The philodendron dark lord is a giant must have for any tropical plant collection. This stunning plant is known for its unusual and striking foliage with long arrow-shaped leaves and cherry red undersides.
Its leaves start off deep orange or bright pink before changing to blood red before transforming into a dark green with a silvery maroon underbelly. Sometimes, they can appear all black, hence the name the Dark Lord.
To help you keep your new plant in top condition, I’ll be sharing my best philodendron dark lord care tips as well as provide you with some science behind it all.
Philodendron Dark Lord Brief History & Origin
The philodendron ‘erubescens’ dark lord is a member of the humongous araceae plant family, made up of over 3,750 known species.
It’s native to the tropical canopies of Colombia and Panama, though ‘escapees’ have been found growing in Northern Africa, the Philippines and the Seychelles, all introduced by man of course. The dark lord is a hybrid variety of the widely known philodendron erubescens imperial red.
For the past 15 years this plant has remained relatively unknown, that is until it shot to fame because of the many Instagram posts and glossy reels which highlighted its unique features.
Since then, cultivators have had a hard time keeping this plant in stock, which is why you’ll pay upwards of $100 for a cutting with 2 or more leaves.
Philodendron Dark Lord Care
As with most philodendrons, your little (or big!) dark lord will thrive in lots of bright, indirect sunlight.
But I know that’s not exactly scientific, and as the indoor light level does dictate your plant’s growth potential (more so than watering and fertilizer), it’s important to get it right. I love and trust my light meter for this reason.
It measures overall light intensity in foot candles (FC) and helps you to understand the magic behind those people with ‘greenthumbs’. Hint – it’s not magic, it’s science.
Based on my own experience with these type of philodendrons the minimum light reading for maintenance should be: 200FC (this is absolute bare minimum). For optimal growth, you should place it in a location that receives 400-800FC.
FYI, cultivators, nurseries and other commercial outlets grow this plant in 1500-2500FC! But, don’t worry about trying to achieve this very high light reading at home.
Don’t be afraid to put this plant somewhere that receives 1-3 hours of direct cool morning sun either – this can do wonders for foliage growth. It’s very, very unlikely your plant will burn (even if ‘experts’ tell you otherwise).
Despite what many believe, problems only crop up when the plant is kept in direct light all day long or for entire afternoons when the sun’s rays have less of an atmosphere to pass through.
Every plant is different, even within the same species, so be sure to monitor what your plant is responding well to. Some love that cool morning sun whilst others prefer that stable indirect, light. That's the beauty of growing a collection - it's completely unique!
Your dark lord will flourish in an aroid potting mix that’s fast draining and rich in organic matter. This typically includes a mix of coco coir, perlite, orchid bark, worm castings, pumice and activated charcoal.
I recommend and use this mix for my dark lord:
- 40% coco coir
- 15% orchid bark
- 15% perlite
- 10% worm castings
- 10% pumice
- 10% activated charcoal
This is a perfect airy, woody substrate to mimic their hemiepiphytic nature. The key to creating suitable potting mixes? Create a mix that has both drainage and moisture retention elements. That sounds counterintuitive, but philodendrons (as with most tropical foliage plants) LOVE balance. Not too wet, not too dry.
Here’s a Quick Breakdown of What Each Element Does
- Coco coir – renowned for its ability to hold nutrients and moisture whilst also being fast draining
- Orchid bark – provides structural strength to mix, aerates, becomes a hotspot for positive microbes and allows roots to do their natural thing and attach
- Perlite – helps aerate soil and prevent root rot in philodendrons
- Worm castings (worm poo!) – an organic fertilizer that has a small, but complete nutrient palette
- Activated charcoal – absorbs soil impurities, repels some pests, prevents mould
- Pumice – another aerator and drainage element
Friendly tip: Coarse pumice is best for older, more mature philodendrons, whilst fine pumice is ideal for young, juvenile philodendrons.
This plant loves evenly moist, well drained soil.
