The Philodendron genus contains some of the most beautiful foliage plants in the plant kingdom. Native to the tropical Americas, there are several hundred species of philodendrons, with more being added all the time.
For indoor use, there are two basic types of philodendrons—the climbing varieties and the self-heading (non-climbing) types. 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.
Keep in mind that philodendron, like many indoor plants, originates in tropical regions. It will grow best if you can simulate that environment. Use these guidelines:
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.
Water: Keep the growing medium moist at all times and mist the plants frequently during the growing season. 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.
Temperature: There temperature range is variable, but no philodendron likes going below about 55 F for long.
Soil: Philodendrons like rich, loose potting media. Use a moss stick or other support for the climbing types.
Fertilizer: Use slow-release pellets at the beginning of the growing season, or weekly liquid fertilizer.
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.
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. selloum and 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.
These are some of the most common varieties of philodendron:
- 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. selloum: This large, self-heading plant with deeply lobed leaves is sometimes called lacy tree philodendron
- P. bipinnatifidum: This large, self-heading plant with half-lobed leaves is sometimes called tree philodendron
The key with philodendrons is to 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.
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.