By Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell
Purple waffle plant is a slow-growing groundcover that is cultivated primarily for its showy, heavily-textured foliage, which is grey-green on the topside, and either dark red, maroon, or purple on the underside, depending on the variety. Though typically grown as a houseplant, the purple waffle plant can also be grown outdoors as an annual in United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and 11.
These relatively easy-to-grow plants only need nominal care to thrive, such as seasonal watering, monthly feeding during the growing season, minimal pruning and grooming, and an occasional spraying of insecticidal soap spray if pest issues arise.
Purple waffle plants are excellent choices for interior decor and have a wide range of versatility. They are perfectly suited to hanging baskets, terrariums, or standard pots and containers. Place a potted purple waffle plant on top of a table or shelf in the living room or bedroom, enhance the beauty of your workplace by displaying a purple waffle plant on your desktop, or bring the kitchen to life with by placing a purple waffle plant on the countertop.
You can also use the purple waffle plant as a delightful ground cover beneath the canopy of an indoor ficus tree. Outdoors, the purple waffle plant makes a lovely backdrop for bright, showy flowers when used as a groundcover or when paired with other tropical plants in ornamental beds.
Enhance the beauty of the purple waffle plant’s distinctive foliage by accenting it with a pretty container. Clay pots look great with its lovely maroon or purple leaves, but you can really catch the eye of guests by pairing your purple waffle plant with a container that displays different shades of purple, or provide a contrast to its purple leaves by potting it in a pink, blue, green or yellow planter.
The containers you choose can have a dramatic effect on how your house plants impact your home’s decor, and the purple waffle plant looks excellent in a variety of different colors and designs. It is especially beautiful in a hanging basket, as its long stems drape elegantly down the sides of your container.
Also known as red ivy, red flame ivy, metal leaf, and cemetery plant, the purple waffle plant is usually grown in containers, as it can be rather invasive when allowed to spread. The genus name Hemigraphis comes from the Greek words hemi, which means half, and graphis, which means brush. Though the blooms go largely unnoticed, tiny but pretty, bright white, tubular-shaped flowers decorate the plant briefly during the summer. Though the blooms are infrequent and short-lived, the bright white color of the blooms look stunning next to the deeply-hued foliage.
Varieties of Purple Waffle Plant
Hemigraphis alternata is the most commonly cultivated species of plant in the Hemigraphis genus. The Hemigraphis genus belongs to the plant family Acanthaceae. There are around 30 species of Hemigraphis plants, all of which are native to the tropical regions of Asia. Typical hemigraphis characteristics include grayish-green leaves with reddish or purplish tints, depending on the species. The most commonly cultivated varieties of Hemigraphis are:
- Belgian Waffle (H. alternata) – The topside of the leaves are green with cream edges and a mottled cream and green midriff. The underside of the leaves are purple.
- Dragon’s Tongue (H. repanda) – Narrow alternating green or purple leaves with rippled edges make for a unique display.
- Hemigraphis Moonlight (H. colorata) – Deep purple-green foliage with a silver shimmer.
- Purple Waffle Plant (H. alternata) – Dark green to grey waffled topsides and purple undersides.
- Purple Waffle Plant (H. exotica) – Glossy green topsides and magenta undersides with a waffled leaf texture.
- Red Flame Ivy (H. alternata) – Topsides of the leaves are deep purple and green with greenish grey undersides. Both sides have a metallic sheen.
- Snow White (H. Snow White) – Green topsides with dappled white and pink overlay and bright magenta-purple on the bottom sides.
Growing Conditions for Purple Waffle Plant
Place purple waffle plants in bright indirect light inside or in partial shade environments outside. Direct sun exposure can scorch the edges of the foliage. The metallic sheen that several varieties of the plant are famous for can fade due to direct sun exposure. Artificial lights work very well for purple waffle plants if you don’t have a good bright but indirect spot for them.