Following a strict ‘water once a week routine’ is actually bad practice and easily causes root rot amongst other bacterial and fungal problems. Instead, get into the habit of a ‘checking schedule’, where you physically check to see if your wonderfully unique plant needs water.
How to Tell When Your Plant Needs Watering
Your best bet to test soil moisture levels would be to use a simple chopstick, stick it a few inches deep into the mix (away from the main stem), and then observe the stick after it’s pulled out.
- Wet soil will cling to the chopstick and possibly make the stick a darker shade
- Moist soil will be soft in texture (you’ll easily be able to push the stick through)
- Dry soil will be tough, brittle and compacted and won’t change the color of the stick
You can also use the quick finger knuckle test. Stick your finger into the potting mix. If it is moist at the first or second knuckle, you can hold back on watering. If it is dry, your plant needs a drink.
How to Water Your Philodendron Dark Lord
Water every plant until water runs out of the bottom of the drainage holes. This applies to ALL plants you own – including those cacti and succulents.
Water doesn’t just keep the mix moist, but it pushes air into the root system (ironically, helping to prevent root rot).
Make sure to water all the way around the pot and not just in one spot either.
Myth Buster: Giving your plant just a little water is better than overwatering it. A. Not true. This isn't the correct way to water a plant. Overwatering is a complex topic that goes far beyond the scope of this blog post, but in simple terms, it's not caused by the volume of water you use, but instead the frequency of watering combined with the soil's level of aeration.
Here’s Why Moisture Meters Don’t Work (And Why I Never Promote Them)
Many of my lovely readers ask why I haven’t invested in a moisture meter yet, and there’s a good reason for it – they don’t work! (Sorry!).
Countless people have messaged me saying they’ve used a moisture meter and had disastrous results.
Moisture meters don’t measure water content (what?!). Instead, they try to measure the conductivity of your soil with the idea being the more conductive, the more water your soil has…BUT fertilizers contain salts which drastically mess up readings as does mixes with bark, charcoal, pumice and even worm castings.
Pretty much everything interferes with these readings. Save your money.
You’ll want to keep your dark lord in a warm environment. Between 70°-85°F (21°C-29°C), and you’ll see stellar growth. Anything above 60°F (15°C) is ideal though.
A warmer temperature will encourage your plant to produce a richer maroon/jet black color.
Less than 55°F (12.5°C) will result in stunted growth, wilting and even death.
This plant is a humidity lover, think 70%+. Yes, really, though it can cope with more average levels (40-50%).
A higher humidity level will lead to bigger leaves, as well as continued growth year on year.
How to Increase Humidity Levels in Your Home (2 Effective Methods)
- Use a small humidifier
- Group plants together to create a mini biome where plants share ‘humidity resources’ via a process known as transpiration.
Myth Buster: Lining a tray of water with pebbles helps to increase humidity. A. Complete myth. Neither water trays nor misting have been proven to be effective in raising humidity levels around the plant's immediate environment. Misting in particular has little to no benefit - as soon as the water is sprayed, the moisture is immediately dispersed around the rest of the room. It doesn't stay with the plant.
There are lots of options available to you on the market. For best results, I recommend purchasing a complete liquid fertilizer that places emphasis on nitrogen and potassium and phosphorous.
You’ll see this written as NPK or as numbers e.g 5-5-5 on fertilizer bottles.
Best Fertilizer for the Philodendron Dark Lord
Dyna Gro’s 7-9-5 formulation is one I’ve personally used and had great results with. My philodendron prince of orange and pink princess look amazing!
Dyna Gro 7-9-5 contains all 6 macro nutrients and 10 micronutrients your philodendron dark lord will need to thrive. It's the multi-vitamin equivalent to plants. Other home growers have also had lots of success with this fertilizer - check out all those 5 star reviews.
Alternatively, you can use a balanced all-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer.
