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Philodendron Care for Self-Heading and Climbing Varieties

Philodendron Care for Self-Heading and Climbing Varieties
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The philodendron is a genus that has over 450 different species within it. Each can be categorized into just two types. Self-heading varieties and a vining philodendron. Care for both types is much the same.

Despite being tropical plants, they can adapt to all climates. It is what has made the philodendron such a popular houseplant.

Every variety gives you the same gorgeous glossy green leaves, some variegated with shades of yellow or white, others pure green, and every type having different sizes and shapes of leaves.

Self-heading philodendrons are the big leaf varieties. Vining philodendrons have smaller leaves, but by nailing the pruning techniques, you can train a vining philodendron to put out more leaves closer together resulting in a much fuller plant.

The same can be done with self-heading varieties, but it is much easier if you start with a lot of cuttings in the same container. It’s easier to do that using multiple healthy cuttings grouped together. The more cuttings you can clip from a philodendron, the faster you’ll grow a new fuller plant. It is super easy to propagate philodendrons!

Get the care requirements right, and you will have an aesthetically pleasing houseplant with super air purifying qualities that continues to grow and put out big leaves.

The Two Types of Philodendrons Explained

Vining Philodendrons

Examples of common vining varieties is the Heart Leaf Philodendron, Philodendron Pink Princess, and the Philodendron Brasil. The horticultural term for these is ‘hemiepiphyte’ plants.

The term describes a vining plant that does not climb for sunlight, but rather, anchors onto a support and climbs up it. It’s a natural growth trait.

In their natural habitat (tropical rainforests), they anchor to trees and climb towards the canopy. That’s why these are often referred to as climbers. Without a support to climb, they will trail.

The choice is yours over whether you want your plant to grow upright from a plant pot using a stake such as a moss pole or trellis, or place the pot on a shelf to let the vines trail down.

Vining philodendrons can typically grow to between six and eight feet indoors. You can keep them shorter than that to prevent them trailing to floor level.

If you have pets or kids around the home, hanging baskets will be safer as the leaves on all philodendrons are poisonous to cats and dogs and not kid-safe either.

Self-heading Philodendrons

Examples of self-heading philodendrons are the Congo Rojo, Prince of Orange, Xanadu, and the Philodendron Moonlight. The common denominator among these is that the leaves grow so close together that they hide the thick stem supporting the large leaves.

Given the thickness of the stems and their sheer strength, the horticultural term for this category is ‘arborescent’ plants, which describes an upright grower with a tree-like appearance. These plants will drop mature leaves to make way for new (juvenile) leaves to come through, hence why they are often referred to as self-headers.

They don’t need pruned like vining philodendrons do, provided you want to keep their growth in check.

This Philodendron care guide covers the care requirements for all varieties. Climbers/trailers, and self-heading philodendrons.

Basic Care for Philodendrons


Let’s start with humidity because it is often said that because these are tropical plants, they need high humidity. They do, but only for growth.

This is a genus that has been around (as houseplants) since the Victorian era. They are accustomed to a multitude of climates owing to their popularity worldwide.

In less humid climates, they won’t grow as fast, leaf colors are likely to be paler, and the leaves much smaller. Low humidity doesn’t damage philodendrons. It will stunt growth.

That’s why it’s preferable to aim for a humidity range over 50%. Below that level of ambient humidity, it is normal to see the philodendron leaves curling.

The fastest way to elevate humidity is to mist the leaves with tepid water. Not cold, but not scolding either. An alternative is to set your pot atop a layer of gravel.

The gravel collects the water, then releases it back as vapor, raising the humidity directly above the plant pot. By keeping the gravel moist instead of constantly misting the plant, the gravel takes care of the humidity.

Humidifiers can also be used, but among the easiest ways to raise humidity is to group your plants. In particular, grouping multiple philodendrons together, because all varieties have dozens of stomata on every leaf. Hundreds on big leaf varieties.

These open and close for transpiration, releasing moisture when the stomata opens, which then benefits the surrounding plants. It’s a simple way to raise the humidity around plants, without affecting the comfort levels of your room.

If you do have a solo plant (ruling out the possibility of grouping plants together) there is one more trick you can use…

Double up your pot.

Use a pot that is a couple of inches bigger than the one your philodendron is in and in between them, either place pebbles or a layer of sphagnum moss. Both absorb water, hold it, and release it back into the atmosphere as vapor, consistently raising humidity for the plant.

Just be careful when adding water as the potted philodendron cannot be placed in standing water. Only keep the moss or gravel moist. Don’t let the water pool.

Lighting Requirements

Every type of philodendron can adapt to all light conditions. Because of this, they are considered to be among the best low light houseplants you can grow.

They grow faster when placed in a spot that receives bright indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight will scorch the leaves so it is best to avoid southern facing windows.

