Published on July 18, 2020

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Photography by Michael Wiltbank

 Known for its droopy, deep-lobed leaves and visible stems, the philodendron hope has rightly earned the nickname “tree philodendron.” In the wild, the leaves themselves can grow up to 5 feet wide. “We’ve had some in our store that we have to sell because it’s taking up the entire space,” says Gabby Santiago, a plant-care specialist and horticulturist at Rooted in New York City. 

This species’s trunk grows as the plant grows, so don’t be alarmed if you see the philodendron’s heavy, lower leaves touch the ground. “I like to elevate them slightly off the ground in a taller planter so it looks like a giant canopy,” says Santiago. Under the right conditions (the South American native prefers a warm and humid environment), it will thrive. Here, the Rooted pro gives us the lowdown on the rain forest–approved greenery.

How much light does it need? 

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Photography by Laure Joliet; Styling by Elaina Sullivan

While this plant can tolerate direct light, it is prone to burning if the air isn’t moist. The best spot is somewhere that gets medium to bright indirect rays, ideally with western- or eastern-facing exposure. If your plant isn’t getting enough vitamin D, it will survive, but you’ll start to notice its growth rate really slowing down and the leaves will turn a deep, dark green. “When they’re happy and healthy, they’ll have a lime tone to them,” says Santiago. If you aren’t loving how droopy the leaves are getting, placing the plant underneath an overhead skylight will encourage them to stay propped up. 

How often should I water it? 

Good news, avid travelers: This plant is semi-drought-tolerant, meaning it can go dry for a week or two max. (While it may look extra-droopy and sad, it will be there when you get back.) If you want to see consistent growth, water the top 2 inches of soil when it feels dry to the touch. Depending on how much light it’s getting, you’ll want to give it a drink every seven to 10 days. 

When should I fertilize? 

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Photography by Nate Abbott/Getty Images

Similar to other tropical plants, you’ll want to fertilize this nonclimbing philodendron once a month during the spring and summer. If you’re using a water-soluble fertilizer, make sure it’s properly diluted, otherwise you may end up burning it with salinity. “My go-to is a foliar feeder because it’s foolproof (you just spray it directly onto the leaves),” says Santiago. “You don’t run the risk of throwing off the balance of the soil.” 

How should I pot it? 

Because it grows so large and fast, it’s best to stay away from hanging planters when finding a permanent home indoors for this philodendron. Taller containers are best, so you can see its lush canopy in full effect without it totally taking over the entire floor. Just be sure to keep it out of reach of kids and pets (like most other tropical species, it can be toxic and cause stomach pains if ingested). It can live outdoors on a balcony or patio, but only if the temperature at night doesn’t drop below 60 degrees. 

Should I trim it? 

The philodendron hope is the gift that keeps on giving. “Never be afraid to cut the leaves,” says Santiago. As you prune it, you can place the cuttings in a vase for decoration (they last longer than you’d think) or propagate the stems (an easy thing to do in water). One of the questions Santiago gets asked the most about this plant is: What’s up with its aerial roots? “They kind of look like snakes,” she says. In nature, these roots are meant to help the plant cling to other trees so they can absorb more sunlight. What you do with them is really up to you: You can cut them, bury them in soil, or simply let them do their thing. 

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