To say that the variegated leaves of the polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) are its most distinguishing feature is putting it mildly.
As an ornamental plant, the polka dot plant offers a splash of different colors and patterns that brighten every spot you place it in.
So, when something goes wrong with the leaves and the plant looks like it’s on its last leg (or stem), you need to find out why and what you can do to save it.
Why is my polka dot plant dying? The reasons for a withering and dying polka dot plant have to do with the environment and growing conditions. Watering comes at the top of the list, but inadequate lighting, poor soil, pests, and disease can also prove to be fatal. Potted plants might get rootbound and require repotting as well.
As you can see, there’s more than one cause for the sorry state that your polka dot plant is in, but the good news is, most of these causes are very much fixable.
Read on to know how to revive your dying polka dot and bring it back to its former splendor.
10 Reasons Why Your Polka Dot Plant Is Dying
Native to warm regions and hardy to Zones 10 and 11, the polka dot is rather demanding. Having the right temperature and humidity is not enough to have a successful plant.
Any change in the light, soil structure, or watering patterns will put the plant in peril. The following are 10 common reasons your plant might fail.
Regular watering is the key to the success of the polka dot plant. Overwatering the plant can have adverse and most often lethal effects.
Since it has sensitive roots, waterlogged soil will often lead to root rot, which if left untreated can lead to the demise of the plant.
Make sure that the top 1/2 inch of the soil is dry before you water the polka dot plant.
Dig into the soil with your finger before every irrigation. If your finger touches moisture, hold off watering for a day or two until the top soil is dry.
Underwatering can just be as devastating as overwatering the polka dot plant. As a native of Madagascar, the plant is used to moist soil all year round.
So, if you forget to water it and the soil dries out completely, the stressed plant will wilt, the leaves will turn yellow, and it will die soon after that.
Keep the plant hydrated throughout the year. Water it lightly to get the soil moist but not wet.
Keep track of how fast the soil dries out, and once the top half-inch of the soil is dry, water it again.
3. Root Rot
Root rot is a common disease that’s associated with soggy soil. Since it affects the roots, it’s not easy to detect it in time to save the plant.
To complicate things further, the symptoms of root rot are similar to other problems the plant might have. The leaves turn yellow, the foliage and any flowers droop, and the stems wilt.
This is the result of a lack of nutrients and moisture coming from the diseased roots.
If the plant is not dehydrated and the soil is always wet, dig up around the roots gently and examine them. Look for signs of damage or rot.
If less than half the bulk of the roots is still healthy, you can still save the plant. Trim off the damaged roots, and replant the plant in fresh and healthy soil.
4. Poor Lighting Conditions
Light is another factor that requires a delicate balance as far as the polka dot plant is concerned. Much like water, the plant doesn’t like the light to be either too much or too little.
Poor light will interfere with the plant’s photosynthesis process, which is essential for its survival and growth. It can also make the plant leggy.
Make sure the potted plant is getting enough light indoors. Place it on a window sill that opens to the north or east.
If the plant is getting direct sunlight, draw a lace curtain across the window to filter the light.
5. Nutrient Deficiency
As a heavy feeder, the polka dot plant needs rich soil with plenty of organic materials to thrive.
It all has to do with the beautiful flowers and the evergreen foliage that requires nutrients all year round.
If the leaves turn yellow and the flowers fade before their time, you might be looking at a nutrient deficiency problem.
To keep your polka dot plant growing successfully and the foliage looking its best, feed the plant with organic fertilizers (Espoma Garden-tone is excellent).
These provide the basic nutrients the plant needs without risking the growth surge or root burn that often happens when applying chemical fertilizers.
Apply the organic fertilizer once a month during the growing season.
Just because it’s a heavy feeder, it doesn’t mean that the polka dot will grow bigger and produce more flowers with more fertilizers.
Overfertilization can lead to wilting and the death of the plant.
To avoid the problems of overfertilization, limit your fertilizers to organic ones designed specifically for houseplants. Only apply the fertilizer once a month.
When the last flower has faded, that’s your cue to hold off fertilizing until the next year.
Pests can cause so much damage to the polka dot plant that the plant will succumb, wilt, and die, so check the plant regularly for signs of pest infestations.
The most common bugs that attack it are whiteflies, mealy bugs, and aphids.
Soapy water is a good homemade treatment for many of these pests. Soak a piece of cloth in soapy water or rubbing alcohol and gently wipe the bugs off the leaves and stems of the plant.
If that doesn’t work, spray the infected plant with neem oil. I prefer this organic cold-pressed neem, but any brand will do.
Although the polka dot plant is for the most part immune to most diseases, fungal infections such as powdery mildew are quite common.
The main reasons behind it are overwatering, lack of ventilation, or both.
Water your plant regularly, and don’t get the soil wet or waterlogged. If the airflow in the room is too poor, place a fan near the plant to improve air circulation.
Remove the infected leaves and stems of the plant to prevent the spread of the fungal infection.
9. Poor Soil Mix
If you plant your polka dot plant in a pot full of the wrong soil mix, you limit its chances of success and growth. For best results, you’ll need to use the right soil mix.
The best soil mixture for the polka dot is an all-purpose organic potting mix (find it here).
Amend the mix with coarse sand or perlite to improve drainage. Add in organic materials to give the heavy-feeding plant a good start.
10. Needs Repotting
Last but not least, take a look at the bottom of the pot. If you see roots coming out of the drainage holes, that’s a sure sign your polka dot plant is rootbound.
That often happens when the roots outgrow the pot and have no more room to grow.
Repot your polka dot in the spring right before the first signs of growth. Use a pot 2 inches larger than the old one, and fill it with fresh organic potting mix.
Water the plant immediately after planting to prevent transplant shock.
Popular Polka Dot Plant Varieties
- Carmina: the leaves usually have red spots on a dark green background.
- Pink Brocade: the leaves have more pink patches than green color.
- Splash: the colorful leaves have red, white, and pink splotches on green leaves.
- Confetti: The green leaves will have spots of different colors from burgundy and red to white and pink.
6 Key Care Tips for Polka Dot Plants
- Adequate light is important for the growth of the polka dot plant. Filtered or dappled light is recommended.
- Shallow watering at regular times is key to preventing both overwatering and underwatering issues.
- Apply an organic fertilizer once a month during the growing season.
- Use an all-purpose organic potting mix, and add perlite to improve drainage.
- Check for signs of pest infestations, and treat them with soapy water and neem oil.
- Prune the plant regularly to keep it in shape.
Why Does My Polka Dot Plant Have Crispy Leaves?
Low humidity will cause the leaves to dry out and become crispy. Place a humidifier near the plant, or mist it twice a week.
Why Are My Polka Dot Plant Leaves Curling?
Low humidity, poor light, root rot, and underwatering are the main causes of leaf curling in polka dot plants.
The polka dot plant is quite sensitive to inadequate growing conditions such as irregular watering, wrong soil mix, and lack of nutrients, among others.
Ensure your plant is growing in ideal conditions to ensure its success.