Aroids, Anthuriums & Philodendrons Care & Culture – Tips for Growing Indoors

In Houseplants & Tropicals
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One of the more exotic, striking and designer group of tropical plants, aroids often hold a special place at the top of every plant-collector’s wishlist. From their crystalline and sparkly leaves, to bold contrasting colors, to enormous foliage that make a living space feel truly like an urban jungle, aroids make unique additions to our home. The problem is…they’re often regarded as difficult to care for.

In this post I’m going to cover care and culture of aroids, epiphytic anthuriums and velvet-leaf philodendrons, according to my experience as an indoor grower in Canada. That is, growing them in my dry climate (often as low as 18-45%) WITHOUT adding humidifiers to increase humidity. If you disagree with my methods, no prob’, you won’t be the first; but hopefully, my photos and plants will speak for themselves and this post will be a kickoff point for others to learn from (for better or worse).


If you’re new to Here…but not, welcome! I’m Dustin and this is my plant blog. I also have a YouTube channel where I blab about plant care and my collection of orchids, rare tropicals and now aroids. If you’d like to keep in touch with future plant posts, follow my Facebook page or subscribe to my YouTube channel.


 

What Makes me an authority on Anthurium & Philodendrons Care?

I’m a long-time orchid grower and currently have over 300 orchids in my condo in Canada. Like many orchids, aroids are epiphytes (or at least hemiepiphytes) which means they grow attached to trees. Aroids and orchids come from tropical jungles and that means their conditions, climate, light, nutrient requirements and humidity are pretty similar.

I currently have a handful of different Aroids that have performed well for me. A few growers have asked for tips and advice after seeing how quickly my newly-acquired plants established with roots and leaves so I’ve put together this care guide based on my experience. Also, I grow all of my Aroids indoors which means the advice in this post is tailored to others who are also growing them indoors (in similar conditions as myself). In general, I can tell you my Aroid care is quite similar to my orchid care (aside from a few tweaks to the potting media and watering frequency).

The 10 Aroids I currently grow:

  • Philodendron melanochrysum
  • Philodendron verrucosum 5 aka ‘El Choco Red’
  • Anthurium forgettii ‘White Stripes’
  • Anthurium cf. crystallinum (was labeled as A. clarinervium)
  • Anthurium warocqueanum
  • Anthurium salgarense (possibly A. decipens)
  • Anthurium pseudospectabile (8 years in my care)
  • Monstera acuminata (Guatemala)
  • Monstera adansonii
  • Monstera deliciosa (7 years in my care)
A Photo of my Pride & Joy: Philodendron melanochrysum & Phil El Choco Red

Getting back to aroid care…

Care & Culture – Growing Aroids Indoors

Potting Mix for Anthuriums & Philodendrons

I use large-chunk orchid bark, perlite, & peatmoss at equal ratios; and then I add about 10% charcoal to help remove toxicities that can build (over many months) up in the potting mix. After new plants are potted, I top-dress the potting mix with a layer of sphagnum moss. I mound it up around the base of the plant to a height of about 2″ maximum. Sphagnum moss can hold about 2000% of its weight in water, which is great for small applications. Though many sites recommend using sphagnum moss as the only potting media for aroids, I don’t. Sphagnum moss has a tenancy to stay too wet, especially after about 5-8 months when it starts to decompose, compact, and reduce airflow to the roots. This can lead to root rot issues and dead plants. I feel a little sphagnum on top goes a long way in helping keep the base of the plant (where new roots are emerging) moist (even though my climate is very dry).

Photo of Anthurium forgettii new roots growing in potting media – 6 weeks after acquisition

When to repot Anthuriums & Philodendrons?

Generally an annual repotting is a good strategy to prevent root problems. A good indicator is that your potting media which used to dry out more quickly, now it takes longer. As the potting media ages, “good bacteria” will break down the orchid bark and peatmoss. This process of decay takes about a year to a year and a half, and with time these organic materials start to fragment and particulate. As they break apart during decomposition, they will compact and reduce airflow to the roots. When in doubt, repot—you don’t want root rot because it can set your plant back (or kill it all together).

What about LECA / Semi-Hydro?

LECA (or ‘Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate’) is an inert potting mix that some growers opt for because it doesn’t breakdown and in theory it’s supposed to be an easier potting method—the method of leaving the plant in a shallow tray of water with LECA is called, “semihydro” often abbreviated “S/H.” The choice to use LECA comes down to personal preference, but I personally haven’t bought into the hype because almost 90% of plants pictured on the internet are recent transitions to s/h – rarely are they established for more than a year. LECA/semihydro is also a thing in the orchid world and after I tried it myself for about two years, I just didn’t see the results I’d hoped for and expected. I think the challenge with using an inorganic media alone is that forces the grower to have to manage and mitigate every aspect of the nutrient solution (pH, nutrient types, ratios, micronutrients, etc) and climate around the plant (humidity & temperature). It also bypasses biological moderators such as bacteria/fungi which would normally live in an organic media and provide a range of nutrients from decomposition (such as nitrogen from urea which is in some types of fertilizers). Growing in LECA also means you lose the moisture-retentive advantage that bark and sphagnum/peatmoss can offer (which I personally rely heavily on to grow tropicals better in my dry climate).

