How to Grow and Care for Heart-Leaf Philodendron

Heartleaf philodendron plant with heart-shaped leaves hanging over planter stand

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum), commonly known as the sweetheart plant, is an evergreen foliage plant native to tropical regions of South and Central America and the West Indies. It is a popular houseplant, offering year-round beauty and easy care. The leaves are dark green but when they first emerge they're often bronze-colored, giving this plant plenty of visual interest. On rare occasions, a mature plant may produce small greenish-white flowers.

Cold sensitive at any temps below 60 degrees, heart-leaf philodendron is grown outdoors only in tropical climates. As a houseplant, it is normally propagated by stem cuttings in spring or early summer. It is a fairly slow-growing but long-lived plant that requires repotting only every two or three years. In a favorable indoor environment, it can live for decades.

All philodendron species contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause mouth irritations and digestive upset in humansand pets.

Common Name   Heart-leaf philodendron, sweetheart plant
Botanical Name  Philodendron hederaceum
Family Araceae
Plant Type  Perennial 
Mature Size  1-3 ft. wide, 3-13 ft. long 
Sun Exposure  Partial
Soil Type  Well-drained 
Soil pH  Acidic, neutral
Hardiness Zones   9a–11b (USDA)
Native Areas  Tropical Central and South America
Toxicity  Toxic to humans and pets

Heart-leaf Philodendron Care

In addition to occasional watering and repotting once it outgrows its container, the only care needed is regularly pruning trailing stems. Pruning promotes growth and keeps the long vining stems looking full and leafy, but even this is optional if you want your plant to roam.

This plant's tendency to grow very long stems (up to 13 feet) makes it one of the few "climbing" house plants. Its Greek name means "tree-loving climber" and in its native tropical habitats, it is often found climbing tree trunks. You can train this plant to climb a trellis or column using soft plant ties or floral tape to secure it, or hang the plant from a ceiling hook and let it trail. If the leaves become dusty, gently wipe them with a damp soft cloth.

In zones 10 and 11, heart-leaf philodendron can be grown outdoors as a ground cover over shady areas, and if allowed to grow up trees or trellises, the leaves can get up to 12 inches long.

Heartleaf philodendron plant with dark green heart-leaf leaves closeup

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Heartleaf philodendron plant with dark green heart-shaped leaves hanging on vining stems

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Heartleaf philodendron plant stem with new leaf growth closeup

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Light

This plant does best in bright, indirect light, so choose an indoor location that does not receive direct sunlight. You'll know it's receiving enough light if growth remains vigorous and the leaves are between two to four inches long. Too much direct sunlight will scorch its leaves.

Soil

Use a good basic soilless potting mix with plenty of peat moss. You can add some perlite for better drainage if you wish. Soilless mixes do not contain any nutrients, so you provide some slow-release fertilizer if it's not already included in the mix. You can make your potting mix by combining peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite.

Water

Use tepid water, not cold water, to water this houseplant. Cold water can harm a tropical plant by shocking its root system too suddenly. Be careful not to overwater. If the leaves turn yellow, that's usually a sign of overwatering. Let the soil dry out to the touch between waterings, and make sure you choose a container that has good drainage.

Temperature and Humidity

The heart-leaf philodendron prefers to be in environments with 40 percent humidity but it tolerates dry air much better than most tropical perennials. Excessive humidity levels might cause problems, sometimes leading to fungus on leaves.

If your heart-leaf philodendron tends to develop fungus, be careful to dry off leaves after watering and let the soil dry out between waterings. This plant is also sensitive to extreme heat so be sure to keep it away from heat sources and direct sunlight.

Fertilizer

You can apply a diluted fertilizer solution once or twice during the active growing season in spring and summer. Do not feed during the winter.

Types of Philodendron

There are few named cultivars of heart-leaf philodendron, but there are two variations offered in the trade: var. oxycardium has new leaves that are glossy and brown and var. scandens has new leaves that are light green. You may also find 'Variegata' forms with leaves that blend streaks of light and dark green. However, most of the houseplants that resemble heart-leaf philodendron but have unusual leaf colors or patterns are pothos plants.

