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Full Peperomia Care Guide for Beginners

Full Peperomia Care Guide for Beginners
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Within the peperomia plant family are thousands of genus. All take the same level of care, and that is not very much at all.

As a gift for anyone moving into their first home, any of the peperomia plants are an exceptional option as they require minimal care, yet are easy to keep looking stunning all year round.

If you have received one of these or bought one to introduce some life, greenery and a little air purification (which these do) into your home, then all you need to know to keep your peperomia in terrific health is outlined in this complete guide to peperomia care.

About All the Peperomia Varieties

Within the peperomia genus of plants, there are over a thousand species. All of them are epiphytes. None are succulents. That can be confusing because cactus soil suits these.

Every plant in the Peperomia species is favored as houseplants due to their petit size. The Baby Runner Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia) is the most popular because it is petit, beginner friendly, and very difficult to go wrong with.

But, don’t be fooled by the “baby” in the name. These glossy leafed plants can grow to about a foot in height. You buy them as Baby Rubber Plants, then grow them to maturity, or keep them pruned to a height that you like.

The bulk of peperomia plants are green. Some though, can be found in white, reds, browns, and you can even find multi-tone leaved plants with the likes of pink edging.

The Peperomia Jelly (Peperomia Clusiifolia) is one of those multicolored plants that has leaves with varying shades of green through to yellow with pink edging.

The Red Ripple (Peperomia Caperata) produces more burgundy leaves than it does green, but while it still takes the same peperomia care steps as all other species, it is an option to introduce as a companion indoor plant, adding a different color to your collection without making your life more complex with difficult to grow companion plants.

Everything about all of the peperomia plants is about simplicity.

What Peperomia Plants Need

Peperomia plants need what all plants need to survive. Light, air, water, heat, and nutrients. On the nutritional side, they need very little (if any at all) fertilizing.

Each of the specific needs are explained below.

Humidity

Peperomia plants like humidity to be high. They do not need it. A nickname they have is “Radiator plants” and that is because they like their air to be warm.

And, did you know that these are structured a bit like succulents? Although, they aren’t technically succulents because although they do draw moisture from the air, they also draw it from the soil.

Naturally, if you do keep a peperomia plant, such as the watermelon plant (Peperomia Argyreia) near a radiator, the soil will dry out faster from the heat beneath. They will need to be watered more.

Most types can survive fine with normal room humidity. Even raising the local humidity by growing some of these varieties in groupings, can help keep them healthier.

If you ever notice discoloration in the leaves of a peperomia plant, consider the humidity it has before you add more water. Mistaking low humidity with underwatering is an easy mistake that leads to problems with these.

Lighting Requirements

Bright and indirect sunlight is the way to go for all peperomia plants. They rely on light for photosynthesis. Without enough, the stems can become leggy and discolored.

Varieties with patterned leaves can lose their stripes, too. The more decorative the leaves, the brighter light they need.

Non-patterned leaved peperomia plants are the most likely to do better in low-light conditions. They won’t grow as good, but they can adapt to low light conditions.

For plants to place in more shaded locations, you won’t go far wrong with a plain leaved variety of peperomia. A few plain colored peperomia plants with interestingly shaped foliage are the types to grow in low light conditions.

If you do want a collection of plants on a shelf, consider varieties like the Ruby Glow (Peperomia Graveolens) as a potted plant that won’t grow much more than 25cm in height.

Or for a longer trailing variety, the Beetle Peperomia (Peperomia Angulata) has a pale green hue with extremely thin stems as it only needs to support small delicate leaves, each with a two-tone green. Dark with light stripes.

The less intense the colors and patterns on any of these plants, the less light they will need.

The more decorative and patterned the leaves are, the more light they will need. If you absolutely do not have anywhere that gets sufficient light, these can still thrive by using artificial lighting.

The Soil Requirements

The soil does not need to be nutrient rich for peperomia plants, which is why it is ideal for first time plant growers. They will not need repotting often, nor will they need fertilizing, and because of that, the soil is less likely to compact from too many nutrients.

There are two ways you can go with your soil. Make your own mix or use a ready mixed potting soil.

If you want a ready-to-go mix to avoid the hassle of making your own potting mix for indoor plants, the most suitable type for peperomias is a cactus soil mix.

These mixes contain coco coir and sphagnum peat moss at a minimum with some additional inorganic materials tossed in to balance moisture retention and drainage.

What it lacks is organic materials to assist with fertilizing, but since peperomia plants can do fine without fertilizing, that doesn’t matter with these.

The priority is balancing drainage with moisture retention. It shouldn’t be too fast draining, and definitely not slow draining as that would cause the roots to be sitting in soggy soil. A definite problem that will lead to root rot.

If you are making your own mix, the most vital ingredients to include is orchid bark and coco coir. Orchid bark in particular, because every epiphyte plant does well with this in the mix.

Coco (coconut) coir is used for water retention. It is organic so the more of this is in the potting mix, the sooner it will need to be replenished, which involves repotting your peperomia plant.

