How to Propagate Polka Dot Plants in 5 Simple Steps
Thinking of propagating polka dot plants so you have more available around your indoor garden? Polka dot plant propagation is simple if you follow the proper steps. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton takes you through each simple step of polka dot plant propagation to create additional plants for yourself, family, or friends.
The polka dot plant is a fascinating plant popular for growing indoors. Scientifically named Hypoestes phyllostachya, it’s easy to see where the name polka dot plant comes from.
The leaves have a spotty or mottled pattern in a wide range of different contrasting colors. Most commonly these houseplants associated with having purple leaves or pink leaves, depending on the cultivar.
If you’ve found a cultivar you want to replicate, all you need is a pair of shears for propagation. Polka plants are easy to propagate from stem cuttings, rooting in water or soil to develop into lush new plants. Avoid opening your wallet and propagate at home to grow your houseplant collection.
When to Propagate
Polka dot plants will root the quickest during their active growing season. The best time to propagate is early spring once temperatures have risen.
This will give the cutting a growth boost and promotes root growth for the rest of the warmer seasons for quick establishment. But any time during spring and summer is ideal for propagating.
That doesn’t mean you can’t propagate over the cooler months. You’ll just need to keep a closer eye on your cuttings to make sure they don’t rot before roots develop.
Keeping them in a bright and warm spot or using a heating mat can help speed up root growth if your home gets cold in fall and winter.
What You’ll Need
You don’t need many specialized tools or products to get started – just one of the many reasons to propagate these plants.
The first required tool is a sharp pair of pruning shears. You can also use scissors or a sharp knife, as long as they are clean. Using dirty tools, especially those previously used on diseased plants, will transfer problems to your new cuttings and to the plant you are taking cuttings from.
Make sure your shears are also sharp before use. Cuttings need to develop roots around the base of the cutting. They will struggle to grow if the stem is damaged, preventing moisture absorption. These damaging cuts also impact the parent plant. It will slow healing time and make the plant more vulnerable to pest and disease damage.
The remainder of your preparation will depend on whether you are rooting in water or soil. Rooting in water allows you to monitor root growth. But rooting in soil will produce a stronger root system and typically has higher success rates for these plants.
Either method is possible. It just depends on how you prefer to propagate and how closely you keep an eye on cuttings.
To propagate in water, all you need is a narrow glass or glass propagation station. For wider glasses, you can either take longer cuttings. You can also use plastic wrap to anchor them in the water without submerging the leaves.
To propagate in soil, start with a light and well-draining propagating mix of equal parts coconut coir (or peat moss) and perlite. Grab a small container, or a larger one if you want to root multiple cuttings at once. The container should also have a drainage hole to prevent rotting.
With all preparation complete, you can get started on the fun part – propagating. It’s important to start with a healthy plant that is well-watered and shows no signs of damage. If the leaves are wilting or there are other issues, improve care before taking cuttings to increase chances of root growth.
Step 1: Find the Right Stem
Propagation can only happen with the right cutting. If the stem is damaged or has no leaves, there is no way the plant will root successfully. Growing roots takes a lot of work, so your chosen stem needs to be in perfect health to have higher chances of rooting.
Start by choosing a stem with plenty of leaves. Healthy leaves close together on the plant indicate it has enough light and energy for strong growth. Make sure to check the undersides of the leaves for signs of pests and disease where these problems like to hide out. Also check the health of the leaves as problems can be harder to identify on the spotty foliage.
The stem should not be too thin or dry. This mechanism is important for transporting moisture and nutrients around the plant and any issues here will greatly lower your chances of success. Healthy and lush growth is what you’re looking for.
Step 2: Remove the Cutting
With the perfect stem identified, it’s time to grab your shears. The cutting should be around 4 inches long. But it can be longer if there are fewer leaves on the stem or if you need more space to fit into the glass when propagating in water.
There should be a few sets of leaves, especially near the top, to fuel root growth when the cutting is removed. Aim for around three sets of leaves at minimum, as the bottom set will be removed before rooting.
