As the name implies, cast iron plants are tough, no-nonsense plants when grown indoors or out.
Cast iron plants, which are native to Japan and China, are hardy, easy to care for, and attractive both in the garden and as houseplants. Most varieties have green, glossy leaves reaching 20–30 inches tall, and some versions produce variegated, cream-toned, and speckled foliage. Many florists use the cast iron plant’s leaves in floral arrangements to line vases or as foliage, making this plant versatile and useful.
Like pothos, snake plants, and ZZ plants, low-maintenance cast iron plants (Aspidistra spp.) are perfect houseplants for beginning growers. When planted outside as groundcovers or border plants, they grow best in USDA Zones 6–11, primarily in areas in southern states and northern California. Here’s what you need to know to successfully grow cast iron plants.
Where to Plant Cast Iron Plant
Cast iron plants grow well indoors where they can tolerate low light conditions. Inside, they grow in nearly every type of location. Placing them in an east-facing or north-facing window works well, although the plant also enjoys a southern exposure.
When planting cast iron plants outside in regions where they are cold-hardy, you can use them as an attractive groundcover or in a shady border.
How and When to Plant Cast Iron Plant
These hardy plants work as outdoor perennials or indoor houseplants. They enjoy slightly acidic and well-draining soil indoors and out. If you’re using cast iron plants outside, space them at least 1 foot apart.
Indoors, choose a pot that is around 3 inches wider than the root system of the plant to allow it to grow and make a home in the container. The container must provide adequate drainage. Cast iron plants thrive in indirect sunlight, so place them in a location that doesn’t expose them to bright sunlight to prevent the leaves from burning and dying back.
Cast Iron Plant Care Tips
A cast iron plant thrives in low-light environments. If you’re keeping it as a houseplant, it needs only dim, indirect light to survive. If you’re planting it outside, grow it in a shady spot. Full sun will burn the leaves and cause the color to fade.
Soil and Water
These plants enjoy a rich, soil with added amendments such as bark or perlite. The soil should have good drainage and dry out well in between full soakings. A good rule of thumb is that the soil should be 50 percent dry before you rewater to avoid root rot and dehydration. If you are planting these outside, be aware of your area’s weather conditions. If the temperature is warm without precipitation for a few days, you should water more often.
Temperature and Humidity
Cast iron plants do not enjoy extreme temperatures. They grow best in temperatures from 50°F to 85°F; any lower or higher causes the plants to suffer, burn, and die back. For this reason, don’t put these in a west-facing window, where they will receive too much direct sunlight that causes the plant to dry out quickly. These plants are native to rainforests; they tolerate humidity and enjoy moist air quality.
This plant, like many houseplants, benefits from fertilization. You should fertilize your cast iron plant during the growing season from late spring to early summer. If your cast iron plant is a houseplant, apply a balanced liquid fertilizer according to the product instructions. If it grows outdoors, a granular fertilizer is usually a better choice. However, don’t over-fertilize, or the leaves will lose their variegation and be solid green.
No pruning is necessary, but removing damaged or diseased foliage improves the plant’s appearance. If you grow this plant outside, manage its size by cutting leaves at the base of the plant.
Potting and Repotting Cast Iron Plant
When cast iron plants are immature, they don’t need to be repotted more often than once a year. When the plant grows, and you’ve had it for a few years, you can repot the plant, but it doesn’t take well to root disturbance. After you repot the plant without disturbing the roots, place it back where it was situated.
Pests and Problems
These tropical plants sometimes suffer from spider mites and mealy bugs, which attach themselves to indoor and outdoor plants. If you see these on the plant’s leaves, wash the leaves with lukewarm water to drown the bugs. If this doesn’t do the trick, apply neem oil or insecticidal soap to the leaves.
How to Propagate Cast Iron Plant
Propagating cast iron plants is done by division and is simple to accomplish. If you want to grow more of these plants, dig up the plant and use a sharp trowel or shovel to cut it into several sections, each containing a portion of the underground stems, called rhizomes, and a few leaves. Replant these divisions immediately in a container with well-draining soil or in a prepared garden bed. When taking root, these baby plants need adequate watering. Don’t let the plant dry out until it is established.
Types of Cast Iron Plant
Aspidistra elatior ‘Lennon’s Song’ has glossy green leaves with white stripes down the middle. Its leaves are 24 inches tall, and it prefers shady spots in the garden. It is named after Robin Lennon of Central Florida Foliage, who found the plant in his fields. When grown outside, these plants may produce flowers in the winter months.
This type of cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’, has glossy 20-inch-long green leaves with attractive white tips. Its name means “morning sun,” and its coloring survives throughout the winter months, adding a hardy and beautiful element to the shade garden.
Aspidistra elatior ‘Hoshi-Zora’ is a Japanese cultivar with a name that translates to “starry skies.” The name is fitting because this plant has green leaves with white speckles. This cultivar is the hardiest of the spotted Aspidistra plants and has leaves that grow up to 30 inches tall.
Aspidistra yingjiangensis ‘Singapore Sling’ was discovered by plantsman Alan Galloway during his excursions to Thailand. It is a unique version of cast iron plant with thin 3-foot-long leaves. The leaves are green with many white speckles. It is the tallest of the spotted cast iron plant versions and is deer-resistant as well.
Aspidistra elatior ‘Akebono’ is a cast iron plant with evergreen 30-inch-long leaves with yellow streaking down the center. It flowers in late winter with small purple flowers that form at the base of the plant. It thrives in the humidity of southern states and works well as a houseplant in northern states.
Aspidistra elatior ‘Snow Cap’ is a cast iron plant from Japan. It has green leaves with striking bright white tips. These work well in a woodland shade garden where they brighten the surroundings with their bright white hue.
Cast Iron Plant Companion Plants
Plants that grow well in shade and don’t require a lot of water are excellent companion plants for cast iron plants in the garden.
Trillium, also called wood lily, is a graceful perennial for a shady spot. Plant it where you can enjoy its spring blossoms. It takes up to five years to bloom, but it is worth the wait. It grows only 6 inches tall but spreads 12 inches wide, so it needs room to expand. It often dies back to the ground in late summer.
Columbines have spectacular flowers with a dangling bell-like shape and spurs at the back; nothing else is quite them. They begin blooming near the end of bulb season. These easy-to-grow perennials prefer partial shade and soil that isn’t too damp. They grow to 12 inches tall.
Fuschia plants with their striking blooms are ideal for a burst of color in shady areas. The plant is hardy in Zones 8-10 and grows as an annual in most places. It grows up to 3 feet tall when planted in the garden. Fuschia needs well-draining soil. It doesn’t like to sit in water, but it likes to be moist.
Frequently Asked Questions
When does cast iron plant bloom?
Cast iron plants that grow outdoors bloom in spring. The blooms are inconspicuous and located close to the ground. When grown as houseplants, they rarely bloom.
How fast does a cast iron plant grow?
These plants are slow growers and don’t reach maturity for 3–5 years.
How long does a cast iron plant live?
Indoors or out, this hardy plant is long-lived. Cast iron plants have been known to last about 50 years with only minimal care.
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