Chinese money plant growing advice

Pilea peperomioides care: The best light, water, and food for a Chinese money plant

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Among the trendiest houseplants, the Chinese money plant (also known as the pancake plant or UFO plant) is adored for its unique appearance. The round, coin-sized leaves are thick and glossy. Each leaf is attached to the crown of the plant by a petiole (leaf stem) that connects directly to the leaf underside, giving it a very unique appearance. This houseplant’s tendency to create lots of small “daughter plants” that are easily separated from the parent plant means it’s a great houseplant for sharing with friends and family. To top it off, Pilea peperomioides care isn’t difficult, making this a terrific choice for houseplant lovers of all abilities.

Pileas are low-maintenance houseplants.

Pilea peperomioides are easy-care houseplants, as long as you provide for a few needs.

Pilea peperomioides care requirements

Chinese money plant isn’t persnickety when it comes to its care. However there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

First, at maturity, the plant reaches about 12 inches tall with an equal width; be sure it has plenty of space to grow. If Pilea is happy, it may produce small white flowers on pink-tinged stems. You can consider your thumb very green if the plant comes into flower. That means you’ve done everything right!

Signs of a healthy plant also include leaves that are a rich green with a crisp texture. The petioles (leaf stems) of this plant are naturally long, but if the plant is receiving ample sunlight, they will not be elongated or pale in color. Another sign of a healthy Pilea peperomioides is no brown on the outer edges of the leaves. Below, I’ll share some information on what it means if the leaf margins turn yellow or brown.

If you’re wondering exactly what you need to do for Pilea peperomioides care, read on. I’ve included lots of tips for maximizing the growth and health of this popular houseplant.

The best potting soil for Chinese money plants

Chinese money plants prefer well-drained potting soil. Don’t use garden soil to plant this houseplant, and don’t buy the cheapest potting soil you can find. Instead, use a high-quality organic potting soil. One that’s based on peat moss or coir fiber is best. If you want to make your own potting soil for a Pilea peperomioides, here’s a great post that includes 6 DIY potting soil recipes, including one for houseplants that’s perfect for the job.

If you purchased your Chinese money plant from a greenhouse or nursery, chances are it’s already planted in a great potting soil, so there’s no need to repot the plant until it outgrows the pot (more on how to do this later).

Chinese money plants are low maintenance houseplants.

Chinese money plants make a great houseplant choice for a desk, dresser, or bookshelf.

The best kind of pot for Pilea peperomioides plants

Most houseplants are purchased in plastic pots, but occasionally some nurseries sell Pileas in terra cotta pots, which can dry out very quickly. Terra cotta is very porous and should be used only for plants that prefer to be kept on the dry side. I suggest using a plastic or glazed ceramic pot for a Pilea peperomioides. If yours came in terra cotta, consider following the repotting instructions below to move it into a plastic or ceramic container.

If you like the look of a terra cotta pot but don’t want to have to water the plant all the time, do what I do. Either hide the plastic pot by displaying it inside of a decorative terra cotta pot (sneaky!) or paint the inside of the terra cotta pot with a spray sealant prior to planting your Pilea. That’s what I did and it worked great (see post photos).

No matter what your container is made of, be sure it has a drainage hole in the bottom. Pilea peperomioides do not like to have their roots sitting in water. Good drainage is key. And if there’s a saucer under the plant, make sure water doesn’t sit in it for longer than an hour or two. Otherwise root rot is the result. My watering tips later walk you through the best method of watering Pilea peperomioides plants.

Ideal light level for Pilea peperomioides

Another aspect of Pilea peperomioides care is the amount of light the plant receives. All houseplants have light level preferences based on their native growing conditions in the wild. Some houseplants prefer low light levels while others like bright, sunny locations. The Chinese money plant falls somewhere in the middle. The best light level for a Pilea peperomioides occurs in an east- or west-facing window.

Here’s how to tell if your window is an east- or west-facing window and if the light levels are prime for this particular houseplant.

  • If the sun shines directly into your window from early to mid morning, it’s east-facing (also called Eastern exposure). This exposure provides medium light and is perfect for Pilea peperomioides care.
  • If the sun shines directly in your window in the late afternoon and evening, up until sunset, it’s west-facing (western exposure). This is also moderate light, but since the sun can get quite hot in the late afternoon, it’s typically slightly brighter than east-facing. This is the second best light for Chinese money plants.
  • If the sun never shines directly into your window, it’s north-facing (northern exposure). This is very low light and is not suitable for growing this particular houseplant.
  • If the sun shines directly into your window throughout most of the day, from late-morning through mid-afternoon, it’s south-facing (southern exposure). This exposure is best for high light-loving plants (hello, succulents and cacti!).

Of course another factor is whether or not the light coming into the window is filtered. Few houseplants like sun shining directly on them, Pilea peperomioides included. Filtered light that passes through a sheer curtain or never shines directly on the plant is great. Sometimes light that’s too bright and direct can cause leaf burn on certain plants.

If you only have a window that’s north-facing and receives minimal light, consider getting a tabletop grow light to put over your Chinese money plant for supplemental light.

The best light for Pilea peperomioides is moderate and east-facing.

Pilea peperomioides do best in bright but not direct light.

