How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Philodendron Rio
Philodendron Rio is another variety of the popular philodendron plant. This variety has become quite popular with indoor plant enthusiasts for their beautiful leaves and lower care requirements. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton guides you through all the steps you'll need to follow in order to successfully plant, grow, and care for Philodendron Rio.
Rare houseplants are all the rage this year. Joining the long list of collectibles, along with the ever-popular Pink Princess Philodendron, is Philodendron Rio. The Rio is becoming almost just as popular as the Pink Princess, due to its stunning good looks.
A sport of the Brasil cultivar, this Heartleaf Philodendron has a fascinating variegation pattern unlike any other on the market at the moment. It may be difficult to find as it has only been available for sale in recent years, but it is certainly worth the effort to search for one.
This low-maintenance houseplant is the perfect collector’s item for new plant parents or experienced owners alike. Let’s take a deeper look at this plant, and help you figure out if it’s the prefect option to show off your indoor garden!
Philodendron Rio Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Philodendron hederaceum ‘Rio’
Native Area Tropical Forests
Exposure Bright Indirect Light
Height 3-4 inches
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Spider Mites, Mealybug
Soil Type Airy and Well-draining
Hardiness Zone 9A-11B
What is Philodendron Rio?
The newly popular Rio is botanically known as Philodendron hederaceum ‘Rio’. Philodendron hederaceum is also known as Heartleaf Philodendron due to the shape of its foliage. They were previously known as Philodendron scandens, and you may still come across that name used in nurseries or online.
Heartleaf Philodendrons are popular trailing plants commonly grown indoors thanks to their affinity for tropical conditions. Closely related to other Philodendrons, such as the rare and beloved Pink Princess Philodendron, they are favored for their foliage and interesting variegation patterns – especially when it comes to Rio.
The Philodendron genus falls under the Araceae or arum family. Arums are characterized by their flowers, called spadix, that is surrounded by a colorful modified leaf. Although Philodendrons don’t often flower, especially indoors, you will notice these flowers on other popular arums like Anthuriums and Peace Lilies.
New to the market and quite hard to come by, Philodendron Rio is often confused for other sports like Cream Splash and Silver Stripe. Their varied variegation patterns and colors are the easiest way to tell false labeling from their real thing.
Due to their similar growth habits, Heartleaf Philodendrons are also confused for one of the most popular houseplants around, the Pothos. But a look at the leaf shapes and new growth of these plants will allow you to quickly and expertly tell them apart.
Philodendron Rio is one of the newest Philodendron hederaceum cultivars. It has been cultivated since 2009 by Gabriella Plants, a company in Florida growing a wide range of interesting indoor plants.
According to the company, Rio emerged as a naturally occurring sport from a Philodendron Brasil plant. This explains the cultivar name Rio, after the Brazilian city. Once the growers discovered the mutation was stable, they continued to propagate and started selling Rio commercially a few years ago.
As this plant was only recently released to the market, it is quite rare and difficult to find. It’s safest to buy directly from Gabriella Plants to ensure the plant you purchase is the real thing. However, they are often sold out and fetch a high price due to their rarity.
You can also search for this plant on local marketplaces, such as Facebook Marketplace, or ask friends who managed to get their hands on one for a cutting to propagate. Make sure you do your research before committing – you don’t want to spend tons of money on a Philodendron that turns out not to be a real Rio.
Philodendron hederaceum is native to Central America, also found in tropical and subtropical forests around the world. This climber has aerial roots that allow it to climb trees in its natural habitat, covering entire tree trunks with vines up to 20 feet long.
As the Rio sport mutated in greenhouse conditions and was isolated and propagated in the same space, you will not find any of these plants in the wild. However, that doesn’t mean the mutation isn’t real.
The variegation you see in a Philodendron Rio is not genetically created, dyed, or altered. It is a natural part of propagating generations of plants. Sometimes, these mutations are short-lived and cannot be replicated. But, as we’ve seen with Philodendron Rio, this mutation has remained stable through several generations of plants.
Although you won’t find any naturally occurring Rio sports on a hike through a tropical South American forest, the native area of the species Philodendron hederaceum does provide some clues as to the conditions this plant prefers, allowing you to provide expert care and attention.
