How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Polka Dot Plants

Often referred to as a novelty houseplant due to their bright dotty foliage, polka dot plants are also planted in garden beds as annuals. These pretty tropical plants are soft and gentle but also easy to care for with the right conditions. In this article, plant expert Wendy Moulton explains how to take care of them for the best results.

A close-up of polka dot leaves, their lush texture inviting touch and exploration. Speckled with shades of green and pink, they create a lively mosaic, a delightful blend of natural hues that captivates the eye with its playful charm.


A splash of color in the garden or a pot next to other greenery indoors are always attractive features. This is why Hypoestes phyllostachya (polka dot plant) has become popular in the houseplant world. In warmer regions, it can be grown as an annual outdoors.

These plants are easy to care for as long as you provide the correct light, a good amount of moisture, and a regular feeding schedule throughout the growing season. The soft pink foliage makes it a gentle yet colorful addition to any houseplant collection.

Plant Overview

Polka dot leaves featuring vibrant shades of green and pink, creating a whimsical pattern that adds a playful touch to the foliage. Positioned nearby, a separate plant boasts delicate pink flowers.
Genus Hypoestes
Species Hypoestes phyllostachya
Family Acanthaceae
Native Area South Africa, Madagascar, East Asia
Height and Spread Up to 30 inches tall and wide
Maintenance Pinch out growing tips to make them bushier
Hardiness Zones 10-11
Exposure Bright indirect light, partial shade in the garden
Watering needs Medium
Pests and Diseases Whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, powdery mildew, and root rot
Soil Type Rich, well-draining
Flowering time Summer to autumn

What Is Polka Dot Plant?

Hypoestes phyllostachya is a leafy perennial or annual with insignificant flowers cultivated for its special pink speckled foliage. This ornamental plant is native to the tropics and can brighten up a terrarium or houseplant collection.

In cold climates, this frost-tender perennial grows best indoors, but in warm climates, it can be grown outdoors in containers or hanging baskets as an annual.

Native Area

Two polka dot plant varieties with foliage pressed closely together, one featuring delicate light pink speckles and the other adorned with bold red hues. The leaves display intricate patterns, creating a captivating tapestry of contrasting colors.
It originates in Madagascar but has spread to tropical regions of North and South America.

The origins of Hypoestes phyllostachya fall mostly in Madagascar, but it is also native to South Africa and East Asia. It has been introduced to a tropical regions of North and South America as well as parts of India.

This is by far the most popular plant of the Hypoestes genus. However, there are over 200 other Hypoestes varieties, ranging from small ground cover type plants to large shrubs. Many have similar patterns on their leaves and are native to other tropical and subtropical areas of the world.


A close-up of polka dot leaves, showcasing a playful pattern of pink and green. The pink hues add a whimsical touch, harmonizing with the refreshing green tones, creating a visually captivating and lively foliage scene.
The plant is known for its colorful leaves and small purple flowers.

Freckly leaves are what set this plant apart. The foliage comes in a variety of colors from green and light pink, dark green and dark pink verging on red, and white and green. The leaves are soft and hairy.

If not confined to a container, they can grow to 30 inches high. Normally, however, the plants remain quite small, at around six to eight inches.

The flowers are small and tubular purple. They may emerge in summer and into autumn. The name Hypoestes originates in the Greek language— hypo means ‘under’ and estia means ‘a house,’ referring to the flowers that are hidden under bracts and hardly noticeable.

This unique species is a recipient of the coveted Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.


Whether planted in the garden, in a pot to use as a houseplant, or in a terrarium, these are the requirements this species needs to thrive. Stressed plants are more prone to pests and diseases, so proper care prevents problems down the line.


A polka dot plant with pink-speckled leaves grows in a white pot, exuding a lively charm. The playful contrast between the dominant pink hues and the  green tones adds a delightful touch.
They prefer minimal root disturbance during repotting.

Polka dot plants hate to have their roots disturbed, so it’s best to repot only if necessary. Only increase the pot size by a maximum of two inches. When transplanting to new soil, disturb the roots as little as possible or they will suffer from transplant shock. It’s best to repot in spring.

Growing from Seed

A close-up of green polka dot plant seedlings nestled in a brown pot. The tender leaves stretch towards the sunlight, embracing its gentle warmth, promising future growth and vitality in their new home.
Start plants indoors for the most success.

These plants are easily grown from seed. If you are planning to plant them outdoors, start seed sowing indoors or in a greenhouse 8-10 weeks before the last frost date. Keep the temperature at around 68°F (20°C), and seeds should sprout in 4-5 days.

Once the plants have reached around 3 inches tall and have two sets of true leaves, they can be planted into individual pots. If you intend to sow seeds for plants as houseplants, you can propagate at any time of the year.

How to Grow

These easygoing houseplants have simple and straightforward growing requirements.


Lush leaves of a polka dot plant, bask in the light. Their vibrant green hues contrast beautifully with the cheerful pink dots, adding a whimsical touch to the natural scenery.
They thrive in medium to bright indirect light.

