Are Polka Dot Plants Good for Terrariums?

Hypoestes phyllostachya, the polka dot plant, is often used in terrariums, but it can also be used in many other ways. It is also an excellent feature in both indoor and outdoor plantings. The eye-catching spotted foliage adds color and whimsy to the shady areas of the landscape. The most popular variety is the pink polka dot plant with dark green leaves and pink spots. Other types are fun because they come in rare variations of white, red, or rose-pink color with spots or wavy patterns.

Hypoestes phyllostachya is native to South Africa, Madagascar and southeast Asia. The polka dot plant is hardy to USDA zones 10-11 making it the perfect annual or houseplant. A delicate tropical plant, the polka dot plant likes it when it’s warm, there’s a lot of humidity, and it’s out of direct sunlight. The small mounding shape is easy to care for in a terrarium and works well in pots, hanging baskets, bedding plants, or as a border or path edge. Here’s how to grow and use polka dot plant in your home or landscape.

Polka dot plants, with their brightly colored foliage covered in spots, are eye-catching plants that can liven up any indoor space. Their petite size and enjoyability of warm, humid conditions also make them well-suited for closed terrariums. But are polka dot plants truly good terrarium plants?

There are some clear pros and cons to consider when using polka dot plants in terrariums. Below I’ll share my own experience and tips on caring for these funky plants in enclosed glass environments

The polka dot plant goes by the Latin name Hypoestes phyllostachya and is native to Madagascar, They are also commonly known as freckle plants

These herbaceous evergreen perennials are part of the Acanthaceae family, which includes popular houseplants like nerve plants and croton.

The most striking feature of polka dot plants is their brightly colored and spotted leaves. The foliage comes in a range of dazzling colors like white, pink, red, purple, and green.

New leaves emerge in the plant’s true color, while mature leaves develop contrasting spots – no two leaves end up looking quite the same!

In the right conditions, polka dot plants may also produce small lavender or white flowers. However, it’s really all about the fabulous foliage.

The Benefits of Polka Dot Plants for Terrariums

Here are some of the key benefits that make polka dot plants a great choice for enclosed terrarium environments:

  • Compact size: Polka dot plants typically grow to around 10-20 inches in height. This makes them a perfect fit for small terrariums, unlike large houseplants.

  • Enjoy high humidity: With their tropical origins, polka dot plants thrive in the stable warm and humid conditions provided by terrariums.

  • Add striking colors: The uniquely patterned and vividly colored leaves of these plants create visual interest against greens.

  • Easy to propagate: You can easily propagate polka dot plants from cuttings to fill out your terrarium.

  • Withstand lower light: While they appreciate bright light, polka dot plants can tolerate lower indoor light levels better than many plants.

  • Fast growing: Polka dot plants grow relatively quickly compared to other terrarium plants, filling in space.

  • Hardy plants: These plants are quite forgiving if you forget to water occasionally and bounce back easily.

Potential Drawbacks of Polka Dot Plants for Terrariums

On the other hand, there are some potential disadvantages of using polka dot plants in your enclosed terrarium:

  • Short lifespan: Polka dot plants tend to only live for 1-2 years, especially after flowering. You’ll have to replace them.

  • Prone to pests: Spider mites may be attracted to these plants and can spread quickly in a terrarium.

  • Can get leggy: Without enough light, polka dot plants get lanky in search of sun.

  • Heavy feeding: These fast-growing plants need frequent fertilizing to maintain their bright foliage.

  • Can be dramatic: If allowed to dry out, the foliage will wilt and drop quickly. They demand constant moisture.

  • Susceptible to overwatering: Too much moisture can cause root rot. You need to balance watering and drainage.

Tips for Growing Polka Dot Plants in Terrariums

From my experience cultivating them, here are some top care tips to keep your polka dot plants thriving within an enclosed terrarium:

  • Select small, compact plants or take cuttings to propagate from larger specimens. This avoids legginess.

