The Swiss cheese plant, also known by its botanical name Monstera, is a trendy addition to any indoor space. Here is everything you need to know about this simple but eye-catching tropical houseplant.
If you have ever worked in an office, you may well have come across the monstera. Recently, however, the vine has made its way into many people’s homes and hearts. If you know what you are doing, monstera plants are very easy to care for and make a great addition to any living area. In this article, we have everything you need to know about caring for, growing, and propagating this extraordinary plant.
- Monstera: flower, leaves, and origins
- Choosing the right location and soil for your monstera
- Monstera care: the most important points
- Propagating monstera via offshoots
- Overwintering monstera
- Are monstera plants poisonous?
Monstera: flower, leaves, and origins
The monstera, nicknamed the Swiss cheese plant because of its unique appearance, belongs to the arum (Araceae) family, which finds its roots in the American tropics. Wild monsteras are dispersed across the Caribbean, Florida, Asia, and Australia, as well as western Mediterranean areas like Portugal and Morocco. There are over 50 varieties of this climbing vine, but Monstera deliciosa and rhaphidophora tend to be the most popular indoor varieties.
The perennial, herbaceous monstera grows between 0.5 and a staggering 3 metres tall and can flourish in some of the most challenging terrain; they can be found in-between cracks in rock or climbing up cliff faces. The monstera is a climbing vine that likes to use other plants for support.
Monstera seedlings germinate wherever they fall. As the seedlings develop, they begin to crawl onto other plants, like trees, before climbing up them. Once the vine is large enough, its lower half will die off and the monstera becomes a climber. It is at this stage that long, adhesive, aerial roots shoot out from the vine. These aerial roots keep growing until they find a suitable source of nutrients, often in the forked branches of large trees. It is here that the aerial roots will dig down and supply the plant with nutrients.
Perhaps the most iconic characteristic of the monstera plant is its unique, heart-shaped leaves. Admittedly, they are not always heart-shaped – some varieties display different leaf shapes at different stages of development – but they are always lush and green. The leaves form on the end of the plant’s stems, which bend downwards to create a hook. They can grow up to 50 cm long and are occasionally perforated with strikingly large holes; it is no mystery why the monstera has the name, Swiss cheese plant! The younger leaves tend to do the climbing, while the older leaves soak up the sun.
In tropical conditions, the monstera blossoms annually. The subtle cream or pink flowers are cone shaped bracts, typical for the Arum genus. Monsteras produce white and orange, cone-shaped, corn-like fruit. The fruit produces one to three seeds, which are, in some cultures, a delicacy. Take a look at our article, to find out more about the most beautiful types of monstera.
Choosing the right location and soil for your monstera
The monstera is relatively low maintenance; they just need enough space. Curiously, monsteras do not need a lot of light. A semi-shaded area with indirect sunlight is ideal. Avoid planting your monstera under direct sunlight. Especially during warmer months and at noon, it will be prone to burning. For best results, though, do make sure all areas of the plant receive sunlight evenly. Ideally, you should replicate monstera’s native, tropical environment. Temperatures of around 21°C and high humidity are best. In the summer – between mid-May and August – it is fine to leave your monstera outside, as long as there is no risk of frost and temperatures do not sink below 12°C.
Monsteras grow best in potting soil that is rich in humus. Humus allows the soil to hold water but prevents waterlogging. While monstera can usually tolerate slightly alkaline soil, they prefer acidic to neutral earth. To maintain the acidity, add rock meal – a mix of granite and basalt – to your potting soil. Alternatively, a layer of pine bark works just as well. Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost is a great option. It has a neutral pH, contains coconut pulp, which stores water without waterlogging, and is mixed with plenty of compost – perfect for a monstera plant!
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Hydroculture is another exciting option. Here, expanded clay replaces soil. Be sure to get your hands on a special hydroculture plant pot with a water level indicator. Water level indicators help you water on time and avoid waterlogging.
Monstera care: the most important points
The monstera is very easy to maintain. Aside from standard plant care, you should wipe your monstera’s large leaves with a damp cloth now and again. This will remove any lingering dust that might hinder photosynthesis.
