At this time of the year, when there is little to do in the garden, this column is usually filled with information about plants to consider for the new growing season. Several organizations give awards for new plant selections or name “plants of the year”, and I try to get that information out to you. This week is no exception, but it is something new. For the first time ever, the National Garden Bureau has added a houseplant category to their “Year of” program. 2022 has been named the “Year of the Peperomia.”
It is a great choice for the first in the series. Peperomias are often the first plant which comes into the home of a new gardener. There are many varieties, so there is probably one that would catch any plant-lover’s eye. They are, in general, easy-care plants and have relatively few pest problems.
Peperomia is a genus with over 1,000 species and many hybrids. They are classed as tender perennials, but cannot take temperatures below freezing, so they are generally kept as houseplants in most areas. Like most houseplants, however, they do seem to enjoy a sojourn outdoors in the summer. Peperomias have thick leaves with a waxy coating, which means they will retain water. However, they are not succulents. Peperomias may not need to be watered often, but they actually prefer to exist in a more humid environment, so they do well sitting on evaporation trays filled with pebbles and water. The pebbles keep the drainage holes of the pots from being in the water, but the evaporation of water from the tray increases the humidity around the plant.
Peperomias are actually epiphytes and the roots may take moisture and nutrients from the air. Like orchids, they are often found growing in the crotches of trees in their native areas of Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Orchid soil is a suitable potting mix for planting peperomias and they may be put in orchid pots or any pot with good drainage. They do not mind being root-bound and are slow-growing, so re-potting is not necessary very often.
As houseplants, peperomias rarely bloom. The blooms are rather nondescript anyway, but the foliage is the real star in these plants. The leaves may have many shapes, sizes and colors. They may look like the waxy leaves of many succulents or have ruffled or crinkled leaves with attractive variegations. The variety of leaves give the plants some fun common names, including radiator plant, baby rubber plant, trailing rubber plant, string of turtles, trailing jade, hope plant, watermelon plant, parallel plant, ruby glow and even jelly plant.
Propagating peperomias is easy. Take a leaf with about an inch of stem. Put the stem in moist, sterile potting mix and place the pot in a plastic bag to keep the humidity high. Within a couple of weeks, the plant should develop roots. At this point, remove it from the bag, but continue to keep it in an area with high humidity. Propagation may be done at any time, but the success rate is generally higher in the early spring, when the plant enters its active growth stage.
Peperomias are not prone to many diseases, but may be attacked by mealybugs, thrips and other pathogens common in other houseplants. Insecticidal soap is generally the best remedy for infestations. When one sees leaves turning yellow and dropping off plants, check to see if the soil is soggy. They do not do well with wet soil. If you have a humidifier in the room, one may not have to water the plant when it is inside during cold weather.
With the variety of growth habits, there is likely a peperomia for every use from upright specimen plants to trailing selections in hanging baskets. You may combine peperonias in mixed container gardens, but be sure the other plants have similar moisture requirements. They are generally inexpensive and easy to find in garden centers or from florists. If you are just getting started with houseplants, peperomias make great starter plants. I warn you, though, that you cannot grow just one.