Creeping Charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia)

Creeping Charlie, Creeping Pilea, Swedish Ivy

Pilea nummulariifolia, also called Creeping charlie, is often grown in a hanging basket or in a terrarium, where its bright green foliage will remain fresh all year. Pilea nummulariifolia is a fast growing creeper. It makes a delightful hanging container or trail over a mixed planter.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Pilea nummulariifolia is a perennial evergreen herbaceous plant commonly known as creeping charlie native to the Caribbean (including Florida) and northern South America. It can be grown indoors, for example in a hanging pot.

It is a perennial evergreen herbaceous plant which reaches 10-20 cm in height and 30-60 cm wide with reddish, decumbent stem and has 3.5-5 cm long leaves growing from 0.6-2 cm long petiole. The leaves are oval, bright to glossy medium green with small scalloped edges. Veins appear to be sunken giving the interveinal sections a puffy, crinkly look. The leaves are edible and can be used in teas.

Creeping charlie can bloom anytime of the year from the verticillaster inflorescence. The flowers are white greenish but are insignificant. The brown fruit is insignificant, unlikely to form on indoor plants.

When grown outdoors, Creeping Charlie plants can become invasive. However, when they are confined to pots and grown indoors, they are a fast-growing houseplant that will quickly give your home a fresh green accent.

Growing Creeping Charlie is easy, even for beginners. It is an undemanding plant once you have provided it with a few key essentials for healthy growth.

A bonus for pet parents is that Creeping Charlie is perfectly safe for animals (and humans, for that matter).

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Pilea nummulariifolia do best in a bright, indirect sunny spot in your home. Even though this plant is part of the succulent family, do not place your plant in direct sunlight since it will scorch the leaves. In order to prevent your plant from growing lopsided, rotate it at least 2-3 times a week since it grows towards the sun. This plant can adapt to lower light areas, but the leaves will turn a darker green and the plant will spread out more.

The leaves that have been exposed to too much direct sunlight will sunburn and turn yellow. Trim sunburned leaves off of the plant and move the plant to a shadier location immediately.

Temperature 

The ideal temperature for Creeping Charlie plant is from 65 to 80ºF (18 to 27ºC), as it is used to consistently warm temperatures in the tropical rainforests.

You should have no trouble maintaining the low end of the Creeping Charlie temperature range in the average heated home in winter. Don’t worry if the higher temperatures aren’t obtainable.

If you want to give your Creeping Charlie a treat in summer, take it out to a shady spot on your patio when it gets hot and steamy.

Be careful, though; Creeping Charlie has limited temperature tolerance below 50°F (10°C). If nighttime lows fall much below that, it’s time to bring your tender tropical back in.

Finally, Creeping Charlie has no frost hardiness whatsoever.

Humidity 

The ideal humidity for Creeping Charlie is around 50%, although it will do fine in the range of 40-60%.

If you can’t satisfy your Creeping Charlie humidity requirements with supplementing your home’s humidity level, you have a few good options.

The easiest but most time-consuming method is to give your Creeping Charlie a daily misting. Use a very fine spray and distilled or rain water.

You can also place your Creeping Charlie on a pebble-lined tray filled with water. The water will evaporate and add moisture to the air, while the pebbles keep the pot above the water level.

Finally, you can buy a small humidifier. This is the best option if you have several tropical plants that you can group together.

Watering

In the tropical rainforest, Creeping Charlie is used to consistently moist but well-drained soil, so your Creeping Charlie watering should try to replicate that as closely as possible.

Water Charlie houseplant when the top inch of the soil has dried out. Its watering needs may be as often as several times a week.

Use a watering can with a narrow spout so that you can direct the water right onto the soil without getting the leaves wet. Water slowly to allow the soil to get fully moistened, and let any excess drain out before placing the pot back in its saucer.

Soil

While Creeping Charlie needs consistently moist soil, it will not survive if the soil mix is saturated with water.

Creeping Charlie soil needs to hold a moderate amount of moisture, while at the same time easily draining any excess so the roots can breathe.

The best pH level for Creeping Charlie is 6-7.5, or mildly acidic to neutral.

If you want to buy a ready-mixed soil for Creeping Charlie houseplant, look for an African Violet mix which has all the qualities you need. 

Otherwise, use a standard peat-based mix to which you’ve added a scoop each of perlite and well-rotted compost.

