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All about Goldfish Plants (Columnea Nematanthus)

Taking care of houseplants requires a lot of work and consideration of many factors that contribute to growth, including sunlight, watering, soil, humidity, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about Goldfish plants and how to care for them.

Goldfish plants thrive on stable indoor temperatures with average or above average humidity and are happy with one watering session a week. Fertilize before the spring growing season to help your plant grow and transfer to a larger container if it is rootbound.

There are a myriad of tips and tricks for goldfish plants to help you enjoy your houseplants to the fullest and help them thrive, and the rest of this article will provide an in-depth overview of Goldfish plants, how to care for them, and what they need to thrive in your home.

The Basics

Before diving into the details about watering, placement, and other helpful aspects of caring for your plant, here’s an overview of Goldfish plants:

ColorRed, orange, or yellow
Bloom timeSpring, summer, fall, and winter
Watering requirementsOnce a week
FertilizerHigh phosphorus fertilizer applied at the start of growing season
Soil TypeWell-draining organic
TemperateStable temperatures of 65-75 F (18-24 C)
Propagation methodStem tip cuttings
Sunlight requirementsIndirect sun
Soil pHAcidic
Hardiness Zones10 to 11 USDA

Goldfish plants are beautiful when they bloom, with older stems cascading down the sides of the pot, forming a visually stunning plant, especially when planted in a hanging basket.

They earn their common name “Goldfish plant” by virtue of their reddish-orange blooms that resemble a leaping goldfish.

Compared to other houseplants, they are long-lived, lasting almost 10 years when appropriately cared for. There are at least 25 varieties of Goldfish plants, each with their own beautiful coloring to consider.

Getting Started

Before setting up your Goldfish plant, you’ll want to think about setting up the ideal conditions for its growth.

The first step towards that end is considering where in the house you’re going to place it. Goldfish plants need a lot of sun, but they can’t be directly exposed to the sun’s rays, or the leaves may start to burn.

As such, you should pick a spot that gets a good amount of indirect sunlight, such as a north or east-facing window to avoid the plant being overheated throughout the day.

Goldfish plants also thrive under artificial glow lights, which is definitely something worth considering if your windows aren’t getting consistent sunlight for one reason or another.

Another important starting point is a humid environment. Goldfish plants do well in average or above average humidity conditions, which is why you should consider creating a special environment to that end.

Place a shallow tray with pebbles underneath the plant and pour a bit of water into the tray. When the water evaporates, it creates a healthy humid environment for the plant.

Lastly, consider investing in some well-draining soil for your Goldfish plant. Without it, your plants can become waterlogged, leading to conditions that allow root rot to thrive.

An orchid or succulent mix with perlite or peat moss is ideal to facilitate draining and help your Goldfish plant thrive.

Goldfish Plant Care Requirements

Once you’ve considered where you’re going to put your Goldfish plant and how to plant it safely, there are a number of other regular care requirements you’ll need to follow to keep your plants healthy.

Lighting

Goldfish plants can be managed indoors or outdoors, but you might need to consider the climate you live in if you’re trying to grow them outdoors.

These plants do not thrive well in direct sunlight for long, and even indoors, if they get too much indirect sun, then they will start to dry out. A nice sunny east or north-facing window is perfect, getting around 6 hours of sunshine each day.

In the early stages of growth, keep an eye on your plants to check for any signs of overheating.

You may notice that the leaves are starting to yellow or curl up. This occurs when plants are trying to protect themselves from the sunlight and is something you need to keep an eye out for during the hot summer.

Overheated plants will, at minimum, look a little droopy and experience slower growth. With regard to sun exposure, it’s a good practice to give your pot a quarter turn each week to balance it, since plants naturally lean towards the sun and can become unbalanced if left unattended.

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Water

The golden rule when it comes to watering your plant is to water it thoroughly whenever the soil is completely dry to the touch.

After watering, the soil should be moist, but not waterlogged. Most people will experience an issue watering their plants at some point during their hobby, but keep in mind that it’s always better to underwater your plants than overwater.

Overwatering can lead to a range of detrimental effects, including drowning the roots and creating ideal conditions for the dreaded root rot.

If rot takes hold in your Goldfish plant, it’s often an immediate game over. At best, you may be able to salvage a trim of the plant to start anew, which is why it’s always best to water your plants once a week, and rarely more often.

In conditions where the sun is hotter, you may need to water a little bit more. If your plant is underwatered, you’ll start to notice the following symptoms:

  • Leaves dropping off the plant
  • Brown tips affecting the leaves
  • Slowed growth and smaller leaves
  • Wilting that improves when watering

By contrast, the following symptoms are associated with overwatering:

  • Yellowing of leaves closer to the base of the plant
  • Brown tips on newer leaves
  • Slowed growth
  • Wilting not improved by watering

Keep an eye out for these symptoms and keep your watering schedule consistent. As you water, avoid pouring directly onto the leaves, since they are delicate and can be damaged by an overaggressive water flow.

