Also known as baby rubber tree plant or radiator plant, there are over 1,000 species of peperomia plant. This member of the same family of plants from which you get black pepper is drought tolerant, easy to grow, and available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and leaf patterns, so you're likely to find the perfect peperomia for your indoor garden.
Peperomia plants have fleshy, almost succulent-like leaves that often feel waxy to the touch. This is a diverse plant family. You can find peperomia plants in nearly every size, with foliage in shades of green, cream, red, purple, and gray. You can purchase peperomias with large leaves, or with tiny, heart-shaped leaves. The foliage can be solid, variegated, or marbled.
Peperomia is native to the West Indies, Mexico, and South America. From this, you could guess that these plants are happiest in humid, warm environments, which is definitely achievable in most homes. Even better, it can be placed in lower-light areas of your home (with a bit of supplemental artificial lighting.) Peperomia is nontoxic, so it's completely safe to grow if you have children or pets.
Peperomia Plant Care
Peperomia plants are easy to care for, though for optimum plant health, you may need to make a few small adjustments to the area of your home in which they're growing.
Often recommended for low light areas, peperomia actually grows best with bright to medium indirect light. If you grow them with insufficient lighting, they'll survive fine, but they'll end up looking a bit lanky and the leaves will be spaced out too far on the stems as they stretch in search of light.
The best way to counteract this is to provide your peperomias with a bit of artificial lighting, especially if you're trying to grow it in a dimmer area of your home. This does not need to be a special plant light; a regular LED lamp or light, placed within a foot of your peperomia and kept on for at least eight hours will give it all the light it needs. Many houseplant growers use this lighting trick if they have less-than-ideal lighting conditions. You can even group several potted houseplants near a lamp, and it makes a lovely display while ensuring that the plants get everything they need to be happy.
Peperomia plants are drought-tolerant, storing water in their fleshy leaves and stems. The top half of the potting soil in your peperomia's container should be allowed to dry out between waterings, but the bottom part of the soil should retain some moisture. When the soil reaches that level of dryness, water the plant deeply and let it drain thoroughly. The only way to reliably check this is to stick your finger into the potting soil. If the soil is kept too wet, the roots will rot and the stems will soon follow, eventually leading to plant death.
Peperomia plants aren't heavy feeders, and in terms of fertilization, it's better to err on the side of too little fertilization rather than feeding them too often. Slow-release succulent and cacti fertilizer, applied in the spring, is generally all you need to keep peperomia growing well. Even this isn't totally necessary; you really don't have to fertilize peperomia at all, and it'll be perfectly healthy.
In this aspect as well, peperomia are very low maintenance, mostly because of their slow growth rate. They actually prefer being potbound and can live happily in a fairly small container for years. However, if you start noticing the roots growing out of the bottom drainage holes of your pot, it means the peperomia has finally outgrown its pot and should be repotted. Only move up one pot size, planting your peperomia at the same depth it was growing in its original pot.
Any well-drained potting soil will work well for peperomia. The "well-drained" part is important. Look for a mix that has perlite or vermiculite in it, or add some to your existing mix. Some growers even add some orchid mix to their potting soil to give it the loose, airy feel peperomia thrive in.
Peperomia like it warm, so average indoor temperatures work perfectly. They should be kept away from cold, drafty windows. A freeze will kill it.
Humidity is a good thing when it comes to growing peperomia. To give it more humid conditions, try one of the following:
- Mist the foliage of the plant once or twice per day.
- Place a humidifier nearby.
- Place your potted peperomia on top of a tray or plant saucer filled with pebbles or marbles and add water to the tray.
Problems and Pests
Peperomia really isn't susceptible to many pest or disease problems.
- Spider mites and mealybugs are common houseplant pests that can sometimes infest peperomia plants. The easiest way to get rid of them is to spray them with insecticidal soap.
- Yellowing leaves and black stems are a result of over-watering. Cut back on watering for a while, and remove any black stems, since they won't recover.
- Drooping leaves mean the plant has dried out too much. Give it a good drink of water and be sure to check the soil moisture more regularly; while peperomia doesn't like to be soggy, it also doesn't like it when the soil in its pot is bone dry.
Peperomia Plant Propagation
Peperomia is actually fairly easy to propagate by taking leaf cuttings. Do this in spring or early summer, since this is when the plant is in its most active stage of growth. You can start your cuttings in water or potting soil.
Propagating Peperomia in Potting Mix
It's easy to propagate peperomia in soil. Just make sure the soil doesn't dry out while the plant is trying to form roots.
- Cut off a single leaf from the mother plant, with about an inch of stem attached. You can even cut a leaf in half and insert the cut end of the leaf into the soil; it'll grow and root from the cut side.
- Place the stem end of the leaf into fresh potting soil in a small pot, cup, or container. It's fine if the base of the leaf is touching the soil.
- Water thoroughly.
- Cover your container with a cloche, clear plastic cup, a zip-top bag, or plastic wrap. You want to keep the container humid, since this will help your cutting root more readily.
- Within a few weeks, you'll have root growth, and a few weeks after that, you'll start to see tiny baby peperomia leaves growing at the base of the plant.
- Repot if needed.
Propagating Peperomia in Water
This is the easiest way to propagate peperomia.
- Cut a leaf from the mother plant, leaving at least an inch of stem attached.
- Place the stem end of the leaf in a container of water. A small, narrow-mouthed vase works, or you can stretch some aluminum foil over a wider container and cut slits into it to poke your stems through. Just make sure the very end of the stem is submerged in the water.
- Place your cutting in bright indirect light (or give it artificial lighting).
- Keep an eye on the water level. The end of the stem should stay submerged.
- After a few weeks, you'll see root growth.
- At this point, you can pot up your cutting into a container with potting mix. You should see little peperomia leaves forming at the base of the plant in a few weeks.
Peperomia Plant Varieties
Peperomia is a plant collector's dream, with a huge variety of colors and leaf shapes. All peperomia plants grow to about 12 inches tall.
- Watermelon peperomia (Peperomia argyreia) has smooth leaves that look like the outside of a watermelon, with green and yellow stripes. The stems are a bright, pinkish-red.
- Pink lady peperomia (Peperomia griseoargentea) has small, textured leaves. The older leaves are deep green, but the newer leaves start out a soft pink shade, eventually becoming greener as they mature.
- Metallic peperomia (Peperomia rosso) has silvery-gray leaves with dark leaf margins.
- Red ripple peperomia (Peperomia caperata) has wonderfully textured, medium green leaves that mature to a reddish-purple tone. The stems are also red.
- Pixie peperomia (Peperomia orba) has adorable little bright green leaves on a very compact plant.
- String of turtles peperomia (Peperomia prostrata) is a trailing peperomia that looks absolutely wonderful grown in hanging baskets.
Beauty and Toughness
With so many colors and leaf textures and shapes to choose from, you'll easily be able to find a peperomia (or ten...) for your indoor garden. Proper watering, a bit of care, and these plants will reward you with beauty for years to come.