Use an all-purpose potting mix or standard commercial potting soil for container grown purple waffle plants. If you are growing them outdoors as an annual, mix in several inches of well-rotted compost or a good leaf mold to invigorate and enrich the soil, as well as to improve drainage and moisture retention capabilities.
Purple waffle plants need a warm humid environment to grow well, so care must be taken to provide warmth and humidity when growing them indoors. If you expose your purple waffle plants to the elements, be sure to bring them inside before frosts or any cold fronts in which temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. There are several ways to increase the humidity around your waffle plants:
- Mist them with a spray bottle
- Place them in a tray filled with pebbles and water with the water level lower than the pebbles so that the container bottom never comes in direct contact with the water.
- Place them in a bathroom on a windowsill and run a hot shower to create a steamy environment (This is especially good as a recovery treatment for plants that have been zapped by too much heat exposure and not enough moisture).
How to Plant Purple Waffle Plant
Purple waffle plants are not generally grown from seed because propagating them from cuttings is so easy. Once you have a purple waffle plant, you can make as many as you wish from cuttings. For instructions on how to propagate purple waffle plants via cutting, refer to the How to Propagate section below.
Care for Purple Waffle Plant
If you keep the soil around your purple waffle plant slightly moist, the plant will thrive. The soil should never be waterlogged, or overly wet, but just a little bit moist, like a sponge after it has been wrung out. If you live in an especially dry climate area or you can’t provide water on a regular schedule to provide consistent moisture, add some water-absorbing crystals to your potting soil to help it retain moisture at a higher level.
In their tropical habitat where they grow in the wild, purple waffle plants tend to grow under trees in the jungle. Jungle soil is rich in nutrients from decayed leaves. When growing purple waffle plants indoors, it is important to replicate the nutrient content that the plants are used to in their native environment. Do this by providing a slow-release houseplant fertilizer, such as a 6-12-6 liquid or granular feed to provide a good balance of the three key nutrients all plants need to survive, nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium.
Though purple waffle plants are slow-growing by nature, some pruning is needed to keep up the plant’s visual appeal, and to encourage them to grow how you want them to. There is no need to cut down the purple waffle plant’s height, as it never grows any taller than eight inches high, and is usually no larger than six inches. However, stems of the purple waffle plant can become incredibly long if not maintained. While this may work in hanging baskets, you may want to keep them from becoming longer than needed to keep the plant’s looking their best.
For bushier plants, pinch the tip of the stem off just above the leaves or stem nodes. Doing this will refocus the plant on growing new foliage, as well as slow down the growth of the stem itself. Use a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears or scissors to clip off any excess growth. Don’t forget, you can use any clippings you take to propagate new plants.
When you notice roots coming out of the drainage holes of your container, it is time to repot your purple waffle plant. Carefully turn the whole plant over, container and all and gently tap the bottom of the container to ease the plant out without damaging the stems. The stems of the purple waffle plant snap apart rather easily, so don’t pull on the plant to encourage it to loosen itself out of the container. Instead, use gravity and, if necessary, use a butter knife to separate the soil from the sides of the containers, or to free the root ball from the container if it has become wedged in.
When repotting, select a container that is at least 25 to 40 percent larger than the previous container so that the waffle plant has plenty of room to expand in its new home. Lightly brush off excess soil from the root ball and use a high-quality potting soil to fill in the extra space to reinvigorate and refresh the soil around your waffle plant. You should only need to repot your purple waffle plant every four to five years.
How to Propagate Purple Waffle Plant
Purple waffle plants grow by spreading and new roots develop as it spreads at each growth node, which makes these plants very easy to propagate. If you have one purple waffle plant, you can easily make as many new plants as you want at any time. Simply cut the end of a stem that is actively growing, making sure to clip at least one node with the stem tip using a sharp clean pair of scissors or garden shears.
