Low growing with a spreading habit type of plants is some of the best to grow in pots because they create a compact and healthy appearance which is always a welcome sight.
A good example of this is the fittonia, a favorite indoor plant for tables, terrariums and macrame hanging pots. It is an outstanding plant to keep with its striking foliage that is always easy to maintain.
What Are Fittonias?
A popular foliage house plant, Fittonia or Fittonia albivenis is actually a genus of low spreading evergreen perennials that originally grew in Peru but is found in the Andean rainforests of South America too (1).
Cultivated as a groundcover, it grows sideways and low and can only reach up to 30cm high. The roots are shallow and it occasionally blooms tiny greenish flowers in the middle of greenish bracts (2).
This small plant could easily be dismissed if not for the eye-catching network of white veins criss-crossing its deep green ovate leaves. This is the reason why the fittonia goes by other names such as nerve plant, mosaic plant, and painted net leaf.
Outdoors, fittonias work well with large plants as they can prosper and be tucked underneath them. They are also very effective in pots, creating small lush and bold masses for indoors. Terrariums are where fittonias thrive best as they love the mini rainforest environment there (3).
How to Take Care of Fittonias
Light and Temperature
Because nerve plants naturally grow on rainforest floors, they need indirect or dappled sunlight (1). Too much exposure to sunlight will cause the leaves to burn so it is important to mimic its natural environment indoors. They should be placed in a northern or eastern window. In the garden, grow fittonias in warm shady areas.
Fittonias do not like extremes and will experience shock and possible decline when exposed to these. The ideal temperature for them to survive is 60-80°F (16-26°C). An average room temperature is enough but during winter, it is best to keep them away from cold drafts and heaters.
Water and Humidity
A moisture-loving plant, the fittonia like regular watering but only when the top soil is dry. If the soil gets too wet, the leaves will turn yellow and if too dry, the leaves will wilt. Fittonias are not drought-tolerant but they will perk up once watered (4).
Nerve plants appreciate high humidity and an effective way to provide the preferred moist air is by misting every morning. Placing the potted plant on a wet pebble tray will also increase humidity around the plant (1).
Sudden collapse of the plant is also common, especially when the plant is left without care for days. Prolonged dehydration can be fatal to the plant so make sure that the plant is well-watered (5).
Planting and Care
Given the right growing conditions, nerve plants are fairly easy to grow. But they will need supplements to keep the whole plant healthy and lasting. Application of fertilizer can be done once a month by mixing a complete soluble fertilizer with water and spraying on the leaves and the soil.
When growing outdoors, plant individual fittonias 6in apart. They should not be planted too deep, just at the level of the ground to keep the leaves away from the soil and avoid pests and diseases. Organic mulch should be applied and worked into the soil as it decomposes (2).
They will grow year round indoors under fluorescent light but come summer, they should be put outside to grow thicker and to keep the color vibrant. Pinching off developing flowers will also promote a bushier growth (1).
Sometimes, fittonias will get too leggy if there is not enough light exposure. Also, the spreading stems that spill over the pot tends to dry out because the growing roots are not getting enough moisture.
These overgrowths should be trimmed to strengthen the plant’s form and since fittonias can easily develop roots, these cuttings can also be used as propagules. They can be readily inserted into the soil and allow the roots to form (4).
Common Pests and Diseases
Mealybugs and aphids often attack the new growth of fittonias. This can be remedied by isolating the plant and manually removing the pests with tweezers or a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
This should be done regularly until there are no signs or pests. Strong commercial pesticides are not recommended as they may damage the delicate leaves (5).
The soft stems and leaves of nerve plants and the moist soil that they need make them vulnerable to fungus infection.
Water and neem oil mixture applied to the soil is an effective way of getting rid of gnats but if the plant has been kept in standing water for too long, it is best to repot with fresh soil mixture.
Best Types of Nerve Plant to Grow Indoors
Although the common fittonia is green and white, there are also other varieties that come in shades of red and pink. Here are some of our favorites:
The leathery ovate deep green leaves are laced with white to greenish-white netted patterns. The soft stems are light green in color.
The large leaves are muted green in color with delicate yellowish white veins and larger white patterns along the margin.
The green leaves are relatively large, curled on the edges. The pinkish-red veins are prominent in the midrib and laterally.
This smaller variety has longer dark green leaves with criss-crossing white venations.
Unlike most varieties that are greener in color, its leaves are pink with dark green margin and lighter pink or white vein network.
‘Mini Red Vein’
The small leaves of this fittonia are dark green and vibrantly netted with dark red and pink veins.
The curled margins of this nerve plant are deep green and the blade is of the same color, only speckled and netted with light pink.
Juanita looks like a normal dark green nerve plant lightly spray-painted pink on the edges.
The glossy elongated green leaves are heavily covered in pink nerves.
Instead of the usual white and pink venations, the nerves of this fittonia are lavender in color against the dark green leaves.
(1) Southern, N. “How Not to Kill Plants”. 2017. Hachette UK. P. 256.
(2) Neal, N. “Gardener’s Guide to Tropical Plants”. 2012. Cool Springs Press. P. 240
(3) Colletti, M. “Terrariums-Gardens Under Glass”. 2015. Cool Springs Press. P. 176.
(4) Zachos, E. “Growing Healthy Houseplants”. 2014. Storey Publishing. P. 128.
(5) Pleasant, B. “The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual”. 2012. Storey Publishing. P. 384.
*Image by Samiramay/depositphotos