Philodendron is a genus within the family Araceae containing 480 or more species. The genus is mostly comprised of vining plants native to the tropical regions of the Americas that have adapted to low light conditions, making them a popular plant for the house or office. With so many species of philodendron, it isn't surprising that some of them land on the more affordable end, while others can go for hundreds of dollars per plant. But, because so many of them are native to a similar area of the world, it makes care for many of them fairly similar, if not the same. You may be surprised how easy they are! Here is your general care sheet that will help most of your Philodendron plants thrive:
Lighting is easy when it comes to philodendron. Many have adapted to live on the jungle floor, where light isn't plentiful. That can be similar to a lot of the lighting within our own homes, though our homes do often have areas of the home that are lower light than what would make these plants thrive. Bright, indirect light will give these plants what they need without burning their leaves or causing them to become etiolated (stretched, leggy, and looking for light). If you notice your plant is leaning to the light more than desired, adding a grow light to the corner will give it plenty of light.
Soil and Water
Soil types can cause some debate in the online plant groups. As long as your soil is rich in nutrients, your philodendron will be happy as a clam! Many philodendron grow in an area with high organic content in the soil, so typical potting soil is just fine for many of these plants. If you find yourself to be an overwaterer, planting your philodendron in a chunky, aroid mix may be beneficial. The aroid soil I have available on my site is comprised of nutrient rich organic components, as well as chunky bits to make the soil drain and dry faster. If you tend to forget about your plants or underwater them, the soil that many philodendron come in from the nursery will do just fine. If you don't know where you fall in the watering realm, I suggest leaving the plant in the soil it came in for a while before repotting it into something else. Listen to the plant's cues as to when it wants water.
Many philodendrons will flag or wilt before they will experience damage from drought, making them a good plant for forgetful plant parents! You don't have to wait for your plant to flag before you water, however. If your plant is not flagging, be sure to check the soil before watering to ensure you are not giving excess water. The top two inches of the soil should be dry before the next watering. To properly
water your plant, whether watering from the bottom or the top, totally saturate the soil. If you are watering from the top, continue adding water until the excess drains from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. If watering from the bottom, provide enough water in the bowl or tray and allow the plant to sit in the water for as long as it takes to saturate the entirety of the soil. Overwatering is the frequency of water, not the quantity of water provided each time. Watering a small amount every day does not allow the soil to dry properly between the watering and has a high probability to lead to root rot. Watering on a schedule, such as every Saturday, without checking the soil first has the same risks.
To Hang or to Climb?
Perhaps the most common philodendron, Philodendron hederaceum, or the heart-leaf philodendron, is often sold in hanging baskets. However, in the wild, many philodendron climb other, larger plants, such as trees with their aerial roots that emerge from every node. While vining philodendron are hardy plants and can thrive growing both directions, hanging and climbing, they tend to produce larger, more impressive leaves if allowed to climb. Climbing can be achieved with various supports, such as moss poles or even bare wood or bricks. If setting your plant up to climb, it will need help until it attaches itself to the structure you are providing. It is best if the ties used to secure the plant to its support are either stretchy, tied loosely, or both to allow the plant to expand and grow. The supports can be removed once the plant attaches itself to the support. Applying water to the support may be necessary to cause the plant to secure itself with its roots. Not every philodendron will behave the same way where it will climb or trail, but many philodendron do better if given support. Even other common houseplants outside the Philodendron genus, yet still within the family Araceae will produce the same larger, more impressive leaves if given support, such as pothos or plants in the Monstera genus.
Yellowing leaves are common in healthy and unhealthy plants alike. Old leaves on the bottom of the plant will tend to yellow and die. In healthy plants, they will only yellow a few leaves at a time and the rest of the plant will look healthy. This isn't a cause for worry! Just like you can't keep every hair on your head, plants can't keep every leaf they make.
