The Philodendron is an easily cared for tropical plant, native to the humid tropical forests of South and Central America and the Caribbean islands. It is grown for the attractive leathery, usually glossy and sometimes velvety leaves. There are 2 main types. One is a climbing vine and the other is an upright spreading plant that will form a trunk as it ages. There are many varieties of each. The climbers can be a free hanging vine cascading down a mantle or bookcase, in a hanging basket, or trained to climb as high as 6’ (1.8m) on a piece of wood covered with moss or bark. Their leaves can be non-divided or pinnate (lobed/divided) and range in size from 2-32”. The less familiar species are slow growing, often have a larger cut leaf and are grown as a large floor, table, or pedestal display or as a specimen plant in an office in a beautiful jardinière. They are an excellent beginner houseplant.
Light and Temperature
They like bright indirect light or curtain filtered sunlight. They detest direct sunlight and you have to be extremely careful if you place it outside in the warmer summer months. Just off an eastern facing window that has the morning sun and is generally cooler would be a perfect indoor location for the philodendron. Night temperatures of 65-70°F (15-21°C) and day temperatures of 75-80°F (24-24°C) are ideal. Tolerates some air conditioning but warm soil is important as they don’t like cold feet.
Keep the soil constantly moist through the growing season, never soggy or the roots will rot, and cut back on the watering from late fall through early spring so the pot is dry about ½ way down. Use room temperature water as they do not like cold feet. Gently wipe the leaves with a damp cloth or shower periodically to keep them free of dust.
A mix of 1 part aged compost, 1 part loam or humus, 2 parts coarse sand or perlite would be a good mix for this plant. For a soilless mix use 1 part sphagnum peat, 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite. To each gallon bucketful add 1 T. dolomite limestone to raise the ph just a bit. This plant likes a slightly alkaline soil. The weight of sand will help keep the pot balanced if you’re training the plant to climb.
Feed only every 2-3 weeks with a diluted 5-10-5 fertilizer through the growing season, early spring through fall, and do not feed a new plant for 4 months.
The flowers have a spadix inside a fleshy, white or colored spathe like the Peace Lily or Arum lily. They will rarely flower in a home but older plants regularly flower in a greenhouse.
Pests and Problems
Lush green leaves fading to sickly yellow could be a sign of too much sunlight. Brown marks on the leaves may be sunburn. Straggly stems may be due to too little light.
Lower leaves that turn yellow and fall could be a sign of over-watering. Brown tips of the leaves could indicate that the soil is too dry.
Re-pot in spring or early summer when the roots fill the pot using the medium mentioned above. This is usually necessary every 2 years for the faster growing varieties but could be several years before you may need to re-pot a larger upright grower.
Propagate vining varieties by snipping off a leaf or a vine of several leaves and put the leaf node(s) into a moist rooting medium secured with a paperclip(s). Planting sections of vines with aerial roots will turn them into true roots. You may see plantlets growing from the soil beside the main plant. These plantlets can be divided with their aerial roots and planted separately in a soilless rooting medium. When new leaves have grown it is time to re-pot into the medium described above. Propagate upright (self-heading) varieties, the ones that form trunks, by air-layering. When you see substantial roots growing at your cut you can remove the section and plant it into the medium above.
The aerial roots of climbers can be tied to supports like poles of Osmunda fiber and the plant trained to climb. Use twine or part of a paper clip to gently secure the plant at the aerial root until the root grows itself into the support pole, at which time it will support itself. You can make your own support wrapping ¼” chicken wire with sphagnum peat moss. These climbing poles should be misted to be kept moist for the aerial roots. Climbers can also be left to swing free or tucked into the soil.
Treat aerial roots with care as they absorb moisture from the air and are necessary for growth.
The leaves will benefit from occasional, careful wiping with a damp cloth to remove dust.
Young plants adapt well to hydroculture systems which can be very useful for the larger philodendron varieties later. Plants planted into lava rock or other hydroculture medium will be more easily moved than the pots with loam, peat and sand which can be extremely heavy and unwieldy.
Philodendron scandens oxycardium – Originally from Jamaica, commonly grown and easiest to grow. Known as the heart leaved or sweetheart philodendron as leaves are a non-divided, heart shaped and are a glossy mid-green with a bronze tint when first emerging up to 12” (30cm) in length and 8” (12cm) in width. Leaves will be smaller when the plant is hanging down and larger when trained up a post.
Philodendron erubescens – Originally from Columbia, commonly called the ‘Burgundy’ Philodendron, this plant has 8-16” (20- 40cm) non-divided, shiny leaves. The long arrowhead-shaped leaves are a deep reddish green on top and a wine red underneath. The leafstalks are red. The more light provided the more red you’ll see. It still needs protection from direct sun. If you’re fortunate to have flowers they will have a deep red, leathery spathe with a creamy white spadix. This slow growing variety likes humidity and an even temperature.
Philodendron ilsemannii – non-divided leaves up to 16” (40cm) with white/green marbling.
Philodendron melanochrysum or andreanum – non-divided leaves 16-32” (40-80cm) in length and 12” (30cm) wide, velvety olive-green with white veins.
Philodendron panduriforme – strong houseplant that can tolerate the usually dry indoor conditions. Has violin shaped, non-divided leaves.
Florida Philodendron – 4-8” shiny leaves divided into 5 widely spaced lobes. A reddish fuzz covers the leaf stalks and the undersides of the leaves are reddish brown.
Philodendron elegans – From S. America with 2” (60cm) long stems and very deeply divided 16-24” (10-60cm) long and 12-20” (30-50cm) wide leaves. A very undemanding plant for those with plenty of space.
Philodendron bipennifolium – a climber with fiddle-shaped leaves. Commonly called horsehead philodendron.
Saddle-leaved philodendron – is 3-4’ tall and wide with 2-18” deeply lobed leaves. It will form a trunk with the leaves in a crown at the top.
Wendland’s philodendron – leathery 12-18” leaves forming a central point like a bird’s-nest fern. It will occasionally blossom indoors.
Philodendron bipinnatifidum – A native of Brazil, this one does not climb but is a sturdy plant that will lose leaves that leave a scar on the stem eventually forming a trunk. Provide a cane for support if necessary. It needs plenty of space as it can grow to 6’ (1.8m) across. The large leaves, about 3’ (90cm) long, rise from the soil in a rosette formation and are heart shaped when young but become deeply cut as they age. Sow seed in a propagator. Do not cover the seed.
Monstera diliciosa, a close relation, is sometimes (mistakenly) called Philodendron pertusum.