Who’d have thought that a plant related to the common peppercorn could have so much to offer?
Peperomia is a plant family with a lot to explore. At the last count, there were over 1000 varieties, all of them different sizes, textures, shapes and colors. You could base an entire indoor garden on just this corner of the plant kingdom and no one would ever know.
Also known as radiator plants or baby rubber plants, peperomia are easy enough for beginners and serial plant-killers to care for, but varied enough to pique the interest of the most experienced gardener.
Read on for everything you’ll ever need to know about peperomia care.
||Radiator plant, baby rubber plant
||Central and South America
||Bushy or trailing depending on the variety
||12 – 18 inches
||Low – moderate
||Moderate – bright indirect light
||Moderate – high
||60 – 80 (15.5 – 24C)
||Well draining potting soil mixed with sand or perlite
||Balanced liquid fertilizer for green leafy plants
||Stem and leaf cuttings or division
||Mealybugs, aphids, root rot
Read more: Click here for more common indoor house plants.
Overview of Peperomia Plants
It’s difficult to give an overview of the radiator plant because each variety is unique. There’s one to suit every taste and every decor scheme, from incredibly succulent, sculptural, jade-green varieties to deep purple, metallic-looking plants that seem almost prehistoric.
Nevertheless, the rules of peperomia care don’t vary that much between cultivars. They all need moderate watering, bright indirect sunlight, and well-draining soil. In fact, you’re far more likely to ‘kill them with kindness’ by overwatering, repotting too often, or overfeeding than you are by neglecting them for a week or two.
What’s more, the majority of radiator plants are slow-growing and stay compact. It’s rare to find one that’s more than 18 inches tall. They’re a great choice for even the smallest indoor spaces.
Learn How to Care for Peperomia Plants
You can easily wait until the top half of the pot is dry before you water your radiator plant. All succulent and semi-succulent plants are resistant to drought, and this is no exception. The thicker the leaves of your variety, the longer it can go without water.
You’ll know if you’ve severely underwatered your plant when the leaves start to lose their thickness and rigidity. At the other end of the spectrum, overwatering can lead to root rot, which is the most common peperomia killer. You’ll know if your plant is drowning if the stalks start to rot, the leaves wilt, and the foliage turns yellow.
Thankfully, peperomia can recover very well from a watering error if you give them enough time to dry out before their next drink.
Read more: Watering plants tips guide.
Radiator plants need bright, indirect light to thrive. They’ll also grow well under fluorescent lights. This makes them a good choice for an office setting.
If the light is too strong or if the direct sun is unfiltered, you’ll probably notice the leaves of your plant starting to crisp at the edges.
If it’s too dark, the plant, which always grows slowly, will stop altogether. Any new leaves will be pale and the stalks will be leggy. The plant may even try to conserve its energy by dropping leaves.
As with overwatering, if your radiator plant starts to look etiolated from lack of light, you can bring it back. Prune away the weak growth, move it to a windowsill, and it’ll soon become bushy again.
Radiator plants are rainforest natives so they thrive in high humidity. You can increase the moisture levels by misting, using a humidifier, placing on a pebble tray filled with water, or surrounding them with other leafy green plants.
On the other hand, while it likes to be moist, you do need to make sure that air can still circulate the leaves. These plants are vulnerable to fungal leaf infections if they stay warm and wet for too long. The best way to avoid this problem is to mist the plant first thing in the morning and make sure that it has enough space to breathe.
Plant Food and Soil
This is not a hungry plant. It doesn’t need to be fed at all in the autumn and winter and, in the growing season, you should only feed it once a month with a fertilizer diluted to half the strength the label suggests.
Any balanced food for leafy green plants will do, but too much is certain to burn the roots and damage the leaves. Unfortunately, more food will not make this slow-grower produce new leaves any faster.
When it comes to soil, choose a well-draining, all-purpose potting soil and mix in ¼ – ⅓ sand or perlite to increase drainage. The biggest risk to this plant is root rot, and using a soil mix like this will keep the soil open and reduce the risk of rot setting in.
Additional Peperomia House Plant Care Tips
Whatever variety of radiator plant you’ve found, bought or inherited, the tips above are going to keep it healthy. As always, though, the better you know your plants, the better you can make them look. We’ve also assembled a list of care tips to keep your peperomia in top condition as it grows.
You should never put your radiator plant in a pot that’s too large. Don’t be tempted to size up more than an inch at a time. Instead of saving yourself a job next spring, you’re making your plant vulnerable to overwatering.
Whatever pot you choose, make sure that there are lots of drainage holes in the base. This will help the extra water to drain away and also give you the option of watering it from below to prevent the leaves from becoming wet.
