The philodendron painted lady truly is a collector’s dream with its neon yellow-green leaves dappled with lush green spots, held on perfectly pink stems. It’s a coveted find, and has been known to auction for a hefty sum online. A couple of weeks ago, an older specimen sold for just over $350.
In this complete care guide, I’ll reveal the best philodendron painted lady care tips so you can keep this rare beauty happy and healthy in your home.
If you’re experiencing care problems, make sure to check out the help section at the end where I deep dive into the most common issues that arise with this plant.
Philodendron Painted Lady Brief History & Origin
Similar to the rojo congo, the painted lady was created, not discovered. The painted lady is a cultivar that hails from the humongous araceae family of plants. It’s a hybrid created by Robert H. McColley, a prolific plant breeder in the 1960’s.
This plant is an unusual, yet intriguing cross between the Philodendron ‘Burgundy’ (P. Hastatum-Erubescens-Wendlandii-Imbe) and an unpatented variety he identified as the ‘Emerald Queen’.
It was affectionately named the Painted Lady because its leaf spots look as though they could have been brushed on by hand.
Philodendron Painted Lady Care
A standard aroid potting mix that’s moist, well draining and rich in organic matter is what the philodendron painted lady wants. This typically includes a mix of coco coir, worm castings, orchid bark, perlite, activated charcoal and pumice, though you can leave pumice out of the mix if your plant is in its juvenile stages.
I use this mix and have seen good results:
- 40% coco coir (instead of soil)
- 20% orchid bark
- 10% perlite
- 10% worm castings
- 10% pumice
- 10% activated charcoal
This is an airy, chunky substrate that perfectly supports its hemiepiphytic nature.
I’ve seen many (too many) guides refer to using a cactus and succulent mix for philos, but succulents are built for very arid, dry climates. They hold water in the fleshy parts of their leaves. Philos are rainforest dwellers, and have such thin leaves, that they physically can’t retain enough water. A succulent/cactus mix is very, very dry which means you’ll need to constantly water your philo to prevent it drying out. I’ve seen so many miserable looking philos because of this advice. Personally, I wouldn’t use such a dry mix for any philo!
What Each Element Does (If You’re Interested)
- Coco coir (replaces soil) – holds moisture whilst also being well-draining, very easy growing medium to work with
- Perlite – pressed volcanic rock, porous structure, aids in drainage and holds key nutrients from fertilizer
- Orchid Bark – a tree huggers (epiphyte) favorite mix amendment, it allows for root attachment which encourages healthier root systems and it becomes a hotspot for positive microbes
- Worm castings – organic fertilizer (worm poo), has a full nutrient palette and holds moisture
- Activated charcoal – prevents build up of soil impurities, stops mould and neutralizes pH of soil
- Pumice – another drainage element
You’ve probably been told that your philodendrons will only thrive in bright, indirect light, nothing more. To some extent, that’s correct. Your philodendron painted lady will thrive in lots of bright, indirect light, BUT you’ll see richer, bolder colors and larger leaves if placed somewhere that also gets 1-3 hours of direct cool morning or evening sun.
Problems with scorching and bleaching only crop up when a plant is left in direct light for hours on end, especially during the afternoon when light is more intense. Solely bright, indirect light is not a hard and fast rule.
What is Bright, Indirect Light Exactly?
Well, it’s much brighter than you probably think! And, as light is hard to measure by eye, I love and trust my light meter for that reason. Light meters measure the overall intensity of light in a room in foot candles (FC). You can pick one up for less than $50 now. Just 10 years ago, these handy meters were reserved for the elite home growers.
How Much Light Does My Philodendron Painted Lady Need?
To keep this plant barely alive (maintenance growth), you’ll need to keep it in 200FC (absolutely no lower than that). For good growth (probably what you’re looking for), anywhere between 400-600FC.
Just to show you how vague the term ‘bright, indirect light’ really is, the philodendron painted lady is often grown under 1500-2500FC in nurseries under a shade cloth (which is still classed as bright, indirect light), just at a much higher intensity!
