This post was originally published in September 2019, but I wanted to add more to it (after a few years of keeping these cheerful plants) to make it more comprehensive. I also wanted to include some updated progress photos too. I hope you enjoy this extended post!
The Pilea is one of those plants that has lots of common names: Pancake Plant, Friendship Plant, Missionary Plant, Chinese Money Plant, Coin Plant, Pass It On Plant… + even UFO Plant! Whatever you choose to call yours, there’s no denying that the Pilea has taken the houseplant world by storm in recent years. This highly coveted plant whipped up perhaps the most popular houseplant hype of recent years, with tiny cuttings selling for big bucks before they became more readily available over the last 2 years or so.
Today’s post is all about how to care for these eye-catching plants + I will be covering the topics of:
- humidity + leaf care
- potting mix (+ pots)
- winter care
- + propagation
Meet my largest pilea. I’ve had her for quite a while now + from looking like a UFO in 2019, my plant has blossomed into a full and magnificent beauty some 18 months later. I wanted to share my care guide as I get quite a few questions regarding how to keep this plant looking its best.
Above: my plant in May 2019, Below, my plant in March (L)+ May 2020 (R):
And here is a recent photo of it in December 2020 — it’s got pretty tall:
The first thing to consider is location, which can really have quite an impact on the shape + growth of pilea plants. Over the last few years, I’ve experimented with dotting a few plants around my apartment + have been testing out growth habits in different conditions. The best position for me has been around 1 metre from my west facing window. Since moving in February 2020, my large Pilea has sat on my table in a south-east position, a few metres from the window + out of any harsh light. That translates as fairly bright, indirect light + I’m in the northern hemisphere for reference. Bear in mind that these are the conditions that are personal to my current environment + are used as a guide for you to compare with your own home. It’s important to also remember that windows can be pretty different in size + if you live in a built up area, with other buildings close by, or if there are obstacles like trees outside, this all has an impact on the intensity of light.
In somewhere quite dark, the stems will stretch out + distort the shape so that growth is quite sparse. Placed somewhere too bright, the leaves have a tendency to mark + crisp at the edges. Saying that, if your plant has acclimatised to a brighter environment I have found they can handle quite a bit of sun (contrary to common advice) — my sisters plant grows well in her conservatory most of the year!
To keep plant growth balanced, it’s a good idea to rotate your plant every few days/weeks or else things will start to stretch a bit, especially in darker environments! If that’s the style you like then let your Pilea go crazy. To keep the rounded ‘globe’ form, I (obsessively) turn mine every 5 days or so — it’s on my circular table + from a plant styling perspective, I like the shape to stay uniform. In terms of remembering to turn it, it’s where I sit + have my coffee anyway so it’s not too much trouble… it’s become like a little plant ritual + my coffee table plants are quite well looked after for this reason!
Watering is the main thing to get right with these plants as they can really dislike having wet feet — as I’m sure most of us can relate. The main issue people have with Pilea is drooping stems, which is often a result of the compost getting over saturated. Overwatering is definitely the main cause of Pilea problems + I try to wait almost until the plants show you that they need water by looking a bit wilted. Watering too often will cause more problems than not watering enough + very dry plants do bounce back pretty well. I wait until the top inch or so of potting mix has dried out before watering from the top. If you are overwatering you might notice some yellowing leaves, but this can also correlate with a drop in temperatures too. If in doubt don’t water. Oh + I’d recommend always using a pot with a drainage hole!
If you have a few smaller plants, the easiest way to give them a drink is on a watering plate. I take all of mine to the kitchen table and fill my large drip tray with tepid water, allowing the plants to sit there for approximately 30mins. I do this about once every 7-14 days this time of year. As with the larger plants, wait until they have started to dry out before watering again. Younger plants have much weaker stems so will flop about if they are unhappy!
HUMIDITY + LEAF CARE
Pilea plants cope really well with regular household conditions but also quite like a little bit of extra humidity if you have the option. The leaves tend to grow larger + flatter in a more humid environment in my experience, but this isn’t completely essential for their wellbeing — they are quite forgiving in that respect. I give my plants a shower every 6 weeks or so to keep the leaves clean + will dust them regularly as their flat, disc-like shape can pick up dust like any surface. The glossy leaves aren’t as much of a dust-magnet as my ficus family though!
Once you get the location and watering right, there are a few other things take into consideration to keep your Pilea healthy and growing well. During the Spring + Summer (between March-October). I fertilise once to twice a month with a balanced liquid houseplant fertiliser at half the recommended dilution rate. If your climate is quite different to mine + you find your plants grow year-round, then more regular fertilising is fine. It’s very cold where I live during Winter + with the harsh decrease in temperatures, I’m getting used to my houseplants stopping growing altogether. The easiest way to judge whether or not to feed is if your plant has new leaves growing. I don’t find these plants to really require it as much as others + if their light conditions are keeping your plant happy, you’ll see a decent amount of growth without lots of feeding.