To give yourself a greater chance of success, try to clip a stem that is close to the soil, as it may already be forming roots, which will make it easier to start rooting when you place it into soil. Once you have taken a cutting, put it directly into a pot filled with moistened potting soil. Water the soil frequently, keeping it moist at all times until you notice new growth in your stem tip cutting. Once you notice new growth, cut back watering so that you are only providing enough to keep the soil slightly moist at all times.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Purple Waffle Plant
Purple waffle plants are fairly resistant to problems with pests and diseases. The most common maladies a gardener who grows purple waffle plants is likely to encounter are scale, whiteflies, or root rot, all of which are fairly common for houseplants. The other problems you’ll find listed below are less common for purple waffle plants but still may be encountered. We’ll exp lain the symptoms, so you’re able to diagnose any challenges that arise, as well as a quick explanation of how to deal with them. For full details on any of these pests and diseases that can strike purple waffle plants, just follow the link.
Alternaria: For more information, you can read our article Dealing With Alternaria Blight. Alternaria is a seedborne fungal pathogen that causes the diseases of Alternaria leaf spot for tomatoes (also called Alternaria stem canker), Alternaria leaf spot for cole crops (also called Alternaria blight), and leaf blight of carrots (also called black rot). Alternaria infections can also strike houseplants like the purple waffle plant.
The first potential signs of an alternaria infection may occur when plants are very young, exhibited as damping off or stunted growth of seedlings. However, infected plants may be asymptomatic until they’re larger and ready for transplantation, giving them plenty of time to pass Alternaria along to neighboring plants. Keep an eye on seedlings for the early signs of Alternaria to avoid giving the disease time to spread. Later symptoms include yellow or brown spots on foliage that expand in darkening rings and eventually stunted growth. The first sign most gardeners will notice is that infected plants tend to flower and go to seed earlier than expected.
As soon as a plant begins to show signs that it may be infected with Alternaria, it’s important to quarantine it so you can observe and treat it without giving the disease a chance to spread to other plants in your garden. If a plant is infected and you end up destroying it, make sure not to include the dead plant, trimmings or debris from the plant, or even the soil where it was growing in your compost. You should also not allow livestock to eat infected plants.
You can prevent Alternaria from becoming a problem in your garden by choosing to grow resistant varieties, making sure your plants are spaced out adequately, carefully weeding your garden and the surrounding area, rotating crops, and staking droopy plants so there is plenty of room for air to circulate. Giving your plants sufficient nitrogen fertilizer also reduces the risk of them contracting Alternaria. Covering greenhouses with film that absorbs UV light will keep Alternaria from producing spores. The disease is exacerbated by overly moist conditions, so anything you can do to reduce excess dampness in the plant’s environment will also help prevent Alternaria.
When you water your plants, target the water at the base instead of allowing it to splash onto their foliage. Also, make sure the soil is getting enough drainage and that plant pots have holes to allow moisture to escape. Only provide plants with hydration when they really need it—you can test the soil to see whether it’s time to water by sticking a finger in near where plants are growing.
If the earth feels damp or soil particles cling to your skin, it’s not yet time to water your plants again. If cultural and environmental controls don’t keep Alternaria from taking hold, you’ll need to either treat with fungicide or simply remove and destroy infected plants.
Downy Mildew: Downy mildew is a fungal infection common for plants raised in greenhouses, though it sometimes appears in houseplants or the outdoor garden. Chilly, wet conditions set the stage for downy mildew to take hold, and once it does, it can spread very quickly—so being aware of its symptoms and taking quick actions to quarantine infected plants and treat the problem are vital.
The symptoms of downy mildew include discolored leaves that turn yellow or develop a mottled appearance, stunted growth, and loss of flowers or fruit in plants that should have them. Downy mildew makes infected plants more susceptible to other problems, and plants with the disease get weaker and eventually die when the disease is left untreated.
