You don’t need the attention span of a helicopter plant parent to master the Chinese Evergreen care essentials. With aglaonemas, care is straightforward. It tolerates neglect extremely well and it’s grown for it’s foliage beauty. Not the flowering. That’s why aglaonema care is oh-so-simple.
Generally, any flowering plant needs to have more attention given to it because they require a lot more energy to bloom.
With Chinese Evergreens, you only have to nourish the leaves. Even the species of aglaonema that do flower, the florals are nothing special. You’ll likely remove them anyway to encourage the plant to focus its energy on leaf nourishment instead of putting out boring flowers.
An Overview of the Basic Chinese Evergreen Care Requirements
Aglaonemas can grow on almost any type of soil. That said, if you’ve seen the photos of big-leaf varieties and wondered how big do Chinese Evergreen plants get, know that the size they can reach ties into the soil composition used in the pot.
Any soil that doesn’t drain freely can stress the plant, and a stressed Chinese Evergreen will struggle to fully develop its leaves.
To get those huge leaves, you need to the right soil base mix to start.
They prefer acidic potting mixes so a pH below 7.0. Most regular houseplant potting mixes are ready to use as-is. Loose and well-draining are the key components.
If you find a mix isn’t cutting it, you can improve aeration and drainage by mixing in some perlite, vermiculite, or coarse sand. As an FYI, the sand used for plants is horticultural sand. Not what you find at the beach because that will have far too high a salt content.
Aglaonemas are, technically, a tropical/sub-tropical plant, coming from the regions of New Guinea and Asia where temperatures are warm. Unlike most tropical houseplants though, these do well in average room temperatures in the 60 to 70-degrees Fahrenheit range, which is around 15 to 21-degrees in Celsius.
Humidity is where things get tricky because indoors, humidity is lower than these plants prefer. They favor relative humidity in the 60% to 70% range.
Without making any changes to your indoor environment, the relative humidity tends to be below 50%. They do better when you introduce something to elevate humidity if they need it.
The symptoms of the plant struggling in low humidity indoors is brown leaf edges. The fix is simply to either group plants together, place them on top of a pebble tray, spritz the leaves regularly with a spray bottle, or simpler yet, introduce a small humidifier to the area your plant is kept.
The Chinese Evergreen light requirements are bright and indirect. Low light doesn’t stop them growing though. It slows their growth and since these are naturally slow growing plants anyway, in low light environments, it will likely take them years to grow to a decent size.
Provide them with a good amount of indirect sunlight, they’ll flourish. The more light they get, the bigger the leaves will grow. And the healthier they’ll look too.
For aglaonemas with variegated colors and patterns in the leaves, you’ll want to give them more light. The reason for that has to do with the photosynthesis process.
The green pigment on plant leaves has chlorophyll, which absorbs energy from the sun, then the plant coverts it into sugar. That’s photosynthesis. It’s what plants need to do to survive.
On variegated leaves, there’s less chlorophyll. The less green there is, the more heavy-lifting the green pigments have to do to support the lighter shades on the plant. Variegated leaf patterns are less efficient at photosynthesizing than full green leaved plants.
As an example, the ‘Lucky Red’ aglaonema will need more light to support photosynthesis than the Golden Madonna Chinese Evergreen that has mostly green leaves with gold markings through it.
Different cultivars of Chinese Evergreens have different light requirements. The color and the markings on the leaves give you a good indication of the light levels they’ll need.
Typically though, they all thrive in bright, indirect light conditions indoors. When grown in poor light conditions, Chinese Evergreens get leggy.
How much water your plant needs depends on the conditions it’s growing in. Keep it somewhere that it gets plenty of bright light, warmth, and high humidity, the soil’s going to dry out real fast, even with a well-draining potting mix amended for some moisture retention.
Best practice for Chinese Evergreen watering frequency is it to let the top couple of inches of soil dry out between waterings. What tends to happen when you water when the topsoil is still moist is fungus grows on the top of the soil. That’s bad for all sorts of reasons.
When these plants are thirsty and there’s not enough water in the soil to hydrate them, you’ll see the lower leaves begin to yellow and wilt. That’s the sign to wait for before you water these. That tiny bit of stress will not harm them.
Neither will missing the signal either. If the lower leaves turn yellow from underwatering, just water as you usually would and either leave the yellow leaves to fall off on their own, or pull it off. Yellow leaves won’t recover their greenery, but the rest of the plant will be healthy.
The odd leaf dying isn’t an issue. The leaves higher up the plant will continue to thrive and the leaves you do lose will fill back in with new growth – eventually.
Overwatering is a real danger. The odd accidental overwatering won’t be fatal, but if far too much water is added continuously to the extent that the roots rot in the pot, then that is likely to kill a Chinese Evergreen.
It’s better to underwater aglaonemas than it is to be over generous with their watering.
The pot you use can make caring for your Chinese Evergreen easier or require a more involved process with the watering.
Generally accepted practice is to pot the plant in a growing pot that’s at least 2-inches wider than the root ball. That’s for the growing pot, or the plastic nursery pot.
