24 inches tall and 32 inches wide. That’s about the size of the largest Pilea Peperomioides I’ve ever had. But how can you grow a giant Pilea, and how big do they actually get? In this post, we’ll be diving into the strange obsession with extra-large Pileas and I offer my best tips for how to get there.
What’s the secret sauce behind growing a very large Pilea Peperomioides?
Truth be told, there are no secrets when it comes to growing plants. There’s no such thing as having green fingers and there are no real secrets behind rapid or extraordinary growth.
It’s all about knowledge and understanding the type of plant you have – and sometimes the environment you are in just so happens to work well with the plant you’ve got.
If you don’t know much about a plant’s natural habitat, you may have general plant knowledge to lean on. That’s essentially how most untrained people manage to not kill their plants, and actually make them thrive (and grow very large).
How big can Pilea Peperomioides grow
According to The Royal Horticultural Society, a mature Pilea Peperomioides grow up to 0,5 metres in height and width. The time it takes, according to RHS, is somewhere between 5-10 years – which also indicates the potential life span of Pilea Peperomioides in the wild.
This is the first time I see a definition of a full-grown/mature Pilea Peperomioides. When kept as an indoor plant it’s possible to reach and exceed those measurements in a shorter time span – for example with the use of grow lights.
The largest Pilea Peperomioides I have ever had was about 24 inches tall and 32 inches wide (60 and 80 cm), and it looked like this:
The largest leaf I have ever seen on my Pilea Peperomioides was on a different plant from the one above. Here I measured a leaf up against an iPhone 7 which is 2.7 inches/6.7 cm wide.
Can a Pilea Peperomioides grow taller and wider? I am absolutely certain it’s possible, but a tall Pilea will cause problems for many as it starts to get leggy, needs staking and is generally more unpractical and harmonious.
How do you grow a giant Pilea?
As mentioned in the beginning, there are no real secrets behind plant growth – it’s all about botany. Let’s look at the general factors that determine plant growth:
The two most important factors are light and temperature.
Temperature and light are connected through photosynthesis and respiration, which holds the key to getting your Pilea to grow large.
During photosynthesis, the plant produces sugar and starch which then gets broken down by respiration to produce energy for growth and maintenance. Photosynthesis needs to be balanced, in order for the plant to grow properly.
Adequate light is essential for plant growth
A plant uses light to produce food, and increased light levels mean increased food production which allows the plant to grow. More food = more growth.
Depending on where you live, you may have very different light levels available as the season change. This impacts your Pilea.
How do you know if your Pilea is not receiving enough light to grow big?
- The plant does not show visible signs of growth
- The internodes (spaces between the leaves) on newer growth have a bigger gap than the internodes on the older part of the plant
- The new leaves are smaller than the older ones
- The leaf color is a lighter green on the newer foliage than on the older foliage
- The older leaves are dead
Consequences of low light
If a plant does not get enough light, it won’t produce enough food to support new growth and maintenance at the same time. In this case, the plant will prioritize maintaining existing foliage instead of growth.
If the light levels are so low that the plant cannot even produce enough food to maintage the existing foliage, the entire plant will eventually die.
It’s fairly common for older foliage to die back. One of the reasons why this happens can be a result of light deficiency. When the light level is low and the plant is not producing enough food, it will absorb nutrients from older leaves to fuel its upkeep.
For most indoor plants, the best position in terms of light is an east-facing window that gets morning light, but if you don’t have that, or it for other reasons isn’t possible, you can use grow lights as a supplement.
Temperature directly impacts plant growth
The second most important metric in getting a plant to grow is temperature.
Low temperatures cause photosynthesis to slow down, and when this happens, sugar production does the same which in return reduces growth.
High temperatures have a negative impact on the enzymes responsible for cellular respiration (energy for growth). If the temperature is too high the enzymes will “break” and growth is stunted. At the same time, respiration increases as temperature rises which means, less energy will be used for growth also causing growth to slow down.
This is why temperature is a key component in getting a large Pilea Peperomioides.
What is considered a low and high temperature depends on the type of plant. For Pilea Peperomioides, we know it can tolerate colder temperatures and will struggle with high temperatures.
