Living Columns & Blogs

How to keep your houseplants healthy

The philodendron adapts to a number of indoor situations.
The philodendron adapts to a number of indoor situations. Centre Daily Times, file

I was looking at my philodendron the other day, admiring the way it is growing, and thought that I should share some thoughts on keeping your philodendron in tip top shape. I like the philodendron because it adapts to a number of indoor situations. There are several types available that can satisfy almost any indoor landscape need.

Philodendrons do well as long as they are kept warm, 65 degrees, moderately moist and out of direct sunlight.

These plants are native to the West Indies and the tropical jungles of Central and South America. Most species are vines and the leaves vary from 3 inches to 3 feet in length. Some species are self-heading and require no support.

Soilless mixes work well for growing philodendron, and if additional weight is needed some sand can be added to the mix. The important thing is that the growing medium drains well and doesn’t hold too much water.

As far as fertilization goes, just about any of the commercially available fertilizers will work on philodendron as long as the manufacturer’s recommendations are followed. I use Miracle Grow, a soluble fertilizer that has worked well for me.

Plants growing in low light conditions require less fertilizer than actively growing plants with more light. A regular feeding program with a higher nitrogen analysis fertilizer will increase the leaf size and make the plants larger. Philodendron can be considered heavy feeders.

It is important to keep the growing medium uniformly moist at all times. Never allow the growing medium to dry out. This could cause serious root injury the same as saturated medium around the roots. Yellowing leaves, which eventually fall off, is evidence of overwatering and root injury.

Occasional spraying or misting of the foliage is beneficial, especially if the plants are growing in areas of low humidity. Remember that their home is a jungle setting with ample moisture in both the soil and the air around the foliage. I know that my wood stove makes the house very dry.

To prevent injury to the leaves, the plants have to be grown in indirect sunlight. There are types of philodendron that maintain themselves very well in low light intensity. If you are not able to supply natural light, artificial light from a mixture of fluorescent and incandescent gives the best results. A daily illumination of 16 hours is enough to keep many philodendrons maintained for at least 12 months receiving as little as 25 to 50 foot candles. Full sunlight can cause a yellowish color in the leaves or an irregular sunburn spotting.

There is probably a philodendron form that will meet your particular indoor needs. Vine types are available for use in planters and hanging baskets. There are several heavy, coarse-textured types that require a support and develop into small tree-like plants. You can also obtain self-heading types that are able to support themselves on a sturdy stem. Enjoy greening your home with a philodendron.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist at Penn State and can be reached by email at