Houseplants forum: Philodendrons - help please?

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RainForestGuy
Feb 8, 2017 11:44 AM CST
Hi fellow gardeners,

I love philodendrons. I have several in my home, but I don't know how to "keep" them well---and I really want to! I seem to do an okay job during the warm months, but during cold winter months is when they seem to deteriorate and I don't know how to help them. If I think they might need water for not being watered for so long in winter I'll water them, but then the deterioration process speeds up---they start to wilt even more, yellow in the leaves, and those leaves fall off (or will fall off when touched).

Are you supposed to "water" these plants like with a small watering can? Or are you supposed to only mist them? I just don't understand it, because these plants at Lowe's or Home Depot stores only get misted, and they are always so green and lush and beautiful. I would love to keep mine looking so good!

Can anyone please help me on how to care for these? Whether it's too late for these or not, I will start new ones if I have to. And yes, I realize these plants look pretty bad, and yes, I am embarrassed by showing these photos at a gardening forum, lol. *Blush*

Which brings me to another question: Is it better to plant "baby" philodendrons and "start new", or can I separate larger mature plants to plant in 2 or 3 pots? (I have done both).

Any advice/suggestions are greatly appreciated! (I hate to look like a "plant killer"!)

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Name: Critter (Jill)
Frederick, MD (Zone 6b)
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critterologist
Feb 8, 2017 12:06 PM CST
I'd say water them, don't just mist. However, because I see your plants might start with 1 or 2 yellowed leaves, I suspect the problem might be pests -- like spider mites, which thrive in dry indoor winter air. Look closely at the leaves, especially the undersides, and see if there are little specks and filmy "webs," or funny waxy bumps (scale) or bits of fluffy white (mealy bugs) that aren't present on healthy leaves.

If you find anything suspicious, a spray of soapy water or neem oil might be the first thing to try, but in my experience these plants have tough leaves (waxy cuticle) and can take being sprayed with straight 70% rubbing alcohol -- and that will kill pretty much any pest, although you might have to repeat a few times at weekly intervals if they're well established (get them as eggs hatch).

And no need to be embarrassed -- the only way to not ever kill plants is never to grow them!
I'm learning to dance in the rain. Thank you, Sally & Chris & Sharon.

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RainForestGuy
Feb 8, 2017 12:17 PM CST
Lol, thanks critterologist, that help makes me feel better. Smiling

Ahh, pests, I didn't think of that...I just assumed it was watering problems. And yes, it is VERY dry air inside in winter.

I'm still unsure how to water, though. Do you water when the top inch or so of soil is dry? I don't think the stores ever water these plants, just use sprinklers on them. So I thought maybe they liked more "greenhouse" treatment, i.e., more misting than out-and-out watering. But, I know they are tropical plants originating in rain forests, so I would figure they would LOVE water.

I'm just lost! lol
Name: Carter Mayer
Houston, TX (Zone 9b)
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Carter
Feb 8, 2017 3:44 PM CST
As tropicals, philos don't have a dormant period like many other plants. They may slowdown in the cooler months, but the are still active. Philos in general like constant moisture - not wet, just moist. Do those pots have drainage holes? If not, that could be part of the problem. Even if you closely monitor the watering, no drainage means there will be a build up of salts and minerals that over time will be lethal to the plants (this even happens with pots that have drainage holes, just happens more slowly). I'd just be careful watering right now, making sure that they don't dry out, but that the soil doesn't stay wet either. If your pots don't have drainage holes, I'd consider repotting them into those that do. That way, a periodic drenching in the shower is an easy way to flush out the salt & mineral buildups - and the philos will love the shower!

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RainForestGuy
Feb 8, 2017 3:59 PM CST
Thank you for your knowledge and input, Carter. My plants don't have drainage holes, but, I did put gravel in the bottom of them to provide drainage from the soil (I just learned about that last year). I am now eager to get home from work and give my plants a good thorough watering! Thank You! And this time I will keep up the watering to keep the soil damp/moist and not dry out.
Name: Critter (Jill)
Frederick, MD (Zone 6b)
We're all learners, doers, teachers
Charter ATP Member Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Critters Allowed Butterflies Hummingbirder Bee Lover
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critterologist
Feb 8, 2017 10:47 PM CST
Good basic advice, Carter! I didn't even think about the pots.