Temperatures will most likely change a lot within your home. In the summer you may have air conditioning, open windows can cause drafts, and during the winter heating is on to increase temperature as well. All these things make it a lot more difficult to control the temperature for each of your plants, so it’s not really surprising that plant death is common.
The ideal temperature range for Pilea Peperomioides growth
Plants have different minimum and maximum temperature requirements.
The Pilea Peperomioides come from a high altitude mountainous area, which means it can tolerate lower temperatures, and will struggle in higher temperatures.
The recommended temperature range for Pilea Peperomioides, according to the RHS, is 5 to 10 degrees Celsius or 41 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity can damage foliage
Humidity (moisture) in the air is generally important for indoor plants. A lot of the popular indoor plants come from tropical regions, such as Calathea, and when bringing one from a garden center typically means a drastic reduction in humidity.
Plants take water and nutrients from their roots to the stems and leaves through transpiration. Once the water gets to the leaves it will be released into the air. High humidity slows down the transpiration process, while low humidity means the plant will lose and require water at a higher rate. This can result in dry leaves with brown spots.
As for Pilea Peperomioides, it naturally grows in high altitude and shaded forest areas, and in general, humidity decreases as altitude increases. This indicates we do not have to worry as much about humidity for this specific plant.
However, if you live in colder climates where using a fireplace or radiators during winter is normal, you should be aware of indoor humidity for the plants – even Pilea.
Water is probably the easiest thing to control for us indoor gardeners, and it therefore often becomes the only tool we feel we have when a plant is not doing well. But overwatering will kill your plant, and this is by far the most frequent reason I have seen and experienced amongst Pilea Peperomioides.
How often and how much to water your Pilea Peperomioides will vary depending on:
- Indoor humidity
- Light intensity
- Soil type
- Container size
My best advice is, to observe and feel the leaves of the Pilea. They tend to lose their shine and get soft when they need water.
Fertilizing plants cab be tricky, as it actually requires a bit of knowledge (or at least attention) to avoid doing more damage than good to the plant.
A plant will typically have sufficient amounts of nutrition if you buy it from a garden center, but at one point the nutrients will be gone from the soil and you will need to add fertilizer.
Apply small amounts during the growing season – spring through summer. In winter times the amount of light is reduced and the need for fertilizer decreases as the plant is not actively growing.
As a starting point, use about one-fourth the label rate for monthly applications. If the overall plant color becomes lighter green, fertilize every two weeks. If the new growth is dark green but the leaves are small and internodes seem longer than on the older growth, decrease the fertilizer rate. – University of Georgia
The most important thing to remember with soil is, that it needs to hold water and nutrients, be well-drained and allow the Pilea roots to breathe. Throughout my years of Pilea-ownership, I have been using a regular soil mix from a garden center and this has been perfectly fine.
When it comes to growing a large Pilea Peperomioides, you also want to be sure that it has enough space to grow. In this case it comes down to container size.
By repotting your Pilea into a larger container whenever the roots start to exceed the space of the current pot, you allow it to increase in size. The largest Pileas I have had, have also had big containers. The very large Pilea shown higher up in this post, was actually growing in a large plastic container used for water in the garden.
6 tips for improving Pilea growing conditions
If you’ve made is so far down the post you now know, that the key elements to growing a big Pilea Peperomioides is to take control of the most important factors for plant growth: light, temperature, humidity, soil, nutrients and water.
To improve the growing conditions for your Pilea, here’s a few tips on how to approach it:
- Increase light levels to encourage photosynthesis and sugar production
- Choose a different placement in your home, or supplement with grow lights
- Reduce night temperature to lower respiration, and increase sugar production
- When reducing the temperature, you allow more sugars to go into new growth
- Increase humidity, especially during winter
- Place your Pilea amongst other plants to create a microclimate and reduce water vaporation
- Place Pilea on a gravel tray with water to increase humidity in the immediate surroundings
- Buy a humidifier
- Don’t overwater!
- Add fertilizer in small amounts from spring-summer
- Continue to increase container size as the Pilea grows
University of Georgia
Colorado State University
University of Vermont