A consistent care routine helps keep your Pilea gang pretty resilient to pests, alongside the occasional feed when they are growing between March-October. The main reason pests can appear is often a result of incorrect care, or very low humidity + under watering coupled with hot, dry conditions. Mealybugs can make an appearance on a neglected Pilea so keep an eye out for fluffy white deposits where the leaves join the stem, or on the undersides of the foliage . If the attack is small, these can be wiped off with a cotton swab coated in rubbing alcohol + monitored.
Pileas love having a bit of room to grow + can flourish if they are potted on + grown into a more mature plant. On the other hand, if it’s baby pilea plantlets you want in order to grow your collection, them you should hold off over potting because being pot bound can help to trigger the mother plant to produce offsets around the base of the pot. They can pop up at any point around the surface of the potting mix + I’ve even had one growing out of a drainage hole! With smaller plants, I tend to do a few smaller re-pots over the growing season + I leave them well alone over winter (more on that later).
In terms of potting mix, I like to use a fairly free draining option to keep the roots from getting soggy; I make up a concoction of houseplant compost, orchid bark, horticultural grit + some perlite. Here’s the link to the mix I like to make up.
A NOTE ON POTS: It sounds obvious but the type of pot you choose to use is also connected to your mix + watering requirements. If you are used to using nursery pots + choose to pop your Pilea in terracotta, it can be hard to adapt to the different watering needs. It’s quite common to find that you might be under watering because terracotta is much more porous + will wick the moisture away from the plant. If I want to use terracotta with a few of my Pilea, I will pop a nursery pot inside + use the terracotta as a cover (cache) pot. This can have benefits of course, especially in preventing root rot, but be mindful of the combination of a very free-draining potting mix PLUS terracotta as you might need to increase watering quite considerably. It’s all about balance + knowing what works for you. I know quite a few over-waterers use terracotta to compensate for a heavy-hand with the watering can!
You might not have seem Pilea blooms before because they can be a bit elusive…but a strong enough intensity of light + a warm enough temperature over a period of time can really help to get the flowers to appear. A few years ago my sister called me + said ‘Laura, my pilea is growing some weird alien looking thing out of the pot… look!’ Her plant lives in the conservatory + had become acclimatised to warmer conditions so decided to bloom that summer. As with all houseplants that aren’t really grown for their flowers but for their foliage, you can choose wether or not you want to cut off the inflorescence (flower spike) prematurely. Some people prefer to do this, as the flowering will be diverting energy away from the plant as it works at making the blooms. I’ll see if I have a photo…
It’s worth noting that winter can be a bit of a struggle to keep things looking great; pilea really do not like being in a draught, or near a radiator! A sudden drop in temperature can cause brown spots on the leaves and the edges too, so be prepared to move them if they usually live on a windowsill that might get cool at night over the chillier months. You might also notice some leaf yellowing + dropping, particularly in the lower leaves. If some of the more mature stems fall off, it’s nothing to worry about, but make sure to not forget about watering these lightly over winter, as I have found that ‘drooping’ is more likely if the soil is extremely dry. I also mist them weekly. which seems to help the leaves remain relatively flat + not ‘domed’ in shape. In my experience, I think they just enjoy to have a bit of moisture on their foliage now + again. Given their slightly temperamental nature at this time of year, I only carry out repotting in Spring + Summer when they are in a period of active growth.
As you’ll know if you have had a Pilea peperomioides for a while, it’s not too long before baby plants start popping up from the soil + when they get multiplying, they can be quite prolific! I think this one has so far made 8 babies + there are currently 4 in the soil in the main plant pot. As I said earlier in the post, in the same way as with plants such as spider plants (chlorophytum), the main way to encourage plantlet growth is to keep the plant relatively tight in the pot. This triggers the plant to start producing offsets as a survival mechanism. Wait until the Pilea baby is around 3 inches tall with a few leaves before removing for best results. Cut the plantlet from the main plant with a clean blade + leave to callus over for a few days before planting, if there are roots present you could pot straight away. I prefer to bring my baby plants along a bit in water first, but that’s personal preference. In water, leave to root for a few weeks before planting.
I’ve got a blogpost that goes into Pilea propagation in more detail, answering your frequently asked questions if you want to learn more — here’s the link.
Hope this has been helpful for those asking for a post about Pilea care! It’ll be under my ‘Plant Care Guides’ on my homepage + here are some pins to share or save too: