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Are you looking to fill a huge space with an extraordinary tropical plant? The Philodendron bipinnatifidum will deliver. It is also goes by the name of Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum, Philodendron selloum, and horsehead philodendron.
Although it is not a very popular houseplant, I think it deserves more exposure because of its beautiful vivid green leaves and vigorous growth.
It has different needs than most of its Philodendron cousins because it is a tree Philodendron, but it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge in most homes.
To care for Philodendron bipinnatifidum a soil mixture consisting of one part compost, one part perlite, gravel, and one part orchid bark or coco coir. In terms of light put it in front of a window where it gets a mix of bright direct and indirect light. A south-facing window is a perfect choice. Keep the soil moist but not soggy and water once it is dry to the touch. The optimal temperature range is 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 24 degrees Celsius). Humidity should ideally be in the 70-80% range. Fertilize once a month in spring and summer using an organic fertilizer.
Keep on reading for a deep dive into all of what this plant’s needs and wants.
Philodendron Bipinnatifidum Care Guide
The Philodendron bippinatifidum has different soil requirements than other Philodendrons.
They require well-draining soil, but they also need a decent amount of organic material and don’t tolerate acidic or salty soil.
Consequently, the best soil mix you could use would be one part compost (it makes the soil more alkaline), one part perlite and gravel (for good drainage and aeration), and one part orchid bark or coco coir.
Avoid peat, as it is acidic, and try to find a growers mix with as little salt as possible.
A way to remedy saltiness is good drainage. With good drainage, you can wash out the salts every time you water.
You can also add wood ash and crushed seashells to make the growing medium more alkaline.
Philodendron bippinatifidums usually grow in full sun. If you were looking for a plant that will tolerate that south window of yours, this Philo is the one.
Although they are said to adapt to full shade, expect the leaves to turn a darker green color if you don’t give it enough light.
With lower light conditions, the plant will not grow as well and as fast, and you won’t be seeing any flowering or particularly showy leaves.
Although it is recommended to regularly turn all of your plants to give them light from all sides, this is especially important with Philodendrons bipinnatifidums because of their trunks.
They will turn and bend towards the light source, so make it a habit to turn the pot every time you water to avoid oddly shaped trunks.
This Philodendron also has unique requirements for water. While you might be used to letting the soil dry out between watering with your other Philodendrons, keep in mind this one likes more water.
Ideally, you should try to keep the soil barely moist at all times. The keyword here is moist, not soggy.
This can be achieved by watering the plant so that the water runs through the drainage holes at the bottom of the plant.
Water it again when the top of the soil is getting dry to the touch.
This might take some trial and error, and maybe it would be wise to opt for drier rather than wetter at the beginning when you are still getting to know its needs.
I say that because there is always the possibility of overwatering and causing root rot, which is hard to deal with successfully and will take a lot of work to fix.
You Philodendron bipinnatifidum will feel it’s best in most normal home temperatures. The ideal range is 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 24 degrees Celsius).
Anything above 55°F (12.8°C) will be perfect for it. Some plant enthusiasts say that a good rule of thumb with Philodendrons is that as long as you are not cold, they aren’t either.
Since it is a tree philodendron, certain people plant them outside. In that case, remember that you should either bring it inside or expect the above-ground growth to die back entirely as winter comes.
This is no reason to worry. As winter goes by and freezing temperatures stop, it will grow again and thrive for the whole growing season.
Unfortunately, the particularities of the Philodendron bipinattifidum don’t end at soil and watering. This Philodendron will also require a bit more humidity than most of it’s Philo cousins.
It is a tree Philodendron, and it has thinner leaves, so it will need some help with humidity if you want to avoid crunchy tips and stunted growth.
Aim for a good 70-80% humidity for the best results.
If this is not possible, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Give it a pebble tray to elevate moisture in its immediate vicinity, get a humidifier if you can and mist it with a fine mist daily. Have a look at our shop for affordable humidifiers.
This should be more than enough to keep this plant healthy.
We have already mentioned Philodendron bipinnatifidums don’t tolerate salty soil.
Fertilizers are one of the biggest culprits of salt buildup in the soil, so this is something you should watch out for.
I strongly advise you to use organic fertilizers to feed this plant as they aren’t so aggressive, and they contain fewer salts.
I fertilize mine once a month in the growing season in spring and summer.
If you go for synthetic fertilizer, dilute it to half or even a third of its original strength.
As you are getting to know the plant, this will become easier. I suggest you start with less fertilizer initially and increase the amount of you notice the leaves getting paler.
A good option is also fertilizers that are specially made for tropical plants.
You should dilute this one too to be safe, but it is better than a regular fertilizer for all green leafy plants.
Other options you could go for is fish emulsion, worm castings, or adding compost to the soil regularly.
This Philodendron is best propagated by stem cuttings. This means that the younger plants are useless for propagation, and you should wait for the stems to develop and branch about so that you can cut a piece off.
When you have a mature plant, this shouldn’t be a problem, and you can follow the steps below:
- Use sharp and disinfected scissors or a knife.
- Choose a healthy stem to cut off. You should cut just below a leaf node, keeping in mind you should remove the bottom leaves to reveal it. Consequently, choose a cutting with at least a couple of leaves so that one or two can stay on the cutting to support the new plant.