Like most philos, the philodendron painted lady loves evenly moist soil that’s never too dry, nor too wet. The key to mastering ‘watering’ is to get into the habit of checking when your plant really needs water as opposed to relying on a strict ‘once a week’ schedule like many guides tell you to do.
Friendly Tip: Soil meters are highly, highly inaccurate and looking just at the top layer of soil isn’t foolproof. The top layer could be very dry, whilst the bottom layers could be wet or very moist. Use the methods below instead.
How to Tell If Your Plant Needs Watering (2 Easy Methods)
Good ol’ knuckle test. Push your finger deep into the soil. If the texture is dry on top, but still pretty moist underneath, you can hold off on watering. If the mix is overall pretty dry, go ahead and give it a good drink (see below on how to water).
Use a chopstick. If you’re like me and don’t like sticking your fingers into a mix containing worm poo (!), you can use a chopstick instead. Away from the main stem, push a bamboo or wooden chopstick into the soil, pull it out and observe what you can see.
- 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
If your mix is pulling away from the sides of the pot, you’re likely dealing with some serious compaction where the soil has become so dense that neither oxygen nor water can get to the roots. In this case, you’ll need to change the potting mix.
Some more general pointers
- A mix that’s still full of water will be fairly heavy when you lift it.
- Always check the texture of the mix – is it dry and compact? Or is it airy and well draining? Clumping and compaction always means the mix is too dry.
- Look at the color of the mix – is it light (dry)? Or is it still dark (wet)?
How to Properly Water Your Philodendron Painted Lady (and All Other Plants too)
Having worked in a botanical garden, one thing I did pick up was how to water plants correctly to avoid bacterial and fungal infections (and a whole host of other problems) starting.
When watering, always make sure you water just enough so that trickles of water drain through the drainage holes every time. Yes, everytime you water. It’s much better to thoroughly wet the entire plant every once in a while than to give it small amounts of water all the time. Here’s why.
Water not only provides your plant with some much needed moisture, but it also pushes oxygen through the soil and to the roots (ironically, helping to prevent root rot). Watering a little all the time prevents water getting to the bottom layers of soil, and can quickly cause crown rot to develop on the base of the stem.
Also, make sure to water from the base and not overhead. Overhead watering is one of the leading causes of erwinia leaf spot and pseudomonas leaf spot taking hold (plus, you might see some ugly water spots appear).
As a result of being crossed with two tropical plants, this plant loves humidity. The higher the better. Anything more than 70%+ will result in larger leaves with brighter coloring. Lower humidity levels 40-50% will cause smaller leaves, but you won’t see hugely drastic changes to its appearance. Friendly reminder that humidity is nowhere near as important as getting light, water and fertilizer right, so try not to worry too much.
How to Increase Humidity Levels (2 Foolproof Methods)
There are only 2 real ways to increase humidity:
- Investing in a small humidifier
- Grouping plants together to create a mini ‘humidity sharing’ biome in your home
Myth Buster: Misting and pebble trays help to drastically improve humidity levels. It’s a common myth floating around. Pebble trays have shown to do next to nothing to improve local humidity, whilst misting has been debunked by the scientific community for it’s hype. When you mist, the moisture stays around the plant for 30-60 seconds before dispersing around the room. It’s like sticking a band-aid on a crack in the wall.
Houseplants have no natural way of obtaining nutrients once they’ve absorbed the nutrients in their potting mix or soil. It’s why they need regular fertilizing. If you’re using coco coir, you’ll definitely need a good quality fertilizer as it doesn’t contain any nutrients your plant can actively use.
Best Fertilizer for Philodendron Painted Lady
I use dyna grow (7-9-5 NPK formula) on most of my plants, it’s a complete liquid fertilizer that contains all 16 essential nutrients your plant needs to survive.
It’s urea free and low in heavy nitrogen salts which alter the pH level of the soil and lead to root burn if left to form a residue crust on the top level of soil.
I’ve also had some great success with MARPHYL Marine Phytoplankton Liquid Seaweed Fertilizer – it’s an organic fertilizer that’s packed with nitrogen, good amounts of phosphorus and potassium and has calcium and magnesium too.