The more light philodendrons receive, the faster they grow, and the leaves will be a healthier shade too. In low light conditions, expect to see paler hues on the leaves.

If you have a spot in mind that you absolutely want to place your philodendron that doesn’t get at least 4 to 5 hours of indirect sunlight, light can be supplemented with grow lights so as not to stunt the growth of the plant due to a lack of light.

Something to note about the light levels philodendrons need is that the stems on vining philodendrons contain auxins. This is a plant hormone responsible for positive and negative phototropism.

Positive phototropism is growth towards a light source. Negative phototropism is when the vines stretch towards a support structure to anchor onto to start climbing.

The auxins are located at the tips of the stems. This is important to know because there will be a difference in the growth rate depending on whether you let the plant climb up a support pole or trail in a hanging basket, or even leave it potted on a window ledge, or shelf to trail down.

In a pot with a support to climb, growth will be faster and the leaves bigger. In a hanging basket, the longer the leaves trail, the less light the auxins receive, and the response to that is longer vines with larger spaces between the internodes giving the plant a leggy appearance. You get smaller leaves on the lower part of a trailing philodendron than you would if you gave it a support pole to climb up.

As a climbing plant, philodendrons prefer to climb. It is something to consider if you are trying to get big leaves on a philodendron in a hanging basket. The lack of light on the lower vines would cause negative phototropism, in which case, the vines would stretch in search of something to climb up.

For all types of philodendrons, although they can adapt to all light levels, they do need some light, but they cannot cope with direct sunlight. Under grow lights, heat is what to be careful with as that too can cause leaf scorch.

Watering Woes

No philodendron drinks the same amount of water. There is no average amount of water to provide it, or a recommended set frequency (such as weekly), because philodendrons will only drink what they need. And what it needs is determined by many factors, including the temperature, humidity, light levels, and the soil type.

The safest time to give your philodendron a drink is when the top two inches of soil are dry. A finger test will tell you. Poke your finger into the soil or potting mix. Add water when the top two inches are dry. If it’s only one inch, leave it.

Overwatering is what causes philodendrons to develop root rot among many other fungal and bacterial diseases that can kill them. Err on the side of caution with these by waiting until the soil is dry to two inches, then top it up.

A clear sign of an overwatered philodendron is yellow leaves. Not some yellowing, but yellowing all over, (the same shade of yellow too), and on multiple leaves.

When philodendrons need a drink, the leaves wilt, droop down, and become limp rather than standing upright.

Keep a schedule too because almost all tropical houseplants flourish best when they are used to a schedule. Provided all other growing factors remain stable (temperature, humidity, light, soil), the plant will get used to you feeding it either weekly, or every ten days. The only time to change its watering frequency is in the winter as philodendrons go dormant.

Even when they are dormant, philodendrons, like all plants need water and not just for hydration. It’s needed to make food (photosynthesis), and transpiration, which is also when they release oxygen at night, once they are done making food for the day.

During their dormancy period in winter, they don’t need to produce as much sugars to survive because they are not growing.

Fertilizing Philodendrons

Philodendrons are fast growers, but unlike most fast-growing tropical plants, they are not heavy feeders. What to be careful with is over fertilizing as that diminishes the quality of the potting mix.

The more minerals accumulate in the soil, the less oxygen there will be below the soil line, causing the roots to struggle to absorb water.

There are two ways to go with fertilizer for philodendrons. You can add it every month during the plant’s active growing season (spring, summer, and autumn) at half strength, or full strength just twice yearly – once in the spring when the plant comes out of dormancy, then again in the autumn to tide it through the winter period.

For regular monthly feeding, use a balanced fertilizer, (which is one with equal NPK quantities such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20). However, if you are feeding monthly, whatever the label says to add, dilute it to half strength.

Excessive fertilizing creates a chemical imbalance in the soil, resulting in fertilizer burn on the leaves.

Only add the full recommended strength twice yearly. With all types of fertilizer, a little goes a very long way.

Of course, that does depend on the quality of potting mix. Most ready-made mixes contain some slow-release fertilizer. Indoor plants are different from garden varieties because they are potted.

Once the plant has used up all the essential and macro nutrients in the potting mix, the roots cannot spread out in search of more. When the nutrients are gone, they’re gone, and it will need to be topped up with some fertilizer.

If you’d rather not be diluting liquid fertilizer frequently, an alternative is to use slow-release granular fertilizer. These do the same and you only need to push them into the soil.

Slow-release granule fertilizer does not need applied often. Every three to four months is sufficient with philodendrons.

Potting Mix

Unless you’re growing philodendrons in water, much of its health will be determined by the quality of the potting mix you use to start with.

The key things the substrate must do is drain fast, and offer plenty of aeration for the roots to survive. Not many regular potting mixes make the cut. Most will compact over time.

To avoid soil compaction, there are commercial tropical potting mixes you can buy that’s ready to use. Regular potting mixes are likely to need amended with either perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or coconut coir.

