Philodendron Plant Profile

Heart Leaf Philodendron

 moxumbic / Getty Images

The Philodendron genus contains some of the most beautiful foliage plants in the plant kingdom. Their glossy leaves add a touch of indoor jungle to your home, reminiscent of the tropical areas of the Americas to which they are native. For indoor use, there are two basic types of philodendrons: the climbing varieties and the self-heading (non-climbing) types.

The climbing varieties are often used in hanging baskets or trained along a trellis. The non-climbing ones provide excellent upright foliage plants in pots on the floor or table. Often they are valued for their ability to clean the air in your home. In the wild, some of these plants can grow into massive, tree-swallowing specimens, but indoors they aren't nearly so vigorous. Newer hybrids have been bred that mix the vigor and ease of the hanging varieties with the convenience of the self-heading varieties.

  • Botanical Name: Philodendron
  • Common Name: Philodendron
  • Plant Type: Houseplant, Perennial
  • Mature Size: 8 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Part Sun
  • Soil Type: Equal parts loam, sand, and peat
  • Soil pH: 4.5-6
  • Bloom Time: None
  • Flower Color: None
  • Hardiness Zones: 9, 10, 11 USA
  • Native Area: Rainforests of tropical Central and South America

How to Grow Philodendron

Keep in mind that the philodendron, like many indoor plants, originates in tropical regions. It will grow best if you can simulate that environment. Provide plenty of warmth, bright light, and moisture. These plants are not prone to insect attack and they are generally vigorous growers. Feed them generously during the growing season. The climbing varieties also make excellent hanging or trailing plants. Use a moss stick or other support for the climbing types.

P. scandens, or sweetheart plant, is one of the most dependable and toughest of all houseplants. Of all the philodendrons, it will survive best indoors. The varieties with velvety leaves are less tolerant of bright light and need higher humidity and warmth. Use the newer self-heading hybrids if you want to avoid climbing plants.

Light

Provide dappled, bright light, mimicking what is found under a tropical canopy. Philodendrons can be acclimated to nearly direct sunlight in the right conditions, but they thrive in light shade. If you notice many of the leaves turning yellow at the same time, it can indicate you are giving the plant too much direct light. If you notice it is getting leggy, it may need more light.

Soil

Philodendrons like rich, loose potting media that will drain well but is still high in organic matter. They can grow in 100 percent sphagnum peat moss.

Water

Keep the growing medium moist at all times. Push aerial roots into the soil on climbing varieties. Keeping the plants moist during winter when indoor air can get very dry can be a challenge. You will need to avoid overwatering or you can get root rot. If the leaves are drooping, it could indicate either too much water or not enough.

Temperature and Humidity

Their temperature range is variable, but no philodendron likes going below about 55 degrees Fahrenheit for long. They like humidity, so you might maintain the humidity around them with a pebble tray of water. Mist them frequently during the growing season, about every two days. During the winter you should mist them every three to four days.

Fertilizer

Philodendrons will produce larger leaves and be healthier if you fertilize them regularly. Use slow-release pellets at the beginning of the growing season, or weekly liquid fertilizer. During the winter you only need to fertilize about once per month.

Potting and Repotting

Some of the philodendron varieties are extremely fast-growers, especially the climbers. Pinch off the new growth to keep the plant manageable and repot them annually as they outgrow their pots. 

Repot larger self-heading varieties as needed. These kinds (especially P. bipinnatifidum) can sometimes grow into very large specimens (8 feet tall, with 2- to 3-foot leaves), so be aware you'll need room for them to grow.

Propagating Philodendron

Climbing philodendrons are easy to propagate from stem cuttings placed in a glass of water. Rooting hormone will increase the chances of success but is usually not necessary. Once a good network of roots has become established in water, pot up the new specimen.

Self-heading philodendrons sometimes send out plantlets that can be potted up once they gain some size. Philodendrons rarely flower indoors, so gathering seeds and planting them is not an option. 

Varieties of Philodendron

The most common varieties of philodendron include:

  • P. scandens: A very popular climber, it is sometimes called the sweetheart plant. It has heart-shaped leaves that are sometimes variegated.
  • P. erubescens: This is a vigorous climber with reddish stems and leaves.
  • P. melanochrysum: This plant is a stunning climber with dark, velvety leaves powdered in bronze.
  • P. rojo: This is a self-heading hybrid that stays small and manageable but retains its vigor.
  • P. bipinnatifidum: This large, self-heading plant with deeply lobed leaves is sometimes called lacy tree philodendron.

Toxicity of Philodendron

Philodendron leaves and stems are high in calcium oxalate, which can be toxic to both humans and pets when eaten. The crystals are irritating to the mouth and the gastrointestinal tract. Cats and dogs may exhibit drooling, vomiting, and decreased appetite. Humans can have burning of the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling or blistering of the mouth and tongue. Seek immediate medical or veterinary help.

Similar Plants Often Confused

The philodendron is most often confused with either Monstera deliciosa or pothos vine (Epipremnum aureum). Monstera is even called split-leaf philodendron. It is distinguishable from Philodendron bipinnatifidum in that the leaves have holes in them like Swiss cheese rather than the separated lobes of the leaves in the philodendron. The pothos usually has variegated leaves and is a smaller plant than similarly-shaped philodendron varieties.