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by Andrew S.
(Ithaca, NY, U.S.)


Hello there!

I have had a polka-dot plant for a little while now. I know that it is supposed to be kept trimmed so it stays small and compact, but I was always nervous about it, so it got quite tall.

More recently I cut the tips off and tried to propagate the tips, but I never seem to have any luck with this. I’ve tried planting them to no avail and I currently have two in a glass of water, while they are staying alive there doesn’t seem to be any roots forming.

What am I doing wrong?

Drought Smart Plants reply:

Hi Andrew – this is one of the greatest little plants – Hypoestes phyllostachya also known as Freckle Face and Measles Plant for a few more names, and relatively easy to grow.

These have recently undergone a bit of a transformation as plant breeders have played around with the genetics a bit. Now you can get some varieties with more variegation, red leaves variegated with pink, and white and red variegated forms too.

This plant loves high humidity, finding a perfect home amongst other damp loving plants such as ferns in a group.

To propagate it is apparently a bit tricky, according to some of my plant books, but here’s what I would try:

Take your cuttings aiming for around 10cm (4″) long if possible, with several leaves attached. Nip off the newest growth as this mainly wilts, and may cause rotting to start. Your cuttings that you show in the water might just work perfectly. I might even cut off part of the leaf to eliminate the risk of wilting. Don’t gasp in horror at the thought, it’s okay. The plant simply blocks off the cut ends and carries on.

Use some type of rooting hormone (try Stimroot #2 or other similar one) and then put the cuttings several to a small pot and place that inside a plastic bag or closed jar.

My favorite trick is to blow into the bag before closing it, which accomplishes two things;

A) it keeps the bag away from the leaves, preventing condensation from dripping on the plant, and

B) it increases the amount of carbon dioxide available to the leaves.

A couple of crucial things: don’t start out with really wet soil in your pot. Water it well, then allow it to be no more than damp like a wrung out sponge before you stick the cuttings. Don’t water again, unless it looks really dry – you’ll be able to tell by the weight of the pot of cuttings, but if it’s in a closed bag, there shouldn’t be any moisture loss.

Be patient! These can apparently be temperamental at best, so if you get even a couple to root, you’re doing well.

Good luck with your propagating!