How to Fertilize Your Philodendron Dark Lord
Simply dilute 1/4 teaspoon of liquid fertilizer (dyna gro or all-purpose) with 1 gallon of water (4.5 litres) and use this water to ‘water’ your plant. Every time.
This method mimics what happens in the wild – plants receive a steady stream of nutrients over days rather than one big gulp once a month.
You’ll hear this referred to as maintenance feeding – but don’t let that fool you, your philodendron will still grow.
Will This Method Burn My Plant?
Nope, that’s the beauty of it. Remember, we diluted the fertilizer by half and then half again. I’ve never had any problems with root burn using this method.
Can I Use an Organic Fertilizer Instead?
Yes, absolutely. Just bear in mind that organic fertilizers need microbes and bacteria to break down to release the nutrients, so if you’re looking to fix a nutrient deficiency quickly, organics are not the way to go.
Alaska Fish Emulsion is GREAT stuff (albeit a little stinky). It’s packed with nitrogen, is all-natural and is mild, meaning it won’t cause root burn.
Other popular organic fertilizers include seaweed extract, kelp meal, worm tea and tea drops. Organics tend to contain less nitrogen on the whole, but pack a punch in terms of plant growth hormones such as auxins and gibberellins.
Is More Fertilizer Better for my Plant?
No! Too much fertilizer can kill your new houseplant. Fertilizers, especially synthetic, chemical based ones, contain residue salts which in large quantities can burn the root system of your plant. Less is often more when it comes to fertilizer.
Can I Choose a Cheap Fertilizer – Will it Make Any Difference?
Personally, I wouldn’t. The super cheap fertilizers are loaded with excess nitrogen salts which can quickly accumulate on the surface of the plant’s soil.
Over time this will change the pH of the soil and will lead to stem and root burn which is tricky to fix.
Most philodendrons don’t cope well with bound roots (despite what you might have been told), the philodendron dark lord is no different. After some time it will cause stunted growth.
To keep your plant healthy and happy, check for these signs it needs to be repotted:
- Roots are shooting out of the top or bottom of the pot
- Its roots are circling around its base (root bound)
- The plant needs water every few days, much more than it used to (root bound)
- The soil (potting mix) hasn’t been changed in a year (nutrients are depleted)
- The soil is severely compacted
- Its showing signs of stunted or poor growth
Repotting can cause some minor distress to your plant, but being root bound causes more stress, so it’s worth doing.
When repotting, try to remember to do the following:
- Repot in the beginning of spring when it’s starting a new growth phase
- Choose a pot that is only slightly wider than the last pot.
- Select a pot with drainage holes.
- Pre-make a mix of high quality potting soil with organic content
Important Note: Just bought your little dark lord philodendron? It’s likely it will need repotting immediately. Sellers tend to sell plants once they’ve maxed out their current growing capacity.
Growth – What Can I Expect?
The philodendron dark lord can grow up to 6 feet and 3-4 feet wide! They’re pretty big so expect it to take up a lot of space. This plant is definitely not compact.
The majority of the space is taken up by its thick 1-3 inch stems and long, arrow shaped leaves that dangle freely over the pot.
Pruning is generally more about aesthetics than health – it’s about shaping.
Generally, the philodendron dark lord doesn’t need regular pruning. Consider also pruning leaves that are dead, damaged, turning brown, turning yellow or have signs of pest infestations.
To prune, you’ll want to use a sharp and clean pair of pruning scissors.
How to Propagate a Philodendron Dark Lord
The easiest way to propagate your dark lord is by taking a top stem cutting (not a leaf cutting) from a mature dark lord and planting it in a rich, organic potting mix.
Healthy dark lords produce a lot of aerial stems. You’ll want to cut just below a node that has lots of aerial stems shooting out from it.
To propagate, you’ll want to do the following:
- Prepare a small pot of moist coco coir, perlite and worm castings.
- Looking at the top of your mature philodendron dark lord, choose a healthy part of the main stem that has 1-2 nodes with aerial roots.
- With a clean pair of pruning scissors, cut the stem just below the node.