Perlite is an amendment to add to the soil mix to improve aeration, insulation and drainage. Perlite is an aggregate material, just like gravel. Because of its chunky size, it prevents the soil from compacting.

No matter what you include in your mix, eventually drainage will slow. Adding in perlite on occasion improves the aeration in the soil. Without air circulating, the plant will struggle.

Adding a layer of charcoal can have a similar effect for balancing water retention and drainage.

Fertilizing Peperomia Plants

This is where the beginner plant recommendation comes in from nurseries when someone asks what would suit as an indoor plant food. Generally, beginner friendly plants are those that can grow fine with the minimum care needs. Every species of the peperomia plant fits the bill here.

The minimum is water, oxygen, and sunlight. From there, photosynthesis takes care of the rest.

That is not to say they cannot be fed fertilizer. Just that advanced growers would and do use a balanced plant food with a NPK 10-10-10 on a monthly schedule during their active growing season (when they flower), or an even gentler liquid fertilizer of 3-1-2 NPK on a weekly feeding schedule.

With the basic care needs met, you should not need to fertilize peperomia plants. It is optional. If things are off, fertilizer can be used like a supplement.

As an example, if you find the leaves yellowing due a lack of sufficient sunlight, a top up of nitrogen rich fertilizer can help restore the greenery to the leaves.

It will not fix growing conditions that are not being met, such as growing in the shade all year, but it will work as a supplement when you relocate the plant to an appropriately lit location. Fertilizer can speed up the healing process.

Higher phosphorous (the middle number in a fertilizer ratio) is not worth it for these, unless you really like the flowers they produce, or you want to propagate a lot of these.

And yes, they do flower. Most would not notice them, or think something is off with their plant because the blooms on peperomia do not look like flowers. Just spikey colored stems.

Repotting Peperomia Plants

The vast majority of peperomia plants that are not fed fertilizer, or grown in pots using potting soil that contains added nutrients, do not need repotting often. The reason being that these are extremely slow growing plants.

After years, you may find that the roots start to block the drainage holes in the container. That is a recommended time to repot them. They do like to have their roots slightly bound to the pot.

This is because these are, remember, like succulents. They can draw moisture and air through the roots and the leaves.

Still though, if the roots are bound to the container, they won’t have room to grow. It can also cause the pot to become so crowded that the soil lacks the aeration it needs to keep the roots healthy.

The exception to when you are most likely to need to repot these plants more frequently is when you feed them fertilizer. That is more likely to expand their roots faster, but sooner than that though, the soil is likely to become too compact.

The more chemicals you put in the potting mix, the more excessive the chemicals become, eventually leading to soil compaction, which is when drainage slows, and the plant will show signs of distress.

Wilting, drooping leaves, curling at the edges, and tips turning brown. Not a pretty sight.

About Peperomia Blooms (another reason they do not need fertilizers)

Rarely do peperomia plants bloom and if you didn’t know what to expect, then when they do flower, you can find yourself thinking something is wrong.

The flowers produced on peperomia plants are not colorful. They can be brown to a paler-green or in the case of the watermelon peperomia, the spikes are so thin they look more like colored stems…

Rising out from the crown of the plant with a red base that suddenly transitions into a lime green. Pair that against the dark green patterned foliage, and you get an interesting bloom.

For most species of peperomia though, the spikes detract from the gorgeousness of the leaves. In particular, those with decorative patterns on the leaves.

As a houseplant, these are maintained for the foliage. Not for the flowers. Feel free to cut them off at the base of the flower. It will do the plant no harm.

Toxicity

For those with furry families that like to cozy up to the radiator, peperomia are safe with pets. Not that you would want them munching down on this decorative foliage, but for the curious pets that do, it will not harm them.

The ASPCA list this as non-toxic to dogs and cats.

Troubleshooting Peperomia Plants

Leaf Drop

If you find your leaves dropping from any peperomia plant, the first thing to consider is how it is being watered. Most often, when leaves drop, it is because of either too much or too little water.

Look for additional symptoms to help you determine if you are watering enough or not enough.

Remaining leaves turn crispy when the soil is dry. This is a sign of underwatering, in which case, you should hydrate the plant.

Remaining leaves near the base of the plant turn yellow when there is too much moisture on the soil. In this case, it has been overwatered. Let the soil dry before adding water again.

Leaf Curl and Color Fading

The edges of the leaves on peperomia plants curl upwards when the plant is thirsty. It is a protection method to conserve water.

Without a sufficient water supply, not only will the leaves curl at the edges, and eventually drop, but they will also change color. Not just to a yellow hue either.

Color changes on peperomia plants from green foliage to light brown or even gray is not so much a watering issue, but more to do with the humidity.

Remember the nickname for these plants are “radiator plants.” They excel in high humidity, survive in medium humidity, and they really struggle in a low humidity setting.

The simplest way to increase humidity for any houseplant is to place the pot on a pebble lined tray. The pebbles retain moisture, gradually releasing it as water vapor, from which the drainage holes in the plant container can absorb moisture.

