The Philodendrons are a group of houseplants that most people are familiar with- whether they realize it or not. These popular perennials are some of the most commonly grown indoor plants and they come in many shapes and sizes. These plants are grown for their exotic and often colorful foliage and interesting growth forms.
Read this article to learn more about these wonderful evergreens and how to care for them in your home.
Philodendrons are aroid plants from the Araceae family and genus Philodendron. This family contains many of the best-known houseplants, including Anthurium, Pothos, Monstera, and many more. They seem to love the same conditions that we are comfortable in, which is the key to their success indoors. This healthy relationship goes both ways, however, because these attractive plants are known as one of the best air cleaning plants.
There are hundreds of species of Philodendron distributed throughout the more tropical areas of South and Central America. They typically grow in dappled light, partial shade and shady areas in forest habitats. They have various growth strategies, including fully epiphytic, hemi-epiphytic, and self-heading species.
Philodendrons rarely flower indoors, but their amazing foliage more than makes up for this. Their inflorescence (when produced), takes the familiar spathe and spadix form that is typical of their family. It is important to note that these plants contain calcium oxalate crystals which are toxic to animals and people if consumed in large quantities.
|Evergreen houseplants, epiphytes, hemi-epiphytes
|Height and Width
|1-12 ft. tall (indoors), 1–6 ft. wide (indoors)
|South & Central America
|Variable, rarely flowers indoors
|Dark green, red, purple, pink, white, variegated
|Bright to medium indirect light, limited direct morning sun
|Soil Type & pH
|Chunky, fast-draining soil, slightly acidic
|Low maintenance, beginners plant, air purifier
How to Grow Philodendron Plants
Philodendrons can be grouped as self-heading, epiphytic, or hemi-epiphytic plants, depending on their species. Their natural growth form is an important consideration when planning where, and how to grow these leafy perennials, so knowing the species and variety/cultivar of any specimen is vital when planting philodendron.
The epiphytic philodendron species grow in the canopy of other trees and produce aerial roots which may grow upwards, trapping leaf litter to absorb nutrients. Hemi-epiphytes begin their lives as epiphytes, but grow roots that descend to penetrate the soil in time. Both of these groups can be grown in containers, but they will need to be supported with a trellis or allowed to hang down or creep horizontally.
Self-heading species grow upwards from the soil surface and are able to support their own weight. These plants can be grown upright in pots or even in beds outdoors. Philodendron houseplants are frost tender, so they are not suitable for outdoor growth in cold climates. They can, however, be overwintered indoors if you prefer to grow your plants outdoors in the warmer seasons.
Philodendrons are very easy to propagate and this can be achieved in a number of ways, including stem cuttings, division, and seed. Stem cuttings are the most popular and easiest way to create new plants.
Many philodendron species develop aerial roots, and a cutting that includes a short section of stem, a leaf, and a node with aerial roots can be easily turned into a new plant. You can strike your cuttings in either water, fresh soil, or other porous and well-aerated mediums. The use of root hormone powder can improve results but is not essential.
In many cases, the parent plant will develop plantlets, complete with their own roots. These can be separated and potted up. Philodendron seed can be difficult to obtain since these plants rarely flower and fruit indoors. Seed is obtainable from specialty nurseries and online sources, however.
The ideal growing medium for philodendron houseplants drains fast and has a coarse texture that allows air movement. The epiphytic species, in particular, are adapted to grow in an environment where rain falls often, but the roots dry out just as frequently.
The aerial roots of these plants are able to absorb moisture very efficiently, so it’s easy to see why growing a philodendron plant in a constantly waterlogged medium will spell trouble. A loose, chunky potting soil that is rich in organic material is recommended. A simple soil mix of potting soil and perlite is a good option, although ready-made aroid soil mixes are available.
For those who wish to get a little more hands-on with mixing growing mediums, a mixture of a coarse component like pine bark, orchid bark, or coconut chip, with added perlite and worm castings as an organic fertilizer is a great option.
Philodendrons range from slow-growing to moderately fast-growing plants but do not need frequent pruning. They can be neatened up, however, by cutting back old or unhealthy leaves with a sharp, sterilized cutting tool. Alternatively, these soft plants can be pinched back, which can help to promote a denser growth form.
Whatever method you use, make sure to make your cut just above a leaf node so that the plant can regrow neatly. The trimmings can often be used to propagate new plants, so think twice before throwing them in the trash or on the compost heap.
Repotting and Transplanting
Philodendron houseplants do best in relatively small containers. In many cases, it is possible to restrict a plant’s eventual size by keeping it rootbound, but be aware that as the plant’s roots fill up the container, the soil’s ability to drain and hold water will be affected. A pot of roughly the same size as your plant’s root system is ideal, but you will need to repot if your plant is heavily rootbound, has an issue like root rot, or needs to have its soil replaced.
Choose a pot that has drainage holes to prevent excess moisture from collecting around the root mass. Remember, these plants do not tolerate wet feet. You may wish to keep your philodendron plant in its nursery pot at first, and simply place it ‘pot and all’ into a slightly larger and more decorative container. The improved aeration and drainage provided by an unglazed terracotta pot make it an excellent upgrade to a plastic container, however.
When the time comes, you’ll want to water the plant well the day before the big move. This can help minimize stress. If the plant is in a plastic nursery pot, you can squeeze the sides to loosen the soil before carefully tipping the plant out. If the plant is in a rigid container, you can loosen the soil around the pot with a small tool like a dibber or spoon.
