Philodendron: cultivation, care & propagation

Eric
Eric
Eric
Eric

I love plants. I have a BSc. in Turf and Landscape Horticulture, an MSc. in Crop Production, and a Ph.D. in Crop Science, as well as over 20 years of experience in landscaping, gardening, horticulture, and agriculture. The central focus throughout my career, has been on caring for the soil, as healthy soil makes for healthy plants, and plants are integral to the sustainability of life.

Favourite vegetables: basil, garlic, onions and leeks
Favourite fruits: ripe figs, blueberries and dates

Looking for a low-maintenance plant with beautiful foliage? Philodendrons are easy to care for, come in many different shapes and colours, and add a tropical feel to your home or office.

Philodendron in corner of room
With their beautiful foliage, a Philodendron can brighten any room [Photo: Valerie Colameta Cordio/ Shutterstock.com]

Philodendrons are some of the most popular, beginner-friendly houseplants. Read on to find out more about propagating and planting philodendrons and get our top philodendron care tips.

Philodendron: origin and characteristics

Philodendrons (Philodendron) belong to the arum family known as Araceae. There are more than 550 accepted philodendron species that are native to the tropics and subtropics, from Mexico to South America. The plants in this incredibly diverse genus are widely cultivated as houseplants. Like other members of the Araceae family, philodendron flowers come in the form of a spathe, which is a bract surrounding spadix, a floral spike. That said, these plants are usually kept purely as foliage plants. Their foliage comes in all shapes and sizes from smaller, heart-shaped leaves to larger, arrow shaped ones. Philodendron leaves can be full with solid margins or deeply lobed and incised. Some species can even grow quite large, like the tree philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum) which can reach heights of over 4.5m.

In their native environment, philodendrons are found climbing on trees or growing on the ground or in the joints between branches of trees. As houseplants, some philodendrons grow over the edge of pots and make great philodendron hanging baskets. Others grow bush-like, and still others climb up other plants’ stems or climb stakes or trellises. Mostspecies of philodendronlike bright areas without prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. They do well in a bright room or office with temperatures ranging from 20 °C to 30 °C. In the winter, the occasional misting can help these plants stay healthy as they prefer humidity levels above 60%. You can also grow philodendrons outdoors on a shaded patio or terrace. While they can be planted in the ground, keep in mind that any frost will kill them.

Philodendron growing on a tree with other plants
In their natural habitats, philodendron species can be found on the ground, or high up in the upper canopy of the forest [Photo: Dr. Morley Read/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting philodendron

When planting a philodendron, keep in mind what type you have. Epiphyte types are ones that grow in the upper canopy of trees. These need very well-drained compost mixed with coarse bark and sand in a 1:1:1 ratio, similar to an orchid mix. If you have a bush type or a climbing type, these require well-draining compost like our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost mixed 2:1 with perlite. Our compost drains well and provides an adequate yet low charge of nutrients that feeds plants without burning them. Try to keep the soil pH between 6 to 6.5, especially for tree philodendrons, as these plants do not tolerate acidic or salty conditions.

Philodendron in a bright spot
While philodendrons like a bright spot, keep exposure to full sun to a minimum [Photo: Marianna Palacios/ Shutterstock.com]

Philodendron care

While philodendrons are relatively low-maintenance plants, there are a few things to note in order to keep your plants healthy and thriving. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about philodendron care.

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Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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Tip: philodendron species, especially those with large leaves, can get covered in dust, which can inhibit the plant’s ability to photosynthesise. To sort this, place your plant in the bathtub or shower, or even outside as long as it is warm and you avoid the full sun. Then, rinse off the leaves well, allowing them to drip dry before returning the plant to its original place. You can also wipe down the leaves with a damp tissue; just be careful not to damage the foliage when doing so.

Watering Philodendron

Philodendrons do not tolerate drought, so need watering regularly. However, they are also susceptible to root rot and other fungal diseases, so avoid waterlogging. Philodendrons are quite thirsty in the spring and summer, especially when kept in brighter areas. This is because they are actively growing during this time, more so than in the dark winter months. That said, they may also require a fair bit of water in the winter depending on how much you heat your home, as our central heating tends to dry out the air. If your plants start to wilt or suffer during the winter, try misting them occasionally. Alternatively, keep a bowl of water on your radiator to increase the humidity in the room. Philodendron species do not tolerate hard water, so use rainwater or let tap water sit out for 8 to 10 hours before watering. This allows any chlorine to dissipate and any lime or fluoride to settle to the bottom. To check if your plants need water, stick a finger into the soil; if the soil is dry 1 to 2cm down, give your plant a drink. After watering your plants, pour off any excess water from your drainage tray to help avoid waterlogging.

