It’s been said that without the philodendron red heart, your collection is not complete. Though you might end up with a broken heart trying to snag one.
The red heart has become known as the ‘heart breaker’ in the plant community. It’s extremely hard to find a red heart stem cutting in the US or Europe, even harder to find a mature specimen, so many people resort to shipping from places like Thailand.
And that comes with its own problems. Some forums are littered with shipping horror stories, after people have invested hundreds of dollars only to get a plant that is dead on arrival or has severe root rot.
If you’ve managed to snag this rare gem, we’re here to show you exactly how to provide the best philodendron red heart care as well as some common mistakes to avoid so you know your plant is happy and healthy at all times.
Philodendron Red Heart Origin & Brief History
The philodendron red heart, with its wide deep green leaves that fan out to reveal a red core, is a slow growing member of the araceae family. It is a hybrid mutant, so it was bred specifically to create its gorgeous open heart coloring and shape. It was modified to be a houseplant that has manageable growth, that’s why it’s a fairly slow grower.
Not much is known about its cultivation – the whos, whats, wheres and why are still a mystery. All we know is that it was hybridized in South America, and now many ‘escapees’ can be found in tropical regions such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, all introduced by man.
I’ve imported this plant – What do I Need to Know?
It’s likely you have or will have to import this plant. Caring for an imported plant that’s gone through shipping stress is vastly different to caring for a plant you’ve bought from a nursery in a little pot, at least in the beginning. Here are some key things you’ll want to know about your red heart after importation.
Your plant’s roots will probably be wrapped in moss. Don’t plant it with it!
Moss is wrapped around the root ball to keep it moist during transit. Moss is great at holding water but once the soil is dry, it doesn’t absorb moisture well. The moss compacts which leads to a great risk of waterlogged soil when watered. Not good. Remove before planting.
Your leaves might die (all of them) – but this is completely normal.
This makes many plant owners panic, but don’t worry it’s fairly normal. The stress of transit means you’ll likely lose some if not all the leaves your plant came with. It might take months, maybe a few growth cycles, before you see new leaves emerging.
You’ll need to isolate and sanitise it before adding it to your plant collection.
To stop potential pests or diseases being transferred to your entire plant collection, you’ll want to isolate it for 2-3 weeks and brush some neem oil over its leaves and stems just in case.
I don’t recommend it, but some plant owners dip their plant in a heavily diluted hydrogen peroxide solution for a few seconds to thoroughly kill anything that they might have missed.
It will suffer some transit shock – but you can mitigate its effects.
Transit shock is common, especially if you’ve imported your plant. You can apply some diluted superthrive to your soil which acts as a natural stress reliever.
Philodendron Red Heart Care
The philodendron red heart loves lots of bright, indirect light with a healthy 1-2 hours dose of cool, direct morning sun. Despite what you might have been told, keeping philodendrons in strictly bright, indirect light isn’t a hard and fast rule.
With some cool, direct light you’ll see bigger leaves, deeper colors and overall quicker growth. In my experience, it’s one of the best remedies to most care issues, so don’t be afraid of going brighter!
How Bright is Bright, Indirect Light Exactly?
Well, it’s probably much brighter than you think! Light is one of those subjective and tricky things to measure with your eyes alone. To get an accurate reading of overall light intensity in a room, I use a light meter. It gives light readings in foot candles (FC), and can be picked up for less than $40 online.
For good growth, you’ll want to keep this plant in 400-600FC (most likely what you’re looking for). The absolute minimum this plant will tolerate is around the 200FC mark. Any lower than that and you’ll see some serious wilting, not to mention have a very miserable looking plant on your hands.
Did you know nurseries keep this type of philodendron in a staggering 1500-3000FC under a shade cloth? Nurseries, despite their cutesy name, are anything but cute. They’re intense training grounds designed to get a plant to grow as strong and tall as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Most philos love a lightweight and airy mix that has a good balance of moisture-draining and moisture-retaining elements, and this plant is no different. If you’ve ever experienced wilting and curling leaves and couldn’t seem to keep your mixture wet enough, it’s likely there were too many moisture draining elements in your pot.
