Have you ever wanted to grow a lucky plant? Aglaonema, also called Chinese Evergreen, is a colorful favorite in China where it is considered lucky. Native to China and the Philippines, these leafy tropicals are easy-care houseplants with foliage that is a combination of white, dark green, pink, and other colors.
NASA has placed the Aglaonema modestum variety on its top ten list of clean air plants because of the plant’s natural ability to remove benzene and formaldehyde from air sources. For this reason, aglaonema may one day be grown in space!
Lush and full of color, tropical aglaonema not only cleanses the air, but it looks stunningly beautiful in your garden or living space. Learn to care for aglaonemas in this guide.
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Chinese evergreen, Philippine evergreen|
|Height & Spread||10″ to 3′ tall and wide|
|Light||Low to moderate, can tolerate short periods of bright indirect light|
|Soil||Well-draining, with lots of perlite or sand|
|Water||Lightly moistened soil, do not overwater|
|Pests & Diseases||Scale, aphids, leaf spot, root rot|
All About Aglaonema
The genus of evergreen perennial plants known as Aglaonema is commonly known as Chinese evergreen or Philippine evergreen. These plants are native to the tropics and subtropics of New Guinea and Asia. They have been cultivated as good fortune and good luck plants for centuries.
Some Chinese evergreen plants are erect, and others spread through creeping rhizomes which root readily to the earth below. All species are flowering plants, producing flowers in spring and summer. In domestic settings some may bloom in the winter. They bloom in stages, producing first a bud, and then an anthesis (similar to a peace lily flower). For pollination purposes the outer spathe is removed to access female flowers.
Aglaonema is one plant genus that NASA found absorbed formaldehyde and benzene from the surrounding air. Although they’re good for improving air quality, they contain calcium oxalate crystals which are toxic when ingested. Sap emitted from the plant can also cause skin irritation. Therefore, cultivators should wear protection when handling these plants.
All aglaonema varieties (an estimated 21-14 species) are extremely easy to care for, making them office favorites worldwide. Although aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’ is one of the most popular varieties, you can experiment with cultivars like ‘Suzy’ or ‘Silver Bay’ – you don’t have to stick to ‘Silver Queen’. Silver Bay, Silver Queen, and Suzy are easy to find in big box stores.
Whatever variety of Chinese evergreen you decide to grow, here’s a list of the conditions for your aglaonema plant to care for it properly.
Light and Temperature
Renowned as a low-light plant, the darker varieties of aglaonema are extremely popular as indoor plants in windowless offices. Lighter or colorful variegated varieties prefer a bit more indirect light or filtered bright sunlight, but can also survive in fluorescent-lit bright office spaces, not close to a window.
Needless to say, aglaonema does just as well as a houseplant. In their natural environment, Chinese evergreen plants would be tucked beneath the shade of tropical trees, and would seldom get direct sun, so they thrive even indoors as long as there’s some light.
Aglaonema are sensitive to cold conditions. They should never be placed in a location where temperatures drop below 60°F degrees, as the plant can begin to show signs of cold damage anywhere beneath that range. They should be maintained at 65-80°F.
Water and Humidity
Your colorful Chinese evergreens will be somewhat tolerant of low water conditions, but you should never let the soil dry for long periods of time. Ideally, never allow the soil to dry more than 25-30% of the way down the pot before giving a deep water.
In its natural environment, humidity is high enough that the plant will absorb some of its moisture from the air. You can mist your Chinese evergreen plant occasionally to bring up the humidity level, or place it on a pebble tray with water in it to offer extra moisture.
Don’t place your plant under air conditioning vents or in drafty areas. It doesn’t tolerate dry conditions well, plus colder conditions can cause damage to the leathery foliage. Avoid placing it directly in the path of a heater vent, as that makes the moist soil dry out rapidly.
The soil for your aglaonemas needs to be able to hold some water, enough to stay lightly moist. However, it should easily be able to drain off excess water quickly so that you don’t risk root rot damage.
A peat-based potting soil with extra perlite is recommended for Chinese evergreen plants, but you can also consider blending in a bark-based orchid mix. The soil itself should be reasonably nitrogen-rich, but should be loose and not densely-packed. If you know of a well-draining potting soil, that works too.
Lightly-acidic soil in a range of 5.6-6.5 pH is recommended for aglaonema growers.
It is surprisingly easy to over-fertilize your colorful aglaonema. While it does in fact require some nitrogen for foliage development and plant growth, houseplant fertilizer tends to carry a lot of salt deposits in it which can build up in the soil.
I personally recommend using a half-strength balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer once a month in the spring and summer months. In the fall you can slow this down to once every couple months, but in the winter you should avoid fertilizing.
While aglaonema can be propagated by seeds, tip cuttings, division, or by tissue culture in a lab, most people opt for division. It’s the simplest for home growers to do.
To divide your aglaonema, first look to be sure there are multiple points from which the green plants emerge from the soil. It naturally propagates itself via suckers beneath the soil’s surface of the mother plant, and a pot can rapidly fill up with young sucker plants. You want many healthy plants showing.
