For generations, philodendrons have served as a mainstay in interior gardens. Philodendron care is easy because if you watch for the signals, the plant will tell you exactly what it needs. Even inexperienced houseplant owners will have no trouble growing philodendron, because the plants adapt readily to conditions inside the home.
Quick Philodendron Facts
- Botanical name: Philodendron spp.
- Height: vines can grow up to 3 feet (0.9 m); some non-climbers up to 6 feet tall (1.8 m)
- Spread: some non-climbers can reach 6 feet (1.8 m)
- Sun exposure: indirect sun
- Soil requirements: light, well-draining
- Hardiness zones: heartleaf philodendron - USDA zones 10B-11; tree philodendron zones 8b-11
- When to plant: year round as houseplants; outdoors in spring
How to Care for a Philodendron
Indoor plants grow year round without complaint, but they enjoy an occasional stay outdoors in a shady spot when the weather permits. Taking the plant outdoors also gives you a chance to flush the soil with plenty of fresh water and clean the leaves. Unlike most houseplants, philodendrons don’t experience as much stress when moving from indoor to outdoor settings.
The cultural needs of philodendrons depend on the species of the plant and whether it is a houseplant or a garden fixture. But a few general rules apply when it comes to how to care for a philodendron. First, most philodendrons are not cold hardy and can only live outside in a very warm climate. They prefer the same temperatures humans enjoy indoors. Second, most species do not do well in direct sun, and, finally, most philodendrons require well-draining soil to thrive.
The amount and type of sunlight a philodendron requires depends on the species. Popular heart-leaf philodendron prefers indirect bright light, but these are easy-going houseplants that will accept a range of lighting conditions, including shade.
If you're growing your philodendron as a houseplant, place the pot in a location with bright, indirect sunlight. Find a position near a window where the sun’s rays never actually touch the foliage. While it’s normal for older leaves to yellow, if this happens to several leaves at the same time, the plant may be getting too much light. On the other hand, if the stems are long and leggy with several inches between leaves, the plant probably isn’t getting enough light.
Plant philodendrons in light growing medium that allows water to drain easily. Wet soil can cause roots to rot.
Philodendrons are not particularly thirsty plants. Houseplants should be watered whenever the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil is dry to the touch. That's about the length of your index finger to the first knuckle, so inserting your finger into the soil is a good way to check the moisture level.
As a general rule, the large lush leaves of philodendrons do best when their soil is kept consistently moist, but not wet. Droopy leaves can mean that the plant is getting too much or not enough water. But the leaves recover quickly when you correct the watering schedule.
The plant’s leaves will also turn yellow when it is getting too much water. This is less likely in outdoor plants than houseplants. Be sure never to let a potted plant sit in a saucer of water.
It is recommended that you fertilize philodendrons regularly. Feed philodendron houseplants with a balanced liquid foliage houseplant fertilizer that contains macro-nutrients. Use a water-soluble fertilizer and be sure to dilute it.
Water the plant with the fertilizer monthly in spring and summer and every six to eight weeks in fall and winter. Slow growth and small leaf size is the plant’s way of telling you that it isn’t getting enough fertilizer. Pale new leaves usually indicate that the plant isn’t getting enough calcium and magnesium, which are essential micro-nutrients for philodendrons.
That being said, many people choose not to fertilize their philodendrons and still have healthy, beautiful plants.
Many species of philodendron propagate readily from cuttings planted in potting mix. Heart-leaf is among them. That means that with one established houseplant you can create as many as you like over time.
If you live in one of the warmest hardiness zones, you can include philodendron foliage plants in the garden. In mild zones, tree philodendron can reach a height of 12-15 feet (3.6-4.5 m) with an equal or greater spread, and has deeply cut, green to dark green leaves up to 3 feet (0.9 m) in length. All need indirect sun, well-draining soil, and reasonable irrigation. They prefer a humid climate.
Philodendrons are generally not difficult to care for in the home. They are not vulnerable to many plant diseases, although they react to excess or insufficient water. If you fail to give the plant well-draining soil, you may cause root rot, which can kill the plant. Too much fertilizer can cause tip browning. Too much or too little water plus insects and mites are the main problems.