The roots are more than capable of getting the water up to the leaves—pouring directly doesn’t speed up the process.

Another important tip when watering your plants is to keep the flow consistent. If you pour too quickly, soil can be dislocated and splash onto the leaves, potentially allowing the spread of soilborne diseases.

To avoid a similar risk, make sure that any water you’re using in your pebble tray doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot; otherwise, you’re encouraging moist conditions in the root that can allow rot to set in.

Lastly, make sure you rely on rainwater or purified water—and not cold water—for your plant. Tap water contains harmful chemicals that can negatively affect their growth.

When it comes to watering, the bottom line is to listen to your plant. If it doesn’t look healthy, consider the symptoms it’s experiencing and adjust your watering schedule as necessary.

Always employ the touch test—checking the top 1 inch of soil to see if it’s completely dry—before watering.

Soil and Potting

A good potting mix is the best resource you can provide your Goldfish plant to help it thrive and stay healthy.

Accustomed to growing on trees and branches, Goldfish plants need a specialized type of potting soil like African Violet soil to thrive. The roots will also need a gritty soil to extract nutrients and water efficiently. Without it, your Goldfish plant will almost certainly not thrive.

If you don’t have an African Violet soil mix, you can DIY one yourself by equally combining coco coir, peat moss, fir bark, and perlite. Once you’ve tested that the mix drains well, your Goldfish plant is ready to pot!

Another bonus tip to keep in mind when potting your Goldfish plant is that as epiphytic plants (typically growing in trees), they tend to trail out more often than other succulents.

With that in mind, you want to pick out a pot that is wider around the base, at least 6-8 inches (15-20 cm).

Not only does this encourage your plant to trail out as it would naturally in the wild, but it makes the Goldfish plant much more aesthetically pleasing, especially as the older stems start to trail along the sides, creating a beautiful cascading effect.

The trailing effect of Goldfish plants makes them a popular choice for hanging baskets outdoors, which is certainly a good option to help with water drainage, although you need to be careful in monitoring the amount of sunlight your Goldfish plant is getting.

It’s also important to repot your plant as necessary. Similarly to other tropical plants, Goldfish plants seem to do best when slightly pot-bound, prompting better growth and more colorful flowers.

As such, it’s usually best to only repot your Goldfish plants every 2-3 years, gently root-pruning the parent plant to prompt new growth in the roots.

You don’t need to oversize your repotting efforts either; remember, they like being a little bit rootbound, so one size up is more than enough.

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Temperature

Another key factor in creating ideal conditions for a Goldfish plant to grow is facilitating a steady temperature for them. Surprise, surprise—the best environment for this houseplant is in a house. Stable temperatures from 65-75 F or 18-24 C are great for these plants, allowing them the best opportunity to grow without being put in shock.

This is pretty intuitive day one houseplant care guide stuff, but what you may not have considered (especially during winter) is the location of your houseplant.

A cold draft, for example, can put a houseplant into shock, which is why you should never position your Goldfish plant by the front door where they are more susceptible to cold drafts every time someone enters or leaves the house, especially during the winter months.

If you live in an area that gets cold winters, it’s ideal to bring your Goldfish plant inside (check for spiders and insects first!).

Depending on where you live, more extreme measures of weatherproofing your plant may be necessary, such as tucking in your plant each night with a plant protecting blanket or adding hay/mulch for insulation.

If you have the time, you can build or purchase a ready-made greenhouse for your Goldfish plant (and other houseplants, for that matter) to keep the temperature stable. Always keep an eye out for cold shock, which can be evidenced by the following symptoms:

  • Wilting or drooping leaves
  • Discolored leaves
  • Foliage turns black
  • The root ball loosens

These last two are unfortunately an almost certain death sentence for your plant, so it’s important to keep an eye out for wilting or drooping leaves that are curling in on themselves.

This symptom can also be caused by overwatering, so make sure you consider the time of year before you assume the issue is cold shock.

Another important symptom to keep an eye out for are discolored leaves. As these leaves die, they may show white or yellow spots.

These are indicators that your plant is suffering and needs immediate intervention.

Humidity

Goldfish plants appreciate a standard level of humidity and often thrive well in slightly humid conditions. In all plants, some moisture is lost as the leaf pores are opened to intake carbon dioxide, decreasing the amount of usable water in the plant.

In a humid environment, plants transpire less moisture, meaning that the leaves can maintain water to match the rate that the roots provide it.

If your houseplant is in an environment that is too dry, it may spell disaster for your plant, causing it to transpire moisture much more quickly.

In response, the plant will close its leaf pores to prevent the egress of moisture. Unfortunately, this also reduces carbon dioxide intake (similarly to holding one’s breath), causing the cells to slowly die.

It’s also important to consider that watering and humidity are two separate aspects of a Goldfish plant’s health and need addressing with different remedies.