If you have a vining type of philodendron, you may wish to repot your philodendron plant into a hanging basket to allow the foliage to trail downwards. Alternatively, the use of a trellis or moss pole can be an excellent way to train the vining philodendrons to grow upwards. Installing a trellis or moss pole before placing the plant into its new container is recommended to prevent root damage.
How to Care for Philodendrons Indoors
Philodendrons are generally low-maintenance plants which make them so suitable for beginners. Getting the balance of watering and natural light exposure is your first priority, and fortunately, this is not difficult with these easy-going houseplants. Fertilizing is suggested, but not critical for plants grown in fertile soil.
Once in a while, they will benefit from having their leaves cleaned off with a damp cloth. This frees up the leaves to transpire and photosynthesize. Pests and disease are rarely a problem, and these plants are usually not prone to leaf tip discoloration from humidity issues like some other aroids.
Here are some indoor philodendron care tips you can follow to look after these tropical perennials.
Philodendrons prefer a moist environment that matches the tropical areas where they are adapted to survive. If you take a look at a typical philodendron, you will note that it is a rather ‘juicy’ plant, typically with leaves and roots that hold a lot of water. This indicates that the plants are able to withstand brief periods of drought quite well.
This property makes it wise to allow the moist soil to dry out somewhat between waterings. Your plant may give clues as to how thirsty it is by drooping leaves, but it is generally best to observe and feel the soil.
If you’re a little unsure, you can always use a soil moisture meter, but don’t be shy to feel the soil with your fingers. In time you will also learn to feel the weight of the pot to determine how much water the soil is holding.
When necessary, water the plant through until the water flows out of the drainage holes of its pot. Philodendron plants require less water in the non-growing season when temperatures are lower and transpiration rates decrease.
Philodendron plants are adapted to live in the forest where access to direct sun is limited. They thrive in bright indirect light, although they can often be grown in even dimmer conditions. A position near an east-facing window, or a little back from a south-facing window (in the northern hemisphere) is ideal.
Strong direct sunlight or too much light is not advisable as this can scorch the leaves, although soft early morning sun can be beneficial to many species. Growing these plants behind a sheer curtain is the best option if you wish to place them near a very sunny window. Philodendrons can also be grown under artificial grow lights if you don’t have any bright spots available.
Temperature and Humidity
Philodendrons are essentially tropical plants, and that means they will perform best in warm conditions. Fortunately, these plants are very adaptable to regular home temperatures and they will feel right at home provided you keep them away from any icy draughts near an open window.
Philodendron plants also prefer moderate to high humidity levels, but they are not particularly sensitive to dry conditions either, rarely developing dry leaf tips like many other plants.
If you live in a very dry climate, a humidifier will keep your philodendron plants well moisturized. Alternatively, you can always grow this plant in a naturally humid area like the kitchen or bathroom. They can also benefit from light misting on occasion.
Indoor philodendrons appreciate light feeding in the growing season. Your plant’s nutrient requirements will vary according to factors like light exposure and temperature.
A balanced philodendron fertilizer is a safe bet, but err on the side of caution when it comes to dosages. Organic fertilizers are generally less of a concern, but a half-strength synthetic fertilizer is advised. Water your soil thoroughly on occasion to flush out any accumulated salts from the fertilizer and plant food.
Pest and diseases
Philodendrons are typically quite resistant to pests, although they are not immune. Keep an eye out for the following common offenders:
- Spider mites
- Scale insects
Inspect your philodendron houseplant regularly for pests, but also keep an eye on the plant’s color and shape for clues about its health. Drooping leaves, for example, can signal a plant that has been underwatered or overwatered, but that can simply be determined by feeling the soil moisture levels.
Yellow leaves can indicate stress in the same way, but very old leaves will tend to yellow before being discarded, so keep that in mind before becoming too concerned.
A philodendron plant that does not have enough access to light may become ‘stretched’ between the nodes and leggy, while a plant that receives too much direct sunlight will develop scorched leaves. Sunburned leaves can be damaged beyond repair, but by simply moving these flowering plants into a more suitable location, you can expect it to grow healthy new foliage.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
There is a large number of different varieties of philodendron plants available in the horticultural trade. Many are very common and accessible such as those with heart shaped leaves, while some are very rare indeed, and come with a hefty price tag to match.
The following species and cultivars are the better-known options that you are most likely to come across:
- ‘Pink Princess’
- P. gloriosum
- P. billietiae
- P. melanochrysum
- P. verrucosum
- P. hederaceum (heartleaf philodendron or Philodendron scandens)
- Philodendron hope (Philodendron selloum or lacy tree philodendron)
- Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum
- P. Cordatum
Whether you’ve never kept a houseplant before, or looking to expand your collection, a philodendron plant will make an ideal addition to your home space. Philodendron plants give a lot while asking very little in return. Just remember to keep them out of reach of pets and uninformed people, and you’ll have an easy-going, beautiful living plant to admire and enjoy.
Perry, L. Philodendrons https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/philo.html
Tulane University. Oxalate Plant Poisoning https://tmedweb.tulane.edu/pharmwiki/doku.php/oxalate_plant_poisoning
R.W. Henley, A.R. Chase & L.S. Osborne. Philodendrons – Self-Heading Types https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/foliage/folnotes/philo-sh.htm
University Of Florida. Heart-leaf Philodendron https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/houseplants/heartleaf-philodendron.html