Growing Chenille Plants: How To Grow A Red Hot Cattail Plant

Growing Chenille Plants: How To Grow A Red Hot Cattail Plant

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

If you’re looking for an unusual plant for your garden, a novelty plant or a new idea for a hanging basket to bring inside for the winter, try growing chenille plants. Chenille plant info indicates that several versions of the plant, botanically of the Acalypha genus, are available.

Finely cut foliage and long, fuzzy flowers may spread along the ground or cascade over the sides of a hanging basket. Some types of growing chenille plants take on a shrub form. Commonly known as red hot cattails or fox tail (Acalypha hispida), you are likely to find a variety suitable for your summer garden and beyond.

Caring for chenille red hot cattails is simple in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 and 10, where plants grow abundantly all year long. In colder areas, growing chenille plants outside perform as annuals and die out with frost.

How to Grow a Red Hot Cattail

Chenille plant info advises a full sun location for this interesting plant, except in warmer zones where protection from the hottest afternoon sun is advisable.

You may also want to wear gloves when caring for chenille red hot cattails, as the sap may cause irritation. Though only mildly toxic, all parts of growing chenille plants are poisonous. Keep this in mind when locating the plant in your landscape and place it in an area where children and pets are not likely to be enticed by the fuzzy, red tails.

Properly caring for chenille red hot cattails begins with planting in a well draining soil. Learning how to grow a red hot cattail also involves regular watering, as the plant may be lost if allowed to dry out. Soil that is consistently moist produces optimum growth and development of the 18-inch long red tails.

Weekly fertilization, using a houseplant food mixed at half strength is an important part of caring for chenille red hot cattails. Stop fertilization during winter months when growth slows.

Additional Chenille Plant Info

Regular trimming of both foliage and flowers is part of caring for chenille red hot cattails as well. Remove spent blooms and leggy foliage for a continued display from your growing chenille plants.

When used as a ground cover in suitable climates, keeping the specimen within its bounds may be the major effort in its care. The thickly spreading foliage may be trimmed back to curtail its spread to unwanted parts of the garden. If bringing a potted specimen indoors to overwinter, clip the entire plant back by one third.

Growing chenille plants need those few months of dormancy. Move the plant outside when temperatures warm, gradually increasing the amount of sunlight it receives.

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How to Care for Chenille Hanging Plant

Related Articles

Known for its bright red, fuzzy, caterpillar-like flowers, chenille (Acalypha poiretii) is an evergreen plant commonly grown as a seasonal annual or houseplant. It survives year-round indoors and can be found in gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 though 11.

The long, trailing flowers of chenille (also known as a red-hot cat tail, bristly copperleaf or fox tail plant) make it an attractive addition to front porches and patios in hanging baskets, window boxes or planting containers. Caring for a chenille hanging plant is fairly simple, as it needs very little to thrive.


Chenille Plant

Acalypha hispida

A real conversation piece, the gorgeous chenille plant blooms on and off all year with rich red clusters of soft, pendulous flowers.

Chenille is a thick soft yarn used to make tufted trim cords or woven into fabric.

It's also the French word for caterpillar.

Both these meanings perfectly describe this plant's blossoms.

The incredible flowers (called "catkins") can reach as much as 18 inches in length, so velvety soft that you'll want to pet them.

Unique and frankly adorable, the chenille is a valuable landscape asset for partial shade, the environment in which it seems to do best, where it will bring bright red color to a shadier area.

These make great accents or even hedge plants for a tropical style or cottage garden landscape design.

There is a groundcover variety of chenille - with smaller tufts of red flowers - known as "Kitten Tails."

Plant specs

These red flowering shrubs are fast growers you can keep 3 to 4 feet tall. They blossom all year, more in warmer months.

They're tropical in nature and do well in Zone 10.

You can keep a chenille plant in a container in Zone 9B and bring it inside during winter's cold snaps.

Place this shrub out of range of strong winds. It's evergreen but can thin out in a cold winter.

Chenilles prefer a part sun to part shade location. ideally with early morning sunshine and shade or filtered light in the afternoon.

Plant care

Add top soil or organic peat moss to the hole when you plant. You can also add in composted cow manure to enrich the soil.

If needed, trim the plant back a bit after each bloom cycle. You can do a hard pruning in spring (late March or early April).

This plant needs regular irrigation to keep it healthy and beautiful.