RFGuy, you're right that tropical plants like misting, but most flike dry leaves and moist roots rather than the other way around

I like "self watering" pots with reservoirs for plants like philos and ferns. I just keep putting water in the reservoir, and I have happy plants in moist soil. If you get distracted as I do and don't water as regularly as you "should," adding polymer moisture crystals to your potting mix is a big help. The big box stores sell them as "Soil Moist" and other brands... I use a lot and get them at a way better price from watersorb.com

If you have no-hole pots, you may be better off using them as cache pots, that is, putting a plastic pot (with holes) down inside the pretty pot, as if it's a big saucer. That makes it easier to pour off extra water or to give the plants a good drenching by putting the plastic pots in your sink or shower.

If you switch to pots with holes, you can give your plants a little extra humidity by putting the pots on a water-filled saucer with a layer of gravel so the bottom of the pot stays out of the water. I use "oil drain pans" from the dollar store under a lot of my bigger pots. They're deep enough to use as a water reservoir, too... I put a strip of microfiber towel (a length of yarn works in a little pot) up through the drainage hole into the potting mix, then let the other end dangle into the water so moisture is wicked up to the root

I rambled on a bit (a late night tendency), so don't feel like you should be doing all these things with your plants ASAP -- just pick something that makes sense to you and give it a try. Start with moist soil and inspecting for pests. Let us know when your plants take over the room and start demanding their own greenhouse space!
I'm learning to dance in the rain. Thank you, Sally & Chris & Sharon.

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RainForestGuy
Feb 9, 2017 8:23 AM CST
Thanks Smiling

And I was all eager to really give my plants a good watering when I got home last night, but then I hesitated and didn't. Because I've never seen any sign of pests on the leaves, and while the leaves were wilting some they were mostly green and not turning yellow until I watered them. And after watering, they yellowed *rapidly*. So I'm afraid maybe I just went "too long" without watering, so now water may "shock" them? I don't know...it just seems too coincidental to me that the rapid yellowing of the leaves happens to occur the next day or so after I water them well. I'm just assuming I let them go too long without good watering (way too long), and now it hurts instead of helps. But I may try watering tonight anyway. With spring around the corner, if I can't save these plants I can just give up if I have to and start anew with new ones.
Name: Critter (Jill)
Frederick, MD (Zone 6b)
We're all learners, doers, teachers
Charter ATP Member Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Critters Allowed Butterflies Hummingbirder Bee Lover
Region: Mid-Atlantic Cottage Gardener Garden Photography Tropicals Hibiscus Cat Lover
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critterologist
Feb 9, 2017 8:41 AM CST
You could ease them into it with misting, but there's no doubt they don't like being dry.

You can also hedge your bet by taking cuttings of the best-looking stems after watering, then cross fingers that the main plant will do OK and/or will sprout new leaves. Philos root readily in a glass of water. A friend of mine always had a huge one spilling over the edge of her counter, and you had to look closely to see that it was just several stems in a big vase! Every so often, it would get too long, and she'd cut off some pieces and stick them in the vase... or she'd give away some of the rooted pieces.

I'm learning to dance in the rain. Thank you, Sally & Chris & Sharon.

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RainForestGuy
Feb 9, 2017 10:48 AM CST
Interesting critterologist, thanks...that's one thing that has always mystified me about plants: how can new cuttings survive in vases or glasses of water? I mean, how do they not drown?? You'd think if you took a plant out of it's potted soil and stuck it in a big bowl of water, it would drown and die. So I've always been amazed at seeing cuttings that thrive in glasses of water with no soil, only an overabundance of water. Someone please explain the mystery of this to me, lol.

After I water them and they (I assume) get worse, I may just try to salvage some cuttings and see if that works. Thanks!
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Feb 9, 2017 2:29 PM CST
It's all about oxygen. In water, there can be more oxygen than in soggy potting soil that is all peat. If they become too dry, the roots will shrivel and die. If the roots are rotting when the soil is moist, it's the soil's fault, not yours for adding water - the one thing a human must do for a potted plant for it to stay alive. Not having a drain hole makes the difficulty level way too high to even be enjoyable for me, without even yet considering the substances that can build up in soil to toxic levels, as mentioned above.

If you like a hanging pot, heart-leaf vine is a great candidate for dangling. Hanging pots are so easy to take to shower with one hand to water (so the excess doesn't make a mess. Without watering so lots of excess flows out of the holes, there could be parts of the soil that did not get moist, a death sentence to a plant that is not equipped to handle dry roots, except by absorbing the moisture in the oldest leaves in a desperate attempt to stay live, which is what I think you have described happening to your plant. I've seen this before when my schedule has prevented me from watering heart-leaf Philo like I normally do (often enough so the soil never dries out.)
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