The answer is yes and no. Peperomia plants are succulents and succulent-like plants that belong to the Piperaceae family. However, most peperomias are succulent-like, rather than actual succulents. They are native to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, and are hardy to zones 10 to 12, meaning they are not the most resilient when it comes to cold temperatures.
Peperomias are very popular houseplants that are low-maintenance and easy to grow and care for.
In this article, we will discuss what exactly makes peperomia succulent-like, as well as its proper cultural care. If you want to learn more about this extensive category of plants before taking one home for yourself, just keep reading.
What is peperomia?
Peperomias are tropical plants native to Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
They have fleshy leaves with vibrant colors that make them a great addition to your interior decor, and they produce brown, green, or white blooms. There are so many different species of peperomia, and they come in so many sizes, leaf shapes, and colors, that you may not even think that two plants side by side is both peperomias.
These plants are slow-growing, low-maintenance houseplants that can be planted at any time of the year.
Is peperomia a succulent?
Yes and no. Peperomia is a large group of plants that consists of over 1,000 species, most of which are considered succulent-like, rather than true succulents.
To be considered a succulent, a plant needs to possess certain characteristics. It needs to have thick, fleshy leaves that can retain and store water for use in times of drought or water scarcity. This makes them drought-tolerant or drought-resistant, which is necessary as they are native to some of the driest places on earth.
Succulent-like peperomias can retain water in their foliage to a certain extent and can survive in dry conditions longer than the typical plant, but they will not be able to tolerate these dry conditions for as long as true succulents can.
Examples of peperomias that are true succulents are Peperomia ferreyrae, Peperomia graveolens and Peperomia clusiifolia.
Peperomia plant care
Peperomia plants like light bright but indirect light. They need bright light in order to keep their bright colors; morning light or filtered light is usually sufficient. If you put this plant outdoors in direct sunlight for extended periods of time, this can cause sun damage to the foliage.
If you think your peperomia is getting too much light, you need to transfer it to a shadier spot as soon as possible. Water it if it looks like the leaves and soil have dried out from too much light.
If the plant does not get enough light, it will become pale, the leaves will drop off and the growth of the plant will be stunted. This is because without sufficient light the plant cannot perform photosynthesis, by which it produces chlorophyll that gives plants their green color. It may also become leggy with insufficient light.
Legginess, or etiolation, is when the plant is so desperate for light that it starts to grow elongated limbs in the direction of the nearest light source. Etiolation does not harm the plant, but it does affect its symmetry which you might not like aesthetically.
If you think that your peperomia is not getting the light it needs, you need to transfer it to a sunnier spot. If you live somewhere that does not get much natural sunlight for certain months of the year, you might have to use a grow light to help the plant out. It will need 12 to 14 hours under the grow light every day.
If you keep the plant indoors, place it near north or east-facing window because these windows let in light that is not too harsh.
If the only windows in your home provide harsh light, you may need to diffuse the light’s intensity by placing a sheer curtain over the window.
Peperomia plants have thick, fleshy leaves just like most succulents, so they are able to retain and store lots of water in their foliage for use during dry spells. This means that they will not need to be watered as often as some other houseplants.
This is also why this plant is very sensitive to overwatering. Overwatering can come about if you give the plant too much water every time you water it, if you water it too frequently, if you use soil and pots that are poorly-draining, or if you do not adjust your watering habits to changes in the weather, season or climate.
An overwatered peperomia will have yellowing, droopy leaves that feel soft and mushy to the touch. This is because the plant continues to absorb excess water from the soil until eventually the cells in its tissue literally burst from too much water. This is also why an overwatered plant might feel slimy.
Another effect of overwatering is root rot. Root rot is a condition caused by prolonged exposure of the roots to waterlogged soil so that they cannot dry out to absorb oxygen, and eventually drown. The dead roots will become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens such as fungi and bacteria, which will make the rot spread more aggressively to the rest of the plant. Soon, the rot will reach the leaves, by which time it may be too late to save the plant.
If you think your plant is overwatered, stop watering it immediately and place it in a sunnier spot so that the soil dries out faster.
If you suspect root rot, you might need to remove the plant from its pot to check the roots. Wash off as much soil as you can from the roots, and be gentle because the roots will be fragile. Inspect the roots closely for sections that have turned brown or black. These are rotten and will have to be removed. Use a sterile pair of scissors to prune them away until only the healthy, white roots remain.
Place the plant on a dry surface to let the roots air-dry for a few hours, and prepare a new pot by filling it two-thirds of the way with succulent potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil.
Water the soil thoroughly until you can see the excess water flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, and return the plant to its normal spot.
The opposite of overwatering is underwatering, and even though peperomias can survive drought better than most plants, that does not mean you can neglect to water them any time you want.
An underwatered peperomia will have wilted, droopy leaves and the soil in the pot will be bone dry.
To fix this, you just need to water the plant immediately. Make sure to soak all of the soil in the pot properly, so that all the roots have adequate access to water.