- Dip the freshly cut stem into a rooting hormone solution or powder.
- Plant the stem into your pre-made potting mix, making sure the aerial roots are buried 2-3 inches into the mix.
- Fill the rest of the pot with left over potting mix.
- Water thoroughly.
- Place in a warm area that receives lots of bright, indirect light.
Roots can take up to 3-6 weeks to develop, sometimes longer. To tell if roots have started to form, gently tug (and I mean gently), on the base of the stem. If there’s some resistance you’ve got roots.
I’ve Just Imported this Plant – What Do I Need to Know?
Here are some key things you’ll want to know about your dark lord after importation.
Your Plant’s Roots Will Probably be Wrapped in Moss. Remove It.
Moss is wrapped around the root ball to keep it moist during transit, but it can be a real nuisance if potted.
If the moss around your roots becomes too dry, it will compact and bundle up which leads to a greater risk of waterlogged soil when watered. Not good.
Remove before planting.
Your Leaves Might Die (All of Them) – But This is Completely Normal.
Make sure you’re not just buying a plant because you like the leaves its currently got – 99% of the time they will die and fall off. Transit stress is a real thing that causes plants to lose all the leaves it came pictured with. But, it’s normal.
You didn’t do anything wrong. Wait a few growth cycles for new leaves to grow in.
You’ll Need to Isolate and Sanitise it Before Adding it to Your Plant Collection.
Isolate your plant for 2-3 weeks and brush some neem oil over its leaves and stems to prevent pests or disease being transferred to your entire plant collection.
Some plant owners dip their plant in a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution for a few seconds to thoroughly kill anything that they might have missed. I’ve never done this personally, and honestly, don't recommend it.
It Will Suffer Some Transit Shock – But You Can Mitigate its Effects.
Apply some diluted superthrive to your soil as soon as you’ve repotted it. This acts as a natural stress reliever. You will probably still lose those gorgeous leaves, but it helps the root system recover.
Common Pests & Diseases to Watch Out For
In general, philodendrons are resilient to most pests and diseases. The main culprits to watch out for are:
- Mealybugs – white, fuzzy unarmored sap sucking bugs that are round in shape
- Spider mites – tiny yellowish, sap-sucking insects that produce intricate webbing
- Scale – brown or black insects that are sap-sucking
- Thrips – small, yellow or dark brown slender bugs that eat the leaf’s surface
- Erwinia Blight Disease – wet, mushy looking lesions on stems and leaves
How to Treat Common Houseplant Pests
Mealybugs can be treated by pruning, and dabbing a rubbing alcohol soaked cotton swab on the infested areas.
Spider mites are first treated by pruning infested areas before spraying the leaves with neem oil diluted in water.
Scale, if treating small infestations, responds well to pruning and rubbing alcohol. For larger infestations, you’ll likely need to discard your plant.
Thrips can be treated by pruning and a diluted neem oil treatment.
Neem oil is a vegetable oil that has natural insecticidal properties. It’s an eco-friendly alternative to most synthetic insecticides.
What To Do if your Plant Has Erwinia Blight Disease
Erwinia Blight Disease is much easier to prevent than it is to cure. It’s a bacterial infection that causes wet, transparent mushy looking patches on the plant.
It starts just below soil level and creeps up to the stems and if left unchecked will cause wet lesions on the leaves.
Erwinia is a serious disease that can kill your philodendron in days. It’s caused by too much overwatering from overhead (this is one reason I recommend you don’t mist the leaves).
Prune the infected leaves, change the potting mix, minimize watering applications, and allow spacing in between plants for rapid drying of leaves. Unfortunately, bactericides have been shown to be ineffective against erwinia blight.
If the disease has spread to lots of leaves or many parts of the stem, it’s likely it’s incurable.
Toxicity – Is the Philodendron Dark Lord Toxic?
Unfortunately, yes. The philodendron dark lord is a toxic plant to cats, dogs and small children if ingested. It contains small oxalate crystals which are poisonous.