That’s why I love and use this mix for my philodendrons:
- 40% coco coir
- 20% orchid bark
- 10% perlite
- 10% worm castings
- 10% pumice
- 10% activated charcoal
This mix has a 50% organic to 30% inorganic ratio (with the bark making up the other 20%), which means it retains a little more water than your average ‘philo’ mix you’ll find on the web. This is a good thing – especially if you don’t want to be watering your plant all the time.
What Does Each Element Do?
- Coco coir (instead of soil) – fast draining, neutral in pH, yet can hold moisture too, very easy growing medium
- Perlite – a glass pearl of volcanic rock, porous structure, low water retention, aids in drainage and holds nutrients
- Orchid Bark – an epiphyte’s FAVORITE soil amendment, it becomes a hotspot for positive microbes, root attachment and chunkiness allows for extra drainage
- Worm castings – organic fertilizer (literally worm poo), has a full nutrient palette
- Activated charcoal – prevents build up of soil impurities, stops mould and neutralizes pH of soil
- Pumice – another drainage element
A hybrid mutant, crossed with two tropical plants, it probably comes at no surprise that the philodendron red heart loves evenly moist or damp soil. In other words, the soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely in between waterings.
This is another myth I see floating around the internet – when soil dries out completely, it compacts and bundles around the roots, so the next time you go to water, your plant won’t get much needed moisture or oxygen which overtime leads to root rot. Chronic underwatering can lead to root rot too!
How Often Should I Water my Red Heart?
Generally, you’re advised to water this plant when the top inch of soil is dry to touch, but again, this isn’t foolproof. Neither is using a soil moisture meter.
Instead of sticking to a set schedule e.g once a week – try to water based on what you can see is happening with your plant to make sure it really does need watering.
Related: Soil Moisture Meters: Why You Should Never Use One (+ What to Do Instead)
How to Tell When Your Plant Needs Watering
What I do and recommend is to use a bamboo chopstick, dig it into the soil, a good few inches deep, and observe what you notice.
- 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
Or, you can use the good ol’ knuckle test. Stick your finger deep 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 good drink.
Always make sure to check the color of the soil and texture too. If the mix is really dark, it’s likely it doesn’t need any more water. If the soil is hard and compacted, it’s become super dry and might need changing.
Your plant will also need more water during the warmer, more humid spring and summer months, and less watering when significantly less light is available in winter and autumn.
Philodendron red hearts’s love humidity, and will reward you with larger leaves and potentially brighter, bolder colors if kept in an environment with a humidity of 60-80%. But, from my experience, they will also tolerate average humidity levels of 40-50% in homes.
Humidity is an important care factor, but it’s nowhere near as important as getting the light or waterings right to give some idea.
If in winter months you notice the humidity level dropping too low, you can invest in a small humidifier to add some extra moisture into the air.
You might also want to group your plants together so they can share ‘humidity’ resources via transpiration. Grouping creates a little mini biome in your home. I’ve seen this done via mini greenhouses in homes or by having a dedicated plant room.
Red heart’s can handle a wide range of temperatures, though it loves to be kept in slightly warmer temperatures.The ideal growth range lands between 71°F to 86°F (22°C to 30°C), though they can handle as low as 59°F (15°C). Anything less than 54°F (12°C) and you’re likely to see severely stunted growth and wilting.
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 Red Heart
There are so many good options available to you – 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 initial 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.
You can also opt for worm tea, compost tea, kelp extract and aloe vera water, the last 2 options pack a punch in terms of plant growth hormones.