To keep their foliage nice and bright, these plants need medium to bright indirect light. They tolerate low light areas but their foliage may lose color in shady spaces. Avoid direct sunlight, which may scorch the leaves and bleach out the colors.


A close-up of polka dot plant leaves, vibrant green with delicate pink dots scattered across. In the background, a soft blur unveils additional layers of these lush leaves, creating a dynamic composition of textures and colors in the botanical setting.
Provide consistently moist soil without becoming overly dry or wet.

This tropical native medium water requirements. Evenly moist soil is best. Avoid overly dry or overly wet soil. Don’t allow the plants to sit in water; rather, let the water drain freely from the pot before adding it back into pot covers or trays. Water more in hot and dry conditions. Any signs of limp foliage will be a pointer to give it more water.


Rich, dark potting soil, teeming with nutrients and moisture, creates the perfect foundation for vibrant plant growth. Its finely textured blend provides optimal aeration and water retention, fostering a nourishing environment for roots to thrive.
Plant in well-draining commercial potting soil.

In pots, this species does well with a standard commercial potting soil that is well-draining. Add vermiculite or perlite to the mix to increase drainage. The soil pH can be slightly acidic to neutral.

If planting in the garden, they prefer a rich, well-draining soil. Avoid clay soil or enhance it with plenty of extra organic material and compost. When planting, add a good deal of compost to the area and keep it well-watered while transplants get established.


A group of brown pots arranged closely together, each cradling vibrant polka dot plants. The soil nestled within the pots appears rich and well-mulched, providing a nourishing environment for the thriving polka dot plants.
They thrive indoors at 63-80°F (17-27°C) but can only grow outdoors in USDA zones 10-11.

The ideal temperature range for these tropical plants is very warm, between 63-80°F (17-27°C). This is easily achieved in an indoor environment; just make sure the plants are out of range of cold drafts from outside.

They can only be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10-11. Outside of those zones, grow them in containers and take them in when temperatures drop in fall.


A close-up of vivid polka dot plant leaves illuminated by sunlight. The deep green leaves contrast beautifully with the white polka dots scattered across them, creating a striking pattern.
High humidity levels are best for this tropical species.

As tropical natives, these plants like extra humidity with daily spritzing. They prefer humidity levels of 50% or higher.


An orange pot cradles a plant adorned with elongated, green leaves. Next to it, a bag filled with yellow fertilizer granules awaits, while a green bottle of nourishing plant food stands nearby, ready to enhance growth and vitality.
Feed every two weeks with liquid plant food.

Feed these houseplants every two weeks from spring to autumn with a liquid plant food. Avoid feeding in winter. For outdoor plants, feed as you would your other annuals and bedding plants using a slow-release general-purpose fertilizer or liquid plant food.


Lush polka dot plant leaves, vibrant green with rosy pink spots, elegantly stretch towards the sunlight, creating a mesmerizing display of contrasting hues. The dappled foliage, adorned with intricate patterns, showcases nature's exquisite artistry.
Trim the growing points to keep them bushy.

As these houseplants get older, they may become leggy. To avoid this, pinch out the growing points to make bushier plants. Eventually, some plants need to be replaced with fresh new growth. You can take stem cuttings to propagate more.


Stem cuttings are the preferred method and the easiest way of propagating polka dot plants. However, they can also be grown from seed.

Stem Cuttings

A potted polka dot plant stands tall, showcasing its lush green leaves adorned with charming white dots. In the background, a blurred shelf hosts an array of small potted plants.
Propagate by taking four-inch stem cuttings.

Use sharp, sanitized shears to take cuttings about four inches long from a stem with several visible nodes (growing points). Remove all but the top two to three leaves, and place each cutting in clean water. You can hold them up in a glass container by covering the top with plastic wrap, secured with a rubber band, and then poke holes in the plastic for each cutting.

Don’t crowd too many cuttings in one container. Give them space and airflow. Change the water twice a week. When the roots are about two and a half inches long, transplant them into pots with fresh potting soil.

You can also grow cuttings in seedling mix, vermiculite, or coarse sand. Make a hole in the substrate using the back of a pencil or a wooden. Insert the cutting and backfill. Dipping the ends in rooting hormone can speed up the process.

Keep cuttings watered and warm. Within two to three weeks, they should have sufficient roots to up-pot. Give the plants a gentle tug to check if they’ve rooted. If they feel firmly stuck in the soil, they are ready to go!

There are many popular varieties, but they all have very similar growth requirements.


A close-up of a potted 'confetti' polka dot plant featuring vibrant pink leaves adorned with intricate green veins and scattered dots. The plant's delicate foliage showcases a playful contrast between its rosy hues and verdant accents.
This variety features compact growth and vibrant foliage.

‘Confetti’ is a compact plant with pretty foliage in colors that range from bright white and dark green, blush red and green, to baby pink and dark green. Sometimes, they are an intense very dark pink to red with a dark forest green background.


