Chenille plants are simply stunning! Natives of Mexico and Central America, they thrive in tropical and semi-tropical climates, coping with lots of heat, sun and humidity. Thankfully, you too can recreate the best possible environments for these species.
If it’s your first time learning how to care for a chenille plant, or you’re unsure how to get the best out of a long-growing specimen, I’ve got you covered with a host of tips and tricks below.
First of all, let’s start with the basics!
What is a chenille plant?
A chenille plant is often known by its Latin name, Acalypha hispida. It’s a fuzzy plant that bursts into red, textured flowers. You may also know its familial plants, such as the festive poinsettia.
These plants can grow impressive balls of fuzz and will usually fare well in households across the year. Otherwise known as the red hot cattail, this striking plant loves the sun and makes for a spectacular hanging basket bloom.
What are the best light conditions for chenille plants?
If you’re growing chenille outdoors, you probably won’t have many problems getting these beauties to sprout flowers. However, as is the name of our site – we’re focusing on indoor cultivation! So, you’ll need to house your chenilles somewhere nice and bright.
Full sun is ideal, but you can also give it a little shade here and there without any ill effects. I’d usually recommend you keep chenilles on windowsills where you get sun peeling through in the afternoon. However, this plant also thrives brilliantly in greenhouse conditions with a little extra humidity.
If you do fancy taking your chenille plants outside at any point, do take care. While they are sun-lovers by nature, they can still suffer if directly scorched. Balance is key.
What growth medium or soil is best for a chenille?
Loamy, sandy soil which has ample drainage is best for all chenille plants. Heavier soils can be usefully interspersed with perlite for best growth results.
That said, the chenille is rather versatile when it comes to growing in different soils. You can also easily raise these plants in sandy and clay mediums if necessary.
Do be careful to check soil pH for the healthiest chenilles – these plants thrive best in neutral pH soil, but can handle a little acidity. Just be sure not to use salt around them, as they are highly intolerant!
Watering your chenille plant
For all that your chenille will love to bask in the sun for long periods, it’s going to need a fair amount of moisture alongside. Keep checking the soil and water your plant before it dries.
If you start noticing your chenille’s flowers wilting or drying out, then it’s high time for a drink. In my experience, growing chenilles indoors typically means a gentle water every five to six days when in flower.
That said, if it’s in dormancy, it’ll tolerate less watering. They can be forgiving if you forget to water them, though some leaves may turn dry and crispy. These plants often prioritise nourishing flowers before leaves, so make sure to top up when you start to see those red blooms burst forth!
Chenilles and containers – things to keep in mind
I strongly advise you to use terracotta pots when growing chenilles – inside or out – as plastic containers in full sun can cook the roots of your plants! This is especially the case if your plant roots are soaked or left to completely dry out during the hottest part of the day.
If you must use plastic containers, I recommend placing a sun shield against the part of the container facing the glare. This could be a kitchen tile, an outer pot container or some other shield of adequate material and size to absorb the heat.
The exception to this is metal – which will act as a frying pan! Pulling a blind down or closing curtains can help, too.
Harsh sunburn via a window may dry them out, or if intense, may kill them! Don’t just assume that your sun-loving plants can take intense heat more than you can!
What’s the best temperature for a chenille plant?
As a tropical species, the chenille is going to fare best in fairly muggy temperatures. In my personal experience, letting the indoor temperature (or greenhouse temperature) drop below 16 degrees C is a no-no for chenilles to thrive.
Remember, this is a tropical plant! While it can only take so much direct sunlight, it loves a hot, humid day – and is fairly drought-resistant as a result. Don’t treat it like a cactus, but at the same time, remember its geographical roots during care.
Should I fertilise chenille plants?
Yes – you should absolutely keep your chenille topped up on fertiliser wherever possible. It’s a real fast-grower, which means it will soak up all the nutrients it can get.
Like the appetites of many living things, size is a good guide to how much nourishment is needed. A fortnightly liquid feed during the growing season will help sustain good strong growth and aid flower production.
However, I’d recommend trying to feed your chenille a little more frequently whenever possible. Some of my fellow plant parents tell me it’s worth feeding it at half-strength once a week.
The downside to this is, of course, that it may react negatively to overfeeding. That’s easy enough to spot, of course – just add some more soil or mix it up a little if you start seeing yellow leaves.
Can I take cuttings from chenille plants?
Yes – you certainly can! Here’s a four-stage plan to help you.
Step one: tool up
Simply choose a strong, leafy stem and clean your pruning shears. I recommend wearing gloves simply because chenille plants can irritate the skin. More on that a little later.