The interesting variegation pattern of the Rio sport is what has captured the attention of houseplant lovers everywhere. It is the only cultivar with a highly variegated silvery cream color in the center, rather than just a single small stripe down the middle.
You’ll notice deep green leaves, with patchy areas of cream, white, silver, and light green gracing the center of the leaves. The leaves are slightly longer than other Philodendron hederaceum types, causing some of the leaves to bend over slightly at the tips. There is also a slight bend along the central vein of the leaf, making the leaves fold gently inwards.
Like other Heartleaf Philodendrons, this plant is a climber. The long stems can be left to trail from baskets or along shelves. Alternatively, provide supports – such as a trellis or moss pole – to encourage the growth of aerial roots. This will help your Rio grow longer stems quicker than if they were left to grow without supports.
Where To Buy Philodendron Rio
Due to their rarity, you are unlikely to find a Philodendron Rio at your local nursery. These plants typically only come from specialized growers and are quickly snatched up when stock becomes available.
The first place to search for this plant is straight from the source – Gabriella Plants. This is the best way to ensure you’re getting the real thing. They are often out of stock due to high demand, but you can sign up for notifications when stock becomes available.
You can also try your luck with other rare plant growers in your area. They may also propagate and sell Philodendron Rio plants, either from local stores or online. Before purchasing online, make sure the company is reputable to avoid wasting your money.
Alternatively, online marketplaces like Etsy or Facebook Marketplace may have Rio sports available. This is the riskiest way to purchase, as you cannot be sure what arrives will be the real thing. The plants may also struggle during the transport process, leaving you with less cash and a dead plant at the end of the day. But, these marketplaces are usually the cheapest and easiest way to find and purchase rare houseplants.
Whichever method you choose, make sure you do enough research on the source before purchasing.
How to Grow
Philodendron Rio, like other Heartleaf Philodendrons, is incredibly easy to care for. This low-maintenance plant has similar care requirements to many other leafy houseplants, with a bit of extra attention paid to lighting to maintain the variegation patterns.
Despite their rarity, Rio is an easy-going plant great for beginners or experienced collectors.
Heartleaf Philodendrons are typically labeled tolerant of lower lighting conditions. However, for variegated philodendron varieties like Rio and others like Gabby, low light will cause a few problems.
To take you back to a school biology lesson for a second – leaves contain chlorophyll which is essential for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process that allows plants to make their own food using water, carbon dioxide, and energy from the sun.
Variegated areas of leaves contain less or no chlorophyll, which is the reason for their color changes. This means less photosynthesis takes place overall, limiting the amount of energy a plant has to grow and survive. In the right lighting conditions, this lower chlorophyll count is not an issue.
But, when the light is lower than expected, less photosynthesis takes place, and the plant begins to struggle to grow. To resolve the problem, it produces more chlorophyll in the variegated parts of the leaves, turning them green. If left in low light conditions, the leaves can turn almost completely green, leaving them with no variegation at all.
To avoid this problem, place your Rio in a spot with bright indirect light. This mimics the dappled sunlight the species is used to in their native habitats and keeps variegation strong. A bright room or area in front of a window covered by a sheer curtain is preferred.
Avoid south or west-facing windows with consistent or afternoon direct sunlight. This sunlight is more intense and can burn the foliage if left for too long. Some morning direct sunlight is suitable for an hour or two per day, but not in summer when sunlight is more intense in the earlier hours of the day.
Most Philodendrons are not heavy water users. They prefer their soil to dry out slightly before the next watering and cannot handle sitting in moist soil for long periods.
If your soil does not drain well enough, the pot does not have any drainage holes, or the lighting and temperature conditions are not enough to ensure evaporation, water will remain in the soil for longer than needed. These moist conditions will begin to rot the roots, leaving them unable to draw moisture and nutrients up and to parts of the plant that need it.
Wait until the top 1-2 inches of soil have dried out before watering again. This will prevent root rot without leaving the plant dry for long periods.
The plant will manage well if you forget an occasional watering. But, in continually dry soil, the leaves will begin to wilt and curl inwards, and may even turn brown at the edges. Test the soil moisture with your finger every few days to determine the right time to water.
Avoid watering on a strict schedule. Moisture levels will change day by day according to the environmental conditions and watering at regular intervals can quickly lead to over or underwatering. Rather test the soil with your finger or a moisture meter frequently to maintain the right moisture levels.