When Aroids are planted in LECA, what seems to happen is that they start off strong pushing a new roots and a couple leaves and then (after they use up their micronutrient reserves) they seem to lag out causing a steady reduction in the size of future leaves and reduced growth vigor. There are cases where this isn’t the norm and occasionally, you’ll see fantastic plants grown this way, but I would caution you about attaching that success to LECA itself and look more to the person who may have spent a substantial amount of time (and money) refining their understanding of things like pH, what the they are feeding the plant, and how they are irrigating the plant (is it actually semihydro or is it fully hydroponic with pumps and timers?). I don’t want to keep dragging on about this, so just understand my bias is that it’s an over-used method which seems to have less-significant outcomes for the average grower—BUT some people have great results, so try it but use a critical eye (and beware, it may work better for one species of plant and not at all for another).

 

Watering Aroids, Anthuriums & Philodendrons

When to water? How often?

I water when the moss is crunchy but before the potting media is bone dry—you’ll want to keep the media moist (not constantly wet, and not fully dry) for best results…but it’s an odd definition (because what exactly is “moist”?). To me it’s the sweet spot between wet and dry; but if your media is too compact then it stays wet for too long, and if your media is too airy, it can dry too fast. You really want to follow a wet, moist, *starting to dry* cycle at a tempo that keeps the roots happy (hydrated, aerated, and free from pathogens). Typically for me that cycle takes about 4-7 days…in my dry climate. On dry weeks the potting mix tends to dry faster, and on rainy weeks or in the winter (when the plants are transpiring less) it takes longer. Your climate (how dry/humid or hot/cool your air is or how bright/dim your light is) will play a major role in the dry-out rate of your potting mix, so try to customize the above potting mix so that it dries in about 5-7 days in your climate. If it’s drying too slowly add more bark and perlite for airflow; if it’s drying too quickly add more peatmoss for more water retention.

Root Airflow & Oxygen Circulation

If your potting media stays continuously moist for too long (say it doesn’t require water for 10-20 days or more), it probably needs more airflow. This can be achieved with active air circulation (a fan) in your growing room, or by adjusting the potting mix. If the substrate in your pot takes too long to dry, it can become hostile to your plant. Stagnant or aerobic conditions are a breeding ground for pathogens and this is what causes root/stem rot. To prevent this in my collection, I also run a fan in my room even though my humidity is often below 40%.


For more info about root health & growing healthy tropical plants indoors, read this post about

The Best Potting Soil Ever


Aeration Tip: The air stream of the fan should be pointed adjacent the growing area, not directly at the plants—the goal is for air movement…but not to blast air on your plant (that will dry them out too quickly). A light movement of leaves (or no movement at all) is all you want to see.

Is it okay to get the leaves wet?

This question triggers me a bit, or rather…when people answer, “don’t ever mist or get leaves wet“—because logic would say that makes no sense. For starters there are a whole slew of reasons why active foliar misting & wetting is valuable: first, plants are foliar feeders, which means they can take small amounts of nutrients (nitrogen, calcium, iron etc) in through their leaves; they can also absorb moisture via the leaves; and water cleans dust and debris off the leaves; AND wetting leaves knocks back pests like spider mites.

Even if all of those things weren’t “value-adds” to wetting the leaves of your aroids…THESE PLANTS GROW IN RAINFORESTS!!! Rain and wet leaves are a defining feature of a rainforest. So, if you think wet leaves are bad, I encourage you to go watch the discovery channel or Nat’ Geo or even YouTube and you’ll see how these plants grow in nature. You’ll see they like it wet.

Photo of my Aroids getting their weekly shower

 

Why do people say not to get Aroid leaves wet?

The most common opposition to wet leaves is that those against it, claim it causes fungal or bacterial issues. Which might indirectly be true if your other cultural parameters are off. Like if you’re not giving the plant enough nutrients, if your pH is off, if they have a calcium deficiency, if your not giving them enough light, or not enough airflow, or if your pH is out of whack. Then yeah, you’re going to run into rot and fungal issues. However, if you’re pointing your finger at “wet leaves” being the cause, then you’re never going to solve the “root” problem (haha), and what’s worse is you’re spreading misinformation to other growers – preventing their success.

