Philodendron 101: How To Care For The Adaptable Plant
One of the most common plants you'll find in people's homes, Philodendrons come in hundreds of varieties that boast unique shapes, sizes, colors, and growth habits. Most have heart-shaped leaves that can grow quickly with proper care.
Here's everything you need to know to keep this adaptable houseplant happy.
The Philodendron plant.
Philodendrons are native to the tropical climates of Central and South America. They hail from warm, humid conditions. In the wild, they can be found growing on shaded ground, climbing up trees, or perching on top of other plants or rocks.
"Because of the wide range of habitats that they can be found in, they are fairly easygoing and adaptable to most home environments," explains Chris Satch, a plant specialist at Horti.
Most philodendrons would do well placed near a window that gets a fair amount of light but isn't scorched by the sun all day. (Remember, these babies thrive in the tropics, so they're used to a little shade.) If you live in a warmer climate that doesn't dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can also grow your philodendron outside in the garden.
Some types of philodendrons are rarer than others, but chances are you can find at least one variety in your local plant shop or garden store.
- Sunlight needs: Bright to medium indirect light
- When to water: When the soil feels dry to the touch
- Pros: Come in many varieties, quick to grow
- Cons: Toxic to pets, can develop fungal diseases and pest problems
- Where to put them: Within 3 feet of an east-, west-, or shaded south-facing window
- Pet-friendly? Contain a compound that makes it toxic to pets when ingested
- Size: Trailing varieties can grow to be many feet long
Different types of philodendrons.
There are over 450 species of philodendrons (that we know of!). Some are vining varieties that can make a statement in hanging planters, while others grow upright. They can also come in bright pinks and yellows, or more classic green shades.
Here's an introduction to a few of plant experts' favorite varieties and what makes them special:
- Philodendron Lemon Lime: True to its name, this vining philodendron has striking yellow and green leaves. Satch appreciates that it can also come in a beautiful variegated (multicolored) leaf pattern.
- Philodendron Pink Princess: Another Philodendron with a striking pattern, Satch says this is one of the few houseplants that have baby pink leaves. As such, it's a rare collectors' item that usually costs upward of $40 for a small plant.
- Philodendron Green: You can't go wrong with a classic. Debbie Neese, the horticulture expert at Lively Root says that this common philodendron with smooth, glossy green leaves, is very forgiving and easy for beginners to care for.
- Philodendron Xanadu: It's hard to believe that this favorite of Neese's is in the same category as the others. Its big, bold leaves have a uniquely sharp shape, but it's just as easy to care for as its fellow philodendron.
- Philodendron Birkin: Finally, this stunner grows upright and is known for its unique pattern: light stripes contrast deep green leaves for an effect Neese loves.
How to distinguish pothos from philodendron.
It's easy to confuse philodendrons with pothos, another popular type of houseplant. However, there are some key differences between the two that will help you tell them apart (and give them proper care):
- Leaves: Satch explains that pothos leaves are usually curved or folded along their midline, while philodendrons are flatter. Neese adds that philodendron leaves tend to have longer, pointier ends and a more pronounced heart shape than pothos. For another clue, you can also look to where a plant's leaves meet its stem: In philodendrons, the leaves often form hard right angles, while pothos have a smoother, more streamlined connection.
- Internodes: The internode is the area of stem between your plant's nodes, or leaf formations. Neese explains that philodendrons usually have longer internodes than pothos, making them appear a bit leggier and less full.
- Aerial roots: Notice that your plant has long roots growing above the ground? It's likely a philodendron, not a pothos, which Neese says tend to have shorter, thicker aerial roots.
- Light: Finally, Neese adds that philodendrons can tolerate lower light better than pothos can.
Caring for the plant.
While most philodendron varieties are pretty low maintenance, they aren't invincible. Here's what they tend to need in terms of water, sunlight, soil, etc.
There is no magic number for how often you should water your philodendron. Neese and Satch agree that you'll need to feel the first inch or two of its soil to tell if it's dry and needs water. "Let it dry out before watering," Neese recommends. "If you overwater, it will slow down their growth."
Your plant will likely need more water in the spring and summer, and less during the fall and winter's dormant months. Neese likes to use a plant meter to gauge exactly how much moisture her plant has before watering, especially if it's on the larger side and surrounded by lots of soil.
Most philodendrons could use one to four hours of direct light every day, Satch explains. He recommends placing yours within 3 feet of a winter that faces east or west to help it grow tall and full.