The best way to make sure your peperomia is never over-or underwatered is to develop good watering habits. You will know the plant needs to be watered if the top two inches of soil in the pot are dry to the touch. If the soil is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Some peperomia species are epiphytic. This means they do not actually need potting mix in the traditional sense; in fact, some of them can survive growing on the bark of a tree. This is because their roots can absorb water from the atmosphere.
For these plants, you should use a soil blend that is acidic, loose, and chunky, like an orchid potting medium.
You can also use regular potting soil, but then make sure that you add components to make it well-draining, such as perlite, peat moss, vermiculite or pumice.
Aside from the potting mix, the pot that you choose should also have sufficient drainage. If the holes at the bottom of the pot are not big enough, you may have to drill around them to make them bigger, or you can just add more holes. The holes will allow excess water to escape, thereby decreasing the chances of overwatering and root rot.
Temperature and humidity requirements
Because of the plant’s natural habitat, it does not do particularly well in cold temperatures. Some outdoor peperomia plants are only hardy to zone 10 climates. This means they should not be exposed to temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, because such temperatures can damage them or even kill them.
Remember that peperomias are tropical plants that like warm weather, so if you are growing your plant outdoors, be mindful about taking it inside the house once the frost sets in.
These plants also like a bit more humidity than most houseplants, so if you live in a dry place with low humidity, help the plant out by placing it in a humid room, such as the kitchen or the bathroom.
You could also place the plant on a pebble tray filled with water so that as the water evaporates, it will moisten the air around the plant.
Another alternative is to group the plant with other humidity-loving plants so that they can all form a microclimate around each other.
And, if you have the means, you can always just buy a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity in the room where the plant is kept.
You do not really need to fertilize peperomias because they typically get all their required nutrients and minerals from their soil.
But, if you want to help the plant out, use a water-soluble, succulent fertilizer and only apply it at half-strength.
If you notice problems with your peperomia, do not immediately assume it is due to poor nutrition. Check for any other possible, and more likely causes such as overwatering or too much light before considering poor nutrition.
If you give the plant fertilizer that it does not need, the excess minerals will cause a buildup of salts in the potting medium which can lead to soil toxicity and can severely damage the plant’s roots.
Remember that, when it comes to fertilizer, less is more.
Pruning the peperomia
Peperomias are slow-growing plants that are on the smaller side, so they rarely need to be pruned. Often the only pruning they warrant is if they become leggy or if you just do not like how a certain stem is growing.
Controlling and cutting back unruly stems and leaves can also encourage branching and can give the plant a fuller look.
You can use your hands to pinch off leaves or stems, but it is better to use a sterile pair of pruning shears to make the cuts more seamless.
Propagating peperomia plants
Although these plants can be propagated year-round, it is best to do it during springtime when the plant is actively growing. Fortunately, you can prune and propagate simultaneously: Use the pruned stems to propagate the plant.
Prepare a sterile pair of pruning shears, a small pot, some orchid mix or succulent mix, and a plastic bag.
Choose a leaf on the parent plant and cut it off with about an inch of stem.
Fill the pot with soil and place the cutting in the soil, cut-end down.
Moisten the soil before placing the plastic bag over the top of the pot to trap some humidity.
Place the pot in a spot where it can get lots of bright, indirect light and water it often enough to make sure that the soil never dries out completely.
After a few weeks, check for root growth by gently pulling on the cutting. If there is resistance, that means that the roots are well-established and you can transfer the new plant to a bigger pot and care for it as you would a regular plant.
Does a peperomia plant bloom?
Yes, peperomia plants bloom, but they do so rarely when kept as houseplants.
Their flowers are either green, white or brown, and they look like spikes. You may not even realize that they are flowers, at first.
If you do not like the look of the flowers, you can always cut them off at the base. But, if you like their aesthetic, you can leave them to wither and fall off on their own.
They usually bloom during the summer, but if the conditions in your home are close enough to summer conditions outdoors, your plant may even produce flowers year-round.
The most commonly observed pests on peperomia plants are whiteflies, spider mites and mealybugs. These pests cause damage to the plant by feeding on the sap from its foliage.
You can use insecticide to get rid of them, but if you do not want to use chemicals on your plant or around your home, you can also use insecticidal soap to kill the pests.
Alternatively, you can wipe down the affected areas with a cotton swab dipped in neem oil, or spray rubbing alcohol on the affected areas of the plant.
Just make sure that, while you are treating the plant, you keep it isolated from your other healthy plants so that the pests do not spread.
There are so many peperomia species that some of them are considered succulents while others are just succulent-like. The difference between the two is that succulent-like peperomias are simply not as drought-tolerant as true succulents are.
They are still able to store water in their fleshy leaves, but they do not do that well in very hot climates.
Peperomias are low-maintenance houseplants and are easy to propagate using stem cuttings.
To keep them happy, just give them bright, indirect light, water when the soil is dry, a well-draining potting mix, temperatures above 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and a little humidity.
Image: istockphoto.com / Ake Dynamic