The Philodendron, a vast genus of houseplants, offers many options for houseplant lovers. With so many varieties available, there is a plant out there for those who want a trailing option, a climbing option, or even ones that grow in compact, bush forms. The fact that they can provide a delightful, tropical vibe to your home, with such a simple care regime, makes them incredibly attractive to lots of plant owners, beginners and experienced alike.
The trailing, vine-like habit of these aroids is how they adapted in the wild, growing on jungle floors and latching to the towering trees with their aerial root systems. These aerial roots are the woody roots that grow along the stems of the plant, completely out of the soil, where they latch onto structures for support as well as accumulating moisture and nutrients from the air and wind.
Not only are they a great addition to any room in your home, as they can handle the majority of light levels, excluding prolonged direct sun or no light at all, but they are also extremely effective at purifying the air of certain household toxins and carcinogens. They filter and cleanse the air of benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde, making them a beautiful and healthy addition to your space.
Although Philodendrons and Pothos appear similar, there are a few signs you can look out for to tell them apart. The easiest way to distinguish the two is by their leaves, where the thinner leaves of Philodendrons are heart-shaped, with a softer texture. Another major difference is their growth habits, new Philodendron leaves extend on a bit of vine in a cataphyll, or waxy sheath, that will eventually dry up and fall off, while Pothos leaves extend and unfurl from a current leaf. Even though they both have aerial roots, Philodendron's will have several smaller roots per node, often looking a little more wild and untamed. That being said, they are both relatively quick growers, depending on how much light they are receiving of course, and incredibly durable.
For those of you who don't have much time to allot to plant care but still want some greenery in your home, the Philodendron will be your best friend. They grow quickly, add beauty to your home, can withstand periods of neglect, thrive in average home humidity, and are often very affordable. There are also quite a few varieties to choose from, which we will go over in the next section.
For most Philodendron varieties, they can be placed almost anywhere in your home. From a brightly lit window all the way down to the other side of a room with a bright window. The main thing that they cannot handle is prolonged, direct, afternoon sunlight, as this could burn their leaves or cause pale growth. They also won't tolerate no light at all, but they aren't too picky otherwise. Although they can handle many light levels, keep in mind that their growth habits will change depending on the light they are receiving. Check out our Ultimate Lighting Guide for all the light levels present in a home.
Philodendron Hope Selloum
Another thing to remember is that light levels change throughout the year, there is more light during the longer, sunny days of spring and summer, and a lot less light in the shorter, cloudier, days of winter. You may have to move your plant in order to avoid too much light or not enough light.
The lowest light conditions that Philodendrons can handle include the following:
- A few meters back from a South, West, or East facing window
- A few feet away from a North-facing window
- Next to a South, West, or East facing window that is facing a courtyard or is blocked by a nearby building
Many plants are sold saying that they thrive in low light, however, that isn't the case. There are quite a few options for plants that can be placed in lower light spaces, but they may not thrive in it, they will tolerate it. They will more often just retain the shape that they come in, or become “leggy”, where their leaves are more spaced out and growth is less compact, losing their fullness. The rate of growth will also be slower, the size of the new leaves will probably be on the smaller side, and there may even be some leaf loss, as plants will shed what they can't support. Keep this in mind when you are choosing where to put your plant.
In that case, here are some ideal light conditions for you to keep your plant looking nice and full:
- Next to, or close by, a South, Southwest, or West-facing window that has sheer curtains for some bright, indirect light (they cannot handle prolonged, direct sunlight so the curtains keep the leaves from getting burned)
- About 5-10ft away from a South, Southwest, or West-facing window without curtains
- Next to a North or East-facing window
Philodendrons will thrive in medium to bright, indirect light, producing lots of lush, healthy new growth! That being said, there are quite a few varieties that exist, each having slightly different light needs than the next to support their unique colourings. If a variety has any sort of variegation, which is when there is the appearance of different coloured zones on a leaf (such as yellow, white, or lime green), it will most likely need more light to support this variegation in order for the plant not to revert back to solid green. Let's go over the different varieties below, grouped by their general growth habits:
These varieties are often grown for their trailing capacities, where their foliage cascades beautifully as they grow. Although they can be grown on totems as well, their extremely soft foliage makes a beautiful display of a wall of heart-shaped leaves when they hang.
Philodendron Hederaceum Heartleaf, Philodendron Hederaceum Heartleaf Lemon Lime, Micans, any Scindapsus variety, and Philodendron Hederaceum Brasil are the most common trailing varieties. Although Scindapsus are not Philodendrons, they have very similar care routines so we included them here.
Climbing species are often attached to totems, bamboo stakes, wooden boards, or moss poles to support them as their strong stems climb. With enough humidity and light, their aerial roots will latch onto these natural structures, just as they would in the wild while climbing on a tree in the tropics. In the beginning, tie the stems of your plant to the support structure gently, with twine or clips, until the plant has latched on. With foliage having splits, interesting shapes, and colours, it will be hard to choose only one.
Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma, Philodendron Pink Princess, Philodendron Burle Marx, and Philodendron Bipennifolium are the most common climbing varieties. Although the Rhaphidophora do not belong in the Philodendron genus, their care is very similar.
Although bush varieties can form vines as they mature, they do not vine as quickly as other varieties and spread wide rather than climbing high. If the plant is receiving bright, evenly dispersed light, it will stay rather compact and full, which is the ideal shape for these guys. There are plenty of options, with large serrated leaves, variegated leaves, or broad, colourful leaves.
Philodendron Moonlight, Philodendron Prince of Orange, Philodendron Birkin, Philodendron Selloum 'Hope', Philodendron Little Hope, Philodendron Xanadu, and Philodendron Green Congo are the most popular varieties in this category.
With medium to bright light, Philodendrons can be relatively quick growers, some varieties trailing up to 10' in the home! If you want your plant to remain full and bushy though, trim the longer vines every few months, this will encourage the plant to develop more side-shoots and reduces the demand for the plant to develop a larger root system while confined. Trim any dead, discoloured, damaged, or diseased leaves and stems as they occur, using clean, sharp scissors.
One of the great things about most Philodendrons is that they are not very thirsty plants! In fact, it would be more damaging to the plant if it was to receive too much water, rather than too little. Allow your plant's soil to mostly dry out before watering again, at least the top three-quarters of the plant can be dry before giving it another drink. If you are ever confused, your plant will communicate to you when it is thirsty, as the leaves will begin to look droopy.
As for the frequency of watering, or how often to water, that will all depend on the light your plant is receiving, the warmth and humidity of your home, the size of the pot, as well as the pot that the plant is planted in. You should expect to water your plant more often in the spring/summer months though, when the days are longer, warmer, and brighter, and less often in the winter months when the days are shorter, cooler, and darker. You should also expect to water a plant that is receiving higher light more often than the plant that is receiving lower light.
Water your plant until the soil is fully saturated and there is water coming out of the drainage holes. If the soil is not absorbing the water, try bottom-watering your plant instead, where you let it sit in a bowl of 2-3 inches of water for roughly 30-45 minutes, until the soil has absorbed some water. Then, in either case, let any excess water drain out and dump any excess water!
Philodendrons love a chunky, well-draining soil mix, which will keep the soil from staying too dense and moist for too long. As long as there is some sort of aggregate in the soil, such as perlite, vermiculite, charcoal, lava rocks, orchid bark, or coconut coir, the soil will not become too compact and will allow for airflow throughout. They prefer nutrient-rich soil, but can also handle nutrient-poor soil, which is another thing that makes them so desirable.
Most Philodendrons are not too picky when it comes to humidity and temperature, if you're happy, your plant is happy. Even though they are just fine in average home temperatures, they still prefer warm, humid environments as they are tropicals of course! So if you have the time, and want to make the effort, you can:
- Place the nursery pot on top of a bed of rocks that are covered in water, which increases the humidity in the air around the plant
- Mist your plant multiple times daily to increase the ambient humidity around your plant
- Purchase a humidifier and keep it in the same area as your plant when turned on
Remember that just because they are fine with average humidity and temperatures, they still won't enjoy drafts, from heating vents, A/C vents, or open windows. Low humidity and dry soil can also lead to brown edges and droopy foliage.
For fertilizer, Philodendrons are fairly simple and really don’t need it that often as they grow easily all on their own. Fertilize once a month through the Spring and Summer months and then do not fertilize throughout the Winter. Use a general-purpose, indoor plant fertilizer that any greenhouse, garden centre, or plant shop offers! Make sure the soil is damp before fertilizing, otherwise it could burn the roots. Finally, never fertilize a plant that is already stressed out (i.e. soaking wet, extremely dry, lost a lot of leaves, etc.), as this will only enhance the stress.
Since they are toxic to both humans and pets, due to the calcium oxalate crystals that all parts of the plant contain, Philodendrons are best kept away from children and animals. For humans, if ingested, and depending on how much, the reactions are milder. They can cause dermatitis reactions or swelling of the mouth and digestive tract. The juices from the plant can also irritate the skin, leading to a rash if it is very sensitive, so make sure to use gloves when working with them or wash your hands after handling them. In animals, the reactions are usually more severe, with reports of spasms, seizures, pain, and swelling. Keep out of reach of your children and pets, especially if they are curious.
Common Pests & Problems
Keeping in line with their great reputation as houseplants, Philodendrons don't have many problems when it comes to pests and other issues. That being said, even though most of these problems don't occur all the time, we still want to outline any possible issues you could experience while having them in your care:
Although there are pests that can bother a Philodendron, they can be quite easy to get rid of, as long as you stay on top of the treatment. If your plant is already unhealthy from poor lighting, a nutrient deficiency, or improper soil moisture, it is much more susceptible to pests. Weakened or stressed plants will attract the piercing mouths of the insects exhaust your plant and accelerate yellowing.
With all that being said, Philodendrons are a great addition to your home because they are incredibly strong plants and they are a breeze to take care of. Try your first one out today!