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Fittonia is often called the "nerve plant" or "mosaic plant" due to the bright, contrasting veins that run through the leaves. There are many cultivars of the nerve plant that feature many different styles of veining and foliage. The plant is native to the warm, humid regions of South America, especially Peru. This makes fittonia require care that is different compared to most houseplants.
The plant's requirement for high humidity and moist soil calls for regular watering and misting. Soil also needs to be suitable for fittonia to keep the foliage healthy. Pruning should also be performed to keep the plant looking full and bushy, and to prevent the plant from wasting resources on boring blooms during its flowering stage.
A little fertilizer can be used to replenish nutrients a few months after potting, too.
Light Requirements for Fittonia
- Filtered Sunlight: Fittonia need filtered sunlight to flourish. Filtered light is similar to the light the plant receives under the canopies of its native tropical lands. Bright, direct sunlight will cause the edges of the leaves to burn, discolor, and become crispy. Move the plant further away from sunlight if burning occurs.
- Artificial Lighting: Indoor fluorescent lighting can be used, but the plant needs to be placed close to the lights. Fluorescent lighting is not very intense, thus the close placement of the plant. Metal halide or high-pressure sodium lamps work great, but they may be a bit too intense if placed close to the lamp. Metal halide and high-pressure sodium lamps are much pricier compared to fluorescent lamps.
- Watering: The soil should always remain moist due to the tropical nature of fittonia. Use room temperature water and thoroughly moisten the soil, but do not water so much as to cause waterlogged soil. Waterlogged soil promotes disease and restricts air flow to and around the roots. Pouring out excess water is a must. Overwatering will cause discoloration and wilting of the leaves. The best method to estimate when to water is by feeling the weight of the container before and after a thorough watering. Poking a finger into the soil to test for moisture will only test the upper few inches of the container. Placing a pot with drainage holes in a tray will create a little humidity. Adding gravel to the tray will slow down the rate of evaporation, and increases the time between waterings. Always use water that is room temperature.
- Misting: Fittonia need regular misting to keep the leaves from becoming limp and wilted. The plant is indigenous to tropical regions and has grown to require moisture on the foliage. Mist once or twice a day, along with regular watering. Wilting is only temporary, as long as a little watering and misting occurs soon after. Repeated wilting will stress the plant and is not healthy over time.
Soil for Fittonia
- Preferred Soil: Soil that drains well is a necessity for fittonia to flourish. The soil should also be high in organic content, which mimics its native tropical habitat. Soil high in organic matter will retain water but may hold a little too much water. The soil should never remain waterlogged. Soil that remains saturated promotes disease and root rot. Amend waterlogged soil by mixing in coarse sand and/or perlite to facilitate drainage.
- Making a Soil Mix: A good soil mixture consists of equal parts potting soil, coarse sand, humus, and peat. Potting soil is balanced in drainage and nutrient value, sand promotes drainage, humus retains moisture and builds a good soil structure, and peat is rich in organic matter and releases a little nutrient value as it decomposes. This mix isn't always a must. Soil from the backyard garden may work just fine, as long as the drainage is good and the structure is not too sandy or clayey.
Fittonia can grow quickly within their desired environment, so pinching off the tips of leggy stems will keep the plant bushy and dense. Remove small flower spikes as well. The flowers are boring and use up resources the plant could be using to grow more attractive foliage. Nip the flower spike at its origin. Removing the flower will not harm the plant at all. It will continue to grow foliage just fine. Although, the flower can be left to grow if desired.
The picture to the right features a green flower spike in the middle of the plant. This spike was later removed at its source, which resided on the side of a stem.
Fittonia can be fertilized a few months after repotting with a balanced houseplant water-soluble (5-5-5 NPK) fertilizer or granular fertilizer. Dilute by half the recommended amount listed on the package when using a water-soluble fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer solution between waterings. This will prevent excess fertilizer which can cause the foliage to burn and possibly kill the plant.
Granular fertilizer releases nutrients slowly over time. It can be applied on top of the soil or mixed into the soil. Granular fertilizer should still be used in small amounts to prevent damage to the plant as well.
Questions & Answers
Question: My fittonia got too big for the pot it was in so I decided to thin it. I separated it into three pots but all three of them have wilted during the last three days. Is it throwing a hissy fit or have I killed it?
Answer: The divisions may be experiencing transplant shock. Be careful not to expose them to environmental extremes, including overwatering. The soil should be slightly damp with drainage holes on the bottom of the pots. Give the plants a little time to bounce back.
© 2012 Sean Hemmer