philodendron golden dragon

Plant Profile: How to care for…Philodendron

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I love me a philodendron. They’re a family comprising over 900 species, so I’d be shocked if you can’t find one you like.

They’re big, viney, and often easy to take care of. You can get pink ones, black ones, heart-shaped ones, long skinny ones…you get the idea.

Philodendron vary MASSIVELY with specific care tips, so if you spend a fortune on one, research the specific type.

Quickfire Philodendron care

  • Light: bright, indirect, though low light tolerant
  • Humidity: 60-70%
  • Temperature: 12C/55F – 32C/90F
  • Watering: water when the soil is dry
  • Fertilise: monthly, general-purpose fertiliser
  • Potting medium: aroid mix
  • Propagation: cuttings
  • Pests: Mealybugs, scale, spider mites
  • Bloom? yes
  • Toxic? yes

Where do Philodendron come from?

Philodendrons originate from the Americas, but they’ve spread all over the world (tropical regions, anyway).

There are three main kinds of philodendron:

  • Epiphytes – they grow on other plants but aren’t parasitic.
  • Hemiepiphytes – They live part of their life as epiphytes
  • Terrestrial – they live on the ground
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Where should I put my Philodendron?

I have several philodendrons, and they’re all fairly happy in medium light situations. My golden dragon and hastatum live in a dark corner – I use a grow light as a lamp there, so it’s on for about 7 hours a day in the winter.

In other words, you don’t have to give up your precious windowsill real estate to philodendron. They’ll be happy on a bookshelf somewhere.

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Light conditions for Philodendron

There are so many differing opinions out there about how much light philodendrons need.

I would say they’re a very tolerant plant, but happy in medium light, will survive in low light, but you’ll get the most growth if you put them in bright, indirect light.

If you spend a lot on your plant, give it more light just to be safe (though don’t let it burn).

If in doubt, consider where philodendron grow in the wild – they would receive dappled light through the rainforest canopy. We can’t replicate that (until I get my indoor rainforest anyway), so bright, indirect light is ideal, but less won’t lethal.

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Temperature preferences for Philodendron

The usual for tropical plants: 12C/55F – 32C/90F.

In winter I move my philodendron away from the window so that they keep a bit warmer. They’ll receive less light so will grow more slowly, which is for the best in cold temperatures.

My golden dragon isn’t producing leaves, at the moment, but he’s growing a mahoosive vine that taller than his moss pole. As long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.

I put many of my philodendron in my spare room over winter, because:

  1. It’s warmer
  2. More plants together increases the ambient humidity
  3. If I don’t there’s no room for the Christmas tree.
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Humidity preferences for Philodendron

Think rainforest.

Ideally we’re looking at a humidity range of about 60-70%.

HOWEVER

A philodendron scandens may be happy enough with an ambient humidity of 40% or less, with no adverse effect on its growth.

And then you get philodendron that will curl up and die if they get less than 70% humidity. And, of course, it’s the most expensive ones that do that. So if you’re shelling out a couple of grand on a spiritus sancti, get a humidifier first.

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How to water your philodendron

In the main, philodendrons are quite forgiving when it comes to watering. Like most plants, they can tolerate underwatering better than overwatering. I like to let my philodendron dry out almost completely between waterings.

When I do water my philodendron I soak them thoroughly, and leave them to drain on the draining board. I typically bottom water (click the link to find out why) by leaving them in a tray of water.

The bigger the pot, the longer I leave it to soak. I only water from the top if bottom watering is taking too long and I have places to be.

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How to fertilise your Philodendron

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to watering philodendron. A lot of house plant enthusiasts don’t fertilise them at all. I fertilise them on a monthly-ish basis, just adding a couple of drops of seaweed emulsion into the water.

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Pests common to Philodendron

Mealybugs, scale and spider mites are the most common, but healthy philodendron are not especially susceptible to pests. There are, however, a few diseases and funguses that are known to infect philodendron, including various types of blight and leaf spot.

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Potting mix for Philodendron

Philodendrons like a well-draining potting mix. I mix up equal parts of perlite, house plant potting mix and orchid bark.

Since many philodendrons are epiphytes, they’ve evolved to have a lot of air around the roots. If your potting mix is too heavy and holds too much water your plants could develop root rot.

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Pot type most suitable for Philodendron

They’re not fussy. I like to pot my philodendrons in terracotta pots because it allows water to evaporate quickly through the clay.

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Are Philodendron toxic?

Yes. Don’t eat them, and don’t allow any members of your family (human or otherwise) eat them.

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How to propagate Philodendron

Ease of propagation depends on the variety of philodendron, but it’s quite easy to get many of the more common vining philodendrons to propagate in water.

I broke of a vine of my heartleaf philodendron and I’m attempting to propagate it in my fish tank. Fingers crossed.

The difficulty in getting roots to form is apparently randon depending on both species and specimen, so you’ll just have to give it a go.

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Notes

  • Many philodendrons produce a substance to attract ants. The ants can provide protection from pests
  • They can produce blooms if treated well
  • They can grow extremely quickly if given the right conditions
  • Aerial roots can grow up to 60 feet in length. Sheesh.
  • The genus is not well-researched, and there are many philodendrons that remain undescribed.
  • Philodendrons are often confused with pothos, and there are various ways of telling them apart. The main one is that philodendron have cataphylls, which are modified leaves that provide an outer casing for the new leaf. Pothos don’t have these.
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Philodendrons are a great introductory plant because the more budget-friendly ones tend to be easy to keep healthy. I love my Golden Dragon and scandens, but but I’m desperate for a philodendron micans.

In fact, I’m having a bit of a ‘velvet leaf’ moment, because I’m after a calathea velvet touch (also known as Calathea Warscewiczii (no idea how to even begin to pronounce that).

Hope this post was useful if you’re in the market for a philodendron. They’re awesome plants.

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