Watering a monstera
Monsteras should be watered consistently throughout April and September – their most active months. But be careful, the monstera prefers slightly dry soil when growing. Wait until the soil is dry 5 cm deep before you water the vine. Too much water prevents soil aeration, which can lead to serious problems like root rot. A simple rule of thumb: water often, but little. Rain-water or mineral water is best, and if there isn’t much humidity, occasionally spray your plant with distilled or boiled (and cooled!) water.
How to fertilise a monstera
Monstera plants grow very quickly. To cultivate a lush plant and prevent nutritional deficiency, be sure to fertilise your plants every fortnight between May and August. Liquid fertiliser is a great choice. Simply add it to some water and the nutrients will distribute evenly throughout the plant’s root system. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food has a well-balanced mix of nutrients and is low in phosphor, promoting sustainable root growth.
If you are using hydroculture, you will still need to regularly fertilise your monstera, though less frequently and in smaller volumes.
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How to prune monsteras
You should not need to prune your monstera, except if it is becoming overbearing. Pruning won’t damage the plant, and it will eventually grow back. The best time to prune large areas of your monstera is before you repot it – the vine will appreciate fresh nutrients.
Tip: Never prune monstera’s aerial roots, and always take care not to damage them.
Monstera pests and illnesses
Sometimes, monstera can begin to yellow. This discolouring can happen for a multitude of reasons:
- It is too cold: the monstera is struggling to supply itself with enough nutrients. It should be moved to a warmer location.
- The soil is too wet: air cannot reach the roots properly, and it may be suffering from root rot. To combat this, stop watering the monstera completely for around 1 to 2 weeks.
- It is lacking nutrients: the plant should be fertilised, especially if the leaves are not dividing.
- The humidity is too low: brown leaf tips are an indication that there isn’t enough humidity. In this case, spray the plant with water.
Monstera leaves are curling
Monstera leaves can also start to curl. There are various reasons for this too:
- The soil is too dry: water pressure in the plant cells is too low. Water your plant as soon as possible.
- An infestation: examine the plant for pests and treat them as appropriate.
- Over-fertilisation: your plant may be suffering from salinization, where the soil is too salty. Repot your plant and fertilise it less frequently.
Monstera plants are often sold in pots that are too small. If you think this is the case for your plant, repot it immediately. In any case, it is best to repot younger plants annually so that they can continue growing. For older plants, you only need to change the top five centimetres of soil once a year. The best time to repot is in early spring, around March to April, before the plant’s growing season begins. Simply remove the monstera from its pot and remove excess soil. Position the plant in its new pot, add fresh soil, and lightly pat it down. Be sure to give the vine a good watering afterwards. Soil quality can make all the difference. High-quality potting soil is ideal for monsteras.
Propagating monstera via offshoots
Monsteras are easy to propagate. The easiest method is to cut off a 20 cm section of the stem or plant head and place it in a glass of water until thin roots start to form. Be sure to freshen the water regularly and keep it between 20 and 25°C. Once roots form, plant the cutting in high-quality potting soil and immediately water it. As the cutting grows, you will need to move it to a larger home.
Another option is to wrap damp moss around a single aerial root that is still attached to the vine. The moss should be sprinkled with soil and wrapped tightly in clingfilm, which will prevent everything from drying out. After a while, thin roots will begin to poke through the wrap. Once you notice this, cut the aerial root from the vine using a sharp knife, remove the film and plant the ball of moss with its roots into some fresh soil. In no time at all, a new monstera will show its face!
Monsteras are very sensitive to the cold and cannot stand frost. As such, move them inside between September and May. A mildly heated living area, conservatory, or brightly lit staircase is fine, as long as temperatures remain at 16 to 17°C. During winter, never fertilise your monstera, and water it sparingly – check the soil with your finger if you are unsure.
Are monstera plants poisonous?
While the berries of the species Monstera deliciosa are a delicacy in many countries, other parts of the plant are poisonous. The sap is an irritant for humans, as well as for dogs and cats. It is always advisable to wear gloves while pruning or cutting a monstera. Ingesting the sap can result in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Additionally, animals may be unsteady or salivate abnormally.
Are you a fan of dramatic plants with decorative leaves? Then check out the prayer plant (Calathea).