Additionally, local humidity can be increased by grouping houseplants together. The more each plant transpires (which is when they release moisture through the leaves), the surrounding plants benefit from that elevated amount of humidity.

Peperomia Leaf Tips Turning Brown

This again ties into humidity and watering. If you aren’t quick off the mark to spot the leaves turning yellow at the base, you can find that within a few days that the leaf tips on peperomias turn brown.

It is a hydration issue and the leaf will drop from the plant (and more of them later) if the growing conditions are not corrected.

Use the same solution to fix any color fading, which is to increase the humidity levels and make sure the soil is damp to the touch. Not soaking to the extent that water is pouring through the drainage holes but damp to at least a few inches.

To check your soil moisture levels, poke your finger into the soil to feel how damp it is.

If you aren’t confident in your assessment, the most basic moisture test is to use a wooden stick (the size of an ice pop stick) as a probe. Damp soil will stick to wood. Dry soil won’t.

Poke a wooden stick into the soil then look to see the depth of the soil that is stuck to the stick. A few centimeters are what you want to see. Any deeper, and it has too much water.

If you really aren’t confident in your assessments of soil moisture levels, there are moisture meters you can buy.

Drooping Leaves

Leaves on all houseplants droop down when they are thirsty, or it can be a symptom of shock. If they’re thirsty, check the soil and feel the leaves. If the soil is dry, add some water.

To confirm it needs a drink, feel the leaves. Underwatered plants will have crisp feeling leaves. They should feel hydrated. Like there is water inside of them.

In the case of shock, this can set in when you move the plant to a completely different growing location (even if it is better for it), or more often than not, soon after repotting.

Peperomia generally respond to shock well, perking up within a few days once they have had a chance to acclimatize to the new growing conditions.

Peperomia Pest Problems

Peperomia plants attract no more pests than any other houseplant. The most common pests that need to be controlled on all indoor plants are:

  • Aphids
  • Gnats
  • Mealybugs
  • Spider mites
  • Scale insects
  • Thrips
  • Whitefly

There are more ways to get rid of bugs on indoor plants than there are the insects likely to inflict damage on them. Consider the peperomia plant as primarily a pest resistant plant, provided it is kept healthy.

All those pests are attracted to weak plants.

Peperomia Plant Diseases to Know About

Root Rot

Root rot is the most sinister problem that can affect peperomia plants. It happens when the plant is overwatered consistently. Adding too much water causes the soil to become waterlogged.

The result of that is the soil lacks oxygen causing the roots to die. When the soil is too wet, it becomes compacted, and that stops the roots from delivering the moisture to the plant.

The earliest signs of root rot are similar to what you would see with underwatering, because technically, it is not being watered. The roots are just sitting in soggy soil.

Drooping, wilting, and crispy feeling yellow leaves signal a lack of water. What you need to determine is why. Is there moisture in the soil, or is it completely dry?

If the soil is moist and the plant looks like it isn’t getting enough to drink, there is something wrong with the potting mix. Either, it is compacted, the pot is lacking a drainage hole, or there is not enough perlite or similar material to improve aeration.

When the soil mix goes wrong, do not try to fix it. Get the plant out of it. Repot in a completely fresh potting mix.

If you mixed your own, this time try with a cactus soil mix that suits these plants, or if you are confident that your next mix will drain better, try it. Otherwise, use a cactus potting mix.

When repotting the plant from waterlogged soil, check the roots. Rotted roots feel mushy and are dark brown. Those parts need to be removed before repotting, otherwise bacterial or fungal infections such as pythium can set in, which will destroy the plants chances of survival.

Only repot the dry and healthy parts of the roots. Discard the mushy roots.

Cercospora Leaf Spot

The baby rubber plant is the most susceptible plant to this disease. It is a fungal disease so it can be treated by a generic fungicide for household plants. It causes raised spots on the underside of the leaves. A bit like water blisters similar to edema.

Any leaves with raised spots on them, treat it with a spray on fungicide.

Rhizoctonia Leaf Spot

This is another one that effects the Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia). The spots are dark-brown turning to black and feel mushy when pressed.

Unlike cercospora though, these spots can occur on any leaf, at any height, on any side of the leaf – upper or the underside.

This should be treated with the same urgency as you should treat root rot. Fast. Rhizoctonia bacteria spreads fast and will rot your plant.

If you ever come across serious plant diseases like this that are likely to kill your plant, we have a guide on how to save a dying plant that covers this disease.

Phyllosticta Leaf Spot

This fungal disease only seems to affect the watermelon plant (Peperomia Argyreia).

The spots are dry and dark (brown to black in color) with a lighter ring around them. Some growers refer to this is as ring spot.

The fix is to remove the infected leaves, and bottom water the plant so the leaves are kept dry.

Generally, every houseplant benefits from bottom watering. The only time water should be directed at the leaves is when they are being misted to increase humidity. Not to water them.

Water the soil, mist the leaves if you reckon humidity is too low.

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