How to keep your Pilea peperomiodes happy through the colder months
By Dr Laura Jenkins @_houseplanthouse
Today we are going to talk about how to keep your Pilea peperomioides happy; particularly through the colder months. These houseplants are pretty notorious for not being too happy when temperatures drop, and combined with central heating hell, these factors can make for a pretty bad combination and a sometimes sad-looking pilea, pancake plant, Chinese money plant, or UFO plant as they are also known.
I’ve been experimenting with growing these plants for a couple of years after receiving a cutting off my sister. My plant has multiplied too many times for me to count and I took this opportunity to place them different locations around my apartment and to test out what conditions the plant likes best; with a particular focus on winter pilea care.
As with most houseplants, darker days and cooler temperatures mean that growth slows and some houseplants enter dormancy. Pilea are known for pretty much stopping growing all together in the depths of winter (anything below around 13°C), especially baby plants.
If not given enough light, the stems can stretch and the leaves will appear to droop. Keep the growth balanced and symmetrical by rotating it if you notice the plant leaning slightly. Over winter, doing this once every few weeks is adequate as the growth is so much slower than over spring and summer (during growing season I do this every few days!)
The plant that has performed best over winter is one that is around 1 metre away from a south west facing window, and gets indirect light all day (the particular spot doesn’t get direct light). Second to that is mama pilea that sits on my coffee table, again around 1 metre away from a west facing window. This plant gets an hour or so of afternoon sunshine and has experienced a bit of leaf drop as a result.
Pancake plants are creatures of habit which means they will need to acclimatise to different conditions - they can handle pretty bright light to medium, diffused light, but will take some time to adjust. If you want to move the position of your plant, do it gradually (particularly when moving to a brighter spot from a shaded one).
As we touched on above, normal household conditions over winter can be a bit problematic for pilea but here are some tips to help keep them perky:
Keep well away from radiators. Central heating dries out the air considerably and it is advisable to move houseplants away from any heat source. If you are tight for space, turn down the radiator to as low as possible and place on some jars of water along the grill. I find old jam jars are a great size but be careful that they don’t get knocked off!
Watch out for draughts (especially from cold windowsills). Winter is tricky as you often end up moving plants closer to the window to get more light, but be aware that these locations can be quite cold, especially at night. This is something to be particularly mindful of if you live in an old property with single glazing like me. I keep everything at least 30cm away from the panes of glass. The same goes for open doors and windows - cold draughts through an open door or window can be bad news for your pileas.
Less light and warmth will mean that your watering habits can slow down too. Pilea really dislike being too wet so this will mean you can reduce watering quite considerably - for me this is around once every week to ten days in my current conditions, though each home is different and factors like humidity play a part too (more on this next). Watering too often is the main cause of troubles over winter so wait until the top later of potting mix has dried out before watering. I put my smaller pots on a watering tray and water all together - it saves time and effort! If you have your plants in nursery pots inside cache pots, always take them out and water on a tray like this (or in the sink!), the worst thing for these plants is to have their pot sitting in water.
Using water at room temperature is also important for these plants especially in colder months as water straight from the tap can actually send pilea into shock. The day before watering I usually fill up my watering cans and leave to sit somewhere overnight to get to room temperature, it really does make a difference!
In spring and summer pilea usually cope pretty well with average household humidity, however over winter you might notice some crisping if the air is particularly dry. I try to give my plants a gentle shower every few weeks to keep the leaves free from dust and nourish them a bit… think of it as a bit of a houseplant pamper. Something that can happen with consistently low humidity (for example being near a heater) and incorrect watering is the appearance of some strange bumpy markings on the foliage, or doming of the leaves. If the edges are curling under in this way, I have found that increasing the humidity helps to keep the leaves flat - it’s called a pancake plant after all, after its round, flat foliage. Be sure to assess your watering as this also plays a part in misshapen leaves.
During the growing seasons, Chinese Money plants can grow pretty fast and you’ll find they appreciate a repotting at least once a year. You’ll notice it’s time to repot if roots have started running around the base of the plant pot. Another sign to look out for is if your plant starts to get very thirsty and you are watering it more frequently than normal. A pot-bound plant will need watering every 3-4 days so look out for that. If they plant is producing lots of plantlets, this is also a sign it could do with a repot.
Over winter I would not recommend repotting your pilea - wait until the plant has a period of growth ahead of it (and warmer temperatures).
If you are part of the online Instagram plant community, you will know that pilea babies are pretty adorable (and make for a cute photo to post too!). They are great for beginners getting into houseplants and don’t take up much room. So the best way to learn about this plant is to grow one from a cutting… plus it always feels so rewarding when your baby plant gets mature enough to start producing its own plantlets!
I have had the most success with my pilea babies when rooting them in water before planting… this is personal preference as they do root well in soil, but I like to observe the process. I also use quite small nursery pots for my small plants, which means they often outgrow their pots in a few months. I find the plants grow best when slightly pot-bound.
In terms of removing them from the mother plant, I like to wait until they have a couple of leaves and are more established, they root so easily at this stage. Very young plantlets are more sensitive so leave in the pot a while longer if possible.
Use a sterilised sharp blade and cut at the base of the stem (where it meet the potting mix). Pop into water or compost and wait until roots form. You’ll have another plant in no time at all!
Hope this post has helped to demystify how to keep your pilea plants happy, particularly through the colder months of the year. And if you haven’t got one of these beauties in your collection, I’d urge you to give one a go - they are extremely fun plants and will make a cool statement for your desk or coffee table!