It may require a few applications, but the pests will eventually stop attacking your plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Chinese Money Plants toxic?
Pileas are not classified as toxic to any pets or humans. Ingestion can cause an upset stomach, but it is not problematic or fatal long term.
How do Chinese Money Plants reproduce?
These plants produce offshoots at the base or even along the stem that look like tiny versions of the main plant. Removing these and rooting them in water or planting them straight into soil will yield a mature plant in a few years.
Why is my Chinese Money Plant turning yellow?
Yellow leaves are usually a sign of overwatering. The leaves and stem hold plenty of moisture, meaning your Pilea doesn’t need watering as often as some other houseplants. They are prone to root rot, so the soil should be left to dry out almost completely before watering again.
Yellow leaves are also a potential sign of nutrient deficiency. Fertilize with a balanced liquid fertilizer for quick absorption or repot into fresh, rich potting soil.
How big do Chinese Money Plants grow?
Pileas remain small until maturity, reaching an average height of around 12 inches. They may grow taller than that in the right conditions but will never become large plants.
Pilea peperomioides is a must-have for anyone looking for a compact and easy-care plant for any corner of your home. Plus, they are easy to propagate, meaning you can grow as many of these houseplant favorites as you want without any cost. If you can’t find one, consider looking at a more common houseplant, like a Peperomia Frost, a Golden Pothos, or a Philodendron Brasil.