Philodendron with water sprayed on its leaves
As they originally come from tropical rainforests, a regular mist with clean water will keep your philodendron plants happy and healthy [Photo: Prispim/ Shutterstock.com]

Pruning

Generally speaking, philodendrons do not need pruning. Simply remove old, dead tissue or leaves as your plant ages. If your plants outgrow their spot, simply trim them down, cutting to just above the next growing point. To avoid transferring any fungi or diseases between plants while pruning philodendrons, use clean, sharp secateurs. For best results, do this in the spring, or when your plants are actively growing.

Fertilising

For optimal growth, fertilise your philodendron plants in the spring, summer, and autumn when they are actively growing. Feed your philodendrons once every 4 weeks with a liquid fertiliser such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food, for instance. Our fertiliser has a low concentration of nitrogen and moderate levels of potassium and micronutrients that your plants need to stay healthy and strong. If your plants are kept in bright rooms during the winter months, they will continue to grow and require fertilisation. Usually with colder temperatures, they will not require as much as during the summer, so only feed once every 8 weeks or so as needed.

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Repotting philodendron

Repot your philodendron every 2 to 3 years to keep them growing well. The new pot should be about 5cm larger in diameter than the pot the plant is currently in. Using the appropriate soil mix as discussed earlier, transplant your philodendron into its new pot. To reduce the likelihood of any repotting shock, avoid overhandling the root system.

Yellow leaves on philodendron

As plants get older, it is only natural for one or two leaves to turn yellow now and then. However, there are also various issues relating to care and the location of your plants that can cause leaf discolouration. Here are a few reasons as to why you could be seeing yellow leaves on your philodendron, and how to remedy the issue:

  • Too much direct sunlight can result in patchy yellow burnt sections on the foliage. If you notice this, move the plant out of direct sunlight and remove any damaged leaves.
  • Too much water will also cause leaves to turn yellow. Waterlogging can lead to root rot, which will give off a foul odour from the soil. If this happens, repot your philodendron into fresh soil and a new pot, carefully trimming off any rotting or damaged roots.
  • Not enough water can also be the reason your philodendron’s leaves are turning yellow. Water thoroughly and continue to water more regularly from now on.
  • Too little or too much fertiliser will turn the leaves yellow as well. If older leaves turn slightly yellow, the plant requires nitrogen. If the tips of the leaves start to burn and become brown, there could be too much fertiliser or a build-up of salt in the soil. If this occurs, flush your plants for a few minutes when you water them so that water runs out the bottom of the pots.
  • Pests and diseases can also cause colour irregularities in the foliage of your philodendrons. Keep an eye out for blotchy patches that could be caused by the mosaic virus (Dasheen mosaic virus (DMV)). There is currently no effective treatment for DMV; if you experience this, destroy and dispose of your plant to prevent the virus from spreading to any other plants. Insect pests such as spider mites (Tetranychidae) and mealy bugs (Pseudococcidae) can also infect your plants. There are many different products available for treating and controlling these pests, from horticultural oils to insecticidal soaps.
Leaf naturally yellow from age
As philodendrons age, it is natural for the occasional leaf to turn yellow and die off [Photo: mokjc/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating philodendron

While propagating philodendrons by seed is possible, it is a long and arduous process. The best method for propagating philodendrons is by cuttings. Only take philodendron cuttings when the plant has branches to spare. To keep your plants healthy and happy, avoid cutting more than a third of the plant. Here’s how to propagate philodendron by cuttings:

  • Using a sharp, clean pruning knife or secateurs, cut off an approx. 15cm-long portion of stem containing multiple nodes and 2 – 3 leaves. Nodes are the swollen sections of the stem where leaves and roots grow from. Make your cut so that your cutting ends just below a node.
  • Remove the leaves at the lowest 1 – 2 nodes.
  • Stick the lower nodes of your cuttings into a container with loose and well-draining potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, mixed 2:1 with perlite. Ensure the lower nodes are submerged deep enough in the soil to keep them covered so that they can develop roots.
  • Cover your container with a plastic bag to keep humidity levels high and promote growth. To prevent mould growth, ventilate your cuttings daily to prevent the air from becoming stagnant. At temperatures between 20 – 29 °C, roots will normally develop within 4 – 6 weeks.
  • Once new leaves form and your plants start to produce new nodes, your new plants are ready to be potted on.
Philodendron being cut for propagation
Taking cuttings is the easiest and most reliable way of propagating philodendrons [Photo: TuktaBaby/ Shutterstock.com]

Are philodendron plants poisonous?

Philodendrons are poisonous to both humans and pets if ingested. So, keep them out of reach of young children and pets and dispose of fallen or dead leaves immediately.

Want to learn more about the many different varieties of philodendrons? Check out our in-depth article on the subject.

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