More often than not, if your houseplant has yellow leaves that are more widespread than just the bottom one or two, there is a fertilization issue. That's right- it isn't always how you are watering! The pattern of yellowing on the leaf, as well as if the yellow leaves are isolated on the bottom or top will help you to determine which nutrient is in deficit or excess. Nutrient excess doesn't occur often unless fertilizer is applied regularly and in excess. If you follow the directions on the box, this will not happen. Nutrient deficit is much more common. People forget that plants need nutrients in order to grow! Adding your typical garden center fertilizer will usually resolve the issue fairly quickly. Sometimes, yellowing can be caused by overwatering, though it is not nearly as common as a nutrient deficit. The pattern of yellowing will help you to determine the problem, though if you are properly checking the soil before watering, there should be little risk of overwatering.
People are always looking for ways to be rid of fungus gnats and there are a lot of online remedies that simply do not work, damage your plant, or both. Fungus gnats are more of an annoyance to us than they ever will be to our plants. The amount of gnats needed to cause damage to the plants is frankly unimaginable. The easiest and most cost effective way to be rid of fungus gnats is to allow the top two inches on all of your plants to dry before watering again. This will kill the eggs and larvae that still live in the soil and prevent the adults from laying more eggs if they cannot find damp soil within the top few inches. For more detailed remedies, please check the blog post titled "Fungus Gnats and How to Deal With Them." Do not use hydrogen peroxide on your plants! Not only is it a stress hormone in plants, but it will cause more damage to the roots than fungus gnats ever could.
Though philodendron are fairly pest free, mealybugs and scale may be the two most common pests you will find on philodendron, followed by spider mites. Prevention and frequent checking is always a good idea when it comes to pest management. Sprinkling systemic pesticide in the soil every few months will not harm the plant, but may be something to avoid with pets that munch on or dig in your plants. Pesticides can be used to treat all of these pests, just be sure to read the label for application directions and the type of pest it will target. Beneficial insects are my personal favorite way to treat pests, though that is not always an option if being treated inside your house.
Mealybugs are a form of soft-bodied scale. They excrete honeydew, which when left on the lower leaves can lead to sooty mildew. Look for small, white, fuzzy ovals on the undersides of leaves and on stems. They also reside in the nooks and crannies between leaves and stems and tend to be on new growth, though this is not always the case. Because mealybugs are a soft-bodied insect, they are super easy to treat! Mix one part 70% isopropyl alcohol with one part water, spray, and wipe! The alcohol will kill the insects, though mothers will have baby mealybugs beneath them, so it is a good idea to wipe the bodies away, as well as to ensure there will not be residue left on the leaves.
Scale is a little harder to take care of, simply because they cannot be killed with rubbing alcohol. Scale look like brown ovals or circles and will typically be found in the same locations as mealybugs. It is best to scrape the scale off with your nail or a toothpick. Spraying them with water may help to loosen them up and get them off of the plant a little easier. Be sure to keep an eye out for sticky honeydew on lower leaves to prevent sooty mold.
Spider mites may be the toughest to deal with on this list, partly because they are the hardest to spot. They're tiny spiders that will damage your plant with piercing sucking mouth parts. You may see them as tiny, black moving dots on the undersides or between leaves, often suspended in the webs they spin. Do not fret every time you see webs on your plants, however! Regular spiders will not cause damage to your plants. Increasing humidity can ward off spider mites, though this is not always 100% effective. Insecticidal soap is a very effective treatment when the directions on the label are followed.
Pests and diseases aren't overly common in houses with only a few plants and if the new plants are isolated from others to be sure if the new plant does have a pest you didn't notice in the shop, that it will not spread to others in your collection.
Overall, philodendrons are very easy plants to care for, very rewarding, and relatively pest free. They make a wonderful addition to any collection or as a beginner's first plant. The variety within this genus is truly amazing and will impress anyone visiting your home or office.
As always, if you have any questions or are worried about your plant in any way, please don't be afraid to drop me an email! If you believe there is something wrong with your plant, send a photo along with how you have been caring for it and I will be able to help.