You can’t fix a dry environment by watering more. As you’ll recall from earlier, overwatering creates an open invitation for root rot.

When plants are in the right humidity level for their needs, they can relax (quite literally) and breathe deeply without the risk of losing too much water to the air.

Do a little digging to determine what the average humidity level is in your area; Goldfish plants enjoy an average level of humidity at 20-30%, but they aren’t opposed to an above-average level of humidity.

In fact, 40-50% humidity is the golden standard if you want to get the most beautiful blooms from your plants.

If you’re in a dry climate, don’t fret! There’s a number of ways you can manually create a healthy environment for your plant. Misting your plant occasionally, for example, is often a good practice, especially for indoor plants, since indoor climates tend to be drier.

The aforementioned pebble tray works wonders for your Goldfish plant as well, providing a steady stream of evaporation to create a favorable moist environment.

If you’re willing to go through the effort, you can even create your very own microclimate to artificially create humid and stable temperate conditions for your Goldfish plant to thrive in.

Lastly, nothing beats a plain old humidifier to pump some moisture into the air.

Pests

Whether you’re a novice or a pro houseplant keeper, pests will be coming for your Goldfish plant. If unattended, this plant makes an ideal housing place for pests such as mealybugs, thrips, and spider mites.

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These pests can often go undetected due to the way the leaves are clustered together on a goldfish plant.

Make sure you check your plants regularly for any sign of pests, paying particular attention to the underside of leaves. Bugs love to stay out of sight, so a little in-depth inspection will help you detect potential problems.

Spraying your plant with water is a good first step to wash away any bugs that are clinging on, but it’s always important to follow up this step with a proper treatment.

Neem oil, for example, is a great solution that’s safe for plants and can be applied directly to the leaves.

If this doesn’t clear up your pest problem, consider repotting your Goldfish plant to get rid of any eggs that may be in the soil.

Diseases

It’s rare that Goldfish plants will suffer disease, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for some of the common signs of sickness in your plant caused by disease.

The most common disease you will encounter with a Goldfish plant is root rot, which stems from the number one killer of plants: overwatering.

It creates an ideal environment for root rot to thrive and infect your root system, eventually killing your plant. Additionally, once it spread too far, there’s no saving the plant, which is why you need to address root rot as soon as you detect it.

Remove the plant carefully from the soil and untangle the root system. Then, using a pair of sharp scissors, remove any infected roots you can see.

Disinfect and prepare a new pot with suitable drainage—your old pot isn’t suitable anymore. Add fresh soil suitable for Goldfish plants and sprinkle the salvageable roots of your plant with a fungicide solution.

Once repotted, water your plant thoroughly to help it recover from transplant shock. With a little luck, your plant may just survive a bout of root rot.

Pruning

Another important way to prevent disease and encourage healthy branching is to prune your Goldfish plant from time to time. As well as maintaining the aesthetic of the plant, pruning deadheaded blossoms can also encourage the plant to develop new, more beautiful blooms.

Keep these stems trimmed back at 12 to 18 inches (30 to 46 cm), pruning occasionally. If you’re planting outside, it’s a good idea to prune so that the leaves aren’t touching the soil, since soilborne diseases can afflict the leaves and harm your plant.

Fertilizing

Another important part of good Goldfish plant care is regular fertilizing during the growing season. This encourages the plant to develop more beautiful blooms and helps it thrive long-term.

Based on their nutritional needs, a water-soluble, phosphorous-rich fertilizer applied once a week is best to encourage blooming.

Always follow the instructions on the packet regarding how much and how often you should apply the fertilizer. It’s also not advisable to fertilize your plant at all during the winter.

Propagating

Propagating your Goldfish plant is very simple, and stem-tip cuttings will readily root. Select stem tips that don’t have flower buds and are a length of 2-3 inches to give you the best odds of success.

Plant your stems carefully and place them in a brightly lit and humid area until you start to see new growth. As with adult Goldfish plants, make sure not to water too often, and consider misting for the first few weeks so that you don’t disturb the soil or cause distress to the new cutting.

These new plants won’t flower until the summer after being propagated. If your adult Goldfish plant is beyond recovery with root rot, taking the healthiest cutting you can find and planting it is a good way to start anew with a fresh plant.

Final Thoughts

The goldfish plant is a beautiful trailing plant that has attractive green leaves and beautiful flowers that resemble graceful leaping goldfish.

A tropical perennial, these houseplants are an excellent indoor companion for any avid plant keeper. Before planting, make sure to establish a warm, humid environment with plenty of indirect sun to keep your plant happy and healthy.

A well-draining soil mix also goes a long way to encouraging root system growth. You can plant this beautiful trailing perennial either outside in a hanging basket or indoors, preferably by a north or east-facing window to get the most sun.

Keep an eye on your plants regularly to determine whether you’re overwatering and check the underside of the leaves for pests. Taking good care of your Goldfish plants is a great way to see beautiful blossoms come summertime.