Micro seaweed has been shown to be a natural stress reliever for plants. It’s also vegan (seaweed), eco-friendly and really boosts foliage growth! It’s suitable for indoor plants, hydroponics, vegetables as well as flowers, lawns and even greenhouses.
Key Nutrients to Look For in a Fertilizer
You’ll want to choose a fertilizer that’s relatively high in nitrogen, has a good amount of potassium as well as phosphorus.
Nitrogen is responsible for foliage growth whilst potassium and phosphorus help with root and stem development, amongst other things. You’ll also want some calcium and magnesium too.
On some cheaper all-purpose houseplant fertilizers, you might notice a little tagline in size 6 font on the back of the bottle that says ‘low nutrient houseplant fertilizer’. If you see that, run. Seriously – it won’t do much for your plant. Save your money.
How to Fertilize Your Philodendron Painted Lady
Instead of fertilizing once a month, I combine both watering and fertilizing together so that everytime I water, my plant gets a very small dose of premium fertilizer. This is a more natural way of feeding plants – after all, in the wild they receive a steady stream of nutrients over days – they don’t take one big gulp a month.
To do this I simply dilute ¼ teaspoon of dyna gro or 1 teaspoon of liquid seaweed with 1 gallon of water (4.5 litres) and water my plant with this solution every time in spring and summer.
I cut back both on waterings and feedings in autumn, and stop fertilizing completely in the winter months to prevent oversaturation during the more dormant part of their growth cycle.
Growth – What Can I Expect?
Indoors, the philodendron painted lady can grow up to 5 feet tall (1.5m), with individual leaves growing up to 6-12 inches long (15-30cm).
Being a self header, it’s a fairly compact plant, with more mature specimens growing up to only 2 feet (0.6m) in width. As it matures, you’ll see it grow up and out, rather than vine. It can take up to 5 years to reach maturity.
A true warmth lover, the philodendron painted lady grows well in 60-80F or 16-29C, the higher end of the scale leading to quicker, stronger growth.
GBIF’s notes state that anything less than 55° F (12.5C) will result in stunted growth, withering or even death for most philodendrons.
Also, make sure to keep this plant away from drafts, be that hot or cold. No air con or heating near this delicate gem.
Pruning – Should I Prune This Plant?
As the philodendron painted lady is a slow grower, it won’t need much pruning, if at all to stay neat and tidy. The only time you’ll want to prune leaves is if they are showing signs of damage, disease or pests.
Toxicity – is the philodendron painted lady toxic?
Unfortunately, yes. Toxicity runs in the foliage of all the Philodendrons. The high levels of calcium oxalate crystals in the painted lady’s leaves make it unsafe for both humans and animals if ingested. Ingestion can lead to issues like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea as well as mouth swelling and gastrointestinal inflammation.
How to Propagate the Philodendron Painted Lady – 2 Methods
Let’s be honest, propagating a non-trailing i.e. a self heading philodendron seems fairly intimidating. After all, there’s barely any, if any, nodes and a little vining philodendron such as the micans or brasil will grow back uber quickly. With self-heading philodendrons, you might feel you’re out of your depth as a home grower, but I assure you propagation can be done, it just takes a little patience.
Propagating in the beginning of spring, or at least when it’s warm, lends a higher chance of your plant developing stronger and healthy roots. I would avoid doing this in winter when growing conditions are less than stellar.
Method #1 – Pup Division: The Highest Chance of Success
A healthy, mature self-heading philodendron will eventually create ‘offshoots’ or ‘pups’ or ‘plantelets’ (little mini me’s) that can be divided at repotting. These little guys can take a while to appear so you’ll be on ‘pup’ watch for sometime. The positives? Success rates are high with this method! Here’s how you do it.
- Water your plant the day before.
- Remove your plant from its container.
- You should see independent offshoots around the edge of your Philodendron.
- Gently remove the dirt from the root ball with your hands. (Think: shampooing hair, gently teasing the soil). Untangle the offshoot’s roots from the parent by hand.
- If there are a few roots that just won’t let go, cut them with sterile scissors.
- Repot your two plants in containers that are 1-2 inches larger than their existing roots.