Houseplants require specialized soil to grow effectively indoors. Garden soil typically does not drain well enough and can harbor pests and diseases that spread to your indoor plants. Regular potting soil is better, but still not preferred, as it is designed for outdoor containers that dry out quicker than containers indoors.
If you take a look at the soil of houseplants you purchase from your local nursery, you will notice a few amendments. The small white rocks are a form of expanded volcanic glass known as perlite. Perlite increases the space between soil particles, improving aeration and drainage. You may also notice bark chips that serve the same function.
Houseplant mixes also typically contain peat moss. However, you can always use coconut coir – a sustainable alternative to peat moss that makes use of discarded coconut fibers.
The ideal houseplant mix for your Philodendron Rio is a combination of these elements. The mix should drain well enough to prevent root rot while holding enough moisture to sustain the plant. You can either purchase a specialized houseplant mix, or make your own by combining two parts potting soil with one part coconut coir and one part perlite.
Temperature and Humidity
Native to tropical areas, all Philodendron hederaceums prefer warm temperatures and high humidity. However, these plants are quite adaptable and will still grow well in conditions slightly out of the range they are used to.
Aim for temperatures between 65F and 85F for the best results. Anything above 60F is suitable, but these plants will stop growing and may face cell damage in temperatures below 55F. As their leaves are thinner than their lookalike, the Pothos, they are not as tolerant of higher temperatures and will struggle in conditions above 85F, managing up to only 90F.
In winter, make sure these plants are placed in the warmest room and not next to cold windows. Any leaves touching icy windows in winter will become damaged, with parts of the leaf dying off and turning black.
When it comes to humidity, Rio prefers conditions around 60% to match their jungle-like habitat. Anything between 50% and 60% is suitable for optimal growth.
Low humidity can cause the leaves to dry out and turn brown at the edges. To increase the humidity, place the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water or invest in a humidifier. In winter, make sure to watch the humidity levels when heaters are running as they can dry out the air significantly.
Compared to other sports, Rio is a relatively slow-growing cultivar. When first purchased, most growers will add enough fertilizer to keep the plant happy for around 6 months. After that, they will benefit from an occasional fertilizer application but they aren’t heavy feeders.
After a couple of months of growth in the same pot, fertilize your Rio once every two months with a balanced liquid fertilizer. You can also add fertilizer spikes to the soil to release nutrients slowly over time whenever you water. Only fertilize in spring and summer when the plant is actively growing.
Always read the instructions on your chosen fertilizer exactly. As these plants are not heavy feeders, any build-up of nutrients in the soil will cause the roots to burn. Overfertilizing can cause the leaves to yellow and fall off the plant, so it’s always best to under-fertilize than over-fertilize.
These low-maintenance plants are not needy and require very little upkeep and attention. However, there are a few things you can do to keep the plants looking their best throughout the season.
Pruning is an optional task, usually done to keep the plant compact or when propagating. Pruning often is not a necessity, but it can be done once or twice a year to keep the stems to a manageable length.
To prune, trim a few inches off the ends of the stems above a node, leaving the node on the existing plant. This will encourage the plant to produce new growth at the site of the cut, making the plant bushier and more compact overall. Save any cuttings you remove for later propagation.
Every couple of months, grab a damp cloth and wipe down the leaves. This improves evaporation and gas exchange through the leaves, as well as sunlight absorption and photosynthesis. While you’re busy, check for signs of pests and diseases and remove any debris around the base of the stems.
Propagating Philodendron Rio is just as easy as propagating any Heartleaf Philodendron. The long vines are easy to propagate by stem cutting to root in either water or soil.
Start by choosing a healthy vine with several leaves. Avoid any stems with dying leaves or stem damage as this will limit your chances of rooting. The stem should be around four inches long with a few nodes (the bump in the stem where leaves and aerial roots emerge).
Cut the stem just below a leaf node – not too close to avoid damage, but not too far to ensure rooting. Remove any leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, leaving at least one or two leaves on the top.
Then, root the cutting in either water or soil. Rooting in water is quicker and easier to monitor, but rooting in soil will produce stronger, more suitable roots for soil growth later on.
