Houseplants come with many benefits, from purifying indoor air to brightening your house with life and pops of colors. Polka dot plant is one such plant with variegated leaves of bright colors. But polka plants have a strict care routine.
You should feed your polka dot plants with a houseplant fertilizer like NPK with the numbers 20-20-20 to satisfy their appetite for nutrients. These numbers mean the fertilizer has a combination of 20% Nitrogen (N), 20% Phosphorus (P), and 20% Potassium (K).
This article will share more details about NPK fertilizers and how they help your plants. I will also suggest helpful tips on how to take care of your polka dot plants to keep your house looking leafy and elegant.
The polka dot plant is a hardy plant native to Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and South Africa. Spatters of white, pink, and red spots characterize its leaves depending on the variety. Its height varies from 6 inches (15 cm) to 2 feet (60 cm).
Polka dot plants come in wide varieties. They have spotted leaves mottled with white, red, and purple colors, so they pop more. Although they aren’t difficult to maintain indoors or outdoors, they are particularly unique because they’re native to warm climates.
Most gardeners treat polka dot plants as annual plants, replacing them with new ones each year. Anyway, their life span is about two years, so you should replace them regularly.
Polka dot plants have moderate growth rates and aren’t invasive, except in Australia, where they thrive and are considered weeds.
The numbers 20-20-20 are usually on the fertilizer package and indicate the product’s nutritional value. Understanding what each of these numbers represents and their importance to your plants is essential in helping you choose the right fertilizer.
20-20-20 NPK fertilizers are ideal for feeding your polka dot plants because they contain nutrients essential for plant growth. Nitrogen helps plants to remain leafy year-round, phosphorus stimulates flower, root, and fruit development while potassium takes care of the entire plant metabolism.
Nitrogen also helps plants to develop strong stems and improves water use to resist drought while potassium is essential for annuals and young plants.
Knowing how to fertilize your plants is one thing, and knowing when to do it is another. And it’s not always straightforward. The plants should take full advantage of the fertilizer when you apply it. The secret is doing it at the right time.
Fertilize your polka dot plants once per week throughout summer and autumn. They blossom from summer to early fall and have the pokiest growth in winter, so you should avoid fertilizing during winter. They’re likely to take up less fertilizer during this time, and that’s a waste.
Growing polka dot plants requires a keen eye and frequent checkups. The indoor environment is pretty much controlled, and you’re responsible for ensuring a balance of everything, including water, light, and fertilizer.
As much as your plants need fertilizer to blossom, they don’t need too much of it. It would be best to feed your polka dot plants with half-strength of the 20-20-20 NPK fertilizer. If the manufacturer recommends mixing half a tablespoon of the fertilizer with a gallon of water, reduce it to a quarter of a tablespoon.
The soil in which the plants grow has nutrients already. The fertilizer is just a supplement. But how would you know you’re not overdoing it?
The tips of polka dot plant leaves become brown and crispy if you apply too much fertilizer. Excess fertilizer increases the soil’s salt concentration, and that’s harmful to beneficial microorganisms. It might also make the plants burst with excess foliage and an inadequate root system.
Excess fertilizer in the soil makes plants to grow faster than their root systems, which might deprive them of sufficient water and nutrients in the long run.
Testing your soil before applying fertilizer is essential as it gives you an idea of the correct amount and type of fertilizer to use. Fertilizing your polka dot plants without knowing the soil’s nutrient needs may lead to under or overfertilization and is thus a win-win for your plants and pocket.
Soil testing is a sure way to determine your soil’s nutrient composition. It gives you numerical data on the nutrients your soil lacks and the ones that are plentiful. Soil test reports include recommendations for fertilizer application and how to correct nutrient deficiencies.
The US offers the Cooperative Extensive Service to help test soil samples across its various states. You can also try private laboratories. I have tried a few in Orange and Anaheim in California, and they were a good fit.
A soil testing kit can also be handy for doing measurements on your own.
You can try this Crisis 7- in-1 Handheld Soil Tester I found on Amazon.com. It tests for nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, soil humidity, pH, and temperature and comes with an LCD screen.
From an environmentalist point of view, inorganic fertilizers aren’t always the best. I prefer a mix of both organic and inorganic fertilizers. It’s more sustainable and cheaper in the long run.
You can use an organic or compost fertilizer on polka dot plants. Mix the compost with soil before planting, and supplement the nutrients with liquid fertilizers twice or thrice a month throughout the growing season.
Polka dot plants are sensitive to waterlogging and moisture deficiency, especially indoors. Therefore, it becomes an intricate balance if your soil doesn’t fit the following qualities.
Polka dot plants thrive well in fertile, moist, and well-drained soils. You can also try an organic potting mix. Mix it with perlite or pumice to improve drainage if poorly drained. The solid pH should be between 6.1-7.3: slightly acidic to neutral.
If you’re planning to plant polka dot plants in a pot or container, lighten up hard local soils with peat moss and perlite. You can also make holes in the containers to improve the soil’s drainage further.
Add handfuls of mulch to the pot’s soil if you place the plants on a patio. Mulch helps protect the earth from excessive evaporation, especially during summer. You can also try bark chips; they have the same effect.
I highly recommend repotting plants as soon as you buy them. Potted plants, particularly store-bought plants, risk becoming pot bound, and it’s essential you re-pot them regularly.
- Repotting potted plants keeps them healthy. Pot-bound plants are likely to become leggy or dry out at some point. Roots protruding from the pot’s weep holes are one sign your polka dot plants are becoming pot-bound. After repotting, don’t plant new ones on the same pot soil.
- Choose pots slightly bigger than the current ones: Ideally, 2 inches (5cm) wider and deeper to give roots sufficient space to expand.
- Clean the new pots and drill weep holes at the bottom.
- Prepare fresh potting mix with compost materials.
- Fill the pots quarter way with the fresh mix.
- Remove polka dot plants from their original pots and take care not to damage the roots. Try squeezing the containers if the plants are firmly stuck.
- Brush the roots gently and remove dead plants.
- Put the plants in the middle of the new pots about one inch (2.54cm) below the brim.
- Fill up the top with the potting mix and compact: take care not to over compact.
- Water the repotted plants until water comes out through the weep holes.
- Place the new pots in your preferred spots and enjoy their pops of color.
Polka dot plants thrive best under medium to low light conditions. However, low light causes them to become leggy. Strive to get a spot in your house where the plants access indirect sunlight. The area shouldn’t be too bright or too shady. This will help to keep your plants vibrant and allow them to blossom to their fullest.
Low light or too bright conditions make your polka plants lose color. Place them a few feet from an East or South-facing window. You also want to avoid placing them on window sills and instead keep them several feet into the room. This will enable them to get sufficient light that’s not too bright to damage them.
Polka dot plants do well at around 75° F (23° C). And although they can cope with fluctuating temperatures, avoid exposing them to temperatures below 60° F (15° C).
Polka dot plants can significantly change how your home looks. They come with a unique color pop that blends well with most interior and outdoor furniture layouts. And considering that they don’t grow too high, you can comfortably use them as cover plants or hedging plants.
Unfortunately, polka dot plants are heavy feeders. They are also sensitive to incorrect moisture content and lighting conditions. It would be best to feed them regularly to keep them healthy and add a much-need leafy touch and color to your house. You can use either inorganic NPK 20-20-20 or organic fertilizers to feed them.
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- Why Are My Polka Dot Plant Leaves Completely White?
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.