Yard and Garden: Growing Philodendrons

Philodendrons can be reliable and long-lived additions to the home

January 7, 2022, 8:59 am | Aaron J. Steil

AMES, Iowa -- Philodendrons are some of the easiest houseplants to grow. This diverse group of tropical plants often thrive on neglect. Grown for their attractive leaves, these plants come in a wide range of shapes, colors, patterns and sizes. Philodendrons can be reliable and long-lived additions to the home, even for the novice gardener. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists answer questions on these highly adaptable and beautiful indoor plants.

How do I care for a philodendron?

Philodendrons are native to the low-light understory of tropical forests, primarily in Central and South America. Because of this, they prefer indirect or dappled light. Some varieties, like heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) can tolerate very low light levels, but most prefer moderate to indirect light when grown indoors, especially those with brightly colored foliage.

Philodendrons.Philodendrons prefer to stay evenly moist, but not wet. Water plants when the top of the soil is dry and don’t let plants sit in soggy soils or saucers of water. Fertilize lightly (once or twice a month) while actively growing in the spring and summer months with a balanced all-purpose fertilizer. 

Typical home temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit are well-tolerated by plants. Philodendrons grow best in high-humidity, but tolerate the low-humidity of homes, especially in winter, quite well.

Grow in all-purpose potting soil in containers large enough to support the top portion of the plant without toppling. Philodendrons do well when slightly pot-bound as the soil will dry more quickly between waterings. Repot with fresh potting soil in a container one size larger when they become overcrowded or when the soil dries out too quickly to keep up with regular watering.   

What are popular types of philodendron?

This large tropical plant genus is divided into two major types: climbing and non-climbing. Those that climb or vine look great on a trellis, moss pole, or growing in a hanging basket. They include heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, also referred to as P. scandens), with popular varieties such as ‘Brasil,’ ‘Areum’ and micans; fiddleleaf philodendron (P. bipennifolium, also referred to as P. panduriforme); and red-leaf philodendron (P. erubescens), with compact growing varieties like ‘Black Cardinal,’ ‘Pink Princess’ and ‘Prince of Orange.’

Non-climbing types are sometimes referred to as self-heading. They can get quite large over time, sometimes getting twice as wide as they are tall, so give them plenty of room to grow. They include tree or split-leaf philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, also referred to as P. selloum and Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum) and many unique hybrids such as ‘Xanadu,’ ‘Birkin’ and ‘Moonlight.’

Dozens of other species are grown and can be found from specialty growers, making this group of plants very collectable. Other species include climbers like Elephant’s ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum), brandi philodendron (P. brandtianum), birdsnest philodendron (P. imbe), silver sword (P. hastatum) and velour philodendron (P. melanochrysum), among many others.

There are also several closely related species that perform well in the same environmental conditions and have similar growth habits to philodendron. They include pothos or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus), swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), swiss cheese vine (Monstera adansonii), shingle vine (Monstera dubia) and mini monstera (Rhaphidophora tetrasperma).

What do I do with the aerial roots of a philodendron?

Most philodendron species will produce aerial roots, which allows them to successfully grow on or up other trees in their native habitats. In the home, these roots can help trailing types climb a trellis or moss pole or help the plant support itself. If aerial roots form, you can do nothing and enjoy their unique appearance. They can also be adjusted to help the plant climb or placed in the soil to root-in and help support the plant. If you don’t like their appearance, they can be pruned off with sharp pruners near the main stem. Removing aerial roots will not harm the plant.

How do I propagate philodendron?

Trailing types of philodendrons propagate easily from stem cuttings. Stem sections 3 to 6 inches long with the lower leaves removed will readily root in water or rooting media, like perlite or well-drained potting soil. If rooting in water, change the water frequently until new roots that are several inches long form and then pot in regular potting soil. If rooting in perlite, a rooting hormone can accelerate the rooting process. 

Non-trailing types can be propagated from stem cuttings or offsets. If offsets form, they can be gently separated from the parent plant and potted up. Sections of stem with at least two nodes can also be removed and rooted in water or rooting media, such as perlite. Stem sections that contain aerial roots tend to root more reliably. The use of a rooting hormone will increase the rate at which new roots form.

Are philodendrons poisonous?

Yes. Philodendrons and closely related species contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are toxic to humans, dogs, cats and other animals. When any part of the plant is eaten, it may cause pain and swelling in the lips, mouth, tongue and throat, as well as excessive drooling, vomiting, difficult and painful swallowing, and loss of speech. Keep philodendrons away from children and pets who may accidently eat the plants.

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