Downy mildew is often mistaken for other blights and fungal diseases or problems with nematodes, and its appearance varies widely depending on the host plant. However, the trademark symptom of downy mildew for which it is named can help in diagnosing the disease. Plants with downy mildew exhibit a fuzzy gray, brown, or purple fungus on the underside of their foliage. The disease spreads with the movement of wind, water, and insects.
Preventing the disease is much simpler than attempting to treat an outbreak already in process. The most important factor in preventing downy mildew is minimizing excess moisture in the plant’s environment. Gardeners should be careful not to overwater plants and ensure that the soil or plant containers offer plenty of drainage. Water plants from the base instead of splashing their leaves with water, and ensure sufficient air circulation by spacing plants out according to their preferences and pruning them as needed. Watering in late afternoon instead of in the cool of morning can help prevent excess moisture, too.
Gardeners should also clean the garden well to minimize plant debris on the surface of the soil, which can provide the fungi with a hiding spot. Using mulch can help reduce the risk of downy mildew, as it lets air circulate in the soil but will prevent water from splashing onto plants and potentially spreading the disease. Fungicides can be used as a preventive measure or, if used early enough, can treat cases of downy mildew. More information on treating with fungicide can be found on the last page of this document from the Purdue University Agricultural Extension: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/BP-68-W.pdf.
In severe cases of downy mildew, the only viable option may be removing and disposing of infected plants. Do not include plants with downy mildew, their debris, or their soil in your compost. For more information, you can read our article Identify, Prevent, and Treat Garden Problems: Downy Mildew Fungal Disease.
Mealybugs: Mealybugs are especially common when a plant has been raised in a greenhouse, but infestation is also prevalent in houseplants and sometimes appear in the outdoor garden. The flightless insects resemble small, fluffy flecks of cotton that can be white, cream, tan, or brown. Affected plants develop curled leaves or yellow discoloration of foliage, and areas where insects are feeding may become sticky. Though damage from mealybugs tends to occur slowly, it can be fatal.
Gardeners of vulnerable plants can treat a mealybug problem with predatory insects, including ladybugs, lacewings, and mealybug destroyers. You can also fight mealybugs off by spraying infested plants with water from the garden hose, but this method requires several rounds of treatment to be effective. After using water to physically knock mealybugs off the plant, you should remove any that remain with a Q-Tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.
At all stages of their life cycle, mealybugs can be killed with horticultural oils or a neem oil treatment. You can make a homemade neem oil spray out of a liter of warm water, four or five drops of dish soap, and a teaspoon of neem oil, then spray plants with the mixture about twice per week. However, neem oil treatments are also detrimental to the population of beneficial insects, so they should be used sparingly and cautiously. Severe infestations may require treatment with Beauveria bassiana. For more information, you can read our article How to Fight Mealybugs.
Powdery Mildew: The term “powdery mildew” is used to describe fungal disease caused by one of several pathogens that have similar effects. Initial signs of the disease include small areas of gray or white mildew on foliage that resemble talcum powder. These spots tend to appear on the top side of leaves, the tops of fruit and stems, and the outer edges of flower petals. Where the disease persists for over a year, affected plants will develop scaly black areas on their stems or leaves.
Unlike other fungal diseases, moisture is not required for a plant to develop powdery mildew, and it is common in hot, arid environments. Because the disease spreads quickly, gardeners of susceptible plants should watch for its symptoms and quarantine any plants that show signs of powdery mildew as soon as they notice the signs. The disease is potentially fatal.
To prevent powdery mildew, avoid feeding plants with nitrogen fertilizer late in the summer, as excess nitrogen feeds the fungi. Clean the garden to remove plant debris or leaf litter from the surface of the soil, and keep plants trimmed or pruned regularly.