Key Nutrients to Look For in a Fertilizer
As far as nutrients go, check that your chosen fertilizer has a good ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, phosphorus helps a plant convert nutrients into energy and potassium encourages healthy stem, root and leaf development. A high quality fertilizer will also include these key micronutrients: zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium.
How to Fertilize Your Philodendron Red Heart
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?
From what I’ve seen, philodendron red hearts are very compact, small plants that typically only reach 1m in height, though this isn’t definite. ‘Mature’ indoor specimens seem to max out their leaf length at around 20cm (0.2m). As this plant is so, so new to the US and European market, it’s hard to know what height and width they will reach.That’s the fun and interesting part to caring for one of these super rare plants!
Pruning – Should I Prune This Plant?
These plants are naturally self-heading, so you won’t need to regularly prune, if at all. The only time you might want to consider pruning is if you are noticing damage or pests.
The great news is that this plant doesn’t need repotting much, and can take up to 2 years before it needs moving to a bigger container. You’ll likely house this gem in a very small container to start with – its roots aren’t that big and they prefer to be a little bit more snug than loose in their pot.
They can tolerate being root bound, but it’s always best practice to move it to a slightly bigger pot as soon as its roots start to curl around the base of the potting mix.
Signs your plant needs repotting includes:
- Roots are starting to show through drainage holes
- Your plant has roots circling its base (root bound)
- Potting mix isn’t draining as well as it used to
When repotting your philodendron, keep these things in mind:
- Choose a pot that has drainage holes
- Only select a pot that is 1-2 inches inches bigger than the last (no more).
- Fill with a high quality, loose, well draining potting mix
Friendly tip: Don’t worry about prying too much of the old mix from its roots before repotting. Detangling if not done the right way can cause root breakage and more stress to your plant. Your plant’s roots will absolutely expand into the new pot with ease!
How to Propagate the Philodendron Red Heart
The philodendron red heart is generally propagated via tissue culture or root/pup division in nurseries and commercial outlets, but neither are feasible for the average home enthusiast.
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!
Cool fact: as this plant is a hybrid mutant, you’ll never know whether the mutation will be stable enough to pass down to its ‘offspring’, meaning you could end up with a slightly different plant with less or more coloring over time.
Propagate in the beginning of spring, or at least when it’s warm, and you’ll set yourself up for a much higher chance of developing strong and healthy roots. I would avoid doing this in winter when growing conditions are less than stellar.
Top 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, ideally from a mature specimen (which again, there aren’t many of them around). These plants have very, very short internodes, so you’ll really need to dig into the plant to get a cutting.
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 part of the stem that has 2-3 nodes on it. Nodes are the little intersections with aerial roots that creep up to the leaf. Internodes are the distance between 2 nodes.
- 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.
- Going by the average length of time for most philos, 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).
Toxicity – is the philodendron red heart toxic?
Unfortunately, yes. Toxicity runs in the foliage of all the Philodendrons. The high levels of calcium oxalate crystals in the red heart’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.
Help! What’s Wrong With My Plant? – Common Philodendron Red Heart Problems
Problem #1 – Yellowing Leaves
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.
Problem #2 – 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.
Problem #3 – 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.
Problem #4 – Browning Tips
This could be a sign your plant is getting too much bright, direct sunlight or it’s being underwatered.
Problem #5 – 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.
Problem #6 – 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 Red Heart Rare?
Yes, the philodendron red heart is a super rare, hybrid mutant aroid. It’s commercial demand far outweighs its supply.
How Much Does a Philodendron Red Heart Cost to Buy?
A philodendron red heart can cost anywhere between $30-$150 (£21-£105), plus shipping.
Where Can I Buy a Philodendron Red Heart?
Philodendron red hearts can be extremely hard to find in the US and in Europe, though they can be found freely in places such as the Phillipines, Indonesia as well as Thailand. For this reason, many collectors have to have this plant shipped. But, sometimes they do appear on specialised aroid nursery websites, and occasionally you’ll find a stem cutting on Etsy.