Philodendron Care Guide
By Ophi Hodgman
Philodendrons are among the most popular indoor houseplants in the entire world and have been for centuries! Discovered and first collected in 1644, these plants were not classified until the mid-nineteenth century.
You can now find some of the most cultivated species at your local grocery stores and garden centers, including Estabrook's. These include those that have been bred for hardiness and will tolerate a surprising amount of neglect versus more sensitive varieties that need attention more than once a week. The Philodendron Hederaceum or "Heartleaf" Philodendron is among the most resilient, and will miraculously cling to life in the most challenging environments - one of them being our homes!
It's a Jungle Out There (And In Here!)
When these plants are taken out of their natural habitats and placed in a household setting, they rely on us in order to survive and thrive. The most important things to remember when growing a Philodendron is meeting the correct light requirements, soil, water, humidity and nutrients. Even though a lot of us collectors try our best to replicate their natural environments, nothing beats the perpetually humid, tropical climates they are used to growing in. Often marketed as easy-going, low-light tolerating plants, it is not the case for all four-hundred fifty species - and counting!
An Air of Mystery
The Philodendron is the second largest genus behind Anthurium and is still poorly documented taxonomically. Many species today are undescribed and new species are being discovered every year! Botanists are actively learning about this genus in real time. Isn't that crazy?
There is still so much we do not know, and with a large plant genus comes a multitude of different care methods. If you are interested in learning more about Philodendron, read ahead for the ultimate care guide!
Before jumping into the basics, one thing that is often overlooked is the anatomy of plants and how Philodendron are actively communicating their needs to us cultivators.
Terrestrial-growing Philodendron will only grow along the ground, or in this case, the soil in the pot. These plants are often referred to as crawlers.
Epiphytic Philodendron, like the Silver Sword, you will find growing on the sides of trees in their natural habitats.
Semi-Epiphytic is another term often used to describe plants that will climb while also sending out aerial roots to the soil below to collect nutrients not found on the sides of trees. These aroids also tend to utilize the moisture found in the air to keep the plant watered and lush.
The type of grower you have will also determine the type of foliage you will get from the plant. Excluding Terrestrial growers, Philodendron leaves evolve and change as the plant matures. Many don't even look like the same species when comparing their juvenile forms to their mature form. Philodendron will only mature when given the opportunity and conditions to climb and reach higher light levels. If you want to size up those leaves, use a wood plank, stake or moss pole and keep the medium moist to promote rooting and mature growth!
Did you know the foliage also determines what your plant needs? A thin, soft leaf with a velvet or satin finish indicates a less-forgiving delicate plant when it comes to their basic care needs not being met. Something as simple as the chemicals in our tap water can cause crisping edges, spotting, yellowing and browning, or leaf loss.
Gravelly or highly textured leaves are designed to efficiently shed water. These types need more attention from their cultivators, because they have evolved in climates with excellent water quality and will likely require the same conditions within a home setting. Thick-leaved Philodendrons have a hardier foliage that is able to store water during short periods of neglect or drought.
When an entire genus evolves under the dense canopy of rainforests, species within that genus will get crafty in their search for light. You can see this in the many different ways they have evolved to grow. These plants fall under the umbrella of requiring "bright indirect light." More specifically, most Philodendron will prefer filtered sunlight or bright shade.
Temperature is a big factor in maintaining indoor plant growth year-round. A good rule of thumb is if we find our home temperature comfortable, so will our plants! (50-90 degrees Fahrenheit)
With most thick-leaved Philodendron, you can follow the rule of thoroughly watering when dry, while thinner leaved species tend to need consistent moisture to maintain lushness.
Most Philodendron will thrive in normal household humidity (40-60%).
This highly-evolved genus is not picky when it comes to the type of fertilizer they receive, but consider being light-handed when it comes to the more delicate-leaved species. Over-fertilization can cause root and leaf burn.
By following these tips, you will be able to fill your home with Philodendrons that will add tons of texture, color and vitality to nearly any interior space.