Fabulous Philodendrons

Explore varieties of this easy-to-grow, ever-popular houseplant.

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Philodendrum Produces Magnificent Foliage

Philodendrum Produces Magnificent Foliage

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Tree-like philodendrons need plenty of space if you grow them indoors, because they can reach 6 to 8 feet in height. 

Heartleaf Philodendron IMG_1983

Heartleaf Philodendron IMG_1983

Heartleaf philodendron

You see their heart-shaped leaves spilling out of pots and planters everywhere, from the doctor’s office to your neighbor’s bookshelves. Vining philodendrons are pretty, easy-to-grow houseplants that thrive in almost any light, whether it’s bright, indirect sunshine coming through a curtain or artificial fluorescents.

I love them for their trailing habit, but you can also train the vines, which have aerial roots, to climb up a small trellis or a post covered with something they can grab onto, like rough bark or moss.

There are non-trailing philodendrons, too, in case you’re looking for an undemanding, upright plant to decorate a boring corner. These arborescent, or tree-like types need plenty of space if you grow them indoors, because they can reach 6 to 8 feet in height. With their broad leaves and strong trunks, they’re also great for creating a “jungle” feel in your landscape, although they’re natives of the tropics and won’t survive outside unless you live where the winters are mild.

No matter what kind of philodendron you grow, or whether indoors or out, give your plant loose, rich, well-drained soil. Water when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, but don’t let the plant sit in water. Fertilize regularly, as most philodendrons are heavy feeders. The exception is when your plant is growing slowly, as it might in low light conditions. You can still feed regularly, but more lightly.

One of the key things to remember about philodendrons is that while they’re happy in average home temperatures, they don’t like to drop much below 55 degrees F. If you grow them outdoors, bring smaller plants inside before the temperatures start to fall, or take cuttings from the vining types. Philodendrons also like humidity and appreciate being misted, but most are durable and adapt well to the dry air in most houses.

Cuttings are easy to root. Just start with a cutting about 3 to 6 inches long, and pinch off enough foliage to leave the bottom 2 inches bare. Drop it in a glass of water, and wait for roots to form. Cuttings also root easily in some moist vermiculite or good quality potting soil. (You can use a dab of rooting hormone on the end of the cutting first, if you want to speed things up.)

There are many species and cultivars of philodendrons, so you’re sure to find one you like.

Here are a few to try:

  • Heartleaf philodendron (P. scandens) – my favorite, this plant has dark green, heart-shaped leaves. Use it in dish gardens, hanging baskets or pots. It can take very low light, such as the exposure from a north window. A type of Heartleaf, ‘Aureum’ has beautiful chartreuse-lime foliage.
  • Red-leaf philodendron (P. erubescens) – This vining type has reddish-purple stems and arrow-shaped leaves that are coppery-red on the undersides. It likes medium light and grows vigorously, up to 10 to 20 feet.
  • Spade leaf or burgundy philodendron (P. domesticum) – As its name suggests, this climber bears green, spade or arrow-shaped leaves up to 2 feet long. It’s sometimes called Elephant Ear Philodendron.
  • Velvet-leaf philodendron (P. hederaceum hederaceum) – Tiny “hairs” give this plant’s heart-shaped foliage a velvety appearance. The leaves start out bronze and mature to green. It grows 3 to 8 feet, although you can keep it trimmed back as much as you want.

It might surprise you to discover that the big, tree-like, “split-leaf philodendrons” aren’t really philodendrons at all. They’re actually Monstera deliciosa, although they’re related to their look-alikes. Their name is appropriate, because they can become giants when they’re planted outdoors in a warm climate. Like philodendrons, they can’t take frost, so try them in very large containers if you grow them indoors, or plant them outdoors only if you live in a warm-winter region.

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