Because it grows slowly, you shouldn’t need to repot your plant more than every 2 – 3 years, but check it annually to make sure that the soil structure hasn’t broken down and there’s still plenty of space for the air to circulate the roots. If the soil has become compacted, repot it regardless of how much it grew the previous year.
Radiator plants are compact but, if you need to control them, you don’t have to be too careful when you’re pruning.
You can cut a peperomia at any point along the stem. Just locate a node (a thickening of the stem from which a new leaf will grow) and cut about half an inch above that point. You’ll find that a new branch grows from the node and your plant will soon look fuller.
Although some varieties with frilly foliage or small leaves look delicate, all members of this plant family will withstand dramatic pruning. As with all your plants, you should always remove any damaged leaves so that your plant can put all its energy into producing new growth.
Although the leaves look tough, radiator plants are vulnerable to common, sap-sucking house plant pests. Mealybugs and aphids are especially problematic.
Mealybugs are so small that you’ll often notice the white residue they leave behind on the leaves before you see the insects themselves. The best way to control them is to wash the leaves with soapy water or a little neem oil.
If aphids are the problem, the new leaves on your plant will be small and deformed, usually puckered or with holes. Again, wash the plant and inspect the soil. You should also trim away as many damaged leaves as you can.
You may have to repeat this process several times to remove all the insects.
Different Varieties of Peperomia
Peperomia is a big family and, even for indoor gardeners, there’s a lot of choose from if you fancy a new plant.
The p. obtusifolia is the true baby rubber plant. It’s woody, grows like a small tree, and really does resemble a miniature variegated rubber tree.
The watermelon variety gets its name from its stripy leaves. They’re light and dark green, like the skin of a watermelon. The stems of the plant are red.
P. rosso also has red stems and new growth, and is much more textured than other varieties. The leaves are silver with deep, dark green veins. They look almost metallic and would provide a striking contrast to the other varieties on this list.
Finally, the p. hope is a new variety with extremely thick, circular leaves. It will usually trail, and the jade-colored leaves tend to grow spaced apart on a straight stem. This plant could not be more different from the p. rosso – it’s very sculptural and minimalist and wouldn’t look out of place in a Scandinavian design magazine.
Lots of rainforest plants are highly poisonous. Happily, a radiator plant isn’t. It’ll give you all the lush, bright green foliage you’re craving with none of the risk to curious children or pets.
All the more reason to collect as many different varieties as you can.
FAQs to Help Peperomia Grow
Does peperomia clean the air?
Yes, radiator plants are excellent at purifying the air. They’re a great choice for city apartments. You should even consider placing one in your bedroom since they can raise the levels of oxygen in the room and promote better sleep.
How can I identify a peperomia?
If you’ve brought home an unlabeled plant, it can sometimes be difficult to know for certain what you have. It’s even more challenging with peperomia because they can all look so different from each other.
If your plant is semi-succulent, looks like a smaller version of a rubber tree, or is relatively woody, there’s a good chance that it’s a variety of peperomia. Thankfully, these plants are so popular and there are so many communities online that it shouldn’t be too hard to find a definitive answer.
What kind of soil does it need?
Radiator plants hate to stand in water, so drainage is key. While they’ll live in any all-purpose potting soil, it’s far better if you can mix in some extra sand or perlite to increase drainage and open up the soil. This way, the air will get to the roots.
Should I mist my plant?
You should make sure that your peperomia is getting lots of humidity. This can be challenging when you’re caring for it indoors, especially in winter when central heating dries out the air in our homes. If you can keep the air around your plant as moist as possible, you’ll emulate the conditions it needs in the wild and it’ll look much healthier.
However, misting might not always be the best way to raise humidity. If you mist too late in the day, the water doesn’t have the chance to evaporate, the leaves stay wet, and fungal infections can set in. It might be more beneficial to group your radiator plants with other humidity loving plants and allow them to form their own microclimate.
How big will it get?
When you bring home a rainforest plant like monstera, it starts small and, within a season, it’s colonized an entire corner of your living room. You won’t have this problem with a radiator plant.
Peperomia grow slowly and they stop before they reach even 2 feet by 2 feet. They’re compact and, if you need to, you can keep them even smaller by pruning them and encouraging them to become bushier.
This plant is very well behaved and is not likely to outgrow your space.
If there’s a plant that would suit every indoor gardener, it has to be peperomia. As long as they have enough light and you don’t smother them, they’ll grow happily in almost any space and rarely ever complain. We love a plant that doesn’t require much effort, but it’s rare to find one that’s both so easy to care for and so rewarding to grow.
It really is a great choice for everyone and, with so many varieties, you’re bound to find one that speaks to you and perfectly fits your tastes.