There are other species of the Philodendron genus that are commonly used as houseplants, including:

  • Philodendron selloum 'Selloum' (horsehead or tree philodendron) is an unusual shrubby form often used outdoors in tropical landscapes. It has huge 3-foot leaves and can grow 8 to 10 feet wide.
  • Philodendron x 'Xanadu' (Xanadu philodendron) makes a large indoor plant, with 18-inch leaves. It has an upright growth habit.

There are also hybrid philodendrons, upright rather than climbers, including:

  • 'Autumn' has leaves that are coppery-red but gradually transition to olive green.
  • 'Black Cardinal' has 8- to 10-inch leaves that transition from bright burgundy to almost black.
  • 'Majesty' has dark purple-green leaves.
  • 'Prince of Orange' produces leaves that are shiny orange when new, maturing to green.

Pruning

Pinch off growing stems if you want the plant to remain bushy and full rather than send out long stems. Make the pinch just above a leaf node; the plant will branch out from this point. Other than this, the only pruning required is to remove dead or yellowed leaves.

Propagating Heart-leaf Philodendron

This plant is exceptionally easy to propagate by rooting stem cuttings. Here's an easy method:

  1. In spring or early summer cut three- to four-inch cuttings from the tips of stems, with at least three leaves attached. Make the cuts just below a leaf node.
  2. Place the cutting in a container of water and keep it in indirect light until roots begin to form.
  3. Plant the rooted stem cutting in a pot filled with clean potting mix, and keep moist until new growth is evident.

Potting and Repotting Heart-Leaf Philodendron

This plant does well in any ordinary commercial potting mix in any type of container, provided it has good drainage. Lightweight plastic pots are a good choice for hanging plants. You should repot your heart-leaf philodendron every two to three years to help prevent root rot and keep the plant's root system healthy. Gently loosen the potting soil around the root system and add new potting soil to the new container. Water the plant lightly after settling it into its new pot.

Overwintering

Watering should be slightly reduced for the winter months. If you are growing a heart-leaf philodendron near a window or door, it is important to protect it from cold drafts. If you have moved the plant outdoors for the warm season, make sure to bring it back indoors as temperatures begin to dip below 60 degrees. They can be permanently damaged by temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

In addition to occasional problems with fungus on leaves, this plant can be somewhat susceptible to fungus gnats. These tiny insects can be seen crawling around on top of the potting medium and they're especially fond of peaty wet potting soil. They'll tend to fly away if you let the soil surface dry out between watering.

Aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and spider mites that are common pests to many houseplants, can also be a problem for philodendron plants. Spray the plant with a diluted vinegar wash or horticultural oil to help control them.

Common Problems With Heart-leaf Philodendron

Heart-leaf philodendron is one of the easiest of all houseplants to grow, tolerant of shady conditions and dry air, and demanding little in the way of care except for weekly watering and a dose of diluted fertilizer a couple of times each year. But you may notice these problems:

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing leaves are a sign of too much water or too little light. Heart-leaf philodendron does quite well if you hold off watering until the top inch of soil is quite dry—normally no more than once each week. And while these plants don't like direct sunlight, they do need some indirect light to thrive. These are not plants to grow in dark rooms.

Browning Leaves

Browning, scorched-looking leaves are usually the result of too much fertilizer or sun scald from leaves that experience direct sunlight.

Long Stems With Few Leaves

If not pinched off, the stems of heart-leaf philodendron can grow quite long and relatively sparse, often with a profusion of leaves at the end. This is fine if you want your plant to roam, but if you prefer a denser, bushier plant, then pinch off the stems regularly to a point just above a leaf node, which will prompt lateral growth and a fuller plant.

FAQ
  • What is the difference between a pothos and a Philodendron?

    Heart-leaf philodendron is often mistaken for pothos (Epipremnum aureum) because the leaves have a very similar look, roughly heart-shaped. However, the leaves on Pothos plants are wider, thicker, and waxier than philodendron, and the tops of the leaves do not curve inward as dramatically as they do on Philodendron. If your plant has yellow or variegated leaves, it is more likely a pothos rather than a heart-leaf philodendron.

  • How long does a heart-leaf philodendron plant live?

    If repotted every two or three years, a heart-leaf philodendron can live for decades.

  • Can I grow heart-leaf philodendron as a garden plant?

    Yes, but only if you live in a region where outdoor temperatures rarely, if ever, fall below 50 degrees. In zones 10 and 11, this plant is sometimes used as a shady ground cover, or allowed to climb up trees or trellises.

Article Sources
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