A tip: if you’re going to be wetting your leaves and you’re nervous about fungal/bacterial issues, just make sure they dry quickly (within 3-4h); adding fans to increase airflow to your growing area will help with this but I’ll cover more care details below…

If you’re still not convinced that wet leaves are okay, check out these plants over at NSE Tropicals
See how wet the leaves are? But the plants look pretty darn healthy, right?

Tips on Water, pH, & Fertilizing Epiphytic Anthuriums & Philodendrons

Water Quality: Pure water is generally more ideal because most Aroids are epiphytes and will be adapted to rain water (pH of 5.5-6) that has a very low mineral content. However, from my own experience, alkaline tap water can work as well – provided you take action to make it more hospitable. If you’re using tap water, make sure your local municipal water supply isn’t high in sodium; sodium is bad for plants. Also, don’t use softened water on aroids (or other tropical plants either); water softeners use sodium to replace the calcium hardness—and again, sodium is bad for plants.

Using Alkaline Tap Water: My tap water is very alkaline; it has a pH of 7.9 with 250ppms of calcium carbonate. This is a curse and a blessing. The down side to alkaline water is that repeated waterings can cause the substrate pH to climb (not good) as the wet/dry cycles leave behind minerals. The upside to alkaline water involves acidifying it; when alkaline water is acidified it makes calcium (a vital plant nutrient) more available to the plants, (which is good). So I use tap water…but when I fertilize, I acidify it.

Fertilizer & nutrition: When fertilizing, I add 1/2 tsp of MSU orchid fertilizer per gallon of tap water; then I’ll pH-adjust it to 5.8pH and water the plants. I also add 1/4 tsp of organic fertilizer to the potting mix 3 times per year. My organic fertilizers include: bloodmeal (nitrogen) and rock dust (micro nutrients).

Keep minerals in the pot low: Because my tap water is alkaline and the minerals can build up after repeated waterings, I need to flush the potting mix often. This means my pots MUST have holes in them, and the potting media MUST be porous and easy to run water through. The pots are regularly flushed or “leached” with just the regular alkaline tap water (7.9pH, 250ppm). Running about 2-3 pots of clean (unfertilized) tap water through the pot every third watering causes the old salts to dissolve and pulls them out. This helps keep the potting mix fresh, oxygenated, and free of plant toxins. It’s a trick I learned with my orchids, and it’s worked really well with the Aroids too.

 

Light Requirements for Growing Aroids, Anthuriums & Philodendrons Indoors

My plants get filtered sun in the morning until about 11:30, and then LED grow lights turn on in the afternoon from 12 to 5. You can see them on the shelf in the below photo on the right side (and a few on the floor).

Photo of Anthuriums & Philodendrons growing with orchids under LEDs at an East-Facing Window

How much light do Aroids need? Lots of stuff online says “low light” and a bunch says “bright light”…so it’s confusing right? What makes the topic of plant light more complicated is that our visible perception of light (bright vs. low) is not very accurate in terms of what plants need to grow. So, let’s get a couple things out in the open: Anthuriums and philodendrons often grow as epiphytes or hemiepiphytes, growing on trees (or climbing trees in order to get to the brighter spots). They can survive in “low light” but they still get filtered rays of direct sun and many of the vining philodendrons will hunt for bright light and then they explode in size and start flowering.

Photo of aroids basking in the early-morning sun rays

Light intensity: Aroids grow best in bright light. Early morning sun is good, but that doesn’t mean Aroids need 100% DIRECT SUN all day long. Direct sun is too hot and will burn/scorch those soft aroid leaves. That doesn’t mean putting them deep into your home away from windows is the solution either. If you do that, you’re essentially putting your plants under 100% shade—and you’ve now gone from one extreme to the other. Think about plant life under a concrete bridge—not a lot of things can grow in 100% shade. So, if you want good growth, you need to find that “Goldilocks zone” for light…not too hot, not too dark, but bright enough to get robust and fast growth.

I have found the best way to get perfect light for ALL epiphytic plants is to either use LED grow light (because they pump out a lot of energy as light, but very little heat), or to utilize direct sun but screen it to reduce the intensity. Sheer curtains are great for this. If you’d like more information about LEDs and buying artificial lights for indoor growing, check out this post on the technicalities of grow lights, PAR, PPFD, spectrum and more.

NOTE: You might be looking at my photos and wondering why all my plants are in DIRECT SUN? While they do get direct rays, my windows are well-insulated and as part of that, they reflect more than half of the sun’s intensity. So, while my plants do get direct sun, it’s not HOT direct sun. The reason I also use LEDs in the afternoon is because I’m in Canada; our daylight hours in winter are VERY short, and more light means better growth through the year (not just in summer).

 

Humidity & Climate – Growing Aroids in Dry Indoor Conditions

Everything says aroids REQUIRE high humidity – I’m testing how low humidity actually affects my plants. So far…aside from some leaf flaws, they’re fine.

