How to Plant and Care for Philodendron

This low maintenance house plant requires indirect sunlight and infrequent waterings.

Potted philodendron
Photo: Getty Images

Philodendrons are one of the most popular houseplants, thanks to their reputation for being low maintenance. They are defined by their large, waxy green leaves. The tropical plants thrive in indoor spaces and are simple enough for any gardener to maintain, beginner or expert. There are, however, a few things you should know about philodendrons before adding one to your plant collection. There are two types—vining and non-climbing. The latter grows upright, while the former needs a structure to crawl upwards and is commonly confused with pothos, another trailing houseplant. (Beatriz Garces of Nature's Way Farms notes that you can tell philodendrons and pothos apart by looking at their leaves: Philodendrons typically have larger leaf structures and less obvious trailing habits.) Both vining and non-climbing iterations of philodendrons have similar needs; they require minimal watering and indirect sunlight. Ahead, we break down everything you need to know about growing and caring for a philodendron plant, from seed to maturity.

How to Grow Philodendron from Seed

Most philodendrons are started by leaf stem cuttings or as plants that are already prepared for purchase, according to gardening expert Melinda Myers. If you are hoping to grow a philodendron from the seed, Meyers says to plant them about twice the diameter of the seed deep in a quality seed starting or potting mix. Be sure to keep the soil moist and warm—and then wait. "It can take a month for seeds to sprout," Meyers notes. "Once it sprouts and the plant forms at least one set of true leaves, you can move it to a container with draining holes that is filled with a quality potting mix." Meyers adds that it is important not to use a container that is too big. "Overly large pots tend to hold moisture too long and lead to root rot. As the plants grow and roots fill the pot, you will move them into the next-size container," she says.

How to Care for Philodendron

To ensure your philodendron grows happily, there are a few care requirements the leafy green plant needs. For starters, you should water it about once a week. Garces recommends giving your plant about eight ounces of water if it is in a 10-inch grower pot, but she notes that the philodendron's environment will ultimately dictate how much water to use (and how often to apply it). "If the environment it's placed in is windy or drafty, the soil may dry out quicker. In this case, you should increase the watering schedule," she says. If the top inch of the soil is dry, Meyers recommends watering the plant thoroughly, noting that you should pour off any excess water that collects in the saucer so it doesn't lead to root rot. Another way to prevent root rot is to use a light, well-draining soil that doesn't retain too much moisture.

Just as important as how much water your philodendron gets is how much sunlight it receives. While it may be tempting to see its gorgeous green leaves bask in the glow of your windowsill, philodendrons prefer indirect sunlight; the plant should sit in a shady area within a space that receives bright sunlight. Meyers says "those that are solid green are more tolerant of low light," and adds that variegated cultivations will lose the colored portion of their leaves when the light is too dim. With proper sunlight and adequate watering, your philodendron won't need routine pruning, but if it gets too big or some of the leaves start to turn yellow, Garces says to "use a pruning shear and cut the stem where the slice may not be visible."

After a few months of successful growth, give your philodendron a boost of nutrients by adding fertilizer to its soil. Garces says to use a formula with a high nitrogen content; look for numbers like 23-8-8 (nitrogen is indicated by the first number on the label). Newly purchased or transplanted philodendrons don't need to be fertilized for three to six months, but after that period, Meyers says to let the plant be your guide. "Actively growing plants with smaller than normal or paler leaves may need fertilization," she says. "Consider using a dilute solution as you can add more. Limit fertilizer to active growth periods—usually March to November for most areas."

How to Propagate Philodendron

Propagation allows you to create new plants from existing ones, so you can expand your indoor garden in just a few simple steps. Garces says the easiest way to propagate a philodendron is to cut a stem and submerge it in water, making sure that at least one of the nodes (place where the leaf was attached) is in the water so that the roots grow from it. To easily identify when new roots grow in, place the node and water in a clear bottle. "Once the stem has roots, plant it in light soil. It will take a few weeks to establish itself, so be patient," Garces says.

How to Identify and Fix Problems with Philodendron

If you run into a problem with your philodendron, chances are you're overwatering it. Garces explains that the plant doesn't like wet feet; its pot needs a hole where excess water can drain out. When the species is overwatered, its leaves often turn yellow and become soft. This can be remedied by scaling back your watering schedule and ensuring proper drainage. Another problem that's caused by overwatering? Fungal leaf spots, or leaf spot disease. To fix this issue, Meyers says to remove the infected portions and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. Root rot is also common with philodendrons—but if this occurs, your plant is still salvageable. To start, trim off soft and discolored roots, and repot your greenery in a new container with fresh potting mix. Alternatively, take cuttings from a healthy portion, propagate them, and discard the diseased plant. While rare, it's also possible to underwater your philodendron. When this happens, the leaves turn yellow and the dips become dry and crunchy. Remedy this by increasing your plant's water intake.

The Most Unique Philodendron Species

Hoping to add a philodendron plant to your home? Consider one of the unique varieties below, which are popular with plant parents.

Man holding birkin philodendron
Severin Candrian / Unsplash

Birkin Philodendron

The species has more than 450 varieties, but some are more common than others. One popular non-climbing variety is birkin philodendron, which Meyers says is defined by its large dark green leaves with lots of creamy streaks. The plant is slow growing and can reach two feet tall and wide at maturity.

Pink princess philodendron
Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images

Pink Princess Philodendron

Alternatively, pink princess philodendron is a vining type that has dark olive green leaves with white spots when they first emerge, but change to black and hot pink when the plant reaches maturity.

Split leaf monstera philodendron
Kseniâ Solov’eva / EyeEm

Split Leaf Philodendron

Also known as monstera deliciosa, or swiss cheese plant, split leaf philodendron is a climbing plant with large leaves with finger-like lobes. Each of these popular philodendron varieties look and grow differently but have the same water and light requirements.

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