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Got Your Heart Set On A Monstera? Here's How To Keep The Plant Happy

Lauren David
January 3, 2022
Lauren David
By Lauren David
mbg Contributor
Lauren David is a Chilean-American freelance writer. She writes about gardening, food, health and wellness, and sustainability. She has been published in Allrecipes, Greatist, The Healthy, The Kitchn and more.
January 3, 2022
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What do Swiss cheese and plants have in common? They come together in the marvelous Monstera—nicknamed the Swiss cheese plant because of its funky leaves that are dotted with holes. Monsteras are beloved for their bright green, large, slotted foliage that grows well indoors and outdoors. Here's what you need to know to help this plant thrive.

The Swiss cheese plant (aka Monstera).

Even though you'll only find a handful of Monstera varieties at your local nursery, there are over 40 types of this plant growing around the world. Monsteras often grow wild in Central and South America.

Monsteras are climbers and do well in homes that receive a substantial amount of indirect sunlight during the day. You can also plant them outdoors as long as you place them in a spot that gets enough sunlight and partial shade. If it's happy and thriving, be prepared for your Swiss cheese plant to grow 1 to 2 feet per year.

Quick overview:

  • Sunlight needs: Bright, indirect light
  • When to water: When the soil feels dry to the touch and the leaves curl
  • Pros: Unique foliage, quick to grow
  • Cons: Toxic to pets, can develop pest problems
  • Where to put them: Outside in a bright spot that gets some shade or indoors near a sunny window
  • Pet-friendly? Toxic to pets when ingested
  • Maximum size: 5 to 8 feet tall

Different types of Swiss cheese plants:

  • Monstera Deliciosa: This variety is the most well known, and you've probably seen it at your local plant shop. As the Monstera Deliciosa grows older, its leaves start to form signature slits down the sides. Its name, Deliciosa ("delicious" in Spanish), refers to the fruit that it produces, Mexican breadfruit.
  • Monstera Adansonii: This variety has tons of tiny holes—so many that it can look like they are overtaking the leaves themselves. Its foliage is usually rougher than other Monstera varieties.
  • Monstera Obliqua: Another variety with plenty of holes, this one has slightly thinner leaves than its Adansonii cousin. It's on the rare side, and you're unlikely to come across it much.

Caring for the plant.

Monsteras tend to be pretty low-maintenance plants—as long as they're placed in the right conditions. Here's what kind of temperatures, water, soil, and sunlight they need to thrive.

Temperature needs:

Native to tropical climates, Monsteras do best with moderately warm temperatures that are slightly humid. A super-dry, hot area would not be conducive to this plant. "It's important to keep your Monsteras in an average room temperature between 64 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius)," says Leann Lindsey, Fairfax County Master Gardener at Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Water needs:

When it comes to watering your Monstera, there are a variety of factors that will influence how much moisture it needs, including if it's grown indoors or outdoors.

"Grown inside, a medium-size plant (10- to 12-inch pot) should be watered every seven to 10 days in the warmer months, and about every 12 to 20 days in the colder months," says Lindsey. "Once the water has drained through to the sauce[r], empty it out." 

Want another rule of thumb for watering? "In general, you'll want to allow the top few inches of the potting mix to dry between waterings," says Justin Hancock, horticulturist and head of brand marketing at Costa Farms.

Sunlight needs:

Monsteras enjoy the sun, but when grown indoors, they typically do best in indirect sunlight or artificial light. Too much direct sun can cause their beautiful leaves to burn. "If it gets too much direct sun, the leaves may show sunburn, which appears as bleached patches," Hancock explains.

That said, insufficient light can also affect their growth. "If a Monstera plant doesn't get enough light, it will grow slowly and weakly and have long sections of stem between the leaves," explains Hancock. 

"If you're thinking of putting Monstera in low light, keep in mind that you might want to start with a larger plant to compensate for the slower growth rate," recommends Lindsey.

Soil needs:

Luckily, Monsteras aren't too finicky when it comes to soil. Your best bet is planting it in a high-quality, well-draining potting mix. "Monsteras love loads of organic matter, in a light, loamy soil," says Lindsey. "You want a soil that holds moisture, but it must also drain well."

Common problems & how to fix them.

  • Leaf loss: If your Monstera begins dropping leaves and developing squishy, rotten stems, it could be a sign it's been overwatered and has root rot. "If it's just in the early stages [of root rot], making sure you let the potting mix dry out more in between waterings is all that's needed," says Hancock. "In slightly more severe cases, slipping the root ball out of the pot and leaving it on a towel, etc., for a day or two to dry out faster can help."
  • Curling, crunchy leaves: If you notice your plant's leaves beginning to curl, it could be thirsty. Lindsey adds that crunchy leaves are also a sign your Monstera needs more frequent watering.
  • Webbing and holes in the leaves: Sometimes it's not water you need to be concerned about but critters and pests. Spider mites, in particular, can disrupt the growth of your Monstera plant—and the bad news is these pests reproduce quickly. "In some conditions, you can see an entire life cycle (an egg hatches, matures, mates, and that spider mite lays a new generation of eggs) in a week or 10 days." If you notice your plant has spider mites (signs include small holes in the leaves and webbing), wash down its foliage with water. "Because spider mites aren't insects, not all insecticides are going to be super effective on them," explains Hancock.
  • Insects: "With other pests like mealybug and scale, I recommend regular applications of neem oil, insecticidal soap, or the insecticide of your choice," explains Hancock. Here's a guide on how to use these sprays on your plants.

How to propagate.

If you're loving your Monstera plant and want another one but don't fancy a trip to your garden store, why not propagate? Propagation is when you take one part of a plant, also known as a cutting, to create a whole new plant. Here's how it's done:

  1. Snip a part of your Monstera plant where there is a node—a tiny brown bump on the stem where a new stem or branch can form. For a better chance of survival, make sure your cutting has 2 to 3 leaves, and the bottom ⅓ of your cutting is sans leaves. 
  2. Place your cutting in water until you see small roots beginning to grow. (They'll look like stringy, light hairs or fuzziness growing from the bottom of the stem.) This step is essential before placing it in a pot with soil.
  3. You'll know the clipping is ready when more established white "feeder" roots grow on different sides of the fuzzy roots.
  4. Once there are several feeder roots (usually within a month or so), you can transfer your cutting into a small pot with soil or potting mix.
  5. If your cutting is happy in its new home, you'll begin to see new growth and new leaves within a few weeks. From there, tend to it as normal.

Tips to keep in mind.

  • Monsteras love to climb, so you might want to provide space and support for them to grow vertically with a coconut coir or moss pole.
  • Monstera leaves can be irritating to the skin, especially in children and those with skin sensitivities. Place the plant in an area that's slightly out of the way so you're not touching it as you pass through your space, suggests Lindsey. 
  • "Most monstera species will develop larger, more dramatic leaves if grown vertically and given warm, bright conditions," says Hancock. If yours isn't growing as quickly as you'd like, move it to a warmer, sunnier spot in your home. You could also consider fertilizing your plant during the active growing months.

The bottom line.

If you've been pondering whether you should buy a Monstera plant for your living room or office nook, now you know what it entails to take care of this popular houseplant. Just give it enough heat, water, and light, and you'll enjoy its funky foliage for years to come.

Lauren David author page.
Lauren David

Lauren David is a Chilean-American freelance writer. She writes about gardening, food, health and wellness, and sustainability. She has been published in Allrecipes, Greatist, The Healthy, The Kitchn and more.

When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time in her garden, experimenting with ingredients in the kitchen, or spending time by the ocean. See her portfolio on her website.