Powdery mildew can be treated with fungicide, sulfur, potassium bicarbonate, or neem oil. You can make a homemade neem oil treatment out of a liter of warm water, four or five drops of dish soap, and a teaspoon of neem oil. Spray plants with this solution about twice per week. Some gardeners choose to remove and discard infected plants. If you take this route, do not include debris from the plants or the soil where they grew in your compost. For more information, you can read our article Identify, Prevent, and Treat Garden Problems: Powdery Mildew Fungal Disease.
Root Rot: Root rot is common when there is excess moisture where the plant is growing, either due to the plant receiving too much water or soil not offering enough drainage. Because root rot affects the plant’s root system first, the first symptoms also appear underground, so they may go unnoticed until the disease has progressed quite a bit. With time, the damage to the root system will result in above-ground symptoms such as stunted growth or wilted foliage. Unchecked, root rot can be fatal to plants.
If you suspect root rot, dig up the plant and examine its roots for symptoms of the disease. Look for changes in the color or texture of the root system. Plants with root rot may have portions of their roots turn dark or develop a soft, slimy texture. If you see areas like this in a plant’s root system, use clean, sterilized garden shears to snip them away and discard them (but do not add them to compost) Once this is done, if the roots are still waterlogged, you can lay the plant out on newspapers in the sunshine to dry out before putting it back into the ground..
To treat root rot, it is imperative to correct the conditions leading to the extra moisture. This may entail adjusting watering routines, repotting a plant with a different soil medium, moving to a new container, or changing the location where plants are growing. For more information, you can read our article How to Fight Stem and Root Rot.
Scale: Scale insects are likely to stay off a gardener’s radar because they look more like bumps on a plant’s stems or branches than they look like insects. The small, armored bugs generally stay in place once they’ve latched on to a plant and come in shades of green, gray, brown, and black, with armored shells.
In addition to the presence of the insects themselves, a scale infestation can be visually identified in other ways. The bugs emit a clear, sticky substance generally referred to as “honeydew” that attracts ants. It may also facilitate the appearance of sooty mold on plant foliage, resulting in another problem the gardener must address.
If you see scale insects on a plant, first use a clean, sterile gardening tool, scrub brush, or even a disease-free twig to scrape them off and discard them. If there are too many bugs for this approach to make sense, you may choose to simply prune away affected areas of the plant. You can also use predatory insects such as lacewings, lady beetles, or parasitic wasps to fend off scale.
Light infestations can be treated with neem oil, which will also work to prevent more scale insects from invading. A homemade neem oil spray can be made of a liter of warm water, four or five drops of dish soap, and a teaspoon of neem oil, but gardeners should bear in mind that this treatment also has negative effects for beneficial garden insects. For more information, you can read our article How to Control Scale Insects.
Whiteflies: Tiny whiteflies are a common pest in greenhouses, on houseplants, and on tomato crops. They tend to stay in groups on the underside of plant foliage, much like aphids. But unlike aphids, whiteflies will take flight if they are disturbed.
You can diagnose a whitefly problem by the presence of the insects themselves, but other symptoms will make the infestation apparent if you don’t notice the bugs. Affected plants exhibit white spots on their leaves and may develop wilted foliage, leaves may become discolored or pale, growth can be stunted, or the plant may generally become weak. Whiteflies also secrete a sticky, clear substance in areas where they are feeding that attracts ants.
If you catch whiteflies early enough, you can treat an infestation by simply spraying the insects with water from the garden hose to remove them from the plant. However, you’ll need to repeat this process several times to get results. You can also use yellow sticky traps or predatory insects, like lacewing larvae, ladybugs, and whitefly parasites, to treat the problem. For more information, you can read our article How to Fight Whiteflies [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/how-to-fight-whiteflies/].
Purple waffle plants are beautiful, relatively easy-to-grow, highly versatile houseplants. If you want to bring a bit of life into your home or office, waffle plants are an excellent choice for nearly any equation. WIth this guide in hand, growing, maintaining, and propagating waffle plants should be a simple task for any gardener. The only question that remains is which variety of waffle plant you’re going to choose.