How often to water Chinese money plants

How often to water a Pilea peperomioides depends on a few different factors, including the size and material of the pot, how dry your home is, and the quality of your potting soil. As mentioned before, terra cotta pots dry out quickly, so you’ll have to water more frequently. If your plant is near a forced air heat register or in a very warm room, the same will occur. Rather than watering your Chinese money plant on a schedule, feel how heavy the pot is just after you thoroughly water it. Then pick the pot up every two or three days to see how much lighter it gets. When the pot is very light (and ideally just before the plant wilts), it’s time to water.

How to water Pilea peperomioides

There’s no best way to water Pilea peperomioides, but there are certainly several wrong ways to do it. Do not leave the plant sitting in water, but don’t just sprinkle it lightly with water either. Ideally, you should take the pot to the sink and run water through the soil until at least 20% of the water that goes into the pot drains out the hole in the bottom. This helps flush out excess fertilizer salts and keeps the tips of the leaves from turning brown due to salt burn. I water my Pilea every 7 to 10 days, but your home’s conditions may mean the plant requires more or less frequent waterings. The weight of the pot is the best indicator (along with sticking your finger into the soil for a “feel test”).

The best water to use to water houseplants is de-chlorinated tap water. You don’t need to buy fancy de-chlorination tablets; simply let an open container of water sit on the counter for 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate. You can use rainwater, too, if you have a rain barrel.

In addition to being regularly watered, Pilea peperomiodes plants also love high humidity. To increase the humidity level around the plant, especially in dry climates and homes, use a humidity tray such as this one beneath the plant’s pot.

When and how to fertilize Pilea peperomioides

When it comes to fertilizing Pilea peperomioides, don’t overdo it. Unfortunately, most houseplants are killed with kindness. You really only need to fertilize Chinese money plants once a month. And only feed the plant when it is in a state of active growth. This is typically from early spring through early fall (which is April through September, here in Pennsylvania).

Use a liquid organic houseplant fertilizer by diluting it to half of the recommended strength and then watering the plant with it. Do not fertilize a dry plant; instead water it first and then fertilize the next day.

If a white crust develops on the soil of your Pilea peperomioides, it’s a sign of fertilizer salt build up. If this occurs, hold off on your fertilization for a few months. In addition, make sure you’re flushing water through the pot each time you water. Evidence of salt buildup also shows up as a white crust on the outside of terra cotta pots.

Pilea peperomioides care tips and advice.

If a white crust develops on the soil of a houseplant, it likely means a salt build up in the soil.

How to divide Pilea peperomioides

Another important aspect of Pilea peperomioides care is regular division to keep the plant from being crowded in its pot. Happy plants produce small daughter plants called offsets or pups. They grow from the root system a few centimeters away from the base of the mother plant. These offsets should be separated when they’re an inch or two tall.

To divide Pilea peperomioides offsets, dig down into the soil at the base of the offset to expose the roots. Then use a sharp pair of needle-nose snips to separate it from the parent plant. Each little offset doesn’t have to have many roots, but there should be at least a few there. When dividing Chinese money plants, you don’t have to uproot the entire plant, but you certainly can, if it makes the job easier.

Immediately pot up the offsets into new pots of fresh soil. If you accidentally break the roots off of one of them, put the base of the broken offset in a little cup of water. This generates new root growth. Once you see roots form, you can pot that one up, too. Or, you can sink the base of the broken offset into a pot of potting soil. Keep it moist. Eventually new roots will form below the soil as if it were a stem cutting, instead of an offset.

Thankfully Pilea peperomioides is very easy to divide in this manner, which is why it has yet another common name: the pass-along plant. People have been sharing offsets of this great little houseplant plant with friends, family, and neighbors for generations.

One important step in Pilea peperomioides care is regular plant division.

The small offset popping up out of the soil near this mother plant will need to be separated when it’s a few inches tall.

Potting up a Chinese money plant

The last task when caring for Pilea peperomioides is called potting up. When your plant gets crowded in its pot, it’s time to transplant it into a larger pot. You’ll know it’s time to move your plant up to the next size pot when it dries out quickly, when the roots circle around inside the pot, or when there are so many offsets that they’re filling the pot.

When potting up a Chinese money plant, choose a new pot that’s just one or two inches larger in diameter than the old pot. If your Pilea was in a 6-inch pot, pot it up to an 8-inch and so on.

Tip the plant out of its old pot and gently loosen the roots. This is especially important if the roots are circling around inside the pot. Prune off any rotten or damaged roots. Spread the roots out into the new pot and fill in around them with fresh houseplant potting soil. Do not bury the plant any more deeply in its new pot than it was in its old pot. Aim for the exact same level. And, do not fertilize newly transplanted houseplants for at least 3 months after the process to avoid burning developing tender new roots.

Dividing UFO plants is easy, with the right technique.

Dividing and propagating Chinese money plants is a fun job, and it gives you lots of new plants to share with friends.

For more information on Pilea

As you can see, Pilea peperomioides care isn’t overly challenging. Just remember to give the plant optimum light, water, and nutrition. With a bit of skill and a little luck, you’ll be passing baby Pileas along to friends soon enough!

If you’d like to learn more about growing Pilea peperomioides, here are some of our favorite houseplant-related books:

And for more on growing houseplants, check out these articles right here on Savvy Gardening:

Have you grown a Chinese money plant? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

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Pilea peperomioides care tips and advice

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