Fertilizing

For best results, use a general liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength twice during the spring and summer. Do not fertilize a dry plant; instead water it first and then fertilize the next day.

If a white crust develops on the soil, it’s a sign of fertilizer salt build up. If this occurs, hold off on your fertilization for a few months. In addition, make sure you’re flushing water through the pot each time you water. Evidence of salt buildup also shows up as a white crust on the outside of terracotta pots.

Planting Instructions

Pruning

Pinch the terminal stem (the topmost one) between 2 fingernails to force the plant to start branching out. If you wish for the plant to keep a bushy bearing and grow as many branches as can be, simply keep pinching young shoots off after a bud.

Blight (plant disease) can occasionally set up in a plant. It will usually begin in one leaf, turning it brown and rotten. Remove this stem from the plant to prevent it from spreading to the entire plant.

Propagation

Pilea nummulariifolia is super easy to take cuttings from, as it has the ability to grow roots and plantlets from almost every part of the plant! The easiest way is to take a leaf (with the petiole attached) from the mother plant, let the end dry out for a day or two, and then put it in a little glass of water, and watch and wait! Keep the water clean and make sure that the leaf isn’t allowed to dry out, and in 1-2 months, you should start to see new growth

Potting & Repotting 

This tropical ground cover is a fast-growing perennial, so you can expect to have to do Creeping Charlie repotting 2-3 years. 

Rather than stick to a schedule, however, keep an eye on the growth of your Creeping Charlie to see when it is necessary.

When you see roots coming out of the drainage holes, or find that the roots have completely engulfed the soil, it’s time for repotting Creeping Charlie houseplant.

It prefers slightly cramped conditions, so only go up one pot size, or at most 2 inches. The pot must have good drainage holes.

Use fresh potting soil whenever you repot your Creeping Charlie.

Pests and Diseases

There are very few potential Creeping Charlie problems, but no houseplant is immune to all pests and diseases.

Luckily, you can prevent most problems with Creeping Charlie by paying close attention to its preferred growing conditions.

Keeping a close eye on Creeping Charlie’s leaves can help you detect problems before they get out of control.

  • Common Pests 

There are not a lot of Creeping Charlie pests, but some bugs love to feed on the sap in the succulent leaves of Creeping Charlie.

Spider mites leave little white or yellow spots across the tops of the leaves. 

Whiteflies are small, soft-bodied flying insects that congregate under the leaves. 

For both of these bugs, wash down all surfaces of the plant with a hand-held shower or sink nozzle to get rid of them. 

Mealybugs and their eggs can be found on the underside of leaves, resembling little puffs of cotton. Wipe them off with rubbing alcohol.

To prevent more insects from turning up, spray once a month or so with insecticidal soap.

  • Common Diseases 

If you overwater your plant, you are increasing the chance that Creeping Charlie diseases will get established. The Creeping Charlie plant can fall victim to fungal or bacterial diseases from too-wet soil.

Xanthomonas Campestris, or bacterial leaf spot, looks like small, saturated spots on the leaves. Cut off all affected leaves and use a copper fungicide to prevent the disease from returning.

Root rot is a fungal disease when the soil is so saturated that no air can get to the roots. Leaves start to turn yellow, and the stems get mushy.

Pull the root ball out of its pot and cut away any black roots, as well as all affected foliage. Then repot in fresh, well-draining soil and cut back on your watering frequency.

  • Growing Problems 

Most Creeping Charlie growing problems are a result of inadequate growing conditions, resulting in a sick plant.

If the leaves of your Creeping Charlie are turning brown or black, it’s getting too much direct light. Move it to a shadier spot in the room, or screen it from the full sun with a curtain to filter the light.

If the leaves are falling off, it’s likely that your Creeping Charlie is in too drafty a spot, and needs a warmer location. Move it so that it is not in the direct blast of an air conditioner vent, or a cool breeze from an open window.

III. Uses and Benefits 

Creeping charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia) is often grown as an ornamental for its bright green foliage. This creeping plant is suitable for terrariums, hanging baskets, rock gardens, and green walls. It is also grown as a soft ground cover in areas that don’t receive intense sun, but be on your guard as it can quickly take over.

Creeping Charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia) Details

Common name Creeping Charlie, Creeping Pilea, Swedish Ivy
Botanical name Pilea nummulariifolia
Plant type Edible
Hardiness zone 10a, 11a, 11b
Growth rate Fast
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Soil condition Loam (Silt)
Flower color Green
Leaf color Green