  • Situate the terrarium near an east or west-facing window if possible. A north window can work too. Bright, indirect light is essential.

  • Use a fast-draining soil mix amended with perlite or orchid bark to prevent overwatering. Creating a false bottom further improves drainage.

  • Water whenever the top 1-2 inches of soil become dry. Misting between waterings maintains moisture. Don’t allow plants to wilt.

  • Apply diluted liquid fertilizer every 2-4 weeks during spring and summer to fuel growth. Slow down in winter.

  • Prune back overgrown plants in early spring to rejuvenate. Take the cuttings to propagate replacements!

  • Monitor closely for pests like spider mites. Remove any affected parts immediately. Keep humidity high.

  • Open the terrarium lid occasionally to allow gas exchange and replenish fresh air. Prevent fungal issues.

  • Repot every 1-2 years into fresh substrate as the plants deplete soil nutrients quickly. Divide congested plants.

Follow these tips and your polka dot plants should bring charming, long-lasting pops of color to your closed terrarium!

Ideal Polka Dot Plant Terrarium Conditions

To summarize, here are the ideal environmental conditions to recreate for your polka dot plants inside a terrarium:

Light: Bright, indirect light. 1,500-2,500 foot candles. East or West-facing window.

Temperature: Average room temperature. 65-80°F.

Humidity: Very high humidity. At least 60% but above 80% humidity ideal.

Soil: Light, well-draining potting mix. Incorporate perlite or orchid bark.

Water: Keep soil consistently moist but not soggy. Allow to dry out slightly between waterings.

Fertilizer: Apply diluted liquid fertilizer every 2-4 weeks during the growing season.

Recreating this warm, humid, brightly lit environment will result in vibrant and actively growing polka dot plants inside your terrarium.

Companion Plants for Polka Dot Plant Terrariums

When designing the overall planting scheme for a terrarium featuring polka dot plants, consider the following companions:

  • Peperomia – Try Peperomia prostrata or Peperomia caperata. Small leaves complement polka dots.

  • Pilea – The baby tears plant (Pilea depressa) works nicely as a trailing foreground plant.

  • Nerve plant – Contrasting veined leaves of Fittonia look great against dotted foliage.

  • Ferns – Small tropical ferns like rabbit’s foot thrive in terrariums too. Add texture.

  • Croton – For more color, combine polka dot plant with Petra croton (Codiaeum variegatum).

  • Air plants – Mounted Tillandsia provide height and work well with high humidity.

  • Mosses – Use mood moss as a lush carpet covering the soil. Adds interest.

A mix of small-leaved plants with foliage interest creates an attractive cohesive planting with plenty of visual appeal.

Displaying Polka Dot Plant Terrariums

When it comes to exhibiting your completed polka dot plant terrarium, you have several options:

  • Place your terrarium on a desk, table, or shelf where it will receive adequate natural light. Near a window is ideal.

  • Mount the terrarium on the wall at eye level to create a living art piece. Just ensure the location provides sufficient light.

  • Use terrariums as unique centerpieces for coffee tables, side tables, or as kitchen decor.

  • Give crafted terrariums as gifts! These low-maintenance greens with pops of color make great housewarming presents.

  • Arrange a collection of matching or complementary terrariums together to make a statement.

Take advantage of the small size of terrariums and get creative with ways to tastefully show off your desktop gardens – with polka dot plant as the star.

Troubleshooting Polka Dot Plants in Terrariums

Sometimes issues can crop up when caring for polka dot plants in the confines of a terrarium. Here are some common problems and fixes:

Leggy/lanky growth: Increase light levels if possible, prune back plants to promote bushier regrowth.

Loss of leaf color: Fertilize more regularly and ensure adequate light to maintain vivid foliage.

Wilting/drooping: Check soil moisture and water if dry. Increase humidity levels.