Step two: prepare the soil
Spread your choice of growing medium in a potting tray or container and moisten it thoroughly. It may be a good idea to steep a container in a saucer of tepid water for a few hours before planting.
Prior to cutting the donor plant, remove its saucer and allow excess water to drain away completely. Then, use an upturned paintbrush handle or pencil to make a hole of approximately four inches deep.
Step three: get cutting!
Cut a piece of stem below a leaf and try to capture a length bearing at least four or five leaves. The portion you cut needs to ideally be up to six or seven inches long.
Cut the stem on a diagonal angle to maximise the surface area of the cut. This will increase the moisture and nutrient absorption area at this sensitive stage. Dip the cutting in hormone rooting powder where possible, and remove all but the top two leaves.
Step four: time to pot
Pop the cutting into the hole you just made, and gently pat in the growth medium around it. Place your pot or container in a well-lit spot, but out of direct sunlight. It may take up to a month for roots to form.
During this time, keep the cutting moist – but don’t drown it. Your chenille will require a good light source but – at its most vulnerable in the early days – not harsh, direct sunlight.
If the plant resists being gently lifted from the compost and leaves stand tall, roots should have formed. Acclimatise these cuttings slowly and feed as above. You’re good to go!
Should I trim my chenille plants?
Sometimes it’s necessary to trim chenille plants – damaged leaves or stems can be detrimental to the rest of the plant. If weakened parts fall and rot in the soil, they may spread disease or attract pests. Trim off any structurally damaged leaves or stems, and dispose of waste material carefully.
Ideally, once autumn rolls around, it’s usually a good idea to trim your plant back so it’s around a foot above the growth medium. This should – if you do it right – mean you get tons more flowers next year!
You can also train chenilles using stakes and poles if you wish, however, this is normally only necessary if you’re growing specimens outside.
Common chenille plant pests
Unfortunately, like many houseplants, the chenille isn’t immune to attacks from a variety of pests and critters. That means you’ll need to look out for minibeasts during the warmer months of the year.
During the driest weeks of summer, your chenille will likely start attracting common pests such as spider mites. The best way to deter these destructive creatures is to make sure you keep your plant nicely misted or damp.
You can also pick off or even suck up pests such as whiteflies by hand if you wish. While the chenille normally won’t fare too badly with diseases carried by bugs and pests, it’s still a good idea to counteract them as best you can.
Alternatively, a great way to naturally deal with houseplant pests such as whitefly is to introduce ladybirds to your indoor garden! Ladybirds, while cute and innocuous to us, are ravenous micro predators. They’re on our side as plant parents, too – so be sure to adopt a few if you can.
Thankfully, you don’t stand to spread disease with a chenille, though do look out for rot conditions if it’s sharing a growth medium and/or pot with a neighbour.
Are chenille plants toxic?
Yes – chenilles are infamously toxic to humans and pets, which means you’re going to need to be careful around its leaves and flowers.
All parts of chenille plants are toxic to some extent. Ingesting parts of a chenille can cause nausea and vomiting, and in some instances, its sap causes skin irritation and dermatitis.
Each symptom can be avoided by wearing gardening gloves to avoid touching the sap, and not touching your mouth after handling the plant. Try not to swallow any particles where possible, too! This bloom is best kept out of reach of children and pets.
Can I overwinter chenille plants?
Yes! If you just want to bring your garden chenilles inside when the weather turns frosty, you can easily bring containers indoors – consider a heated greenhouse, in fact, where possible. It’s normally a good idea to bring very young chenilles out of the cold wherever you can.
If you are short of space on windowsills, remember that you can place smaller chenille plants in hanging baskets. You could suspend them on coat hooks in well-lit areas, or you may even find these plants thrive on bathroom humidity. Why not take a look at a few other top bathroom plants while you’re at it?
How big will my chenille grow?
Providing you care for it well (by following the above steps), you can expect an outdoor chenille to grow up to 15 feet tall! Indoors, it’s likely to be much smaller, though the size of your container will dictate growth potential no matter where it’s placed.
Chenilles can also grow impressively wide – again, outside, they can reach a total span of eight feet. It’s best to try and give these blooms as much space as you can just in case!
Chenille plants are highly rewarding little blooms that I think you’ll come to adore – providing you look after them appropriately! Make sure to give them just enough sunlight, and don’t be tempted to let them dry out completely.
There are plenty of great reasons to start growing chenille at home. For example, did you know that they’re one of the best plants for asthma sufferers?
This show-stopping beauty really deserves all the attention and care you can provide it – follow my steps above and see how you get on.