The goldfish plant (Columnea) is a wonderfully interesting plant that produces red-orange flowers, which share a striking resemblance to leaping goldfish.
The waxy, dark green and thick leaves create a beautiful backdrop for the blooms of the goldfish plant.
You may have heard that the goldfish plant is finicky, and its cultivation comes with a set of challenges and difficulties.
While it’s true that the goldfish plant is hard to grow and attention to detail is crucial, with patience and a good eye for detail, you can learn to take care of this plant as well.
I’m going to cover the most important aspects of growing goldfish plants, highlighting some of the problem areas that you should pay extra attention to.
Goldfish Plant Care Tips
Your compliance with the following plant care tips will determine your success in caring for a goldfish plant.
Focusing on meeting the growing requirements as closely as possible will ensure that you don’t run into many of the problems associated with these plants.
The goldfish plant has vining stems that can reach 3 feet when the plant matures. The leaves are around 2-3 inches. Because of its vining nature, the plant looks great in a hanging basket.
Good light conditions will ensure that your goldfish plant develops lush green foliage.
This plant requires bright, indirect light. It will not tolerate direct sun exposure. Pick an eastern-facing window, the most suited for this plant.
Because goldfish plants are epiphytes, they need a host plant to grow. In their natural habitat this is usually a tree. Because under the canopy of trees, the goldfish plant does not get direct sun exposure.
Watering is one of the problem areas that you should be careful with when caring for a goldfish plant. The plant needs its soil to be moist. What this means is that the soil should never dry out but also that the plant should never sit in soggy soil.
The only way to strike a good balance is to make sure you get the right soil type for these plants to avoid too much water retention and to promote proper soil drainage. You also need to know how to assess the soil moisture level.
What I recommend is to stick a finger into the soil up until the second knuckle. If the soil is barely moist, it’s time to water your plant. Water your plant immediately if the soil feels dry.
Overwatering is a problem with these plants, so your aim is to water thoroughly only until you see water coming out of the drainage holes. Let the excess water drain into the saucer, after which you should empty the saucer.
Roots that sit in water constantly will begin to rot, which will lead to the entire plant dying off.
During winter, you’re going to need to cut back on watering compared to the growing season.
Temperature & Humidity
Goldfish houseplants enjoy a typical room temperature environment. Temperatures between 65 F and 75 F are ideal for this plant. In terms of humidity, levels should be mild to moderate.
If your home is particularly dry, you will need to consider a humidifier. If humidity levels are moderate, misting the plant regularly will improve humidity levels around the plant.
I mentioned the importance of fast-draining soil for this plant. Pick a potting medium that’s designed for epiphytic plants which contains a mix of perlite, peat moss and vermiculite.
To feed the goldfish plant, you can use slow-release fertilizers or a weak liquid fertilizer for feeding weekly during the growing season.
Don’t use a strong fertilizer because you risk burning the plant. You also risk mineral build-up in the soil, which can lead to toxicity issues.
Potting & Repotting
Goldfish plants don’t mind being slightly pot bound, which allows you to replant only every 2-3 years. When repotting, pick a pot one size up, and don’t oversize the pot.
You can prune some of the roots of the mother plant to encourage new root formation. Ideally, remove roots that are dried and keep healthy roots only.
Goldfish Plant Propagation
Goldfish plants can be propagated via stem cuttings. Make sure these are about 3-4 inches long and they don’t have any blooms. You should schedule propagation sometime in spring or late autumn.
The stem cuttings will root readily, but adding a little rooting hormone is going to speed things up and ensure a higher success rate.
Stem cuttings should be given bright light, warmth and humidity and new growth will emerge.
Different Types of Goldfish Plant
The goldfish plant comes in about 25 different varieties. These are the result of growers cultivating these plants for different traits.
As a result, many will have different flower colors with red, orange and red orange being the most common ones.
There are also interesting leaf patterns and shapes. Some goldfish plant varieties have velvety leaves. Other varieties have variegated leaves (the Fire Light, Mirage and Frosty Hills varieties) that confer the plant a dramatic look.
Goldfish Plant FAQs
Once you understand how goldfish plants are supposed to be cultivated, it’s going to be easier for you to make sure your plants stay healthy and develop normally.
Because goldfish plants are fussy, you’re bound to run into some issues with them. Check out the FAQ below for more tips on how to care for goldfish plants.
Why is Goldfish Plant is Dropping Leaves?
If your goldfish plant looks like it’s losing its leaves, multiple things may be at work. One possible explanation is that your goldfish plant is wilting away because of underwatering.
Check the soil, if it’s dried out, underwatering may be causing the leaves to fall off. You can try to get the plant back on a correct watering schedule to see if it helps.
If there are healthy stems still left, you can take a few cuttings and propagate your Goldfish plant, in case the old plant can no longer be salvaged.
Another reason for leaves dropping is that your plant has fallen prey to a pest infestation with mealybugs, aphids, or spider mites. Treating the leaves with an insecticidal soap or neem oil can help.
Why are Goldfish Plant Leaves Turning Yellow?
Leaves turning yellow may be a sign of underwatering, but it can just as well be a sign of overwatering.
If this symptom is associated with stems that are soft and turning black, the problem is caused by overwatering.
Overwatering favors the proliferation of a fungus that causes the roots and base of stems to rot. Once nutrient supply to other plants is killed off, leaves will start to yellow, then turn brown and eventually the plant will die.
In early stages of root rot, you may still be able to save the plant if you remove diseased roots and replant the goldfish plant into a fresh pot.
Why did Goldfish Plant Stop Blooming?
As with the other goldfish plant problems, lack of blooming can be caused by different environmental factors such as lack of humidity, temperatures outside the ideal range or simply that the plant requires a “dormancy” period.
You can try to induce blooming again by taking the plant in a room with slightly cooler temperatures (55-60F). Reduce watering and keep the plant in this environment for about 6 weeks.
After the 6-week resting period, move the plant to a warmer location, resume normal watering and you should see it blooming again.
Why are Goldfish Plant Leaves Turning Brown?
Browning leaves can also have multiple causes. Excess sun exposure or exposure to direct sunlight, underwatering, and fertilizer burn can all have the unwanted effect of leaves turning brown.
Getting your plant out of direct sunlight into a location where it can get indirect light will stop any further damage to the leaves.
Getting your plant on a good watering schedule making sure the soil stays moist but not soggy will help your Goldfish plant produce healthy green leaves.
Overfertilizing can be a one-off event but minerals from fertilizers can build up over time as well. Whichever fertilizing issue may be the cause, the solution is usually the same — flushing the soil.
To flush the soil, leave the pot under slowly running water for about 5 minutes. You can do this once a couple of months just to prevent toxicity issues caused by fertilizers.
As you can see, there are quite a few things to worry about when cultivating goldfish plants. This should not discourage you, however, from getting a plant like this yourself.
If you are willing to put in the work and time, the goldfish plant will reward you with cascading stems and powerful blooms.
Remember to set this plant up for success from the get-go by choosing a good potting medium, placing the plant in a location with good lighting conditions, ensuring enough humidity and soil moisture.
If you notice your plant is doing poorly, try to identify the underlying cause as soon as possible and make the necessary adjustments.