Native to the American tropics, philodendrons usually grow with lovely leaf patterns and foliage. Of these, the sweetheart plant/heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens) is a popular indoor plant. However, some hybrid varieties can also be used outdoors as ground cover or as climber vines.
Quick TipHeartleaf philodendron varieties that have a velvet-like texture to the leaves are not as tolerant of bright sunlight as other hybrids. They are best suited to a shaded area which receives little indirect sunlight. You also need to ensure that the growing area is kept humid and warm.
Heartleaf philodendrons, also mentioned as heart-leaf or heart leaf, can be identified by their unique heart-shaped leaves that grow 2-3 inches wide, growing on thin, flowing stems. They can hang gracefully from a hanging basket or set up with some kind of support from the ground. This plant does not need a lot of care and attention. In fact, most people agree that it is probably the toughest houseplant in the world, because it can survive almost anything except low temperatures. With the advancements in gardening techniques and horticulture, hybrids grow vigorously, without causing any inconvenience and if given the right conditions, they will thrive and grow with a lush green foliage.
The heartleaf is a evergreen plant that grows well in partial shade at warm temperatures. In the tropics, these plants are usually grown outdoors, while they are grown strictly indoors in other regions of the world. While it is common to see white flowers bloom on heartleaf plants growing outdoors, those kept indoors bloom very rarely.
- Light: Filtered or indirect light is best for growing heartleaf philodendrons. Therefore, these plants should be grown indoors, unless you live in an area with a tropical environment. It is best to grow these plants near east- or north-facing windows. If the rooms lighting is good, these plants can survive entirely on artificial lighting.
- Soil: It is best to mix soil with mediums such as peat moss or all-purpose potting mix to keep the substrate loose, but rich in nutrients, because the plant cannot tolerate water logging, and requires a well-draining base. If your plant is of the climbing variety, provide some support, such as a moss stick, for it to grow. If you see yellow or whitish mineral deposits on the surface of the soil, the philodendron will need to be transplanted in new potting soil.
- Watering: Although the soil should not be waterlogged, it is advisable to keep it lightly moist at all times. Outdoor plants should be watered once in two days, while it is alright to water indoor heartleaf plants once in a week. The easiest way to check if your plant needs watering, is to press your finger into the soil. If the soil feels moist and sticks to your finger, you do not need to water it. However, if it feels dry, water it lightly till the soil is wet, but not waterlogged. Watering should increase slightly during dry and hot seasons. Occasionally misting the leaves of a heartleaf philodendron helps in the growth of the plant.
- Ambient Temperature: As long as the plants are kept indoors, and regularly watered, heartleaf philodendrons can survive in high temperatures. However, they react badly if exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature for these plants is between 60 -75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Fertilizer Application: If you are using liquid fertilizers, you must regularly apply in small amounts every 2-3 weeks. However, while using slow-release pellets or organic manure, applications need to be done once in 6 months. Fertilizers are not needed during winter.
Heartleaf philodendrons are very easy to propagate. Simply take a stem cutting, and place it in a glass or vase of water. Leaves and roots will grow automatically in a few weeks. Adding a rooting hormone to the water will give you a better chance of successful propagation. During the rooting stage, be sure to make partial water changes every 1-2 weeks.
Heartleaf philodendrons are fast growers. Therefore, they need to be re-potted once every 2-3 years if they grow too big. It's best to re-pot a philodendron vine in a pot that is 2-3 inches bigger than the previous one. This is because the plant grows best with roots that are slightly cramped together. Too much or too little space between the roots is not good for the plant. Just go through the following procedure for successfully re-potting the vine.
- Deeply water the soil on the day of the re-potting. This makes it easier for you to shift the plant, and reduces any shock the plant might undergo.
- If your plant looks unhealthy, prune the stems and leaves.
- Gently turn the pot upside down while supporting the plant, and get it out without damaging the vine.
- Check the roots for disease, and cut and discard any that are in poor condition.
- Gently work on the root ball to open it. This encourages the growth of new roots.
- Shake off any loose soil on the roots and put it into the new pot, which is filled ¾th with a mix of peat moss, potting soil, and perlite.
- Once again, water the plant well, and monitor it for a few days to ensure its health.
The heartleaf philodendron is a very robust plant and is highly resistant to insects and diseases. However, under poor growing conditions, the plant has a small chance of being attacked by aphids, spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale mites, which can easily be overcome by manually brushing them off with rubbing alcohol or pesticides in severe cases. It is also important to take care of the underlying growth problem.
Over-watering can also cause the fungal disease of leaf spot, and also the condition of rotting roots. This can also make the plant susceptible to the dasheen mosaic virus. Abstaining from watering the plant till the soil is completely dry and reducing the amount of water might save a plant with rotting roots. One can also use specific fungicides that are formulated for curing leaf spot.
Regularly trimming dying or dead leaves and stems, along with some dusting and cleaning of the plant is essential for its growth. Once the plant reaches the desired length, regularly pinching new growths just above the leaf nodes will encourage new leaves, side stems, and branches. If using your hands to pinch off the growths is difficult, use pruners or scissors, as incorrect tearing of the plant can attract diseases. Heavy pruning is best done during the spring and summer. However, light pruning can be done at any time.
- If the plant is spindly, and if its leaves are few, small, far apart, and pale in color, it is probably getting inadequate light.
- When growing heartleaf philodendrons outside the house, plant them with generous spacing between each sapling as they can grow to large sizes.
- If you keep your potted philodendrons outdoors, bring them in during the winter before the frost sets, to prevent major damage.
- Keep the plant away from small children and animals, as the plant is poisonous if consumed. Also, some people can be allergic to its sap. If ingested, seek medical assistance immediately.
- Use a sponge or paintbrush to clean off any dust that settles on the leaves. This will maintain the glossy look of the plant.
- New stems that you cut off during pruning are good for propagation purposes.
- Empty the plates kept under the pots before a fresh watering session to keep the soil from getting soggy.
- If you notice the tips of the leaves curling up and turning brown, it is very likely that you are using too much fertilizers.