Why Do Philodendron Leaves Get Stuck?

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This is such a common question, and I promise, it’s nothing to worry about. Get your paws off that new leaf.

Why do some Philodendron leaves get stuck?

We don’t really know why Philodendron leaves get stuck, but we do know it’s much more common in younger leaves.

A bit like when you get a puppy and their ears aren’t quite sure how to behave. Same with plants when their new leaves emerge. As your plant ages and gets more, er, practice at producing new growth it gets better at it.

Also, when plants are small, the new leaves are often a LOT bigger than the one that came out prior. If the leaf is longer than the cataphyll it makes sense that it would have to be bunched up.

There are some plants that are more prone to getting stuck than others. I bet a good 85% of the people reading this are worried about their Philodendron Pink Princess because it’s doing this business:

philodendron pink princess stuck leaf
it looks extremely uncomfortable

There are others who also exhibit this tendency to get all bunched up and refuse to emerge. Red Anderson and Birkin are quite partial to doing this.

My Florida Ghost doesn’t do it to that extreme BUT it does like to stick in the ‘ugly sister trying on a shoe’ phase for weeks:

Because there’s more of a tendency for hybrid Philodendrons to get stuck leaves – especially self-heading ones – we can assume that there’s definitely a genetic component involved.

A lot of these common Philodendrons (especially super popular ones) are tissue cultured, so the parent plant will be picked for desirable characteristics.

The lab probably picked a specimen with great variegation, and a low propensity for root rot, but no clue what’s it doing re. new leaves and thought ‘eh, that’s no big deal’.

There is evidence that lack of humidity can cause leaves to get stuck, but I don’t think lack of humidity causes stuck leaves so much as high humidity helps them ease out of their cataphylls easier and quicker.

What should you do when a Philodendron leaf is stuck?

There are a few things you can do to help a stuck Philodendron leaf get unstuck. Different things affect different plants, you may need to try a couple of things before you find what your plant prefers.

Increase the humidity

This is the most popular way of getting a stuck leaf unstuck. You don’t need a humidifier (unless you have a monster specimen), just put the plant in a clear plastic box with some damp substrate to create a bit of natural humidity.

There are various theories as to why this works, but I think it’s due to the increased humidity simply speeding up growth a bit. The humidity can also prevent the leaf from damaging itself on the way out because the cells are plumper and less brittle.

Spray the leaf

I personally wouldn’t do this, because unless you have a VERY fine sprayer then you risk moisture getting trapped in the furled up leaf and then you can end up with brown spots on the leaf, or the end of the leaf browning and the leaf ending up a weird shape.

However, LOADS of people swear by this, so there is probably some merit to it. I suppose if you live somewhere warm and you’re pretty sure the water will evaporate rather than hang around to damage leaves, it’d be ok.

In short, give it a go if you want, but it’s not without its risks.

Increase the light

Increasing the light can give the plant a little push of extra energy to unfurl quicker. Now, new leaves that aren’t yet unfurled are really delicate, so don’t increase the light a lot otherwise you could risk it burning. Try either turning up the brightness of your grow light or moving the plant a couple of inches closer to the window.

Should you help a stuck Philodendron leaf?

No, don’t be tempted to go in and give it a helping hand. That way ruined leaves lie.

I know it’s hard. I know you’ll promise to be gentle. But it’s so so easy to bruise new leaves.

Right, I’m not saying I don’t do it. I do. Regularly. But I’ve also damaged tonnes of leaves doing it so learn from my mistakes.

That being said, I’m currently having an issue with my Monstera not putting out a leaf. It’s in great condition and has great roots. The Thai next to it is growing fine. I’ve semi-convinced myself I need to dig around in the petiole and check it’s not got stuck, because the cataphyll is too thick for the leaf to get through (I have no basis on which to base this, other than impatience).

I’ve done it before, and a new leaf emerged but it looked like crap.

Don’t be me. Leave your plants alone.

How long should it take Philodendron leaves to unfurl?

It really depends on the conditions you’re providing for it, but it can take a couple of weeks in optimal light and humidity. There is no right answer.

One thing to know is that plants typically become thirstier when a new leaf is unfurling. Often there’s a new new leaf forming alongside the unfurling one, so it’s doing double duty. If you accidentally let the plant get too dry in this period, the plant will usually prioritise the new leaf over the one that’s unfurling.

If this happens, the new leaf will stop unfurling, or at least slow down, and you might get brown mark on the leaves. Some plants are more sensitive to this than others *cough* alocasia *cough*, but Philodendron aren’t too bad.

In general, be warier of your variegated philodendrons for a couple of reasons:

  1. Variegated leaves tend to be more prone to browning
  2. Variegated leaves are more of a target to impatient plant people who want to check for half-moons.

Final thoughts

Some plants (Pink Princess) are more likely to get stuck than other Philodendron (especially crawlers/climbers – it seems to be a self-heading problem, though PPP is a hybrid).

Try increasing humidity and light to convince the leaf to unfurl a bit faster, and don’t be tempted to help it out manually. You will end up with damage to the leaves unless you’re super lucky.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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