Monstera is a surprisingly small genus with only around 59 species total. They are in the arum family, Araceae, making them aroids. This genus is native to the tropical regions of the Americas. Some of the most popular affordable and most sought after and expensive houseplants belong to this genus. Several plants in this genus go by the name swiss cheese plant due to the tendency for many plants within this genus to develop fenestrations, or holes in the mature leaves, giving them a unique, tropical feel. These perforate leaves form by certain cells dying in the earliest stage of leaf formation. There is not a clear reason for these holey leaves, but there are several possibilities. Some of those possibilities include allowing sunlight to reach lower leaves, minimizing the chance of the leaves becoming damaged in the wind, or maximizing the amount of rain that reaches the roots of the plants. While we may be unsure on the reasoning for the fenestrations in the leaves, one thing is for sure- we do know how to care for them! Most monstera will have the same care insructions with one notable deviant- Monstera obliqua. This rare plant comes with the price tag it does due to its difficulty to grow and specific lighting and humidity requirements. This care guide is targeted towards the rest of the members of the Monstera genus. Variegated or not, Monstera deliciosa, Monstera peru, Monstera addansonii, Monstera punctata, and more all fall under the same care requirements.
Monstera are vines that begin in the jungle understory, growing up the trunks of trees, trying to reach the bright light at the top of the canopy. Just like other plants that either begin or live their entire lives on the jungle floor, these plants thrive in bright, indirect light. Inside, this means a bright spot in the room, while outside, this means somewhere shaded, like under a tree or a covered porch. Windows filter a lot more light than many of us realize. Putting this plant in a south-facing window that gets sun nearly all day will not cause the dreaded sunburn that plants moving to the outdoors. Leaves with sunburn will have large swaths of brown on their leaves. The brown portions are necrotic and will not heal. If the plant is not getting enough light, the space between the leaves will elongate and the plant will lean towards the light. This process is called etiolation. This can be remedied simply by adding a grow light, however grow lights carry the same risks as the sun. They also can cause sunburn. As each light is different, be sure to follow the recommendations for the light you purchase. Most lights recommend mounting them at least 12-18 inches above the highest portion of your plant.
Watering monstera seems to be the most common downfall for these plants. It is easy to over water these plants. When many of us imagine the native range of these plants, the tropical areas, rain forests, beaches, islands, many picture water and a lot of it. Meanwhile, these plants need to dry significantly before the plants should be watered again in the house setting. Allow the soil to dry 50-75% before watering again. When you water potted plants, the soil should be completely saturated, not giving only small amounts of water at a time. To fully saturate the soil from the top looks like adding water until it runs out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. If bottom watering, be sure to continue to add water to the tray and allow the plant to soak until the top of the soil appears damp. Depending on the size of the pot, this could take anywhere from minutes to hours. Forgetting a pot in the water for a day or two will not harm the plant, but be sure this does not happen on a regular basis. This may sound like over watering, to saturate the soil entirely, but over watering is the frequency of water, not the quantity. Adding small amounts of water more frequently will make it so some portions of the soil never truly dry, usually in the center of the pot. Roots in those areas will not be able to perform the much needed gas exchange and will suffocate. By saturating the entirety of the soil and waiting until it is properly dry will eliminate this risk. If you forget to water your monstera for too long, they will also show you some warning signs before they begin to suffer. How the wilting looks will vary slightly from species to species, but each monstera will show visible signs of wilting when in need of water. Do not water on a schedule, such as every Monday, without checking the soil first to see if the plant needs water. Plants don't run on schedules, so it is best to listen to them for when they need water and always check the soil before watering.
You may also see suggestions of using ice cubes for water, but whatever you do, never water your tropical plants with ice! While you mostly see these instructions on orchids, occasionally they also accompany other tropical plants. These directions are designed to kill your plants. Not only does it not give enough water to the soil to saturate it, but tropical plants are not accustomed to the nearly freezing water that would be causing stress and eventually death to your plant.
Monstera are a very hardy group of plants that can tolerate a wide range of soils, as long as you are properly watering your plant. Everything from generic potting soil to the chunky aroid mix I have listed on my website will be suitable for these plants to thrive in! If you find yourself to be an over waterer, or even someone who just wants to baby their plants more often, it is best to use a chunky soil mix, rather than one that is similar to plain potting soil. Regular potting soil will take longer to dry and is less forgiving of improper watering, though it is better suited to those who live in dry or hot areas, as it will retain more water for longer.
Like many other popular houseplants, monstera tend to be disease and pest resistant. Though, to many growers' dismay, this does not mean they are impervious to these ailments. Knowing what to look for and being prepared for the worst is a wonderful way to make sure your plants are going to thrive in your care, even if they do come down with the sniffles.
Leaves can and do yellow in different ways for different reasons. The pattern of yellowing on one leaf, as well as which leaves on the plant are yellowing will tell you exactly what your plant is asking for. Most often, yellowing leaves are a sign of either a water or nutrient issue. If you fertilize regularly, following the directions on the fertilizer bottle, you can typically rule out nutrient deficiencies. If you need help figuring out why your plant's leaves are yellowing the way they are, and you can't quite understand what it is communicating, please feel free to send me an email with a photo included of the yellow leaves in question, the whole plant, and a basic summary of care. I will be able to help!
Mealybugs are a white, sap-sucking insect that produces the honeydew mentioned above. They often hide on the underside of leaves and in tight crevices of new growth. They are easily treated with pesticides, an alcohol mixture, or beneficial insects. For more information on how to identify and treat mealybugs, check out the blog post titled Mealybugs and How to Deal with Them.
Scale are another sap sucking insect that come with a shield. Also called hard bodied scale, these insects look like brown bumps on the plant's stems or leaves that can easily be confused for part of the plant. They are a little harder to get rid of, but it is still fairly easy to do. Carefully scrape the bugs off of the plant either with your fingernail or the flat side of a toothpick and remove them that way. Systemic pesticides, ones applied to the roots of the plant to make the entire plant toxic to pests, are another option for those in hard-to-reach places. There are several species of predatory insects, also called beneficial insects, that will target and eat scale. These predators will look for scale, even when you aren't, and often can either cure small infestations or get extreme infestations to a manageable size.
Curling leaves are a sign of the lack of water! Most monstera will have their leaves curl inwards on themselves when they are extremely thirsty and in need of water. You may also notice that the leaves are flopping downward more than normal. Give your plant a drink and the issue should resolve itself in about an hour!
Fenestrations are often one of the focal points that draw growers into the monstera genus. These majestic holes come with age. If your plant seems to only have solid leaves, wait until a few more new leaves come in and you will begin to see more and more holes with each leaf. Fenestrations come with maturity!
Monstera are wonderful beginner plants that are easily affordable and make wonderful additions to any collection! As always, if you have any plants that you are concerned about, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Send a photo or several as well as how you have been caring for it to email@example.com.