Then, gently remove your Chinese evergreen plant and its soil from the pot. If the soil is loose enough, lightly dust it off with your hands to expose the roots. Provided that the plants are not rootbound and tangled together, you should be able to gently pry your aglaonema apart with your fingers for replanting.
If your plant is rootbound, you will need to use a sharp, sterile knife to cut the root mass into multiple sections for replanting, but be sure to leave an even number of leaves and stalks on each.
Aglaonema should be repotted into fresh soil every two years. This not only replenishes the soil, but it also allows you to divide your plant if you wish to or to increase the size of its pot.
Keep the pot size proportionate to the Chinese evergreen plant itself. Aglaonema likes to have secure, dense root structures, but does not need a lot of extra soil that can hold too much moisture.
Replant your Chinese evergreens at the same height as they were originally planted for best development.
Pruning Aglaonema Plants
These colorful, low-maintenance Chinese evergreen plants make pruning not absolutely necessary. In fact, it’s mostly done for cosmetic adjustment. You can use full stems with growth points to propagate your plant via stem cuttings.
You can remove the dead, dark green leaves as they appear by following the foliage stem down to the plant’s base and using a pair of sterile pruners to snip it off there.
Avoid pruning off leggy live growth in the same fashion, however. You can remove some just above a node to encourage bushing, but try to avoid taking the live growth off at the base of the plant, as you risk severe damage to the plant itself.
One thing which is always recommended is to prune off any inflorescences as they start to appear. Aglaonema flowers are not very pretty, and they use up the energy your plant should be devoting to foliage growth. Trim off flower stalks before the bud opens to prevent pollen going everywhere!
A surprisingly easy plant to care for, Chinese evergreens are popular for indoor growers. But what happens when problems arise? While few will materialize, here’s how to handle them when they occur.
The most common issue for these plants is yellowing of the leaves. Yellow leaves are a sign of under or over watering, usually the latter. Be sure you maintain a regularly-moist but not wet soil to ensure dark green leaves.
If yellowing still occurs despite maintaining optimal watering conditions, your plant may be suffering from a copper deficiency. This is surprisingly common in this type of plant, as it’s a heavy feeder on copper in the soil. Your plant may be lacking micronutrients and should be fertilized appropriately.
Browning tips on the dark green leaves are usually caused by a buildup in the soil of salts, chlorine, minerals or fluoride from tap water. To remedy this, you can either leach the soil of its mineral deposits by thoroughly draining it using distilled water, or you can simply repot in fresh soil.
The most common pests are mealybugs. Attaching themselves to the leathery leaves, they will suck the plant sap right out of them and cause damage. Other scale insects may also make an appearance.
Less common but still possible are spider mites and aphids. These too like to consume the plant’s sap, and will affix themselves to the undersides of leaves and stems.
All of the above can be handled with a light misting of Safer Soap on all plant surfaces. This organic insecticidal soap should be applied in the evening or when the plant is less likely to be exposed to light prior to the mist drying, so as to avoid foliage burning.
Aglaonema is susceptible to anthracnose and myrothecium leaf spots, which are both fungal. These can discolor your leaves and cause holes or patchy dry brown spots, and can slowly develop into more severe damage over time.
Treating these requires a light misting of a liquid copper fungicide such as Monterey Liqui-Cop. Again, apply this product at dusk so that it can dry on the foliage surfaces overnight. Your plant should appreciate the extra copper, as well!
Bacterial leaf spot may also appear on your plants. Typically transmitted via non-sterilized tools or by aphids, this will also respond well to Monterey Liqui-Cop treatment.
If your plant is frequently overwatered, it may develop fusarium root rot. This is generally fatal, so your best protection against this is prevention. Do not overwater your plant!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is aglaonema or colorful red aglaonema poisonous to pets or people?
A: It certainly can be. The ASPCA states that it is a toxin to cats, dogs, and horses. Aglaonema and cats and dogs should not mix. Don’t let them eat it, and if they do, get them to the vet immediately!
In addition, the sap is dermititis-causing, and can create skin irritations and skin rashes. Keep this plant away from children.
Q: Does Aglaonema need sunlight?
A: It depends on the variety you’re growing. Those with variegated foliage need brigther light than those with mostly dark green leaves. However, none appreciate direct sunlight.
Q: Is Aglaonema a good indoor plant?
A: It’s a great indoor plant, appreciating many of the conditions that occur inside your home.
Q: Do Aglaonema need big pots?
A: If your plant is large, it will need a large pot. Smaller ones prefer smaller containers. You want to provide a little room for your aglaonema to grow, but not too much.
Q: How often should I water my Aglaonema?
A: Water when the top fifth of the soil is dry. This occurs every 1 to 2 weeks during the growing season and less in dormancy.
Q: What pots are best for Aglaonema?
A: Plastic or ceramic pots with a sizable drainage hole are great because they don’t wick moisture out of the soil around your plant.
Q: When should I repot Aglaonema?
A: When the plant outgrows its pot, repot it. This occurs every 1 to 2 years.
Q: How do you keep Aglaonema bushy?
A: Prune away new growth and your plant will produce fuller, lush foliage.