Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), is a beautiful house plant grown for its large leaves, that bring lush, tropical elegance to any interior. It’s easy to grow and tolerates low light levels, and it can live for more than 10 years, given the right care.
Chinese evergreen has been grown as an ornamental plant in Asia for centuries and plant breeders have developed a range of stunning variations. Some have deep green leaves with paler green or silver splashes, stripes, or speckles such as Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’ or Aglaonema ‘Maria’. Some have pink stems, veins and leaf margins, such as Aglaonema ‘Crete’ or ‘Pink Moon’. In other cultivars, the leaves are almost entirely pink, coral or red, as in Aglaonema ‘Red Star’. While they are slow-growing, cultivated varieties can become substantial clumps, growing to 90cm tall by 90 cm wide, but there are also compact varieties for more restricted spaces, such as Aglaonema ‘Jubilee Compacta’.
Chinese evergreen is a relatively slow-growing plant and is unlikely to need repotting more than once every two to three years, when the strong roots start to emerge from the drainage holes. Don’t be tempted to transfer to a much larger pot – excess compost can hold onto excess water, threatening your plant’s health. Repot it in spring or summer, during the growing season.
How to grow Chinese evergreen
Grow Chinese evergreen in a bright spot away from direct sunlight, ideally in a humid room such as a bathroom. Water sparingly, allowing the compost to completely dry out between waterings and feed every six weeks. Reduce watering in winter.
Where to grow Chinese evergreen
Chinese evergreen originates in the tropical and subtropical forests of Asia and New Guinea, so bright light is ideal, but away from direct sunlight that would scorch its leaves. While it's known for tolerating low light levels, the paler leaved varieties will need more light (dark green leaves can photosynthesise at lower light levels). It needs to be in a relatively warm place with no sudden swings in temperature, and where the temperature drops no lower than 16 °C (61 °F), which means most living spaces will suit its needs.
As Aglaonema thrives in humidity, grow it in a humid spot such as a bathroom.
Another important factor to consider when deciding where to place your plant in the house is that Chinese evergreen foliage can be moderately toxic to pets and humans if ingested. You may therefore want to raise the plant up to a level where it can’t be reached by toddlers or pets.
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How to plant Chinese evergreen
As Aglaonema is mildly to moderately toxic if ingested, wear gloves when planting, repotting or propagating your plant, and wash your hands carefully when you’ve finished. Always plant at the same depth it was in its original pot, using peat-free house plant compost mixed with perlite, which improves the aeration of the compost.
Choose a pot with drainage holes at the bottom and that is a relatively snug fit for your Chinese evergreen’s rootball. Plant it so that the leaf stems flair from the surface of the soil, which should be at least two centimetres below the rim of the pot. Use a jug or watering can and pour the water gently at the base of the plant until the liquid reaches the rim of pot and let it slowly disperse through the compost. Repeat this until the compost is thoroughly wet, allow to drain completely and then do not re-water until the compost has dried out again.
How to care for Chinese evergreen
Chinese evergreen is a drought-tolerant plant, and it’s better to underwater it than to overwater it. Water the plant thoroughly from the top and let the pot drain until no more water is dripping through the holes at the bottom, before returning it to its outer container or saucer. Allow the compost to almost dry out before watering again – sometimes the plant will start to droop, telling you it needs water but otherwise push your finger several centimetres into the compost and if it’s dry, that tells you its watering time. In winter, your Chinese evergreen will go a lot longer before it needs watering. This is because the light levels are low and the plant is hardly growing.
In the growing season (spring and summer), feed your Chinese evergreen every six weeks, adding liquid plant food to your watering can according to the instructions. If your plant is new, check whether the nursery or plant shop has added slow-release fertiliser to the compost. If they have, don’t feed it until the following year (too much plant food can damage the leaves).
Like many forest plants, Aglaonema thrives in high humidity. The air in our houses and offices can become dry in winter, thanks to the central heating. There are several ways to raise the humidity of the air around the plant – these include misting the leaves, placing the pot on a tray of pebbles topped up with water, and grouping plants together to create a mini microclimate which aids humidity. Regularly misting the leaves will also raise or mist the leaves regularly.
Now and again use a damp, lint-free cloth to remove household dust from your Chinese evergreen, gently wiping the broad leaves. Make sure this cloth isn’t used for any other cleaning in the house, otherwise it might transfer harmful chemicals and damage your plant.
Mature plants may produce flowers in spring or summer in the form of a pale spike (called a spadix) with a green, cream or yellow cowl or hood (called a spathe). Unless you’re keen to experiment with growing Chinese evergreen from seed, cut the blooms before seeds begin to form so that the plant concentrates its energy on its leaves.
How to prune Chinese evergreen
As your Aglaonema matures, some stems will elongate and drop their lower leaves, so the plant can start to look spindly. You can make the plant bushy again by pruning it. Wearing gloves, trim the plant by cutting the stem (or stems) with a sharp knife below a leaf node (the ‘scar’ where a leaf was attached to the stem). This will encourage more leaves to sprout from the base. You can use the cut stems as cuttings.
How to propagate Chinese evergreen
You can multiply your Aglaonema by dividing the basal shoots. Wearing gardening gloves, tip the whole plant out of the pot. Identify a shoot at the edge of the root ball, gently loosen the compost around it (an old chopstick is a useful tool for this) and then tease the shoot and its roots away from the main group. Pot both plants up in separate pots.
You can also take stem cuttings of Chinese evergreen. Wearing gloves, use a sharp knife to cut the stem below a leaf node. Remove all but the top six to eight leaves and then either insert into a tall jar of water or into free draining compost (peat-free house plant compost with added perlite). Leave in a bright, warm place. Refresh the water in the jar regularly and pot up the cutting when roots form. Keep the compost moist and new shoots should emerge from the cutting in a month to 45 days.
Pests and diseases
Aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies are common pests of Chinese evergreen. Check your plant regularly and pick off these insects at an early stage. Spider mites are another possible pest, but keeping the humidity raised around the plant should deter them.
If the leaf margins of your Chinese evergreen become yellow and brown and the leaves start to droop, you may be over-watering. If the leaves turn fully yellow and crisp, you may be under-watering. Check the compost and alter your watering regime accordingly. If the stalks of the plant turn yellow or brown, this may be a sign of root rot. Knock the plant out of the pot, remove the compost and prune away rotting stems before repotting.
Advice on buying Chinese evergreen
- Aglaonema is widely available in garden and plant centres and interiors stores
- When choosing your plant, avoid any that show signs of stress, such as wilting, crisp, discoloured or falling leaves and check thoroughly for insects or signs of disease