Given that Chinese Evergreens are usually grown as indoor ornamentals, double-potting is standard. That’s where you take the nursery pot and drop it into a decorative planter. The difference is the drainage holes.
In a traditional planter, you’ll have one or more holes for the water to drain freely into a tray. Not all decorative planters have these. Some are closed.
If yours is, you can use that to your advantage and line the bottom of the pot with gravel or pebbles and pop your nursery pot inside it. That way, the water that drains from the grow pot runs into the gravel and is slowly released as vapor, which in turn, raises humidity as the vapor rises.
As Chinese Evergreens do favor higher humidity, double-potting is beneficial because the gravel base helps to elevate humidity.
Fertilizing is entirely optional. Truth be told, Chinese Evergreens don’t need fertilizers. You can if you want to spur more growth though. If you do, go super easy. A balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to a quarter strength and fed at the beginning of spring and again in summer is plenty.
During the winter months, aglaonemas growth slows naturally so stop fertilizing after the summer to let the plant rest.
The process of repotting Chinese Evergreens is straightforward if that’s all you need to do. Sometimes, the plants need to be divided during the repotting process.
The more roots the plant puts out, the more likely it is that it will need to be repotted. A root bound plant will struggle to get the nutrients from the soil mix.
With Chinese Evergreens, repotting should only be needed once every two to three years. But, if you use fertilizer, it can push faster growth, meaning you’ll need to repot sooner.
You’ll know it’s time to repot when the roots start to poke through the drainage holes in the growing pot. Left in the pot as it is, the roots will prevent drainage, leading to waterlogged soil.
When the time comes to repot, you have two choices.
- Repot in a larger planter – this will be 2” larger than the current pot it’s growing in
- Divide and repot more than the one plant
In both cases, you’ll want to continue with the same potting mix. The plant will have acclimated to those growing conditions. Changing to a different, perhaps more fertile soil that’s enriched with a higher nitrogen content can throw it off. Keep things as close to the same as possible.
Dividing Chinese Evergreens
If you find that your plant is becoming too big for the space you want to keep it, you may want to trim it back to stop it’s leaves from becoming unruly. As an example, if you wanted an aglaonema as a desk plant but it’s leaves are starting to spread in front of your screen, you can divide it to have a smaller desktop plant that’ll start to grow bigger over months.
Attached to each stem are a set of fine roots. To divide aglaonemas, take the plant out of its pot and wash away all of the soil mix so that only the roots are exposed.
If the roots are really dense, you may be able to tease the roots apart and divide it easily without any cutting. For roots that are compacted together, you can use a craft knife or sharp scissors to cut the stem of the plant, taking care not to cut into the roots.
You only need five to six roots attached at the base of each stem.
You can see an example of a plant being divided on this YouTube clip, where one plant is divided into 8 with no cutting required.
Propagating Chinese Evergreens
When your plant isn’t quite big enough to divide it, an alternative to get more from the same plant is to take a cutting and propagate it. Chinese evergreens are super easy to propagate either in water or in soil. What’s more is that it helps the parent plant fill out, provided you cut it right.
That’s because when you prune plants back, new growth starts. To get the new growth, the only thing you need to remember is to make the cut above a node. Nodes are like tiny bumps on the stem of the plant where side shoots sprout out from. By leaving the nodes intact, new leaves can push through.
Propagation is just about taking a leaf cutting from above a node. Remember which plant you took the leaf from because in the future if you want to repeat the process, you’ll want to do it with the mother plant. That’s your original Chinese Evergreen.
You can propagate aglaonemas in water or in soil. If you do start in water, you’ll need to transplant in soil once the roots develop. It’s a fast process but it is interesting to watch roots grow in water. The choice is yours to use water or soil.
To propagate stem cuttings, you’ll need a few stems that are around 6-inches long. Place those in a glass jar or vase and place it on a window sill that gets lots of bright, indirect sunlight.
Keep an eye on the water and replenish it with fresh water when it starts to look cloudy. Expect to replace the water every few days. Within two to three weeks, you’ll see the roots sprout from the base of the stem cuttings.
Once the roots are a couple of inches in length, pot them up in a small nursery pot with the same potting mix you use with the parent plant. They don’t need any special care. Care for freshly potted propagated Chinese Evergreens the same as you did with the parent plant.
Chinese Evergreens don’t need pruned, but if you want your plant to put out more leaves to fill out a pot, you certainly can make that happen. Sacrificing the odd leaf here and there can completely change the look of the plant over its lifespan.
If you do decide to propagate some stem cuttings, you’ll notice the parent plant fill out a bit each time. You can prune away some leaves to encourage more side shoots to develop any time in the growing season, which is the spring and summer.
Avoid taking cuttings later in the year and over winter as that’s when these plants are dormant.
When you get the basic soil composition, light and temperature requirements covered, you can afford to be a lot more laissez-faire with your Chinese Evergreen Care. A little underwatering, accidental overwatering or forgetting to fertilize isn’t going to be too detrimental. Anything off in its growing conditions is easily rectified, provided the essentials are there to begin with.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.