- Ideally, this cutting should be put directly into the soil. Still, because soil propagation can cause fungal and rotting issues, I recommend you dip the bottom of the cutting in some rooting hormone that contains a fungicide as well.
- Put this cutting into a small pot and cover the bottom with moist soil.
- Your only job now is to keep that soil moist constantly. Enclose the pot in a plastic bag to retain moisture in the soil.
- Check the soil regularly for moisture or any signs of rotting.
- If all is well in a couple of weeks, the plant should have a couple of inches of roots. You check this by carefully tugging on the stem to feel if there is resistance. If you feel resistance, the roots have set, and the plastic can be removed. Your new plant is ready.
Always keep new cuttings in a warm place with bright but indirect light.
Keep a watchful eye on them as such young plants are delicate and susceptible to all kinds of pests and diseases.
If you notice your cutting is starting to rot, don’t panic.
You should cut away the rotting parts and try to dip the bottom of the plant in wax.
Wax will seal off the cut and mitigate further rotting by isolating the softest parts of the stem.
This plant is known for its size. Their trunks split up and spread out, and the leaves get so big they cover a considerable area.
Although it takes approximately 15 to 20 years to fully mature, you can expect it to grow up to 5 feet or more with leaves spanning 2 to 3 feet in width.
At this point, you can also expect it to flower if you have been taking good care of it.
Consequently, this is not a tabletop plant or something you should consider if you live in a small apartment.
You can opt for pruning and constricting its size by regularly cutting off leaves and roots while repotting, but where’s the fun in that?
With such extreme growth, you should expect your Philodendron bipinnatifidum to need repotting every two years at least.
You will see the roots peeking out of the drainage holes and getting crowded, which is the perfect time to repot it.
Wait for spring or summer, as this is the best time to repot all plants. That is when they are at their healthiest, and you are also giving them a full season to get used to the new pot and soil.
Never go more than two to four inches up in size as you are repotting to avoid suffocating the roots with excessive soil around them.
Too much soil will cause root rot, and you want to avoid that.
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Common Problems with Philodendron bipinnatifidum
You can expect the usual pests found on houseplants like aphids, mealybugs, and scale. Your first line of defense against them is keeping your plant healthy and happy.
A good habit to adopt is also regularly treating your plants with Neem oil. Neem oil is a non-toxic feeding deterrent, insecticide, and fungicide, and it does wonders for plants.
You can spray it on, apply it with a piece of cloth, and pour it into the soil as well.
But let’s get into what you can do once the trouble is already there.
Aphids will cause wilting and yellowing of the leaves of your Philodendron bipinnatifidum.
You can spot them if you look at the leaves’ nodes and undersides or any other softer part of the plant. They gather and feed there in large numbers.
The best course of action is to, first and foremost, isolate the plant and remove all the aphids you can with a hose or shower.
You can try doing this regularly and see if this is enough.
If it’s not, consider treating the plant with some insecticidal soap.
Mealybugs are white fluffy bugs that also feed on the sap of your plant. They won’t appear in large numbers at first, so if you spot them early enough, you can easily remove them with q-tips and alcohol.
You dip the q-tip in alcohol and get all of the bugs individually. The alcohol kills the bug on contact.
Do this once a week for a while and see if it’s enough. Alternatively, an insecticidal soap treatment is in order and usually gets rid of them for good.
Scale is a bit tricky because of their fantastic defense system. They are bugs covered with hard shells, and they stick to the stem of your plant.
They are hard to notice at first as their look almost mimics emerging aerial roots. This often leads to wilting, yellowing, and the death of new growth.
They are also resistant to most insecticides you can buy in the store and will also develop resistance to chemical insecticides even if at first their numbers decline.
To get rid of them, you have to dislodge the shell with a scaping device like your fingernail, blade, or toothbrush.
Once you dislodge the bug, find it and kill it with a q-tip dipped in alcohol. Make sure you are touching the soft bug and not the outer shell.
Tips to keep Philodendron bipinnatifidum problem-free
- Give it a well-draining and slightly acidic soil
- Avoid aggressive synthetic fertilizers
- Water thoroughly, letting the water drain through the drainage holes to wash away salts
- Regularly treat with neem oil
- Give it high humidity
- Put it somewhere with lots of light
Frequently asked questions about Philodendron bipinnatifidum
Is the Philodendron bipinnatifidum safe for children and pets?
The Philodendron bipinnatifidum contains calcium oxalate crystals like most Philodendrons, so they can irritate in contact with the skin or digestive issues if ingested.
Therefore be cautious when pruning and propagating, and don’t let pets or children near it.
What should I do to control the size of my Philodendron bipinnatifidum?
You can control the size of your Philodendron by pruning. You should also prune the roots back as you are repotting.
Can I use tap water to water my Philodendron bipinnatifidum?
The Philodendron bipinnatifidum is very sensitive to salts and mineral buildup, so I strongly suggest you water it either with distilled or rainwater.
To conclude, this plant is so huge it will be a statement piece in your home. Although it does have some special requirements, it is not a demanding plant, and I think anyone can master its care.
If this Philodendron is bigger than what you are willing to bring into your home, check out our article on the Philodendron nangaritense, it might be more up your alley.
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.