So you bought a Philodendron, or are thinking about buying one, and you want to know how to grow it. The good news is that these houseplants are among the easiest to grow, and also among the most spectacular and varied. Big and small, bushy, trailing or climbing, these is a Philodendron for every place in your house – you could probably grow nothing else if you wanted to. Let’s get down and figure our exactly what they need, and how you can have great success with your plant.
Knowing their natural environment is the key to understanding how to grow plants – its what expert growers of all plants rely on. So check out this earlier blog post about the biology and environment of these plants – understanding this is the key to understanding what they like and need. If you want to know more about different kinds of Philodendrons, and their differences, this blog post is where to look.
The picture at the head of this post is Philodendron billietiae, a relatively new species discovered late last century in French Guiana. It is still very rare, and not yet available. It gives you an idea of the new and exciting philodendrons we can look forward to.
What Do Philodendrons Need?
These plants all come from the tropical jungles of south America, where they grow both on the jungle floor and climb up trees for more light. This is why they are such good houseplants – they have evolved over millions of years to not need too much light. So they need:
BRIGHT LIGHT BUT NOT DIRECT SUNLIGHT – although many will live for a long time in a dark corner, and plants like the sweetheart vine are almost indestructible, you will be amazed at the improved growth, better leaf colors and larger leaves you get with more light. Near a north or east facing window is great – some direct morning sun is not likely to cause any burning. If you have a sheer curtain in front of a sunny window, vital in summer, then your philodendrons will thrive.
WARMTH – a minimum of 65 degrees in needed, and 70 or more is better. Especially in summer your Philodendrons will enjoy heat you find too hot. Be careful not to let hot or cold are from your heating and cooling system blow directly onto your plant. In summer you can put these plants outdoors in shady places, and they will enjoy the heat and humidity out there more than the cool, dry air in your house. Bring them back in as soon as night temperatures drop below 65 degrees.
HUMIDITY – coming from a jungle environment, these plants love humidity. Stand it on a large tray of moist pebbles if you can – those synthetic clay ones called LECA are great, as they absorb the moisture and stay wet longer. Don’t put so much water among the pebbles that the actually pot is standing in water. Roots may grown down into the tray, which is a good thing for the plant. Otherwise, get into the habit of misting when you walk by. If your water is hard, mist with de-ionized water like you use in your iron. This will stop leaving mineral stains on the leaves.
WELL-DRAINED, OPEN SOIL – this is the secret to growing your Philodendrons, not just successfully, but really well. Ordinary houseplant soil is too fine, and hold too much water, for these plants which are used to growing in the debris among the branches of trees. When they are grown in greenhouses the environment is perfect, and everything is carefully controlled, so they use finer soils without problems. At home those soils will not work as well. When you buy a new plant, it is best to repot it. Do this in spring or summer – if you buy a plant in fall or winter, wait until the next spring.
What kind of soil mix should you use? There are lots of recipes out there, many requiring you to buy 4 or 5 different products. That’s fine, and you will have a really nice mixture, but the easiest and simplest way to get a good mix at home is to use ordinary houseplant soil mixed with orchid soil. The soil for orchids is mostly small pieces of bark, mixed with some sphagnum moss and sometimes peat and charcoal. Bit itself it would too much water through, and be too dry for your Philodendrons, but if you mix it with houseplant soil, you get the perfect soil.
Add between 25% and 50% orchid mix to houseplant soil – smaller plants will do better with less, bigger plants with more, because they will be in larger pots. This blend will still hold water, but also have lots of air spaces, which your Philodendron love. Since these plants love acidic soil, you could also use soils for acid-loving plants, like azaleas and hydrangeas – that works well too, instead of the houseplant soil, mixed with orchid soil.
SUITABLE WATERING – Although they grow in the jungle, Philodendrons don’t get a lot of water. The big trees above pull water from the soil, and roots growing up in the air are often completely dry. So you shouldn’t water your plants until the top inch or two of soil is dry. The larger the pot, the further down you should let it dry. Once it is dry enough, then water thoroughly, so that some flows through the drainage holes. Of course, never try to grow these plants in pots without drainage holes. Once the water has drained out, don’t leave it standing in a saucer of water.
In winter, and in cooler rooms, let it dry a little more – as long as the leaves feel firm and fresh, you don’t need to water your Philodendron. This makes these great plants if you are often away from home. Even if you come back and they are sad and wilted, give them a thorough watering and the next morning they will be as good as new.
FEED ME! – Philodendrons might live in trees, but that doesn’t mean they have no nutrients. Apart from any roots directly in the soil, aerial roots absorb water, but also nutrients released by the rotting of leaves and debris up in the tree. The heat and moisture of the jungle make this happen rapidly. However, you can’t rely on the rotting of your potting soil to release enough nutrients. Instead, you need to supplement that with fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as micronutrients like iron and zinc. You can get these from any houseplant fertilizer, chemical or natural. Feed your plants during the growing season, from early spring to early fall. Follow the dilution directions for your product carefully. Some people like to water once a month. If you do that you can use full or half-strength fertilizer. You can also feed more often – as much as once a week – but use amore dilute mix, ¼ the dose you would use monthly for weekly feeding, or ½ that dose for feeding every two weeks. Fit your feeding in with regular watering and don’t feed if you don’t need to water – wait until you do.
When should I Repot My Philodendron?
These plants don’t need to be repotted very often. It is natural for roots to grow out of the stems and hang outside the pot, and it isn’t a sign you should repot. Spring or early summer is when to repot, if needed. If your plant looks top-heavy, and keep falling over, it needs repotting. If there isn’t much earth left in the pot – it will naturally shrink over time – then it need repotting. Otherwise, leave it alone – feeding is better than repotting if it doesn’t seem to be growing much (unless of course it is winter). Replant into a container just a little bigger than the one it is in – don’t overpot, as this means a lot of wet compost surrounding a small root ball.
Put a little soil mix in the bottom of the new pot. Remove your plant from the old one, and place it on top of that mix. Work soil around the roots, so that the plant is a couple of inches deeper in the pot than it was before. Water thoroughly – that’s it, all done.
How To Us a Moss Pole
If you have a vining Philodendron, or one that is starting to send out longer stems, you might want to train it into a column. Moss Poles are the best support to use, although you can use a strong wooden stake instead. Push the bottom of the pole firmly into the potting soil – you might need to insert a smaller stake and tie the pole too it, if you can’t work it down. The ideal time to do it when you are repotting, as then it is easy to get it well down into the pot. Soak the pole in water for a few hours before using it. Use thick, soft string to tie the stem or stems to the pole, carefully straightening the stems as you go. Water the pole regularly, so it stays damp, because then the plant will send roots out directly into it. Trickle fertilizer down it too, when you feed. Philodendrons love to grow on moss poles.