This extremely popular houseplant is grown in homes and offices all over the world. Even if you don’t know what it’s called, you’re familiar with its glossy green, heart-shaped leaves.
Philodendrons are ideal for both beginners and seasoned indoor plant enthusiasts due to their capacity to clean the air, adapt to less-than-ideal growth conditions, and grow quickly.
There are approximately 500 distinct species, so you have a lot of choices when it comes to finding the appropriate one for your home. Some of the leaves are tiny and heart-shaped. Some species have split leaves that can grow to be three feet long. Some are trailing, while others are creeping. Some philodendrons can be grown on a tabletop, in a hanging basket, or as a floor specimen that commands attention.
These plants in the Araceae family come from Central and South America, where they grow in the dappled light under trees. The name is derived from the Greek words philo, which means “love and affection,” and dendron, which means “tree.” Philodendrons are “tree loving” since the vining kinds like to climb on trees.
These tropical plants cannot tolerate temperatures below 55°F (13°C) and are only hardy in USDA zones 9 – 11. However, they can spend the summer outside in milder climates.
Types of Philodendrons
Philodendrons are classified into two types: climbing (vining) and non-climbing (self-heading).
Vining plants are frequently cultivated in hanging baskets or up trellises or moss poles. Self-heading types can grow to be quite large and should be grown as floor plants.
We can’t possibly list all of the lovely types, but here are a few of our faves.
Heartleaf philodendron is the classic with sweet, heart-shaped, bright green leaves.
Brandtianum has dark green leaves with silver bands. Very pretty!
Pendatum is also known as oak-leaf. It has large, deeply lobed leaves that really do look like oak leaves.
Brasil has glossy, green, and lime green variegated, heart-shaped leaves.
Velvetleaf has soft, velvety leaves that have a bit of shimmer to them. The undersides are purple.
Gloriosum has large heart-shaped leaves – 4 inches across! – with very distinctive white or pinkish-colored veins. Give this one a lot of space.
Congo has very large, oval-shaped leaves that can be red, burgundy, green, dark green, or light green, depending on the variety. Again, give this one a lot of space.
Xanadu is one of the split-leaf philodendrons with glossy green foliage.
Selloum (Hope) is another split-leaf with large, ruffled leaves that can be 3 feet long at maturity. The plant can grow 3 to 5 feet tall. It probably won’t get that big indoors, but give it plenty of room to reach its potential.
Pink Princess (Philodendron erubescens) has green/red/pink variegated glossy oval leaves.
Verrucosum is striking, with large dark green leaves with lighter green variegation and white veins.
Lacy tree philodendron will develop a tree trunk as it matures. It has very large, lobed, undulating leaves that give the plant a lacy look.
Philodendron vs. Pothos vs. Monstera Deliciosa
These plants have similar characteristics and cultural needs, but they are different. Here’s how to tell them apart:
Pothos plants and vining philodendrons have heart-shaped leaves, but each pothos leaf grows out of the one before, creating the vine. Philodendron leaves grow along a vining stem.
Self-heading philodendrons with split leaves can be mistaken for Monstera. Monstera has leaves with holes. Sometimes the holes can go all the way to the leaf edge, but the splits in philodendrons don’t start as holes. They are always just split.
Care and Feeding
While it is easy to care for and very forgiving if grown in less than optimal conditions, philodendrons have requirements to grow their best.
Soil – Philodendrons need moist, well-drained soil. Use a light, soilless potting mix that contains peat moss. Don’t grow them in heavy soil, which does not drain well and will hold moisture for too long. That can cause root rot and fungal diseases.
Light – Philodendrons prefer bright indirect light, but many varieties are adaptable to low light conditions. Just keep them out of direct sunlight.
Water – Only water philodendrons when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil is dry, depending on the size of the container. Small plants in small containers may need more frequent waterings (but less water per) than plants in large containers. Feel the soil to be sure. A well-watered soil should feel like a damp sponge. Let your philodendron dry out between waterings.
Humidity – Even though they are native to tropical rainforests, they will grow just fine in average indoor humidity. You might want to mist the leaves a few times a week if your indoor winter air is very dry.
