Get to Know Philodendron

Large potted philodendron Xanadu by a bright red door
My Garden Life
August 30, 2021
Table of Contents

By Judy Stout

Even if you think you don’t know what a philodendron looks like, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen one before. Philodendrons are one of the all-time favorite groups of houseplants. They’ve been popular for use in offices, restaurants, and shop windows for decades. If your grandma grew houseplants, there’s a good chance she had at least one philodendron around the house.

The Philodendron genus has a little something for everyone. There are big species and little species. There are species that climb and species that grow upright. There are species with simple, small leaves and those with very decorative, deeply cut foliage. One thing they all have in common is how easy they are to care for. Once you’ve got your plant in a location it likes, your plant will need very little attention to keep it happy.


Trailing & Climbing Types of Philodendron

Composite image with photos of Philodendron varieties: P. hederaceum ‘Lemon Lime’, P. micans – Velvet leaf, P. ‘Florida Ghost’, P. ‘Rio’. P ‘Brasil’
P. ‘Brasil’, P. hederaceum ‘Lemon Lime’ (top row)
P. micans – Velvet Leaf, P. ‘Florida Ghost’, P. ‘Rio’ (bottom row)

Trailing and climbing philodendrons are ideal for hanging baskets or trailing over the edge of a shelf. These are climbing plants, so you can also grow them on supports such as a small trellis or a pole made from natural fibers such as coconut fiber or moss. Fiber posts are nice since they give plants a good surface to anchor their roots. Trailing philodendrons are also ideal for optimizing vertical space by growing them in wall-mounted planters.


Hybrid Philodendrons with Colorful Leaves

Composite image with photos of Philodendron varieties: P. ‘Burle Marx’, P. ‘Golden Ring of Fire’, P. ‘Moonlight’, P. ‘Prince of Orange’
P. ‘Moonlight’, P. ‘Golden Ring of Fire’, P. ‘Prince of Orange’ (left column)
P. ‘Burle Marx’ (right)

Some extraordinary hybrid philodendrons have been developed with foliage in shades of rose, burgundy and neon green – sometimes all on the same plant! Often the leaves will emerge one color and later mature to green. This creates a vibrant, multicolored effect.

Besides being decorative houseplants, hybrid philodendrons are excellent plants to use outdoors in the summer since they provide a source of color without flowers. Use them on a shaded porch, sunroom, or on a patio table in dappled shade. Be sure to bring them indoors when temperatures are expected to drop below 50°F (10°C).

Decorate with Large Leaf Philodendrons

Composite image with photos of Philodendron varieties: P. selloum, P. ‘Imperial Green’, P. Xanadu
P. ‘Xanadu’ (left)
P. ‘Imperial Green’, P. selloum (right column)

The large leaf philodendrons, some known as “tree philodendrons”, are true statement plants. These are the plants to get if you’re just getting started in a new living space and don’t have a lot of furniture yet. With their huge leaves and bushy form, they fill in the empty space beautifully and give a room a fresh, tropical vibe.

Large leaf philodendrons are also perfect for transforming a shady balcony, deck, or patio into a tropical paradise during warm months.

How to Care for a Philodendron Plant

Part of the reason philodendrons are an eternally popular houseplant is because they are so easy to care for.
Follow these basic steps and your plant should grow happily for years to come:
  • Place your plant in a location where it will get bright, indirect light. In nature philodendrons grow in tropical forests, sheltered in the understory of trees. They can get sunburn if placed in hot, direct sunlight, whether that is outdoors or in a sunny window.
  • Water when the top one to two inches of soil is dry. Use your finger to feel the soil. Make sure the pot has a drainage hole.
  • Feed regularly with a liquid fertilizer for foliage plants or, to save time, you might prefer a slow-release, granular fertilizer for houseplants. Stop or reduce fertilizing if plant growth slows during the winter months.
  • Trailing plants can be pruned to maintain a specific size or trained to a pole or other support to allow them to grow tall. The cuttings can be used to grow more plants.
  • Room temperatures between 60° to 80°F (16° to 27°C) are ideal.
  • Repot your philodendron every two years to refresh and aerate the soil and to determine if the plant is ready for a larger pot.

Potted philodendron selloum by living room chair

Two Plants Often Confused with Philodendron Species

There can be a variety of reasons why two different plant species get mixed up with each other. One reason is when different plant species have such a similar appearance that they are difficult to tell apart. Another is when the same common name is used for entirely different plants (for example, think of all the different plants that have the word “lily” in their common name). In the case of two of the most popular philodendrons, it may be a little of both. The following are two popular philodendrons that are often misidentified by those new to tropical houseplants:

What’s the difference between a Tree Philodendron and a Monstera plant?

The tree philodendron is often confused with the monstera plant. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Monstera deliciosa species and tree philodendron are both commonly referred to as a “split-leaf philodendron”. These two plants come from the same botanical family, but their genus classifications are quite different.

Tree philodendron (Philodendron selloum, Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum)

Potted tree philodendron on a wooden kitchen chair.

Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)

Potted monstera deliciosa floor plant near living room window.

What’s the difference between a Pothos and a Heart-leaf Philodendron plant?

The pothos and heart-leaf philodendron have so much in common that it’s easy to see how they could be confused. They both are trailing/vining plants, they have heart-shaped leaves, they’re similar in plant size overall, and they come in a variety of shades and variegated foliage.

Heart-Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)

Potted heart-leaf philodendron hederaceum.

Pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum)

Potted pothos on glass-top table

Philodendrons and Pet Safety

Pet owners should be aware that philodendrons are toxic to cats and dogs. If your pet has a habit of chewing or playing with your houseplants, this may not be a good choice. Look at our list of Pet Friendly Houseplants to find plants that you can enjoy and keep your pets safe.

blue tabby maine coon kitten standing on cat furniture platform looking at the camera in front of a garden


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