A close-up of 'splash' polka dot plant leaves reveals a display of deep green hues contrasted by scattered red dots. Each leaf showcases a unique arrangement, drawing attention to the intricate beauty of nature's design in this captivating plant.
A compact variety named ‘Splash’ features uniform markings and a mounding habit.

‘Splash’ is a compact variety with uniform markings and a mounding habit.

‘Pink Brocade’

A 'pink brocade' polka dot plant reveals leaves adorned with vibrant shades of green and pink. In the background, a blur highlights a lush arrangement of similar plants, adding depth to the botanical scene.
Hot pink freckles on green leaves make this variety stand out.

‘Pink Brocade’ is a more freckled variety in pink and green with vigorous growth.


A close-up of a 'hippo' polka dot plant, illuminated by soft light. Its lush leaves exhibit vivid shades of green and purple, creating a striking contrast and adding a lively touch to the scene.
This variety features large, colorful leaves and lush growth.

‘Hippo’ has large, colorful leaves and lush growth in bright color combinations.

Common Problems

These houseplants are fairly low key, but here are a few problems you may encounter and how to solve them.

Too Much or Too Little Light

A close-up of a green leaf speckled with small, white polka dots, resembling a lively piece of artistry in nature's gallery. Adjacent to the focal leaf, others of its kind mimic the enchanting display, forming a harmonious composition.
Avoid both excessive and insufficient light exposure.

When leaves start losing color and becoming pale, dry, or brittle, the plant is getting too much direct sunlight. It will also lose its color in areas with not enough light. The middle of the road is best for this plant to keep the vibrant foliage. Move your plant to an area of your home a few feet back from a bright window.

Too Cold

In a white pot, two types of polka dot plants thrive. One flaunts leaves in delightful shades of pink and green, while the other showcases a verdant green color patterned with captivating fuchsia pink dots, creating a visually appealing arrangement.
Avoid placing plants near drafts or in temperatures below 50°F (10°C).

If the plants are exposed to temperatures below 50°F (10°C), they may suffer from cold damage and begin to drop their leaves. Keep away from drafty areas, air conditioners, and open windows.


Green leaves featuring delicate pink dots adorning a polka dot plant, creating a mesmerizing pattern. The leaves bask in the warm sunlight, highlighting their intricate textures and charming colors, evoking a sense of natural beauty and tranquility.
Adjust watering frequency and improve drainage to prevent root rot.

Excess water can cause the leaves to yellow. To fix the problem, reduce the watering cycle and check the soil drainage. The plant may also suffer from root rot if the soil is poorly drained. Remove any yellowing leaves, cut back on watering, and repot if necessary.


A polka dot plant, its deep green leaves adorned with striking white dots, stands out amidst a garden. Surrounded by an array of diverse foliage, it adds a whimsical charm to the botanical landscape.
Limp leaves indicate a need for water.

When you see limp leaves, the plant is telling you that it needs water. This is an easy fix, but it may take a bit of time to recover, so keep an eye on it.

Pests and Diseases

A polka dot plant with deep green leaves speckled with white dots, shows signs of pest damage with scattered perforated holes across the foliage. Additional leaves in the background provide a blurred backdrop to the plant's intricate details.
These houseplants may encounter pest issues due to environmental stressors.

These plants are not bothered by many pests unless they are stressed by too much light, under or overwatering, or cold temperatures. On the rare occasion you do have problems, look out for mealybugs, aphids, and whitefiles. Wipe the leaves with a diluted neem solution to remove the pests.

Powdery mildew and root rot are also issues that can arise when plants are overwatered. These two diseases also strike in media that doesn’t drain well. For powdery mildew, remove damaged leaves as they crop up and replant in fresh soil if the problem persists. The same can be done for root rot after removing damaged roots.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many times a week should I water my polka dot plant?

Watering frequency depends on the time of the year, soil type, and humidity levels. The best way to know if you need to water is to check the soil. If it’s damp, then leave it a day or so. But if the soil feels dehydrated to the touch, add water. On average, check your plants’ moisture every 4 days during the summer.

Can you divide a polka dot plant?

You can divide these plants, but they grow so well from cuttings that it is usually unnecessary. They dislike root disturbance, so propagating by cuttings is best. If your plant becomes leggy, it may be time to retire it to the compost heap.

What is the lifespan of a polka dot plant?

Most will live as houseplants for up to five years in ideal conditions. Before that time is up, it’s best to make some cuttings to grow more plants.

Are polka dot plants harmful to pets?

This plant is considered non-toxic. It is completely safe for pets like cats, dogs, and horses and is also non-toxic to humans. However, it’s not edible and you shouldn’t eat it.

Final Thoughts

The colors of polka dot plants make them stand out. The decorative combination of pink and green leaves make them very popular. There is also something to be said for planting many varieties together in a hanging basket to brighten a space. Don’t forget to provide plenty of warmth, humidity, and indirect light to help these plants thrive.

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