Fertilizer – Use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer formulated explicitly for houseplants once a month during spring, summer, and fall. Follow the directions on the label for mixing and application, and use at the recommended rate. Don’t fertilize during the winter months. Fertilize a day or two after watering. Fertilizing a plant when the soil is dry can cause root burn.
Pruning – When vining philodendrons get too long for your taste, or they start to look a little scraggly, you can prune them easily. Use scissors, clippers, or even your fingers (if the stem is thin enough to pinch off) and make a clean cut just below a leaf node. Occasional pruning can keep your plant compact and bushy, but it’s a matter of personal taste. Some philodendron owners love the long trailing stems and even let them travel all around the room.
Dusting – Philodendrons will benefit from having their leaves dusted occasionally. A gentle shower in the kitchen sink or an outdoor bath under a soft spray from the garden hose will also do the job of cleaning the leaves.
With all this love and care, a philodendron can easily outgrow its container. You’ll know it’s time to repot when you see roots coming out of the drainage holes.
- Choose a pot an inch or two bigger than the original pot, and use fresh potting media. This is a good time to inspect the plant for insects and trim away any scraggly growth and dead leaves.
- Gently remove the plant from the pot. Trim away any broken, brown, or mushy roots. Healthy roots are firm and whitish-yellow.
- Place a few inches of new potting soil into the bottom of the new pot. Add enough soil so that the crown of the plant will be level with the top surface of the soil. (The crown is the spot where the roots meet the stems.)
- Place the plant in the pot and fill the sides of the pot with soil, firming it gently around the plant. Leave ½” to 1 of space between the surface of the soil and the top edge of the pot. This prevents overflow when you water.
- Water the plant to remove any air pockets and moisten the soil all the way through.
Vining philodendrons can easily be propagated by simply taking a cutting. All you need is a glass of water!
- Use scissors, pruners, a sharp knife, or even your fingers to snip a 6-inch piece of the stem just below a leaf node. (That’s the spot where the leaf and stem meet.) Be sure the vine is healthy – free of diseases and insects.
- Remove any leaves that will be below the water line.
- Put the cutting in the glass of water. Be sure that all of the leaves are out of the water; otherwise, they will rot.
- Keep the glass topped off and the water clean. Replace the water every few days.
- In a week or two, roots will start to form. When they are 1 to 2 inches long, you can pot up your new plant.
- More than one cutting can be put in a pot to give you a fuller-looking plant.
- Philodendrons can grow in water indefinitely. Just keep the water clean and the leaves out of the water.
Self-heading philodendrons can be propagated by division or by stem cuttings.
To propagate by division, remove the plant from the pot and gently tease the roots apart to make two plants. Some tough roots may have to be cut. Repot each division in its own pot.
To propagate by stem cuttings, first look for a stem that has a node – one with aerial roots will fare better than one without. Cut the stem and place it in water, making sure the node and the aerial roots are submerged. Keep the water clean, as described above.
Insects and Diseases
Spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids can sometimes reside on your houseplants.
Check for hiding insects on the underside of the leaves and crotches where leaves and stems meet. An application or two of insecticidal soap may be enough to combat them.
Philodendrons are usually disease-free. Root rot can develop from waterlogged soil, so don’t overwater these plants. Only water when the top inch of the soil is dry and allow the water to drain freely. Remember to empty the water from the pot saucer.
Sometimes a plant will develop yellow leaves. An occasional yellow leaf is usually just an old one the plant is getting ready to shed. But lots of yellowing leaves indicate the soil is too wet. If there’s a grayish color to the leaves, or the leaves are brown and crispy, that’s an indication of underwatering.
Caution! Philodendrons are Poisonous!
All philodendron plant parts are toxic! Keep children and pets away. These plants contain a substance called calcium oxalate that causes burning and swelling of the lips and tongue; blisters in the mouth and throat; redness, burning, and swelling of the eyes; and nausea and vomiting if eaten. For some people, simply touching the plants can cause rashes that itch and burn. Wear gloves when working with these plants.
If a person eats philodendron, call the poison hotline immediately. In the United States that number is 1-800-222-1222. If your pet eats it, call your vet.