Browning leaf tips: Less watering frequency needed. Improve soil drainage to prevent overwatering.

Leaf drop: Reduce watering till drying out between. Rule out pests or overly wet soil.

Mold/fungus: Allow for more airflow, don’t overpack plants. Remove any affected parts immediately.

Pests: Isolate plants and thoroughly treat for pests. Wash off plants and keep humidity high.

By reacting quickly and adjusting care where needed, you can get a struggling polka dot plant back on track!

Final Thoughts

Polka dot plants can make a fun and eye-catching addition to closed terrariums when provided with the right care.

Their need for humid conditions, smaller size, colorful leaves, and fast growth make them well-suited for display in enclosed glass containers.

Just be mindful of potential drawbacks like pests, short lifespan, and demand for moisture and light. Follow the guidance above to keep them thriving!


Installing the polka dot plant: Put it outside in a spot with some shade or dappled sunlight when the temperature is at least 50 degrees F every night. Too much shade can make plants grow leggy or lose their color, while too much direct sunlight can burn the leaves.

Follow these steps and plant polka dot plant 1 to 2 feet apart:

  • Break up the soil where you will plant and add compost or other organic matter if necessary.
  • Make a hole that is a little deeper and wider than the root ball.
  • Take plants out of their nursery pots and gently tease out their roots if they are stuck in the pots.
  • Plant the tree so that the top of the root ball is level with the soil around it.
  • Fill in the hole with soil and lightly press it in around the plant. Good soil-to-plant contact helps the roots access water and nutrients.
  • Finally, water well to complete the planting. Remember to water plants regularly until established.

Soil: Polka dot plants prefer rich well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. Poorly draining soil can lead to root rot. For containers, use a high quality all-purpose potting soil or potting mix.

Watering: Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. The polka dot plant does not like the soil to dry out. Overwatering can lead to root rot or fungal diseases. Water more frequently during prolonged heat or dry spells.

Fertilizing: For outdoor plants, apply an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer according to instructions. Indoor plants can be fertilized every two weeks with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer mixed at half strength. Greatly reduce fertilizing houseplants during winter months.

Are polka dot plants good houseplants?

Polka dot plant is highly adaptable as a houseplant. Bring plants indoors before temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Provide a warm spot (65 to 75 degrees F is ideal) with bright indirect light. Mist the leaves or put the pots on pebble trays filled with water to raise the humidity around the indoor polka dot plant.

Interested in houseplants? Check out our leafjoy® collection with options for a variety of indoor growing conditions.

Simple polka dot plant terrarium. These plants thrive in this environment due to the high humidity

Are polka dots good for terrariums?

Polka Dot plants thrive in damp and warm environments, making them ideal for terrariums. As there are numerous cultivars, a collection of varied-looking Polka Dots potted together in a beautiful plant terrarium makes for a brilliant piece. Also, you can mix these exotic varieties with other moisture-loving plants in terrariums.

Do polka dot plants need a lot of water?

The polka dot plant is a very water-dependent plant. If grown inside a closed terrarium, it needs a lot of humidity, a minimum of 50%, ideally 70-90%. If grown in an open terrarium, it needs constant watering. It will wither away very quickly if it gets dry. Nothing a few sprays of water won’t fix. Polka dot plants do excellent at room temperature.

How do you put polka dots in a terrarium?

Polka Dots, as previously stated, adore moisture content! Combining plants with standard temperature, light, and water demands. It helps to have a pair of long forceps or a set of kitchen chopsticks on hand to help place the plants. Before placing plants in the Terrarium, assemble them on the side table to find the perfect blend and layout.

Can a polka dot plant be used as a houseplant?

Polka dot plant is highly adaptable as a houseplant. Bring plants indoors before temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Provide a warm spot (65 to 75 degrees F is ideal) with bright indirect light. Boost humidity for indoor polka dot plant by misting the leaves or placing pots on pebble trays filled with water. Interested in houseplants?

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