A polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) is an evergreen shrub that thrives in tropical climates. As a result, its watering schedule and hydration preferences can widely differ from what you might be used to as a gardener.
Lucky for you, in this article, you’ll learn all there is to know about polka dot plant watering, along with some tips on allowing the gorgeous patterned shrub to thrive.
Polka dot plants should be watered when the top half-inch (1.3 cm) layer of soil has completely dried, but the deeper layers still retain a bit of moisture. You should never let the soil of a polka-dot plant dry completely between watering sessions. Always water a polka dot plant from the bottom.
As you can see, building an efficient and easy-to-maintain watering schedule for your polka-dot plant can be challenging. Therefore, make sure to keep reading until the end of this article to learn more about the best way to water the species, the optimal watering session frequency, and the easiest way to tell whether your polka dot plant needs watering.
The best way to water polka dot plants is from the bottom. Watering polka dot plants from above can make them more prone to bacterial and fungal infections, while bottom watering allows the roots to access the moisture they require while still preventing them from getting waterlogged.
First of all, I want to note that timing is everything when watering polka dot plants. The best time to water your polka dot plants is either early morning or late evening, as you don’t want to add moisture in the middle of a scorching day when the water will evaporate right off the soil before the roots have even had a chance to absorb it.
Secondly, consistent, evenly-distributed moisture is the key to getting your polka-dot plants to grow and thrive. However, there’s a delicate balance to be maintained when it comes to providing the shrub with the water it needs and preventing incidences of overwatering.
Therefore, implementing the right watering technique can significantly affect your chances of success.
For example, if you were to water your polka dot plant from the top like you would most other houseplants, chances are the shrub would suffer. By pouring the water from above, you risk getting the patterned leaves wet, which significantly increases the chances of bacterial and fungal infections.
This is why I always recommend bottom watering when it comes to providing a polka-dot plant with the moisture it needs. Therefore, if you haven’t already, invest in a saucer that will make the watering process much easier for you.
After finding an efficient, size-appropriate saucer, it’s time to fill it with water. As always, try to stay away from tap water. However, if you don’t have any other options, leave the tap water you plan to use sit overnight to let the chlorine content evaporate.
If you’re scared of overwatering your plant, spread some clean pebbles across the saucer. This will prevent the soil and roots from absorbing more moisture than they can handle.
All that’s left to do now is to place the polka dot plant pot on top of the saucer for a few hours until the soil is uniformly moist (the word uniformly is operative here). Afterward, you can discard any excess water, and with that, the watering process is over.
One of the main benefits of bottom watering is the lowered chance of wet spots, which can quickly encourage root rot.
However, at the end of the day, your watering technique is as good as your soil. While rich, well-draining soil can accommodate for a top-watering or two, a potting mix that can get waterlogged quickly will give you trouble down the line, no matter how carefully you bottom-water it.
You should water polka dot plants around once a week; however, the ideal frequency can vary depending on variables like temperature, growth phase, watering technique, etc. As a rule of thumb, only water a polka dot plant when the top half-inch (1.3 cm) layer of soil is dry, but the rest is moist.
Remember that the “once a week” suggestion is just a rough estimate, and you’ll want to check the soil consistency every time you water your polka dot plants. Generally speaking, it’s best to carry out soil tests once every five days, especially if you live in a very hot climate.
That way, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding underwatering the shrub, which could quickly trigger a stress response. Due to this stress response, a polka dot plant can suffer from a number of symptoms, including wilted or browned leaves that will eventually fall off if left underwater for too long.
An infrequent and inconsistent watering schedule can even lead to the death of your plant, so make sure to be vigilant of the time that passes between waterings.
The reason why polka dot plants have such a strong adverse reaction to underwatering is that they prefer to be kept in moist (but not soggy) soil. For this reason, unlike with other plants, you shouldn’t let the soil get completely dry between waterings.
There are several variables that determine the best watering frequency for your unique plant. Some of them include:
Indoor and outdoor polka dot plants require different watering frequencies. Due to its relatively low volume, the potting mix in a container tends to dry out much quicker than outdoor soil.
Moreover, in-ground plants receive additional moisture from sources like rain and dew. Therefore, indoor polka dot plants need to be watered more often than their outdoor counterparts.
This might go without saying, but it’s still worth mentioning that your watering schedule should be built based on your polka-dot plant’s size. Larger shrubs have larger roots that require more moisture to thrive. As a result, they should be watered more frequently.
It’s essential to change and adjust your watering schedule as the seasons change. When temperatures are higher, water will evaporate quickly, and your polka dot plant will need to be watered more frequently.
On the other hand, during winter, the plant often enters its dormant phase, requiring little to no water to survive (especially if kept outside).
Not all pots are created the same. Depending on the material used, some allow moisture to escape faster than others.
For example, ceramic pots do an excellent job of maintaining a reasonably-paced water evaporation process. Terracotta, on the other hand, is very porous and can lead to an increased watering frequency. Metal containers have the opposite effect; they trap moisture for far too long.
You’ll also need to adjust your watering schedule and frequency depending on the plant’s growth phase. For example, when the seedlings are just entering the germination process, they’ll require substantially more water than a fully grown shrub.
Similarly, when a polka dot plant is going through the flowering cycle, it will need to make use of all possible resources, increasing moisture needs.
Polka dot plants are notoriously known for their high humidity requirements. Given that they’re native to tropical climates, they thrive in areas where relative humidity levels surpass the 50% mark.
Therefore, if growing the shrub outside, research your area to determine whether the humidity level is optimal. If growing it inside, it’s usually best to invest in a humidifier.
In fact, the right humidity level can be crucial when it comes to growing a strong, healthy polka dot plant. This is why you’ll find many gardeners in Florida, California, or Hawaii growing polka dot plants successfully.
At the same time, for growers in equally hot states such as Texas or Louisiana, the process can be a bit more challenging due to the drier climate.
Considering that over and underwatering can both be deadly to your polka dot plant, knowing exactly when the shrub needs a watering can help you from a lot of stress and headache.
Luckily, there are a few simple cues you can rely on when it comes to determining whether your plant needs some additional moisture.
First, you’ll want to do a visual inspection. If the leaves show any sign of wilting or browning, the plant is severely underwatered, and you should water it immediately.
If visually, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the plant itself, you can then check the soil. If the potting mix has become crackled or especially light in color, it’s a tell-tale sign that you need to get watering.
However, none of these methods are 100% reliable by themselves. Therefore, carrying out a moisture test by hand or a moisture meter is always a good idea.
You can either stick your finger in the soil to see if the top half-inch (1.3 cm) layer has dried out (if so, you’ll need to water the plant) or use a moisture meter. If the moisture meter’s reading is anything below three, the shrub requires more moisture.
Polka dot plants can be a bit particular regarding their watering preferences; therefore, you’ll want to keep all the tips and tricks mentioned in this article in mind to ensure you’re providing your plant with the moisture it needs. This is the only way to grow a thriving, vibrant polka dot plant.
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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.