What is a Shrimp Plant?
A Shrimp Plant is a herbal remedy that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, especially in China. It is believed to be beneficial in treating several health conditions such as cancer, high blood sugar levels, skin diseases, and immune system disorders.
The shrimp plant contains chemicals called steroidal saponins, which are similar to the chemical structure of cholesterol. According to Chinese tradition, the Shrimp plant helps reduce excess cholesterol.
Common names for this herb are “San Qi,” “Chinese Foxglove,” or “Chang Pu.” Traditionally, it was also known as “Er-Quan,” which means “ten thousand pharmacies.” This name was probably given due to its widespread use throughout ancient China.
If you are interested in growing shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana), you should know some basic facts about shrimp plant care.
Shrimp Plant Requirements
For the best shrimp plant care, these are the requirements.
Light: The shrimp plant grows best in bright light with no direct sun exposure. If grown indoors, place this plant near a window so it will receive indirect sunlight. Indoor lights can supplement the available light if necessary. When placed outside, the plant must be sheltered from the direct afternoon sun.
Watering: Keep the potting soil moist at all times by placing the pot on top of a tray containing water and pebbles to increase humidity or use regularly scheduled mistings until established. Do not allow the soil to become bone dry before rewatering, but do not over-water, either.
Fertilizer: Feed shrimp plants regularly with liquid fertilizer or use water-soluble fertilizer according to the instructions on the label. When fertilizing, avoid getting liquid fertilizer on the foliage because it can cause leaf burn.
Temperature: The shrimp plant prefers warm nighttime temperatures of 55 degrees F and daytime temperatures of 70 degrees F. If grown indoors, keep this plant away from air conditioning or heating vents that may affect its temperature.
Soil: Use a well-draining potting soil mix when potting up new plants; repot every two years in fresh mix.
Flowering & Fragrance: The purple flowers are fragrant at night and will attract moths for pollination. The shrimp plant will grow in a container or be planted directly in the landscape.
Special Care: Insect pests are seldom seen on this plant, but it can get mealybugs and scale. Control these with insecticidal soap.
The shrimp plant is 100% hardy to USDA zone 10 and cannot survive frost; therefore, it must be brought indoors when nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. This plant can also be grown as a houseplant because of its tolerance for low light and infrequent watering.
If Submerged in a Tank:
Shrimp Plant Requirements
The shrimp plant can be grown submerged or partially submerged in a pond or tank. It will produce showy pink flowers when it reaches the surface for air during sunny weather. In cold climates, the plant goes dormant in winter and is covered by a layer of soil. Shrimp plants necessitate full sun and grow best in pH water between 6.5 and 7.8.
Shrimp Plant Water
Water your shrimp plant plentifully, but avoid allowing it to sit in water for long periods, or its roots will rot. If you can see the bottom of the pot when you look at it sideways, it’s time to water again.
When grown submerged, fertilize weekly using an all-purpose fish fertilizer according to package directions. If grown partially submerged, fertilize monthly with half as much product. Overfertilization can burn roots and leaves and cause excessive algae growth on surface waters alongside your shrimp plant.
Shrimp Plant Lighting Requirements
For best growth, your shrimp plant needs full sunlight. Fish tank lights are generally sufficient for submerged plants, but supplemental lighting is required if you keep part above water.
Fluorescent bulbs provide more light than incandescent bulbs because they need less heat to be effective. A fluorescent bulb placed 2 inches away will give the necessary 16 hours of light per day that shrimp plants require; place it 4 inches away for 8 hours of daily light. Consult a specialist who works with aquariums and ponds at your local pet store for additional information on lighting set-ups or using metal halide bulbs.
Shrimp Plant Nutrition Requirements
When grown submerged in an established fish tank, shrimp plants don’t need much additional nutrition from you. However, if grown partially submerged, it’s a good idea to fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20. With partial submersion, the plant comes up for air and absorbs nutrients from the water column during sunny weather.
You can also feed your shrimp plant by crushing a vitamin pill and sprinkling it on top of its tank.
Shrimp Plant Health Requirements
Shrimp plants are fairly resilient once established in an aquarium or pond, but they still require proper care. The tank must be clean and well filtered, or algae growth may become dense enough to smother them before they flower at the surface again.
To grow a healthy shrimp plant, start with the one that has flowers or berries on it, as this means the plant is mature enough to survive your water conditions.
How and When Do You Re-Pott Shrimp Plants?
Several factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding when to repott shrimp plants. The first thing people ask is, “How old are they?”.
If they are less than six months old, it’s probably best to wait until the last leaf starts falling off. This is because the substrate needs to be colonized by bacteria, and young shrimp plants do not have enough root mass yet.
If it has been more than six months, then you can probably get away with repotting them while they still have leaves on them, but it’s best to wait until all the leaves fall off before full-on repotting.
It’s also important to understand that don’t expect it to recover overnight after removing a plant from its pot. It takes time for the roots of your shrimp plant to grow into their new substrate and get strong again.
Even though I am just giving general advice here, if you wish to know how old my shrimp plants were when I did this, we had one that had been in the same pot for seven months and one that was in a smaller pot for 2+ years. The 7-month old plant was repotted while it still had leaves on it and didn’t show any signs of stress after two weeks, so I would say you can probably get away with this if your plant is young. The older plant only lost one leaf when we took it out of its pot, so we decided to wait six weeks before repotting. Even though our plants are usually aquatic plants, they need time to recover from this thing too!
When you decide to repott them, there are few things you should know about your substrate mix first.
Shrimp plants like to grow in soil with 50% peat and 50% perlite. If you have a calcium-rich substrate, it’s not a terrible idea to add some crushed eggshells, but this is not an absolute must. We use the 50/50 mix instead of straight peat because shrimp plants like a less acidic substrate (pH 6 – 7). These plants tend to do well in slightly alkaline substrates, whereas other plants prefer more acidic soils.
You can get these components from your local garden center for cheap, especially if you buy them during the Springtime when they are clearing out their outdoor plants.
- Use a spoon or large fork to remove your plant from its pot. Try to get underneath it and loosen the soil a bit before you do this because if there are compacted roots, it will be harder to get out of the pot. Remember, this isn’t something you can do in one or two tries. You’ll need to keep working at it until your plant comes loose from the substrate and then gently pull it out.
- Rinse the root ball in lukewarm water and use a kitchen sponge to clean away any algae that started growing on top of your substrate after your plant was gone for so long. This step is important because we want our plants’ new homes to have as much bacteria as possible when we put them back in!
- Now that you’ve removed your shrimp plant from its original pot, you need to line the inside of a new pot with a layer of the substrate. This is necessary because if your roots start growing on bare plastic or ceramic, they will rot and die faster than usual.
- Put a bit of substrate in the bottom of your container and set your plant on top. Push it down gently until it touches the sides and make sure it can stand up straight without falling over (you may need to add more substrate at this point).
- Now put another substrate layer around all sides, including the back, and don’t be afraid to mound some extra soil near the base for added stability. Once you’ve done that, put enough water in so that it sticks to all parts of the root ball. It may take a few hours for this water to soak in, so be patient! You can also pour some of the excess water back out if your container starts overflowing.
- Put your plant somewhere it can get light but not direct sunlight and wait for new leaves to pop up. This could take anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on how healthy your plant was when you first took it out of its original pot.
If you want to transplant any shrimp plants already growing in other containers, all you should do is remove them with care and give their roots a good rinsing before replanting them. Just make sure there isn’t anything keeping them rooted inside their old pots before placing them inside your substrate. They should be able to stand independently, so they shouldn’t need to be tied down with an anchor as some plants do.