Peat-rich mixes holds a lot of water, as does peat moss. You don’t want your soil to stay moist for long. Philodendrons must have fast draining soil. If your potting mix has a high amount of peat in it, add either pumice, perlite, or vermiculite to improve the drainage.

Without water being able to drain fast, aeration is hindered. When you have an aeration problem, the plant shows the same signs as it would if you had overwatered it because without oxygen, the roots can’t absorb water. Instead, they just sit there in standing water until they rot and die.

For that reason, regular potting mixes will need to be amended to improve aeration. Common materials used for aerating soil in potted plants include sphagnum moss, shredded bark, coconut fiber, vermiculite and perlite.

Any of these can be added to a regular potting mix to instantly improve drainage.

Humidity Levels to Maintain

Humidity plays an important role in the health of philodendrons. More so with self-heading varieties because the bigger the leaves, the more they transpire.

Transpiration increases humidity levels. The more plants you have in a room, the higher the humidity levels become.

Every philodendron leaf has hundreds of stomata. The plant uses these, essentially, to breathe. They open and close to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

When the pores open, vapor is released, which is why the more plants are placed in a group, the higher the humidity levels become.

It is important to note that the humidity levels around houseplants will be different to your room humidity levels. It is possible to have your plants have 50%+ humidity within a room with an ambient humidity level in the 40% range. It depends on the water vapor in the air directly around your plants.

When humidity levels drop below 50%, transpiration slows. This can result in the plant displaying the symptoms of being underwatered as it will attempt to conserve moisture by curling its leaves.

As a guideline, the preferable humidity range for philodendrons is 50%. Below that, transpiration slows, resulting in the moisture content remaining in the plant, rather than transpiring then evaporating through the leaves.

Digital hygrometers or sensor meters are two useful tools for indoor gardeners growing tropical plants. They are ideal for all types of tropical plants requiring high humidity and specific watering.

They give an accurate reading helping you to know when to mist your plant, or (as an example) place a bowl of boiling water near it/them to raise the humidity.

Those are two simpler methods to directly elevate humidity for your plants only, without drastically increasing your room humidity, which would likely happen if you were to use a room humidifier.

For a small group of plants, a mini humidifier, or automatic mister are easier options to control humidity around plants.

Optimal Temperature Ranges for Philodendrons (And the Danger Zone)

The temperature philodendrons are kept in affects the rate of transpiration and the moisture content in the soil. It ought to remain stable between 60oF and 80oF. (15.6oC to 26.7oC).

Cold is among the worst enemy to philodendrons. Temperatures dropping below 55oF (12.7oC) is the danger point. More so when it is sudden.

For those in warmer climates, unseasonable weather conditions can throw you a curve ball. The worst part of cold damage is the signs won’t show on philodendron leaves until around a week later.

Cold damage to philodendrons can result in yellowing leaves and the leaves dropping.

Despite being tropical plants, they still benefit from a hardening-off period. For that reason, in the autumn when the temperatures begin to drop, start moving your plant to a cooler spot. This is particularly important for plants kept by a window, or near a heater.

When a sudden cold snap hits, a drop from around 60oF to 35oF (as an example) is likely to damage the leaves on the plants. Damaged leaves cannot absorb as much water. When that happens, more water remains in the soil, raising the risk of root rot setting in if you continue to water as normal.

For best results, keep temperatures above 60oF and the plant away from windows and drafts in the winter months.

Specific Care for Vining Philodendrons

Potting Requirements

Vining varieties of philodendrons have different potting requirements to self-heading varieties because of their growth habits. These are often referred to as crawlers because the vines crawl along the soil line, rather than standing upright. How you pot these depends on how you want them to grow.

In a hanging basket, the vines will drape over the edges. The same will happen in containers, however, if you use a tall rectangular plant pot, it gives the vines more room to drape over the edges.

Tall rectangle plant pots are preferable for trailing philodendrons placed on window ledges, shelves, or tables, as there is more surface area for the vines to crawl along. Wide and shallow containers will hold more water closer to the surface of the roots, raising the likelihood of root rot.

The ideal plant pots for vining philodendrons are square or rectangle. The deeper the pot the better, particularly if you plan to let the plant climb up a support pole.

Pruning Philodendrons

Indoors, vining philodendrons can reach lengths of six to eight feet. Their size will need to be kept in check to prevent them crawling along the floor. Pruning keeps the size in check.

Asides from controlling the size, it is a necessity if you want to make this type of philodendron fuller. Each cut you make releases the auxins from the tips, and the result of that is more buds forming. The more buds you get, the more vines appear, then more leaves emerge. Closer together too.

Philodendrons do not need regular pruning like the majority of climbing plants, but they do need it on occasion, roughly twice yearly.

By keeping the size of your plant manageable, caring for philodendrons becomes much easier.