Like my experience with orchids, everyone told me “Aroids (and orchids) need high humidity” and also like my orchids, I was suspicious if that was a REQUIREMENT…or a “nice to have.” Most people providing care advice come from the tropics and many haven’t actually tried growing plants in dry climates to see how they perform. Yes, higher humidity is more desirable but in general, I have not found its a death sentence if your humidity is low…provided you keep your plant hydrated.

My climate and humidity ARE TERRIBLE – it’s often very dry where I live (18-45% humidity) and the effort associated with trying to increase humidity to even 60% is nearly impossible (because you need a big humidifier to increase humidity from 18% to 60% in an 850sqft condo). Instead of fussing with humidity, I’ve learned to ensure my plants are hydrated, and I never miss a watering by more than a few days. AND, I’m extra diligent with acclimating new plants, making sure they get watered exactly when they need it, but I don’t use “sphag and bag” methods because you’re only encouraging the plant to adapt to a humid climate rather than your current climate.

Photo of hydrometer showing low humidity & Philodendron melanochrysum

A note about newly-acquired Aroids: New plants are going to be the most susceptible to a change in climate. They tend to have been imported from the tropics and there their old leaves and roots were adapted to a higher humidity (AND they weren’t water-stressed like they might be now in your dry climate). New plants also often have few roots because they remove a bunch prior to shipping…so you really need to be diligent with watering for the first month and focus on acclimating them effectively in order to experience long-term success. That means no skipped waterings, keeping the light bright but not too hot, and giving a good dose of fertilizer and possibly even kelp or superthrive (VitB) as a plant hormone/growth stimulant. BEWARE: your potting media also needs to be very airy, as mentioned above, rot and pathogens flourish if the conditions are not well-oxygenated in the pot…so don’t assume that WETNESS is the goal…moist & airy is the goal: not too wet, not too dry…another Goldilocks zone 😉

Photo of Anthurium forgettii & crystallinum
Before/after acclimation photos 2 months apart

How do you know if a new plant is acclimating effectively? Step 1 – new roots, step 2 – new leaves; If I can get both new roots and a new leaf, I know I’m out of the woods. The same goes for my orchids and other tropicals – after I see leaf and root growth, I stop stressing.

Comparing the newest leaf size on Anthurium forgettii
7 weeks after acquiring

Anthurium Humidity Problems

One of the down sides to growing aroids in lower humidity is that new plants tend to lose their old leaves during the acclimation period and new leaves can develop with flaws…but otherwise, as long as the plant is kept hydrated, they generally do well—I will be updating this post as my experiment carries on, but my Anthurium pseudospectabile and Monstera deliciosa have been with me for over 7 years and both are happy/healthy.

Photo of Anthurium crystallinum with leaf flaw (Possibly from low humidity?)

 

Temperature for Anthuriums & Philodendrons

This requires a per-species analysis because each species comes from a different elevation and will be better (or worse) adapted to specific day/night and seasonal temperature variations. In general, many anthuriums and philodendrons are lowland species and will prefer hot/warm conditions; however, a good handful come from intermediate to high elevation forests of central and south america. Plants that grow at elevations above 600m generally don’t like HOT conditions, and will prefer intermediate temps with cooler evenings. The higher the elevation a plant comes from, the cooler it’s climate will need to be. Plants that come from elevations of 1,500m or more will be considered “cool” growers (requiring temps around 20-27c during the day, and down to 10-15c at night). This also means mild home temperatures are generally more ideal for many aroids and HOT temperatures are sometimes less ideal for plants like Anthurium pseudospectabile (from Panama, Chiriqui Province, near the Continental Divide, at an elevation about 1200m) and Anthurium decipens. I intend to build on this further in the future as I collect the elevation data from different species.

Photos of my newest velvet-leaf aroids on my Instagram account

 

Looking for more information on Anthurium & Rare Aroid care?

Check out these great videos from The Plant’s Meow:

My Indoor Aroid Collection

Photos of Velvet Leaf Anthuriums & Epiphytic Philodendrons

2 months after buying – P. melanochrysum & A. crystallinum have HUGE new leaves!
Philodendron melanochrysum
Newly Repotted – January 11, 2020

New leaf on Philodendron melanochrysum
 
Philodendron verrucosum 5 aka ‘El Choco Red’
Another new leaf – had to hack at this one to get it out

Anthurium forgettii White Stripes

Anthurium cf. crystallinum (labeled as clarinervium)
Anthurium warocqueanum
Anthurium salgarense (may possibly be Anthurium decipens)
Newly Repotted – Jan 11, 2020

Anthurium pseudospectabile
Monstera acuminata (Guatemala)


Monstera adansonii – the thicker leaf

 

 

Meet the Aroid Crew – Video Tour of a few new Anthuriums & Philodendrons