Monstera deliciosa, also known as split leaf Philodendron, has long been one of the most popular houseplants and it doesn’t look like it’s going to lose that top spot any time soon.
Monstera Deliciosa’s Natural Habitat
The species’ natural habitat tells us a lot about caring for a split leaf Philodendron indoors. Although it’s been introduced into several tropical areas and is even considered invasive in some, you’ll naturally find this species mainly in Southern Mexico and Central America where it grows in tropical rainforests.
In its natural habitat, you won’t find the split leaf Philodendron growing in soil. Instead, only its underside is lodged in the forest floor.
Like many other tropicals such as Syngonium, the rest of the plant uses its powerful aerial roots to find and grab onto taller trees. Once they’ve found one, they’ll latch onto it in a non-parasitic way, creeping upwards to reach the light near the canopies.
Did you know? Adult sizes of 10 metres (33 ft) and more are not unheard of in wild split leaf Philodendrons. This is what spawned the plant’s scientific name: Monstera means “monstrous”. In the home, though, they tend to stay quite a bit smaller.
Because light is blocked out by taller trees in the split leaf Philodendron’s natural habitat, this plant is not used to receiving too much direct sunlight. This being said, its intolerance to sun is often overstated! It can handle some sun even outdoors, as long as it doesn’t get blasted.
As with many other tropical houseplants, too much light will cause a Monstera’s leaves to burn.
This especially applies if you forget to acclimate the plant, moving it directly from a more shaded spot to a sunny location. In any case, like all houseplants, it does need light to thrive. Although it’s considered a “low-light” plant, you can’t grow this one in a dark location such as a windowless room. Some indoor sun is absolutely fine, especially if it’s not too strong.
Your best bet in the home is to find a location for your split leaf Philodendron that receives plenty of light but avoids the scorching afternoon sun. If you want to grow the plant outdoors, it’s the perfect choice for a half-shaded spot or one that only gets some rays in the early morning or late evening.
Tip: Too little light available? Try supplementing with a fluorescent tube or a plant LED. Your split leaf Philodendron will greatly appreciate the extra light and might reward you with quicker growth.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements
Because the split leaf Philodendron has evolved to adapt to tropical temperatures, it won’t respond well to things becoming too chilly during wintertime.
Normal indoor temperatures are actually ideal, although rather intense highs are generally not an issue. The difficulty in Swiss cheese plant care is avoiding the cold.
Freezing temperatures are deadly to your split leaf Philodendron, although it’ll already have stopped growing by around 10 °C/50 °F. Stability is important as well. Sudden drops in temperature can do a lot of harm even if frost doesn’t occur.
Like many other rainforest plants, Monstera deliciosa needs fairly humid conditions. It can be placed in a naturally more humid room, or you can raise humidity by grouping houseplants together, or using a humidifier, misting, or using pebble-filled water trays below plant pots.
As discussed in the section on natural split leaf Philodendron habitat, this plant doesn’t really naturally grow in soil. Instead, it anchors itself to taller trees using its aerial roots.
Keeping this in mind tells us a lot about what type of medium it likes indoors: something light and airy. After all, its roots aren’t used to being suffocated by heavy soil.
Many tropical houseplant enthusiasts swear by a mixture called “5:1:1” for aroid plants like the split leaf Philodendron. You can make it at home, as it consists of the following:
- Five parts pine bark, which is also often used for planting bonsai trees and some types of orchids. Pine bark particles are quite large, which means they allow water to drain freely. They’re also loose, allowing roots to grow and maintaining vital oxygen pockets.
- One part perlite, which has many of the same characteristics as pine bark but a smaller particle size. It fills in some of the open spaces left by the bark without becoming suffocating like potting soil, coconut coir or peat can sometimes be.
- On part sphagnum moss, which holds water and keeps the mix lightly moist. It’s all about balance! The other components would drain too quickly (more suitable for cacti) whereas the moss on its own would be much too soggy.
The 5:1:1 mix can be used for many different plants, not just the split leaf Philodendron, so it can be handy to have its components on hand. If that sounds a little overly complicated for you, you can also just use potting soil. Just be sure to mix it with a few good fistfuls of perlite and/or orchid bark!
As for your planter, it’s vital to pick something that has a drainage hole. After all, a closed container would just undo all the efforts you put into choosing a well-draining soil.
The key things that you need to think about when caring for Monstera deliciosa, other than placement, are watering, feeding, repotting and staking or providing support where necessary over time.
Like most tropical houseplants, the beloved split leaf Philodendron likes things lightly moist but never soggy.
It’s impossible to tell you how often you should be watering your plant, as this depends on many different factors. However, you can figure out the pattern by keeping track of how long it takes for the top few inches of soil to dry out.