Using your shears, cut cleanly just below a set of leaves. This is the point where new roots will emerge from. Cutting too close can damage this node, preventing rooting. However, cutting too far can also cause the end to root, potentially impacting root growth. Around half an inch below the node is recommended.
Depending on the size of your Hypoestes phyllostachya, you can take multiple cuttings at once. This is an ideal task to combine with pruning, which also stops you from wasting any of the cuttings. For smaller plants, don’t remove more than one-third at a time to prevent shock.
Once you’ve taken all your cuttings, remove the bottom set of leaves so half the cutting is exposed. Any leaves buried under soil or water will quickly rot, spreading the problem to the rest of the cutting. The node also needs to be exposed to promote root growth at the base of the cutting.
Step 3: Rooting
Next comes the most important step – rooting. Rooting in water is often the preferred method for houseplant owners as you can keep an eye on root growth (and turn the glass into a décor feature at the same time). However, rooting in soil will produce stronger roots accustomed to soil conditions, limiting chances of shock when transplanting. Both methods deliver results, so the choice is yours.
Rooting In Water
Grab your glass and fill the bottom section with water. Filtered or rainwater is preferred, especially if you live in a city with tap water full of chemicals that may inhibit growth. But this is not totally necessary as long as you transplant as soon as possible.
Pop the cutting into the glass so only the bottom half is submerged. The leaves should remain completely out of the water. If your glass is the wrong shape, you can cover the top with plastic wrap, making a small hole to fit the stem through. The other sets of leaves will act as an anchor, keeping them dry.
Rooting In Soil
To root in soil, start by filling a small container with your chosen propagating mix. Make a small hole in the center with your finger and plant the cutting, keeping only the bottom half below the soil line.
Press around the cutting to anchor it in place and stop it from toppling over. Again, make sure the leaves are completely above the soil line to remain dry.
When planting multiple cuttings at once, leave a bit of space between each one so the root growth does not become tangled. You can plant as many cuttings as you have prepared, but they will need to be transplanted into individual containers later.
Water immediately after planting to promote root growth. Make sure all excess moisture drains away from the base of the container.
Step 4: Post Propagation Care
Whether you’re rooting in water or soil, the container needs to be moved to a bright and warm spot to promote new growth. Keep the container near a bright window. But make sure it’s out of the path of intense direct sun as this can scorch the leaves.
For cuttings in water, top up the water every few days so the water is continually above the bottom half of the cutting. Never allow the bottom to dry out completely. Around once a week, change the water completely and clean the glass to prevent bacterial build-up.
Cuttings in soil should be kept consistently moist but never waterlogged. Keep the container in a visible area so you don’t forget to water.
Continue to water when the very top layer of soil just starts to dry out. Overwatering at this time will lead to rotting that prevent any chances of root growth, so make sure the pot is not sitting in water or on a full drip tray.
Step 5: Transplanting
After a few weeks or closer to a month, your cutting should have developed roots. These plants don’t root as quickly as other more common houseplants. So, don’t worry if it takes a while to see new growth.
To test whether cuttings in soil have developed roots, pull on them gently. If there is some resistance and the soil is still loose, the cutting has anchored into the soil with new root growth. For cuttings in water, you can simply watch the process unfold over a few weeks.
Wait until the cuttings are around an inch or two long before transplanting. You don’t want to wait too long to transplant to limit chances of shock. If the delicate roots get used to growing in water with limited resistance, they will struggle to establish in soil later on.
To transplant, fill a container with houseplant potting mix (two parts potting soil, one part perlite and one part coconut coir). Make a hole in the center and plant the cutting. Water immediately to encourage the roots to grow outwards and downwards into the soil.
Move the pot to a spot with bright indirect light or some gentle morning sun for quick root growth. It will take a couple of weeks for your new plant to be happy in its home. But once it has settled in, you can care for it as usual, waiting for new lush growth to appear.
Now that you’ve seen each step needed to propagate these plants successfully, the next step is starting the process on your own plant. You can purchase a more mature plant from a local nursery and start the propagation process to create multiple plants.
Or, you can stick with propagating one you already own. By following the step-by-step process I’ve outlined here, you’ll have many new plants to place around your indoor garden in no time!