Fittonia (nerve plant): Is it the right fit for your home?

They’re cute, they’re tiny and they come in a variety of colours. Here’s how to grow and care for Fittonia (nerve plant). 

fittonia nerve plant

You’ve got some nerve (plants)! © Alisa Badusova | 123rf

Dubbed as the hobbits of tropical plants, these tiny stunners are known as nerve plants (Fittonia Albivenis, or also known as the Nerve Plant, Mosaic Plant or Net Plant) mainly due to their delicately vivid veins. These evergreens are most popularly loved for their dark green leaves with silvery white veins (‘Argyroneura’), which also come in varieties of pink, white, green and red veins (‘Pearcei’) too. 

They are the perfect indoor plants as they can be placed in terrariums or hanging baskets to add a minimalist pizzazz to the home. Or just place their tiny pots on low coffee tables for a quick sprucing-up of your living area. Alternatively, they can also be used outdoors as ground cover to complement larger decorative plants.

Fittonias mostly grow up to a height of three to six inches and can trail to as long as 18 inches. Therefore, you never have to worry about constantly changing its potting soil or upgrading its pot size. They can stay pretty happy in the same-size pot for several years. Here are a few other nuggets of information you can use to keep your fittonia fit as a fiddle.

Which is the most popular fittonia variety?

There are plenty of coloured varieties out there, but one popular one is the F. gigantea, a larger type with dark green leaves and crimson veins which can reach up to 24 inches tall! Another variety is the F. verschaffeltti which is a creeper that does best in hanging baskets. Then there are the ‘Minima’ and ‘Argyroneura’ varieties that are well suited to terrarium culture.

How to propagate a fittonia plant?

If you’re looking to grow more of these adorable fittonias, then you’re in luck because they are very receptive towards propagation. Plus it’s much easier to grow them via propagation, rather than to start from seed. What you would want to do is to take some stem cuttings from a lush and healthy plant. Do note that you should never cut off more than 20% of any plant, to avoid it from going into shock. 

Look for the leaf nodes (the points where the leaves sprout out from) and cut about 1-2cm below it. Submerge the leaf node in a small glass of clear water, be sure to remove any leaves that are underwater to avoid rot. Keep it in a warm and bright area, but away from direct sun. Within 2 weeks, you should already start to see some roots coming out from the stem area, close to the node. By around 8 weeks, the roots should be strong enough for you to transplant into soil.

Read more: How to grow and care for aloe vera plants

What sort of potting soil should I use for fittonias?

When it comes to soil, they are pretty great with most standard potting mixes. However, it is advisable to add in some peat moss to help retain moisture. As they originate from the South American region, mainly Peru, they are used to the tropics with high humidity – which is similar to our Malaysian weather. This means that the soil mix should always remain moist but not overly wet as fittonias hate soggy soil – which is why using a well-draining soil is also important.

How often should I water fittonias?

Here’s the main challenge when it comes to fittonias. As mentioned above, this plant loves consistently damp soil. Allow it to dry out and the plant will dramatically wilt, but worry not! It can be revived with a quick dose of water. However, it’s best to prevent it from wilting too many times as that would ultimately take a toll on the plant’s overall health. On the other hand, keeping the soil too moist would result in the appearance of yellowing leaves, which, unfortunately, cannot be reversed. So how do you ensure that your fittonia is always happy? It is best to water it thoroughly the first time, then stick your finger or a stick in every other day to gauge the soil’s dampness.

fittonia nerve plant

A good ‘fitt’ for any home, big or small. © Olga Miltsova | 123rf

What is the best lighting condition for fittonias?

Being natives of the tropical rainforest, they are mostly ground level plants and only get partial sunlight. Therefore, it is safe to keep them indoors where bright indirect light is available, or in heavily shaded areas if kept outdoors. Try to ensure that they are placed in an area which does not get any direct sun (morning or evening) as they may likely scorch or shrivel up. Your home’s fluorescent lighting also works well for fittonias, especially in cases where indirect sunlight is not reachable (eg. office tables furthest from the windows).

Read more: Snake plant: A care and troubleshooting guide

Can fittonias live in an air-conditioned room?

They are essentially tropical houseplants and are used to humid environments. Air-conditioned rooms are tolerable, as long as you do not place your fittonia directly where the air flows. It is also advisable that you mist your plants daily, or even better, use a humidifier

Fittonias thrive best with high humidity levels, which is why terrariums or glass bottles are the perfect home for them since the enclosed area traps moisture and creates a personal micro-climate environment for them. 

Humidity is a key element for a fittonia’s survival. Without proper levels of humidity, they will also wilt and wither away. If you are unable to mist them frequently or provide a humidifier, consider rehoming them in a beautiful glass terrarium.

How much should a fittonia plant be fed?

Growing a nerve plant is easy – feed it a weak, diluted liquid fertiliser every two months. They do not require constant fertilising to thrive. It is advisable that you flush the soil well with a thorough watering before adding more fertiliser, to wash off any excess mineral salts that could be too much for the plant’s root system.

wilted fittonia nerve plant

Don’t forget to water your plants! © Andrey Mitrofanov | 123rf

Why is my fittonia plant wilting?

Fittonias can be very fussy especially when it comes to the soil’s moisture and humidity. Ensure that soil does not dry out, as the plant will wilt very quickly. Inserting your finger or a stick into the soil daily is the best way to determine the moisture requirements of the plant. If the soil seems fine, it could be that your air may be too dry as they require a good dose of humidity to stay lush. 

A trick that some houseplant owners use is to place the pot over a plate filled with water and pebbles. It helps a little with extra humidity as the water evaporates, and the extra water could serve as a reservoir by connecting it to the soil with a wicking thread that can draw water upwards.

Read more: Avoid these 7 mistakes and your indoor plants won’t die again

Why does my fittonia have shrivelled leaves?

If your watering is on point, but the leaves are still shrivelling up, it is getting too much sunlight. Even if you do not place it in direct sun, sometimes reflective surfaces of homes (mirrors, shiny tables, glass, etc.) can cause indirect sunlight to reflect onto your plant which will disturb it. It is best to check your surroundings first for such surfaces or move the plant to another location. 

Why are there tiny moving dots on my nerve plant?

Like any other plant, fittonias are susceptible to houseplant pests. The major culprits include aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, mites, snails, slugs and thrips. It is always advisable to check any new plant for such signs of pests. To do this, use a phone torch light with a magnifying glass if possible. Sometimes the eggs from these pests are hidden or can’t be seen by the naked eye. It is always best to keep some neem oil or insecticide on hand and to apply a little the moment you get home with your new plant so you can catch them before it’s too late.

Read more: 11 cheap and fail-proof edible plants you can grow on your balcony

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