Filling your House with Philodendrons: The Basics of Philodendron Care
Posted on April 20 2021
The word “Philodendron” comes from the Greek word for love (“philo”) and tree (“dendron”), which describes our relationship with them perfectly! How can you not be captivated by the diverse shapes, sizes, and types of these plants? But they naturally come with questions: What makes a Philodendron? Where do they come from? And how can you care for your Philodendron?
What Are Philodendrons?
They are a large family of about 450 species of plants from the tropical Americas. Philodendrons come in a large variety of shapes and sizes, but can be categorized in two basic groups:
- Trailing (aka Vining): examples including the Heartleaf, Brazil, and Mican Philodendrons.
- Non-Trailing (aka Self-Heading, Tree Philodendrons): examples including the Birkin, Moonlight, and Prince of Orange Philodendrons.
How can you tell the difference? Non-Trailing Philodendrons are capable of holding themselves in an upright, tree-like position for several years and have huge, uniquely shaped leaves. Trailing varieties naturally cascade down, unless provided with a structure.
Where do Philodendrons Grow Naturally?
Most varieties are epiphytes (ep-eh-fights) or hemiepiphytes (hemi-ep-eh-fights). Ultimately, this means that Philodendrons naturally grow on things rather than in them.
Curious about the difference between epiphytes and hemiepiphytes? Epiphytic (ep-eh-fih-tick) plants are airborne for their entire lifecycle: a seed germinates on a tree, sprouts, and grows. Hemiepiphytes can have one of two agendas: race up a tree after germinating in the soil or germinate in a tree and send roots to the soil to fuel its upward climb.
Why does it matter? Philodendron’s treetop origins mean that they absorb moisture, humidity, and nutrients out of the air. How does this impact your Philodendron’s care? They should never sit in soggy soil. This fact will impact your soil selection and watering routine! (More on those to come.)
There are a rare few Philodendrons that are truly terrestrial: meaning, they are content in the soil for their entire life cycle. One example includes the Philodendron mamei. To provide you with the basics of Philodendron care, we will focus on the needs of epiphytic and hemiepiphytic varieties.
Common Questions About How to Care for Philodendrons:
What Type of Soil Does a Philodendron Need?
These airborne beauties require well-draining soil to thrive: Mix 1 part indoor potting mix with 1 part cocoa choir (aka fiber). Why is the soil so important? While all plants require oxygen in their soil to survive, this is especially the case with epiphytes. Dry soil means less oxygen, making evenly moist soil like a deep breath of fresh air.
How Often Should You Water Your Philodendron?
Remember, “evenly moist” does not mean soggy. To care for your Philodendron properly, insert your finger into the soil to evaluate its dampness before you water. What should your soil feel like? Think wrung-out sponge. It should not feel wet or dry.
Water your Philodendron 1-2 times weekly, depending on the conditions in your home. Tabletop-sized plants should be watered when the first ½ inch of soil is crumbly. Allow the first 1-2 inches of floor-sized Philodendrons to dry out, depending on the variety and pot size. When in doubt, wait a day or two. Overwatering is the #1 cause of all plant deaths, so it’s better safe than sorry.
How Should You Water?
Use whatever watering method you prefer: for instance, overhead watering and bottom watering are both suitable. When watering, it is essential that you fully saturate the soil. If you are using an overhead method, water should flow through the drainage whole for 2-3 minutes.
Do Philodendrons Like Humidity?
Absolutely yes! To achieve a truly luscious plant, maintain 50-60% humidity and keep away from any AC vents. While you can certainly care for your Philodendron’s humidity needs by misting it or utilize a pebble tray, a humidifier is the surest way to maintain the moisture levels in your plant’s environment. A lack of humidity will result in slow growth and browning leaves.
What Kind of Light Do Philodendrons Need?
These are naturally under-canopy plants, which means that they enjoy filtered light, not direct sun. The amount of light that is required to fuel your plant depends on your plant’s species. For instance, the Heart-Leaf Philodendron can tolerate low-medium indirect light, while the Philodendron Birkin requires bright indirect light to maintain its variegation.
If you notice the below changes, adjust how you care for your Philodendron:
- Symptoms of low light: Slow, deformed, or abnormally small growth. Move your plant closer to a window with filtered light.
- Symptoms of bright light: Color fading, bleaching, or sunburn. Move your plant away from the window or hang a sheer curtain.