Fertilize 3 times a year - in spring, summer, and autumn - with a good quality granular fertilizer. You can supplement feedings with bloom boosters such as bonemeal and/or liquid fertilizer to promote heavier flowering.

Plant spacing

Plant 3 feet apart. Come out from the house 2-1/2 or 3 feet.

For placing along a walkway, come in 3 or 4 feet.

These are excellent plants for large containers.

Landscape uses for chenille plant

  • large (3 feet or more) foundation shrub
  • accent plant
  • anchor for a garden bed
  • backdrop for smaller plants
  • hedge (in a protected area)
  • cascading over a wall or planter
  • lining a walkway
  • along the edge of a deck, patio or porch
  • under tall trees that let some light through
  • container plant for poolcage, porch, deck or patio

A.K.A. (also known as): Red Hot Cattails

GOOD SNOWBIRD PLANT? YES (with regular, year round irrigation)


Chenille Plant Info - Caring For Chenille Red Hot Cattails - garden

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The Chenille Plant - Everbloomer

By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin

The Chenille Plant has been well-loved at Logee’s for many years. Whenever, you visit Logee’s you will almost always see the everblooming Chenille plants lining the benches, showing off their dazzling, fuzzy bloom.

Today, when I walked through the greenhouses the long drooping catkins (flowers) of the chenille plant seemed brighter and more cheery than usual. June sunshine is much brighter and intense than even the March sunshine just several months ago. So of course, this would make sense because the chenille plant loves bright sunny light, which brings out the richness of color in its blooms.

Another, observation I had was Chenille plant’s versatility. All in the same space I noticed the two different varieties that we grow and their subtle differences in shape and culture.

Acalypha hispida “Chenille Plant” also known as “Red Hot Cattails” makes an eye-catching standard, where the central stem is trimmed clean of all leaves and flowers and left with a full crown on top.

Acalypha hispida can also be grown in a hanging basket or trained to have a central stem with flowers and leaves cascading off the stem for the entire height.

Another notable difference is the length of the catkins. The length of the fuzzy catkins is longer than our other variety and resembles a show girls’ boa, hence its other common name “Red Hot Cattails.”

The other variety we grow called Acalypha pendula “Strawberry Firetails” has plumper and shorter fuzzy red catkins. And, like its name implies, the flowers pedulate and are shown off when grown as a hanging basket.

Care for both varieties are simple. Full sun, lots of water and fertilizer, especially in the active growing season. They can be grown outside year-round in Zone 10 or higher or simply bring outside seasonally if in the north.


Red hot cat's tail

Scientific Name : Acalypha Hispida
Family : Euphobiaceae
Colour : Red
Common names : Red Hot Cat's Tail, Chenille Plant
Flowering Period : Throughout the year

Probably from Australia or Malaysia, Acalypha Hispida is very attractive with its bright green leaves toothed on the margin and long, hairy tail like crimson drooping red flower clusters. This perennial shrub may reach a height of 2 to 3 meters. The flowers can reach up to 10-50cm long and are usually red, but there is a white form called 'Alba'.

Acalypha Hispida requires bright light, well drained soil and warm conditions. It grows rapidly with good water and fertilizer. This plant can be propagated from cuttings and needs great care. The cuttings can be planted in a sandy potting mix with adequate bottom heat. It can be grow in a standard potting mix or on the ground. Fertilizer can be added for best results.

Careful pinching and pruning is necessary to keep Acalypha Hispida from becoming too tall and untidy. Dead flowers should be removed. Watering should be minimal in winter to avoid sogginess. Red spider mites, scales and mealy bugs can be a problem, when the plant is kept inside.


The Chenille Plant Revitalization Action Plan

I walked into the houseplant section of one of the big box stores recently and spotted it: a huge, lone chenille plant in full flower hanging from the ceiling. Quickly procuring it from the hook and placing it in my shopping cart, I instantly became the envy of every gardener in the store.

So was it the perky, dark green foliage that garnered so many oo's and ah's from passersby? Of course not. The big attraction of a chenille plant ( Acalypha hispida) - also known as ‘foxtail' or ‘red-hot cattail' - is the hundreds of fluffy, dangling, striking pink tail-like flowers it produces. (There is a white-tailed version too: Acalypha hispida ‘ Alba' )

Well, my big box store purchase was about two months ago, and my chenille plant ( Acalypha hispida) would not be on the wishlist of anyone now, except maybe a Master Composter.

