If you’re looking for a compact houseplant that’s difficult to kill, you’ve come to the right place. Growing peperomias well doesn’t require much light, maintenance, or fuss.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned grower of houseplants, you won’t believe how hard this plant is to get wrong.
These plants come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. There’s a lot to love about them, so let’s explore this nearly indestructible beauty.
What is Peperomia?
Peperomia is a genus of tropical plants native to South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s known by various names including: pepper elder, baby rubber plant, radiator plant, and shining bush plant.
There are over a thousand species of peperomias, with dozens cultivated for home growing, and all are semi-succulent and reasonably drought resistant. They have a compact growth habit and some are epiphytes. They’re forgiving when grown as houseplants and are easily propagated for more plants.
Peperomia are diverse, coming in many colors and shapes. There are species that have bits of purple, gray, green, or red on the foliage or stems. Leaves can be numerous different shapes including ovate, heart-shaped, and round, in sizes that range from petite to medium.
They suit pots and hanging baskets and because they grow slowly, they don’t require repotting often.
With so many species, shapes, colors and sizes of peperomia, it’s easy to find one that suits your taste. Peperomia are so different in appearance, you’ll wonder if some of them are even related.
Varieties of Peperomia
Given there are so many, I’ll just tell you about the ones I consider the most popular or easiest to get a hold of. And the ones that look great, of course.
P. caperata is a species with heart-shaped, textured leaves that somewhat resemble wax begonia. Some emerald ripple have a hint of burgundy on the green leaves. This is a small plant that grows to about eight inches in height.
‘Suzanne’ is a lovely cultivar with silver accents on foliage that is deeply ridged.
The species P. metallica, usually called Metallic peperomia, has metallic-looking tri-colored foliage in silver, red, and bronze.
This species (P. nitida) is perfect for hanging baskets thanks to its trailing growth habit. Cream-colored on the edges, the heart-shaped leaves are delicate and pretty.
Red log (P. verticillata), also known as double-duty peperomia, has small leaves and a tight, compact growth habit. But what makes it stand out is its semi-succulent foliage, which is deep red on the undersides.
Baby Rubber Plant
This species (P. btusifolia) is more upright than most other peperomia. Some baby rubber plant’s have deep green leaves, and others have gold and white. ‘Minima’ is a dwarf form that grows half the size, topping out at about six inches.
P. argyreia is one of the most popular species. The leaves have a pattern of light and dark markings that resemble the rind of a watermelon, which is where it gets its name. It grows about a foot tall, and there’s also a mini version that stays under six inches.
Pepper elder (P. pellucida) is often grown as food rather as well as a houseplant. It has petite leaves that taste faintly of mustard.
P. albovittata has stunning foliage, with pale green leaves and dark green ribs and veins. The stems are dark red, nearly purple, and the plant grows up to a foot tall.
P. graveolens looks like a succulent rather than a peperomia, with thick, long leaves that emerge from a central stalk. The leaves are dark red underneath and green on top.
How to Grow Peperomia
Peperomia are one of my favorites because they don’t require full sunlight, so you can fill those spots other plants may not like. Give peperomia medium to low light. They will even thrive in fluorescent light. That’s because in their native habitat, they grow in the understory of the forest.
Peperomia are tropical plants and like steamy, warm environments. This is especially so in the spring and summer when they go through the most growth. To increase ambient humidity, place the peperomia pot on a tray of pebbles and water well.
Just remember that wherever you put your peperomia, don’t expose it to temperatures below 30ºF. They’ll die.
For the soil or growing medium, use a standard potting mix or even better, use orchid mix. Most peperomia prefer chunky and acidic loamy soil. Many peperomia are epiphytes in their natural environment. They grow in the crook of trees, extending their roots into decaying bark. The loose, chunky growing medium mimics this environment.
In USDA Growing Zone 10-12, you can succeed at growing peperomias outside, as long as the temperature doesn’t go below 30ºF.
Propagation by Cuttings
Peperomia are easy to propagate by stem cuttings, and you can do it if you have just pruned a plant, or you can cut a stem especially for propagation.
Choose a stem on the mother plant that is healthy and has at least three leaves. Cut the stem at the base and remove all but three leaves.