It can also thrive next to a southern-facing window that has a sheer curtain to diffuse some of that bright light. Direct sun can damage its leaves!
If you have a philodendron that's struggling to grow, Neese recommends checking on its light and pushing it closer to a window if needed. Remember, light conditions in your home can change from season to season, so you may have to move your plant periodically.
Repot your plant in fresh, well-draining potting soil when you first take it home from the shop. It should be happy in that new soil for two to three years, though you'll want to move it to a slightly larger pot (2 inches larger) if you notice its roots are outgrowing its container. Check out a complete repotting how-to here.
Your philodendron pot should have a drainage hole for water to escape. This will help prevent overwatering and root rot.
Neese recommends fertilizing your philodendron with a balanced fertilizer (not sure what that means? Peep our fertilizing guide) once a month during the spring and summer.
If you're using synthetic fertilizer, dilute it with water so it is half as strong as what the directions call for, as synthetics tend to be very concentrated.
Most philodendrons will be comfortable in temperatures between 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they don't tolerate temps much below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, be sure to place them away from air conditioners in summer and drafty doors or windows in winter.
Common philodendron problems & how to fix them.
Is your philodendron looking less than perky? Here are a few common care issues with this plant, and how to correct for each:
- Yellow leaves: Satch says that if your philodendron's leaves have a funky yellow border, it's likely fungus. Treat the plant with a fungicide like neem oil and stop watering or misting its leaves, as damp conditions can be breeding grounds for fungi. If one or two of your plant's leaves turns completely yellow from time to time, it's no big deal and likely just the product of aging.
- Drooping leaves: Sad, droopy-looking leaves could be a sign your plant needs water. Feel its soil and if it's dry, give it a good soak. If that doesn't work, Satch says the plant could also be cold (move it to a warmer spot in your home) or rootbound (repot it in a container that's 2 inches larger).
- Brown leaves: Notice brown or bright yellow patches on your plant's leaves? It could be a sunburn. Move it away from the window a bit and see if that helps.
- Slow or nonexistent growth: Philodendrons are usually quick growers in the spring and summer. If yours isn't growing at all, move it to a brighter spot or closer to the nearest window.
How to propagate.
It's easy to make your philodendrons multiply using Neese's go-to water propagation technique:
- In early spring, use sharp pruners to clip a few leaves from your philodendron. Make sure they are attached to 5 to 6 inches of stem and have nodes—tiny brown bumps that grow on the stem—attached.
- Place your cutting in a vase with a few inches of filtered or bottled water. You can also use tap water, but let it sit for at least 24 hours to get rid of excess minerals. Replace the water if it's getting murky.
- After three to four weeks, check to see if the stem has grown 1 to 2 inches of well-formed roots. The roots should be light in color and feel strong if you give them a little pull. If so, it's time to plant!
- Fill a small 6-inch-wide container (with a drainage hole) with well-draining soil and some rooting hormone. Using too large of a container will make it challenging to regulate watering needs.
- Poke a hole in the soil with a pencil. Then, place the cutting in the hole and tamp the soil down around it. Do this several times all over the pot to create an excellent bushy look.
- Place the plant in a spot that gets medium to bright indirect sunlight and water as needed. After four to six weeks, your plant baby should be growing strong.
When should I repot my philodendron?
Neese recommends waiting two to three years before placing your plant in a larger pot. "Let them get a little root-bound, and they will push out more leaves," she says. "Too big of a pot could cause the soil to dry slower, which is not helpful."
How can I make my philodendron look more full?
If your trailing philodendron has more stems than leaves, prune it to encourage more even growth. Simply trim back the longest stems of your plant—and maybe propagate the cuttings to give as gifts while you're at it.
"If you don't prune them, the internodes (stem sections between the nodes) get longer between leaves and look lean," she explains. "The goal is a full head and cascading foliage on the hanging varieties."
How should I water my philodendron?
Once you've felt its soil to make sure it feels dry, slowly pour room temperature water all over the surface of your plant. Once the water comes out of its drainage hole, it's time to stop.
Give your plant a few minutes to soak up any remaining water in its tray. After 10 to 15 minutes, dump any leftover water in the sink. It doesn't need it!
The bottom line.
Along with the trusty ZZ plant and snake plant, philodendrons are some of the easiest houseplants to keep alive. Choose a variety that appeals to you, keep these care tips handy, and you'll be rewarded with a green (or pink, or yellow!) beauty for a long while.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.