The gotu kola plant (Centella asiatica), also known as Asiatic or Indian pennywort, mandukaparni, marsh penny, spadeleaf and many other names, is a low-growing perennial herb that thrives in moist soils. Whatever name you call gotu kola, it thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. While grown as a decorative ground cover and/or a culinary herb in moist to wet soils, it has become invasive in China's Dongting Lake wetlands as well as Hawaii and other Pacific islands.
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About the Gotu Kola Plant
Native to the marshes of Africa, Australia, Asia and India, the gotu kola plant has been widely distributed for both its use in the kitchen and in traditional African, Indian, Sri Lankan and Chinese medicine. A member of the carrot or parsley family, the green leaves are used in beverages, curries and salads. Use caution when growing and handling gotu kola, as sensitive individuals may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions to the leaves.
The evergreen plants grow 4 to 8 inches tall and up to 3 feet wide on creeping stems in moist and wet soils. The fan-shaped leaves tend to hide the white, pink or medium-purplish flowers that bloom year-round in the warmest climates. Though some sources claim that the plants are hardy to zone 7, they are sensitive to frosts and cannot tolerate hard freezes. Plant in flowerpots to take indoors to a warm sunroom or greenhouse when cold weather threatens.
Planting Gotu Kola Seeds
Plant the seeds in spring or fall. Space the seeds 9 to 12 inches apart in the garden or prepare biodegradable paper or peat pots for starting indoors. Gently press the seeds into the moist soil or a mix of equal parts peat moss and coarse sand or perlite. Keep them moist at all times.
When starting seeds indoors or in the greenhouse, place pots on a tray on a seed heat mat to keep the potting mix evenly warm. The seeds germinate in 30 to 90 days. Wait until the weather warms before transplanting them into the garden or flowerpots on the patio.
Propagating by Division
Gotu kola plants develop roots at each of the stem nodes that touch the moist soil. Divide plants in spring by separating the rooted runners from the main plant. Put on gloves and sterilize scissors by dipping the blades in Lysol or rubbing alcohol. Carefully dig and lift the new plants and replant them in pots or the garden.
Transplanting Gotu Kola Plants
Select a full-sun, partial-shade or light-shade location in the garden. While gotu kola plants are tolerant of all soil types and boggy conditions, they grow well in moist, well-drained locations. Dig in 2 to 4 inches of compost to add organic matter and lighten the soil. Alternatively, prepare 18- to 24-inch-wide containers by filling them with a potting soil formulated for tropical plants or a mix of equal parts compost, peat moss or coconut coir and coarse sand or perlite.
Plant them at the same level as the plants were originally in the soil or pots. Remove the upper third of biodegradable pots. If any part of the pot is above the soil level, it will wick moisture away from the plants' roots. Water thoroughly to settle the soil around the plants' roots.
Caring for the Plants
The primary requirement in growing gotu kola is to keep the soil moist at all times. Side-dress with compost or apply a balanced liquid fertilizer, fish emulsion or compost tea every 30 to 60 days when the plants are actively growing. Always water after fertilizing.
Monitor the plants for aphids and mealybugs. A neem oil spray or insecticidal soap may be applied to severe infestations of the pests.
When planting as a ground cover, rain garden or bog plant, avoid planting gotu kola near waterways and wetlands. Though frost-tender, the plants can become invasive and can crowd out native plants in warm and tropical climates.