Once it’s watering time, give the plant a good drink until water pours out of the planter’s drainage holes (discard the excess after about 30 minutes). Keep in mind that your split leaf Philodendron’s growth will slow down during wintertime. It won’t need as much water as it did during the lighter summer months.
Being such a prolific grower, your split leaf Philodendron will happily guzzle up fertilizer. Nothing complicated needed here.
A regular balanced houseplant fertilizer works just fine and can be administered twice a month or so during the growing season. If your plant’s leaves are yellowing for no clear reason and you’re not using much or any fertilizer, it might be time to up your game!
Tip: Remember to flush your plant’s soil from time to time by watering it very thoroughly in the shower or sink until water pours from the drainage holes. This prevents fertilizer and minerals from building up and eventually damaging the roots. Using demineralized or distilled water for this is extra effective.
Potting and Repotting
This is a pretty prolific grower, so part of caring for a Swiss cheese plant is repotting it every one or two years. If you see the roots coming out of the drainage hole or find the soil dries out extremely quickly, it’s probably time. Repotting is best done during the spring and summer growing months.
Go up one or two pot sizes. Carefully remove your Monstera Deliciosa from its current pot and shake it gently to remove any traces of substrate from the roots. Next, carefully place the plant in its new pot and cover the roots with soil. You may need to add a little more soil after watering it as it tends to compact a bit.
Staking Split Leaf Philodendron
A young split leaf Philodendron will likely do just fine on its own. They tend to be planted without support when you buy them. Once your plant grows, though, you might notice it starting to attempt to vine out, searching for a tree trunk. This can easily cause its planter to topple over.
To prevent incidents, you can use a (sturdy!) plant totem or a trellis. If things become precarious even with these supports helping you, you might have to refer to the paragraph on Monstera deliciosa propagation to keep things under control.
If your plant is becoming a bit too unruly or you want to share it with friends/family, look into Monstera deliciosa propagation.
It’s very easy to multiply this species through cuttings! You can propagate in soil or water and even use the air layering method if you’re not fond of taking cuttings right away.
We won’t go too much into how to propagate Monstera deliciosa here. You can read all about it in the full Monstera deliciosa propagation guide.
Monstera Deliciosa Fruit
The fruit of Monstera deliciosa is not something you’ll often see if you grow this plant indoors, as it doesn’t tend to bloom when grown as a houseplant. If you’re in a tropical area and grow your split leaf Philodendron outside you might get to enjoy this uncommon delicacy (and use the seeds to grow more of these plants!).
Monstera deliciosa fruit looks quite a bit like an ear of corn, except green, with countless fleshy seed pods. It’s quite yummy; Monstera might mean “monstrous”, but deliciosa means “delicious”. Here’s how you enjoy it:
- WAIT! Unripe fruit of Monstera deliciosa will greatly upset the throat and stomach. It contains oxalic acid like the rest of the plant, which is known to burn extremely unpleasantly. Seriously – this compound is industrially used for things like paint removal. Leave the fruit to ripen on the plant or after picking.
- Peel. When the fruit is ripe, the green layer that covers the white flesh can be removed with pretty much no force. I repeat: only if you don’t have to use force the fruit is ripe. This can take a very long time.
- Eat. Monstera deliciosa fruit is often used in jams in the Central American countries that the plant originates from. You can also eat it as-is or enjoy it with some (ice) cream. Smells like banana and pineapple, tastes like a tropical fruit medley!
- Stop. As yummy as it might be when ripe, you should still not eat too much Monstera deliciosa fruit at once. It still contains a small amount of calcium oxalate, especially in the tiny black specks which will be visible in the white flesh (you can pick these out). Eating too much of this delicacy might land you on the toilet.
Problems With Monstera Deliciosa
Even the most experienced houseplant enthusiasts can run into trouble with a plant. Yellowing leaves, black spots and brown foliage on Monstera are not uncommon, but can be indications of an underlying issue.
If your split leaf Philodendron is not looking so hot and you’re wondering what’s going on, have a look at the article on problems with Monstera. It’ll help you diagnose the issue and adjust your Monstera care to help your plant recover.
Is Monstera Deliciosa Toxic To Cats And Dogs?
You probably saw it coming after the warnings in the previous paragraph: sorry, yes. The split leaf Philodendron is mildly toxic to cats and dogs. And humans, too, so keep your kids away from this one if they like exploring the world using their taste buds.
Although no one will drop dead after taking a bite out of a split leaf Philodendron, the calcium oxalate crystals that are present in all parts of the plant will irritate any parts of the skin and especially the delicate mouth, tongue and throat. This leads to swelling, drooling, vomiting and just general discomfort.
You can read more in the article on Monstera toxicity.