Do Philodendrons Like Sun?
Under-canopy plants, such as Philodendrons, can withstand dappled sunlight. What does this mean? You should not place your plant in full, direct sun--especially in the afternoon hours. You could locate your plant in an East facing window that receives morning light. Do you have questions about window placement? Check out our easy chart!
Are Philodendrons Toxic to Cats?
The short answer: yes. All varieties of Philodendron contain calcium oxalate within their foliage, making them “toxic.” Eating the leaves or stems, or getting the plant’s “juices” on the skin will result in irritation. If you’re new to the world of houseplant toxicity, check out our complete guide.
Looking for a quick run-down? If most “toxic” houseplants (like the Philodendron) are ingested, it does not mean certain death. Rather, it means a slew of uncomfortable symptoms that vary in severity according to the individual and the amount that was eaten. If your pet has earned a good reputation for not munching on your other plants, you may choose to introduce non-pet-friendly plants into your home. It has been successfully done--but that’s up to you!
When Should You Fertilize Your Philodendron?
Fertilize your Philodendron friend once a month during its growing season with a balanced (20-20-20) fertilizer, diluted to half-strength. Do not fertilize during dormancy (winter).
How Big Do Philodendrons Get?
The mature size of your Philodendron is determined greatly by the species you selected and how well you care for it. Vining varieties, such as the Mican, are easily manageable and can be pruned to maintain your desired size.
“Tree Philodendrons” are the ones that can grow to massive proportions when given the proper conditions. For the indoors, many of these varieties grow around 4-5 feet tall.
Do Philodendrons Climb?
Yes, the majority do. Do they climb indoors? Well, there’s more to that story: a little extra tender love and care is required to encourage your Philodendron’s ascent.
How to Get Philodendrons to Climb:
You have to give the aerial roots something moist to latch onto: a dry totem or wire lattice will not entice your Philodendron to climb. How can you do it?
- Invest in a stackable totem system, like this one. They hold an extra advantage because you can easily increase the height. You can also create your own totem pole with sphagnum moss and copper mesh.
- For vining Philodendrons, circle the pre-existing, hanging tendrils around the totem, securing them with plant ties at the nodes. For tree-type Philodendrons, place the totem near the base of the cane-like stem, securing the nodes of the “chunkier” petioles to the totem (you should notice little aerial roots sticking out of the nodes).
- Moisten your totem one to two times daily, without watering the soil. How? A mister bottle quickly does the trick. Placing your plant in a humid environment will ensure that the totem will remain moist for longer periods.
Over time, your Philodendron will attach its aerial roots to the surface of the totem, making the plant ties unnecessary. The totem becomes a permanent fixture of your plant; when you repot, the totem goes with it!
What happens if you fail to moisten the totem? The roots will not attach, and you will need to continue adding plant ties to support your plant’s new growth.
How Climbing Affects the Size of Your Philodendron
In nature, your Philodendron would be climbing up rainforest trees. So, needless to say, climbing is its “happy place.” Philodendrons that are actively climbing a moist totem pole will produce larger leaves. In fact, the Mican has 7-8 times larger leaves in the wild due to their treetop ascent.
Can Philodendrons Live Outside?
Depending on where you live, yes! The outdoors during the Spring-Summer season is an ideal place for your Philodendron to thrive. What are some things to keep in mind? They enjoy 70-80 degrees during the day, and never below 50 degrees at night. A good rule of thumb? If you need long pants and a sweater, bring your plants inside.
Why Are Philodendrons So Expensive?
Two words: time and demand. Plant sales have increased 50% since 2018, and let’s be honest… Who doesn’t want a Pink Princess Philodendron?
Pretty pink Philodendrons (both the Princess and the Congo) are delightful freaks of nature; cultivars developed by science. Propagating and selling these beauties takes valuable time, and there’s plenty of people in line before they’re put on the market. In short: there’s more demand than there is supply.
The same principle applies to other naturally grown, rare and exotic species of Philodendrons. To diminish the plant poaching epidemic, reliable greenhouses (like ours) propagate new plants from cuttings and tissue cultures. Both processes take time to produce developed plants that you would actually want to buy.
There’s no doubt: whether you go for the rare or the “common,” these plants will add a piece of the jungle to your home. If you’ve mastered caring for one Philodendron, you’ve mastered many; giving your jungle-house-vibe the variety that you crave!