It only takes one glance at a goldfish plant in bloom to understand where it got its name. The bright orange flowers seem to swim through the sea of cascading green, giving the appearance of little fish making their way through underwater plants. Goldfish plants are lovely in hanging baskets, as their trailing green stems and pops of colorful flowers brighten up any room.
Goldfish plants aren’t known for being beginner friendly, but they’re worth the effort and produce abundant rewards with proper care. After mastering the routine and understanding what these plants need, you’ll have tons of flowers to look forward to. Even fiddly, finicky plants just need the right kind of TLC to thrive – then it’s smooth sailing.
|Common Name||Goldfish Plant|
|Botanical Name||Nematanthus gregarious|
|Native Zones||Central America, Caribbean|
|Sun/Light Requirements||9+ hours of bright, indirect light, no direct light|
|Soil||Well-draining, kept damp|
|Color Varieties||Orange, Red, Yellow|
|Temperatures||65-75°F, no lower than 60°F|
|Size||Branches up to 3ft. long|
|Hardiness Zone||USDA zones 10 to 11|
While the flowers aren’t exactly shaped like fish, they are very similar in color to their goldfish namesake. There’s some variation, but all the flowers will be within the orange, red, and yellow range. The blooms are small and tube-like and tend to pop up profusely when the plant is cared for. Think of it like having your own school of little fish swimming around their pot.
The goldfish plant has gorgeous, dark green leaves. They have a waxy feel to them and grow thick and dense all over the plant. A few varieties have hairy leaves, though, due to their relation to the African violet. There are around 25 to 30 varieties of goldfish plants, so there are some differences between them! In general, their stems grow long, stretching up to three feet and making them ideal hanging plants.
Goldfish Plant Care Tips
Despite their reputation as fussy plants, a little research goes a long way. The goldfish plant is native to Central America and the Caribbean, meaning it’s a tropical plant accustomed to humid environments. Replicating those conditions at home takes a little work, but once you find the right routine and the perfect spot, the goldfish plant is hardy and long-lived.
Bright light is great for goldfish plants, but you want to avoid bright direct light. Instead, find a spot for the plant to receive several hours of bright and indirect light each day. For optimal conditions and the best chance of flowering, it needs around nine hours of indirect light each day. They grow fine indoors, and you can substitute indoor lighting for sunlight if you need to. Too much direct light damages the leaves. If you notice your plant’s leaves turning brown, it’s probably receiving too much direct sun.
There’s one more thing the goldfish plant has in common with its real fish counterpart – it loves water. Damp soil is best, though take care not to keep it too wet and cause rot. You can let the top inch or two of the soil dry out before watering again, but in general, you want to keep the plant happy and damp in the summer months. You can ease off watering in winter, but ensure the soil never completely dries out.
Humidity levels should be kept around 50%. If your levels are a bit low, try misting the plant with room-temperature water. If the water is too cold, it could damage the plant, but gentle misting should satisfy its humidity needs. Through winter, or if you live in a particularly dry climate, you can place a humidifier near the plant or use a pebble tray. Don’t forget that this is a tropical plant, so humidity is a must! If you’re struggling to maintain humidity levels, grouping plants together helps, too. They’ll do some of the work for you.
Standard indoor temperatures (between 65-75°F) are suitable for the goldfish plant. Temperatures on the warmer side allow the plant to produce more flowers, though, so keep that in mind! If you notice leaves falling off your plant, that’s a strong sign that it’s too cold. Keep the goldfish plant away from drafty windows or cold spots in the house – it has a low tolerance for anything below 60°F.
There’s nothing too special about soil requirements for the goldfish plant. Any fast-draining rich potting soil will work. Since these plants are related to the African violet, an African violet potting mix is a great option. Whatever mixture you choose, make sure it contains a lot of organic material and drains quickly. You can toss in a bit of perlite or pumice if it’s necessary for drainage.
Fertilizer is particularly useful during the growing season, and you can feed goldfish plants weekly or every two weeks for maximum benefit. Don’t use full-strength fertilizer. Instead, dilute it to about a quarter of its strength. Fertilizer pellets or slow-release fertilizers are viable options, too.
Goldfish plants can grow up to three feet long but trimming them back to two feet promotes better blooming and growth. It’s best to prune or pinch back the plant after it’s finished blooming but trim it back any time it starts looking leggy or wild, too. Hold onto any stem cuttings, as they can be used for propagation.
Goldfish Plant Propagation
Anyone can propagate the goldfish plant with some good step cuttings. Get a good size stem cutting, around four to five inches. Place the end of the cutting into the soil and keep it damp. Rooting hormones are helpful but not necessary for propagation. Put the pot into a bright, humid, warm area, and wait. In a few weeks, a new goldfish plant will grow.
Goldfish plants prefer being slightly rootbound, so they don’t require repotting frequently. You’ll likely go years without needing to repot. When the time comes, don’t go for an oversized pot – choose one a size up and ensure it has a drainage hole in the bottom. It’s safe to prune some of the roots during repotting, as it will prompt the plant to grow new ones.
Pests are a possibility and a nuisance to any houseplant. Goldfish plants are no different, and there are a few pests and insects to look out for. Mealybugs and aphids are likely culprits, along with spider mites. Be sure to treat your plant right away if you see signs of pest activity.
The goldfish plant’s reputation as being finicky isn’t exactly fair. Most of the plant’s issues are from simple, easily preventable care mistakes. If your goldfish plant isn’t flowering, is turning brown, losing leaves, or has a lot of unruly stems, there’s a problem in your care routine. Below is a brief look at the most common issues and how they show up in your plant.
These plants like damp soil but going overboard with watering causes rot and mold. Botrytis mold (or gray mold) and fungal spots are both issues for the goldfish plant, so take care to avoid overwatering or leaving it in wet, soggy soil. These plants naturally grow on trees, so their soil should drain quickly.
This is a tropical plant, and it shows in its intolerance to even mild chill. If temperatures drop below 60°F, you’ll start seeing signs of leaf drop. Check the space around your plant for cold air and find a warmer spot to keep it happy.
Too Much Sun
While this beauty of a plant requires a high amount of light, too much direct sun is certain to cause damage. Evidence of browning on the leaves is a tell-tale sign that it’s spending too much time in direct light. Find a bright light source without putting it in the path of the sun.
Too Little Light
There’s definitely a “sweet spot” with the goldfish plant. Too much direct light will burn the leaves, but too little light results in leggy growth as it tries to find a better light source. It can be pruned back, but evaluate your light source if it continues to happen.
If you’ve been searching for a gorgeous plant for your windowsill or hanging basket and have a little time to spend with plant care, the goldfish plant is a fantastic choice. It is a bit pickier with its environment than some other houseplants, but it’s hardly the fussiest option out there. Its requirements are basic, especially when you take its natural habitat into account.
Provide your goldfish plant with a stable, warm environment, a brief daily misting, damp soil, and a lot of indirect light and you’ll see burst after burst of lovely little flowers in return. With some attention and a good routine, it’s a plant that will dazzle you all year and keep swimming for nearly a decade.