Fill a small container with seed raising mix and water well so that the growing medium is moist. Make a deep hole with a pencil or your finger at least two inches deep.
Plant the stem in fresh potting soil. To create the humidity peperomia crave, place a plastic bag over the pot. Use a chopstick stuck in the soil to keep the plastic from touching the plant. Keep in a warm spot with indirect sunlight. The soil should stay moist as the plant grows new roots.
Remove the bag occasionally and water if needed. When the cutting grows new leaves, you can plant it in a new pot and water as necessary.
Root in Water
Peperomia is one of those plants that’s happy forming roots in water. When you cut the stem , you can place that in a glass of water rather than the soil. Change the water every few days and keep the cutting in bright, indirect light.
When a good amount of roots have formed, plant in a container with orchid potting mix.
Growing Peperomias from Seed
If you’re fortunate to find peperomia seeds, moisture is key. Plant them in a quality seed-raising medium. Germination can take anywhere from 15 to 30 days or more. The soil should be kept moist the whole time, but not so wet the seed rots. Use a misting bottle and spray a couple of times a day.
When germination occurs, place the container in a warm, humid location in bright, indirect light. Use a plastic bag to create a humid environment if necessary.
Caring for Peperomia
Use only a little fertilizer once per year in the spring with peperomias growing indoors. If you use a good potting medium with built-in slow-release pellets, you might find the plant can go for a long time without feeding.
If your peperomia is growing outside, fertilize once in the spring and again in the summer. Use a 12-12-12 fertilizer. There’s no need to feed in the winter.
Some people make the mistake of feeding their peperomia plants when they see leaves drop off or discolored foliage. This is not normally a nutrition issue, rather incorrect lighting or overwatering.
Allow the soil to dry out before watering again. The soil should be on the dry side, rather than too wet. Peperomia will easily form root problems if the soil is too wet.
As I said, don’t place in full sun. Choose a spot with a lot of indirect light, but not in direct sunlight.
Prune to shape anytime. Cut away any leggy growth or any parts affected by disease.
Companion Planting for Growing Peperomias
The following plants grow well with peperomia:
- African violet
Don’t try growing peperomias with ferns or jade plants.
Common Problems and Solutions for Growing Peperomias
Peperomias are tough little plants. Avoid overwatering and direct sunlight, and these plants will typically just keep going strong. But there are times, though rare, when you will run across problems.
When your peperomia starts drooping or dropping leaves, it’s likely root rot. Feel the soil. Does it feel moist? With root rot, the stem goes soft and rots at the base and the roots become black and mushy.
This is usually caused by a fungus that thrives in soil that is too wet, though it can simply be that the soil has stayed too moist for too long, drowning the roots. Reduce the frequency of watering and allow the soil to dry out in between.
Ring spot leaves unsightly rings on the leaves of peperomia. This is often caused by excessive humidity. The best way to address it is to remove any infected leaves and foliage. Then, reduce watering and humidity, if possible.
Most people’s first response to wilting is to think that their plant isn’t getting enough water. Overwatering is easy with peperomia. Wilting is usually caused by a shortage of oxygen to the roots.
Repot your plant and add more gravel to the mix. This is why using an orchid mix is a good idea.
However, if the soil is bone dry several inches down, it could be that your plant needs a drink of water.
Fungus gnats (Orfelia and Bradysia species) are tiny flies that infest the potting mix or seed-raising medium. They usually consume organic matter in the growing medium, but can also eat roots. Once they are in residence, they tend to spread to other indoor plants quickly.
Yellow sticky traps are effective at trapping the pests, and you can also reduce watering to create an unattractive environment for the gnats. A product containing Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis (Bti) will kill the bugs.
These tiny creatures (Tetranychus urticae) can cause a lot of damage if left to multiply. The first thing you often see are little yellow dots on your peperomia leaves. As more spider mites attack the plant, the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. You’ll also see webbing and tiny red bugs moving around on the plants.
Insecticidal soap will help you eradicate these pests. Be sure to spray both the tops and bottoms of the leaves.
Tips for Growing Peperomias
- Good drainage in the pot is vital.
- Allow the top two inches of the soil to dry out before watering again to avoid excessive moisture.
- Temperatures between 60ºF and 80ºF are best.
- You can plant peperomia outside in the right conditions. They do best in bright shade.