Help! What’s Wrong With my Plant? – Common Dark Lord Philodendron Problems
1. Leaves are Lacking that Characteristic Green Coloring
If your philodendron dark lord is kept in cool temperatures, it’s leaves start to produce less chlorophyll (known as chlorosis) and they lose their lovely green coloring. This is seen on the lower leaves first.
Too much direct light or nutrient deficiencies can also cause this fading. Placing your dark lord in the recommended light levels and giving it a complete fertilizer can help solve this problem.
2. Leaves are Turning Yellow
Be aware that this plant does change color naturally, I’ve seen healthy leaves with a slight tinge of yellow but if the leaves are turning all yellow this is an issue.
Yellow leaves can be caused by overwatering, underwatering, too high temperatures, too low temperatures as well as a nutrient deficiency.
Sometimes common sense is all that is needed to work out what the problem is. Ask yourself if any of the above seem likely to pinpoint what is causing the issue.
3. Leaf Edges are Turning Brown
Browning edges on philodendron leaves are a usually sign of underwatering. This is usually the first signal your plant will give you that it’s not getting enough water.
Check the quality of your potting mix, making sure there’s no compact, dry lumps. If the mix is pulling away from the sides of the pot or is tough, it needs aerating and a good watering as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
The potting mix should also be damp all the way through (not soggy though).
4. Leaves are Turning Different Colors
This actually isn’t a problem! In fact, it’s a good sign. The philodendron dark lord will naturally change from orange to red to a jet black or maroon color, sometimes they revert to a full lighter green. This is normal and these leaves should not be pruned.
5. Some Stems are Very Red Whilst Others Aren’t
Again, not a problem. Some stems produce a deep rich red color, others come out a lighter red. Completely normal coloring.
6. The Stems are Very Leggy and Drooping
Legginess with this plant can be normal as its stems are naturally very long, BUT if your plant is also drooping significantly and its leggy, this is a sure sign your plant needs some support.
This is a climbing variety and so will grow upwards. Use stakes or a pole to support its growth. It’s also possible your plant isn’t getting enough light.
Common FAQ – Philodendron Dark Lord
Should I Provide a Climbing Pole for my Philodendron Dark Lord?
Yes. A climbing pole covered with moss or coco coir can help provide stability for this plant as it grows. In fact, the healthiest dark lords I’ve seen tend to have a pole or at least stakes for support.
The pole also encourages the aerial roots to attach to the mesh, resulting more pronounced growth.
How Do I Get my Philodendron Dark Lord to Grow Faster?
A plant’s growth is entirely dictated by the light it receives. If you want your philodendron dark lord to grow faster you’ll need to place it in warm location that receives lots of bright, indirect light with 1-3 hours of direct cool morning sun.
You’ll also want to keep the humidity level high and provide a complete fertilizer.
Does my Philodendron Dark Lord Like Full Sun?
The philodendron dark lord can tolerate 1-3 hours of direct cool morning sun, but definitely not anything beyond that. This will scorch and burn the plant, leaving unsightly brown edges and even blackened marks on the leaves.
Can I Keep my Philodendron Outdoors?
Yes, you can, providing you have a shade cloth or something similar to protect it from too much direct sunlight. A 20-40% shade cloth is fine. It’s best suited to areas 9b-11 when grown outdoors. You can check which zone you live in on this map.
Temperatures should never drop below 55 Degrees Fahrenheit, and it should come indoors way before the first signs of frost hit (if you live in a more northern area).
Where Can I Buy a Philodendron Dark Lord?
Philodendron dark lords are a rare and coveted find amongst plant collectors. You can sometimes find them on Etsy, or listed on specialised nurseries. Be prepared to join a waitlist or attend an online auction for this plant, especially if it’s matured.
How Much Does a Philodendron Dark Lord Cost to Buy?
Prices will depend on the plant’s condition, age and size, but in general you can expect to pay anywhere between $60-$570 for this plant.
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