Creeping Charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia) is a delightful little tropical plant that creeps along the ground in its native Caribbean Islands and northern South America. Indoors, it is a charming and easy-care houseplant spilling over the sides of a hanging basket or container or creeping along the bottom of a terrarium.
The name Creeping Charlie is confusing because it’s used for three different creeping plants: Glechoma hederacea, Plectranthus verticillatus, and Pilea nummulariifolia. Both Glechoma and Plectranthus are in the mint family (Lamiaceae), but Pilea is a non-prickly member of the nettle family (Urticaceae), which is a familiar houseplant and is sometimes grown as a ground cover.
What Does Creeping Charlie Houseplant Look Like?
Pilea Creeping Charlie only grows 3″ to 8″ high with a 12″ to 24″ spread and has bright green, 1.5 to 2-inch-long, bumpy, textured leaves with scalloped edges, sunken veins, and reddish stems. It blooms year-round with small white or lavender flower clusters in the axils of new leaves.
This little plant is short-lived – about three years – but it is easily propagated, so you can enjoy your Creeping Charlie for as long as you want if you give it the right care.
Creeping Charlie Houseplant vs. Outside
Since it is a tropical plant that thrives in high humidity and warm temperatures of the rainforests, Pilea Creeping Charlie grows very well in USDA zones 10, 11, and 12 as a groundcover. It needs partial shade, evenly moist, rich, well-draining soil, and might need to be contained since it tends to be invasive.
It is also an excellent houseplant for your home or office if you can supply it with similar warm and humid conditions indoors.
Creeping Charlie Plant Care
Like many other tropical plants, Creeping Charlie is an understory vine that grows along the ground in dappled sunlight that filters through the trees above. It wilts and burns in direct sunlight and does best in bright indirect light.
You can mimic this type of light by setting it in an east- or north-facing window that gets bright light out of the direct sun. If that exposure isn’t available, set it back three or more feet from a west- or south-facing window.
Outside in the summer, keep the plant in a shaded area, like under a tree, shaded porch, or patio out of the direct sun.
Temperatures inside your home will be fine for Creeping Charlie since it does best between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which are well within the average household range.
If your plant is outdoors in the summer, keep it cool when temperatures soar. And bring it in before it dips to 60 or below in the fall. Creeping Charlie can’t handle frost or cold temperatures below 50 degrees F.
NOTE: Keep your plant in moderate temperatures and out of the way of drafts from cold windows, air conditioners, and heating vents.
Creeping Charlie does best in high humidity levels, like 40 to 60%. This is higher than in most households, so you’ll need to boost the humidity around your plant.
A small humidifier will do the trick, or using a pebble tray with water, keeping the bottom of the pot above the water line. Another way to increase the humidity is to keep the plant in a higher-humidity area like the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room.
Soil & Pot
To keep your plant healthy, it needs rich, well-draining soil. Commercial succulent soil or African Violet soil will do, or you can custom-make your own with a combination of indoor potting mix, peat moss, coarse sand, and perlite.
Whether you grow your Creeping Charlie in a hanging pot or container, make sure it has one or more drainage holes in the bottom so that water doesn’t build up around the roots and cause root rot, which can kill the plant.
You can repot it about every 2 to 3 years when it has grown to full size, and the soil is becoming depleted. Choose a pot that is one size up or only about 2″ larger than the previous one, and make sure it has a drainage hole in the bottom.
The one container that doesn’t need a drainage hole is a terrarium, which should have a balanced circulation of moisture, oxygen, and carbon dioxide that keeps the plants healthy inside its closed environment.
Creeping Charlie likes to be moist but never soggy. Test the soil with your finger, and it’s time to water when it’s dry an inch down from the top.
How frequently you’ll need to water will fluctuate with the seasons and the conditions in the house. Your plant will need to be watered more often in the spring and summer when it’s actively growing than in the fall and winter months when its growth slows down.
When you water, allow it to run through the pot until the soil is soaked and it comes out of the drainage hole(s) in the bottom. Then, let it drain completely so no water collects around the roots and causes an overgrowth of fungal root rot.
NOTE: Creeping Charlie is sensitive to chemicals, like chlorine, that are added to public tap water. These chemicals can cause the leaves to turn yellow and curl, so watering your plant with distilled or rainwater is healthier. Alternatively, let a pitcher of tap water sit out overnight for the chlorine to evaporate.
A good, rich potting soil won’t need a lot of fertilizer. But if you want to boost your plant’s growth, you can add half-strength of a ready-to-pour balanced fertilizer or powdered formula that you mix with water once a month during the growing season in the spring and summer or some slow-release fertilizer once in the spring.
Too much fertilizer will cause water to be drawn out from the roots, making it difficult for the plant to stay hydrated. So go lightly with the fertilizer and don’t add any during the fall and winter when the plant’s growth has slowed down.
You can shape the plant to encourage growth by snipping the ends every six months with clean scissors between the nodes where the leaves meet the stem, and then you can use the cuttings for propagation.
Creeping Charlie Propagation
Creeping Charlie is best propagated by stem cuttings or root division.
You can propagate stem cuttings in water or sphagnum moss.
Snip off a length of stem between the nodes with several leaves attached. Put the stem in a clean jar with clean water and remove all the leaves below the waterline. Change the water every few days to keep algae from forming.
Soak a handful of sphagnum moss for 20 minutes, squeeze it out so that it’s moist but not dripping, and put it in a pot. Take a cutting and remove several of the bottom leaves so there is a bare length of stem and put it in the sphagnum.
To encourage rooting, tie a plastic bag around the entire jar or pot with the plant to create a little greenhouse with high humidity.
Set the jar or pot in a warm spot in medium to bright indirect light, and you should see roots forming within a month.
Take the root ball out of the pot and separate it into pieces with enough roots for each new plant. Put them into new pots in rich, well-draining soil, as described above. Water lightly and set them in a warm spot in medium to bright indirect light while they are acclimating to their new pot and soil.
Creeping Charlie is susceptible to whiteflies, spider mites, and mealybugs. All three of these pests suck the sap out of the host plants and can cause the leaves to wilt, turn yellow, and develop a stippled surface.
The best way to treat them is to first hose the plant to knock off as many bugs as possible. Then, wipe the upper and lower leaf surfaces with rubbing alcohol or spray them with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water. Neem oil or insecticidal soap will also control the pests.
When too much water fills the air spaces in the soil for too long, the roots can’t get enough oxygen, and fungus will start to grow. Check the roots if your plant is droopy and the leaves are beginning to turn yellow. Gently take the plant out of the potting mix and wash the roots to see what they look like.
Healthy roots are white and firm, but if any are black, mushy, and smell foul, cut them off with clean scissors or shears. Treat the remaining roots with hydrogen peroxide and water, a fungicide like Neem oil, or powdered cinnamon, a natural fungicide. Then, plant them in fresh potting mix in a clean pot with drainage holes.
Bacterial leaf spot
High humidity around the plant with limited air circulation or wet leaves from watering above can invite bacterial leaf spot. Small water-soaked, yellow spots develop on the plant’s leaves and turn into black lesions that travel through the leaf down into the stem, causing the leaves to droop and collapse.
It’s difficult to treat bacterial leaf spot once it has taken hold in the plant, so it’s best to control it by removing the infected leaves and stems as soon as the spots appear. If the infection has spread, you can use a spray with copper-containing compounds to treat it.
Toxicity: Is Creeping Charlie Houseplant Poisonous?
Creeping Charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia) is non-toxic to people and pets and won’t cause harm if a bit is nibbled. However, if you have used a pesticide on the plant, it would be wise to keep it away from curious and hungry children and pets.
Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.