Method #2 – Stem Cutting – Got Aerial Roots?
Waiting for the right time to take a stem cutting also requires patience: For the best results, you need a stem cutting with a few nodes and aerial roots.
How to Take a Stem Cutting
- Prepare a small pot of moist potting mix (see soil section above). You can also use a 80% perlite, 20% sphagnum moss mix, but bear in mind, it will need repotting once roots are growing.
- Choose a healthy stem that has 2-3 nodes on it (this will come from the main stem). Nodes are the little intersections with aerial roots that creep up to the leaf.
- With a clean pair of pruning scissors, cut the stem just below the nodes. Including too much of the stem can lead to rot taking hold really quickly.
- Dip the freshly cut stem/aerial roots into a rooting hormone solution or powder.
- Plant the stem into your pre-made potting mix (2-3 inches into the mix). The nodes should be well buried under the mix – this is where roots will come from.
- Fill the rest of the pot with your moist potting mix.
- Place in a warm area that receives bright, indirect light, but not direct light. No direct light at all for cuttings.
- To increase humidity, you can wrap a clear plastic bag over the pot to encourage growth.
- Roots tend to ‘strike’ fairly quickly with the painted lady. Within 3-4 weeks you should have some good roots starting to take hold.
Note: If you went with the perlite/moss mix, you’ll need to repot your cutting into a richer potting mix once the roots are 1 inch long (3cm).
Help! What’s Wrong With My Plant? – Common Philodendron Painted Lady Problems
Yellowing leaves have many causes including magnesium deficiency and pests but the main thing to watch out for is root rot caused by overwatering. If the leaf is turning yellow on the edges, it suggests the plant is in early stages of stress. Check the base of the plant for black, mushy and bad smelling roots and for good measure, change the potting mix. If root rot is present, try to salvage a few cuttings and propagate them.
Pale Leaf Color
Pale leaves in a normally darker green plant are usually caused by low light conditions. This is known as chlorosis type 1 and will correct itself if moved to a brighter location.
If your light meter is showing a good light reading, it’s likely you’re lacking essential nutrients, magnesium and calcium being the main ones. Make sure you’re using a complete fertilizer to fix the problem or add some dolomite to the mix if your fertilizer doesn’t contain magnesium and calcium.
Wet, Mushy Patches on the Leaves
This could be erwinia blight disease or pseudomonas leaf spot. Bacterial infections often cause black or tan patches on leaves and the soil to smell bad. Both diseases need moisture to spread and are caused by too much overhead watering (and misting!).
You can try to save your plant by changing the potting mix, pruning damaged leaves. Make sure to isolate your plant as soon as possible to prevent spreading to the rest of your collection. Unfortunately, applying a bactericide such as copper sulfate has been shown to slow the infection but not cure it, so I wouldn’t waste your money.
This could be a sign your plant is getting too much bright, direct sunlight or it’s being underwatered.
Black Patches on the Leaves
Black patches or spots are usually a sign that your philodendron has been exposed to cold temperatures or drafts overnight. Philodendrons are tropical plants and true warmth lovers. Move to a warmer location.
Brown patches or spots on the Leaves
Brown patches could signal that your plant has been left in direct sun for too long. A few hours is okay, but a whole day is not. The brown patches are scorch marks.
Common FAQ – Your Questions Answered
Is the Philodendron Painted Lady Rare?
Yes, the philodendron painted lady is a rare aroid. It’s commercial demand far outweighs its supply.
How Much Does a Philodendron Painted Lady Cost to Buy?
A philodendron painted lady cutting can cost anywhere between $60-$80 (£42-£56), whilst a mature plant can set you back a hefty $190-$450 (£133-£317).
Where Can I Buy a Philodendron Painted Lady?
Philodendron painted ladies can be hard to find, but they sometimes appear on specialised aroid nursery websites, in garden centres and on Etsy.
Does the Philodendron Painted Lady Climb?
Yes. In the Greek language “Philo” means to love and “Dendron” means “tree hugger”, so you instantly know this plant loves to climb. Providing a pole or cane for it to grow up as it matures is ideal.