Otherwise known as “baby tears”, Pilea depressa is one of the most popular plants for use in closed terrariums. Although it does best in these kinda of environments, it’s also fairly easy to care for indoors with a little extra care and attention.
These plants are beloved for their adorable tiny leaves, which are strung along stems that can either stand upright or, over time, drape over the sides of a planter. They’re perfect for humid places in your home, including bathrooms and kitchens, where water evaporates more frequently than in a home office or bedroom.
Native to the Western Mediterranean, Pilea depressa has become a staple for texture in indoor plantscapes, and offers a bright, clustered aesthetic when companion planted with similar plants. Here’s how to keep a pilea depressa happy and healthy in your space.
Light can be used to alter the plant’s growth patterns to fit the aesthetic you’re looking for. Heavily filtered or low light can cause the plant to grow “leggy”, which normally isn’t ideal for most plants; however, due to the compact nature of baby tears, it can look rather nice.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to keep your plant looking compact and bushy to cover the bottom of a terrarium or simply to look cute, be sure to provide plenty of bright, indirect light. Be careful how much light you provide, however, as too much light will begin to turn the edges of the leaves a lighter yellow hue, which indicates that they’ll burn soon.
The best places in a house for this plant include windowsills with a sheer curtain to block out the harsh rays, bathroom windows or counters with plenty of light, and rooms that have a skylight or large East or South-facing windows. This plant also does well under artificial light.
To choose the best artificial light for baby tears, try to avoid grow lights with a limited spectrum. These will often appear only blue, only red, or purple as a result of both hues. Full-spectrum LED lights can be far more affordable, and offer the full light spectrum just as the sun normally would to a plant in its native habitat.
Since baby tears constantly needs humidity, it doesn’t tolerate drought very well. That means you’ll need to keep the soil consistently moist, but not waterlogged (we know, it’s a delicate balance). Moisture meters are the best tool for needy plants, but you can also use a skewer to determine if the soil is dry; if it comes out clean, your plant desperately needs water.
Drainage is also very important for watering your baby tears plant. If the water isn’t allowed to drain from the bottom of the pot, you may need to battle root rot, which occurs when little or no oxygen reaches the plant’s root system. Without roots, the plant will die, so keeping that soil from getting too muddy will help keep it healthy below the soil.
Despite baby tears growing in the Meditarranean where much of the humidity comes from saltwater, this plant doesn’t do particularly well with water that’s heavy to minerals. If you have exceptionally hard tap, try watering with filtered water or bottled water to prevent burning.
Soil & Potting
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: drainage holes. If your plant’s pot doesn’t have them, it will eventually die from an accidental overwatering or even from mineral buildup at the bottom of the pot. This is totally avoidable, however, by using a pot with drainage holes.
Even if the planter you love doesn’t have them, you can always plant the Pilea depressa into a nursery (or grower’s) pot, which are thin, plastic pots with lots of holes pressed into the bottom. Then, set this pot complete with your plant inside into the decorative pot, and simply remove it for watering. Once all the water’s drained out, you can replace it.
The best way to pot a plant that loves humidity and moisture is to use a self-watering pot. These are found almost anywhere you can buy plants, and they work wonders for weekend trips when you’re not home to water. The water sits below the roots, and will evaporate slowly to provide the same humidity you’d get some a pebble tray.
Since it grows in such a biodiverse environment, this plant is used to growing in all kinds of strange places from driveway cracks to coastal ponds. To give your plant its best chance, though, try to use a tropical mix of some kind, so long as it contains some well-draining components like coco coir, perlite, or both.
Indoor potting mixes formaulted for moisture control are perfect for this type of plant, as they typically contain both of these components and are pre-packed with all the essential nutrients for at least six months to a year of growth after potting. They’re fairly inexpensive, and work great if you don’t have the resources to mix up your own.
Temperature & Humidity
These two environmental factors really play into each other, since humidity is affected by temperature in an enclosed space, such as a house or an apartment. If you need a refresher, it’s like this: warmer temperatures increase the rate at which moisture evaporates into the air, and warmer air can hold more water molecules.
Science lesson out of the way, it’s important to provide your baby tears with enough humidity to somewhat closely simulate how it likes to grow in its natural habitat. This means that while warmer temperatures are preferred (at least 60 degrees fahrenheit and no hotter than 80 degrees), humidity needs to be on the higher side.
It’s easy to provide humidity if your plant is kept in a small space, such as a bathroom or home office. However, in open spaces like open kitchens, living rooms, and hallways where there’s lots of drafts, you may need to put in a little extra effort.
To keep humidity levels up high enough for your pilea depressa, use a shallow tray filled with pebbles and water, placed underneath the pot. The pebbles will increase the surface area of the water, allowing it to evaporate more quickly to create a little humidity bubble. Humidifiers are great, too, if you remember to fill them at least once a day.
If you have lots of time on your hand or you work from home, you can also simply give your baby tears a little spritz using a mister or fine mist spray bottle a couple of times a day. While it doesn’t create a semi-permanent bubble of humidity, the plant can easily use the moisture as it evaporates from the leaves directly.
There’s an even better way to maintain humidity, too: grouping your plants together. Although pests really thrive in this kind of setting, grouping houseplants together can help maintain humidity in the one area. If you ever needed an excuse to get more plants, here you have it! This is a very natural and protective way to keep your smaller plants from drying out too much.
Given that baby tears is very common in areas of Europe that have nutrient-rich soil, you’ll need to keep up on feeding them. The best rule of thumb we’ve found so far is to fertilize every four waters with a diluted, balanced liquid fertilizer in the growing season, then cut it back to about every six to eight weeks when there’s no active growth.
Most fertilizers labeled for use with houseplants or tropical plants will work just fine, but be sure to avoid burning the roots by diluting the mix to at least 50% strength. Fertilize only when the plant has been recently watered so that the fertilizer isn’t absorbed all at once. Always allow the extra fertilizer mixture to drain from the bottom of the pot, which can create an acidic environment.
If you’re lucky enough to catch your indoor baby tears plant blooming, take a photo; this doesn’t happen very often in most average houses or apartments. That’s because the plant has a difficult time discerning the seasons from one another, and therefore is never sure when the appropriate time to flower is.
However, flowering is a very good sign that your plant is happy in its environment. Baby tears tends to produce small, cream-colored blooms that last a short time before falling away. Be sure to keep up on deadheading the blooms as they spoil to prevent them from falling into the substrate and attracting mildew and pests.