I've already trimmed it back and repotted it, as it was wilting every other day - a sure sign of a plant outgrowing its environment. All of the lovely, fluffy pink "cattails" dropped off, as did a good majority of the leaves.

Notoriously bad with houseplants, I decided it was time to do a little research on how to bring my ratty-looking plant back to life.

As it turns out, chenille plants are actually used as outdoor shrubs in their native East Indies and Pacific Islands, where the sun is bright and the humidity is regularly high. Some frost-free, tropical areas of the United States enjoy them year-round as well. For the rest of us, it makes a spectacular hanging plant. (Well, make that most of the rest of us.)

Knowing these facts, I have two clues as to why my plant is struggling: it is hanging in my sunroom which, while bright, probably isn't quite bright enough. And the humidity is nowhere near Pacific Islands-like.

So, now that the temperatures in North Texas have returned to a livable 80°-90° rather than triple digits, I think moving the plant outside for a few weeks is a good idea. Direct sunlight on a chenille plant is a big no-no, however bright shade is best.

Regular waterings and mistings are apparently good ideas as well. Not only have the temps dropped here in Dallas, but we've had a ton of rain in the last week (thanks, Tropical Storm Hermine!) so it's fairly Fiji-like when you walk outside. Another good argument for moving Miss Chenille onto the patio.

Speaking of watering, I often use collected water from my rain barrel on houseplants. This could be another "oops" that contributed to the declining health of my plant. Many houseplants don't like the acidity of rain water. From now on, I'll either use warm tap water or will add a tiny amount of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to the rainwater before use.

How about fertilizer? In my case, I seem to remember applying some blue liquid stuff made for orchids to my chenille plant awhile back, hoping it would help the flowers return. No luck there. But after reading more, I found that chenille plants benefit from a once a week application of water-soluble fertilizer, diluted by half. Duly noted. (As an organic gardener, I'll probably use either liquid seaweed or compost tea.)

By now you're probably amazed that my chenille plant is alive at all. Well, I can say one thing: at least it doesn't have any pests on it. Acalypha hispidia is apparently very susceptible to spider mites, scale, mealy bugs and aphids, especially when kept in a dry indoor environment. Regular water mistings help keep mites and other sucking pests at bay, as will periodic sprayings of diluted Neem oil.

So now that we're approaching fall, and assuming my chenille plant doesn't bite the dust in the next few weeks, how should I care for it during the cooler months?

As for temperatures, my plant will probably do fine outside until the evenings start to get chilly, as in below 60°. Fertilizer applications can be reduced to almost nothing during the winter, but watering and misting should continue once the plant is brought inside, especially if the furnace is running and drying out the air in the house even more.

Alternatively, if things start to really go downhill in the next few weeks, I'll take cuttings from my existing plant and try to start new ones. Acalypha is apparently fairly easy to propagate. Take a 4"-5" snip from the stem, dip the cut end into hormone rooting powder and plant carefully in a mixture of moist peat and perlite. Cover the pot and plant with a plastic bag or tight plastic dome to prevent moisture from releasing. Put it in indirect sunlight or under a fluorescent light until new growth becomes obvious. Once the plant has further developed and grown, repot it carefully in rich, well-draining potting soil.

Something else to be aware of: like its cousin the poinsettia (and other members of the euphorbia family), chenille plants are mildly toxic if ingested, for people as well as animals. Also, the milky sap inside the stems can be irritating to the skin for those who are sensitive. The commonly-offered smaller versions, such as Acalypha reptans and Acalypha pendula, pictured at right, don't present as much of a problem since their stems are much thinner.

So, to recap, here are the steps for my Chenille Plant Revitalization Action Plan

More water (misting and watering every other day)

More fertilizer (diluted by half, once a week less-to-none in winter)

Pick up spent flowers/tails and leaves as they drop

Trim regularly, but wear gloves when doing so

Images courtesy of PlantFiles


Chenille Plant

Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida) is like cattail with a fuzzy flower spike that resembles an animal's tail. In fact, chenille plant is known in some areas as "red-hot cat's tail." This common name refers to the flower's bright coloration, which varies from bright red to deep maroon although some varieties have white flowers. Chenille plant grows native in tropical regions, including Melanesia and Malaysia. Unlike cattail, the flower spikes of chenille plant hang rather than stand erect, and the plant itself is bushy.


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