In terms of insect pests, keep an eye out for aphids, mealybugs, scales and spider mites. And don’t eat any part of your philodendron plants. They are toxic to humans and pets.
Types of Philodendron
The philodendron genus is a large one, generally divided into two major types: climbing and non-climbing. Plants with vines can either be trained to climb up a trellis or hang down in a hanging basket. Climbing varieties include:
- Heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)
- Fiddleleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum bipennifolium)
- Red-leaf philodendron (Philodendron erubescens)
- Elephant’s ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
- Brandi philodendron (Philodendron brandtianum)
- Silver sword (Philodendron hastatum)
- Velour philodendron (Philodendron melanochrysum)
Self-heading types are the non-climbing species. They have an upright, spreading growth habit. The width of non-climbers can be as much as twice their height, so give them plenty of elbow room. They often work better outside. Non-climing varieties include:
- Split leaf philodendron (Philodendron selloum)
- Lacy tree philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
- Birdsnest philodendron (Philodendron imbe)
- Hybrids such as "Xanadu," "Birkin," and "Moonlight"
Is My Plant a Pothos or a Philodendron?
Philodendron houseplants are often confused with pothos (Epipremnum aureum), because they look very similar, have similar growing conditions, and sometimes are just plain mislabelled.
While the leaves of these two plants are similar in shape, the stems of pothos plants are grooved, while those of philodendrons are not. New philodendron leaves emerge surrounded by a leaf sheath, which eventually dries and falls off. Pothos leaves don’t have this sheath. Pothos also need brighter light and warmer temperatures, and are frequently sold in hanging baskets.
Gardening tips, videos, info and more delivered right to your inbox!
Sign up for the Gardening Know How newsletter today and receive a free download of our most popular eBook "How to Grow Delicious Tomatoes."
5 Marsh Marigold Lookalikes – And Which Cause The Most Harm
Marsh marigolds have several lookalikes, and some of these lovely fast-growing plants can be harmful and invasive. It’s good to know the difference.
By Tonya Barnett
Best Plants For Frogs: 7 Plant Varieties To Bring More Froggies To Your Yard
A frog-friendly environment is one of the key indicators for garden health – so if you want to improve the health of your plot, here are seven plants for frogs you need to try
By Janey Goulding
7 Houseplants Not Worth The Hassle: Should You Avoid These High-Maintenance Houseplants?
Whether you are a beginner indoor gardener or an experienced grower seeking a challenge, get ready to avoid or embrace these diva houseplants
By Melanie Griffiths
How To Grow Philodendron ‘Hope’ And ‘Little Hope’
Click here to learn how to grow a philodendron ‘Little Hope’ plant, as well as its big cousin 'Hope.'
By Mary Ellen Ellis
How to Propagate Philodendron Plants: Philodendron Propagation Tips
When philodendron vines get too long, you can take cuttings from the plant to grow more. Read on to learn more about philodendron propagation.
By Laura Walters
Post-Holiday Plant Care
Keeping gift plants happy and healthy through the holiday season is easy, but getting them to last is the trick.
By Amy Draiss
Philodendron Brandtianum Care – Growing Silver Leaf Philodendrons
Silver leaf philodendrons are attractive, tropical plants with olive green leaves splashed with silvery markings and tend to be bushier than most other philodendrons. For more information on the Brandi philodendron variety, click the following article.
By Mary H. Dyer
Xanadu Philodendron Care: Tips For Growing Xanadu Philodendrons Indoors
If you enjoy growing houseplants, then you may want to consider adding the Xanadu philodendron houseplant to your list. Xanadu philodendron care is simple and this larger plant makes a wonderful vertical accent in the home. Learn more in this article.
By Raffaele Di Lallo
Split Leaf Elephant Ear Plant: What Is A Selloum Philodendron
Philodendron selloum is an easy plant to grow. You get a lot of plant for minimal effort, as it will grow into a large shrub or small tree with large, decorative leaves and requires little care. Learn more about these “split-leaf” philodendron plants here.
By Mary Ellen Ellis
Tree Philodendron Houseplants: How To Grow A Tree Philodendron Plant
Tree philodendron houseplants are long-lived plants that need only the simplest of care. In fact, too much TLC might make them grow so large you’re unable to move them indoors for the winter. Learn about tree philodendron care in this article.
By Becca Badgett