To root in water, place the cutting in a glass filled with filtered or distilled water. The water should cover the bottom half of the cutting, leaving the top half and foliage out of the water. Place the glass in a warm spot with indirect sunlight and change or top up the water every few days.
To go straight to soil, plant the cutting in a pot filled with a light and airy propagating mix. Keep the soil well-watered until roots begin to develop – usually within a few weeks. Gently pull on the cutting after about a month to test whether roots have developed.
When the roots are an inch or two long, transplant into a larger pot using the soil mix mentioned above.
Philodendron Rios are small plants that do not require repotting often. However, after a few years in the same pot, the soil will begin to degrade, requiring a top-up. Plants in optimal conditions can also outgrow their pots, indicated by stunted growth or roots growing through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Start by choosing a pot one or two sizes up. An excessively large pot can hold onto too much moisture, resulting in root rot. Clean the pot before use, especially if you are recycling an old pot that previously housed another plant.
Remove the plant from its existing pot and shake off the old soil. Gently tease the roots to untangle them and check for any signs of damage or rot. Trim off any problematic roots with clean shears and rinse off the roots to remove any diseased or degraded soil.
Fill a pot around 1/3 with the houseplant potting mix mentioned above. Gather the roots and place the plant in the new pot to level the base with the new soil line. Fill in any gaps around the sides with more soil mix until filled to just below the rim of the pot. Don’t fill all the way to the top as this can cause soil to spill out when you water.
Firm down the soil around the base to secure the plant in place. Water immediately after repotting and move the plant back to its original spot.
A common problem faced by many houseplants is yellowing leaves. This problem has a number of causes, but the main culprit is usually overwatering. Make sure you don’t keep the soil too moist and repot any plants with signs of root rot.
If older leaves slowly turn yellow and fall off the plant, there is no need to stress. This is part of the plant’s natural lifecycle and doesn’t indicate any health issues.
However, if random leaves (old and new) begin turning yellow in spotty patterns, the problem is likely a nutrient issue. Avoid over or under-fertilizing by following the instructions in the care section above.
Brown leaves at the tips or over the entire leaf typically relate to a moisture issue. This could either be the result of underwatering or a lack of humidity. Use a moisture and humidity meter to determine the cause and adjust accordingly.
Brown leaves in patches are usually the result of sunburn. Philodendron Rio is not accustomed to direct sunlight for long periods and harsh UV rays can burn the foliage. Prune the affected leaves and move the plant to a more shaded spot.
If entire leaves and stems turn brown and start to wilt, you may have a disease issue. Provide adequate airflow around the plants and prune away damaged leaves to avoid spreading the problem.
Discolored or Deformed Leaves
Irregular spotting on the leaves, accompanied by deformation, typically indicates a pest problem. Like other houseplants, Rio is susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs, and other pests that feed on the sap and leaf tissues of the plants.
Eradicate the problem with a homemade insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Continue to apply in two-week intervals until all pests have disappeared.
Wilting leaves can indicate a problem with underwatering or overwatering. These converse issues both result in a lack of moisture in the leaves of the plant, either due to lack of water or to damaged roots and stems respectively.
Check the soil to determine which issue is most likely and adjust your watering.
Lack of Variegation
Light is essential in maintaining the stunning variegation of Rio. If your plant begins to lose its variegation, move it to a spot with bright indirect sunlight. Avoid direct sun, as this can cause the leaves to burn.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Philodendron Rio the same as Cream Splash? 0
Rio and Cream Splash may look similar, but they are not the same plant. Cream Splash typically has a single variegated stripe running down the center, while Rio has a patchy variegated area covering a large part of the center leaf.
What’s the difference between Philodendron Brasil and Rio?
Rio is a sport of Brasil, hence their relation in names. However, these two plants look very different. Brasil has yellow-green variegation, while Rio’s is creamy white or silver. Brasil has more rounded leaves than Rio, which are more elongated but maintain the same overall shape.
Can you root Philodendron Rio cuttings in water?
Like other Heartleaf Philodendrons, Rio cuttings root readily in water or in soil. Make sure to top up or change the water every few days to provide oxygen and limit bacterial growth.
This popular new sport may be hard to get your hands on, but it is certainly worth a purchase if you do spot one. Despite what the rarity implies, Philodendron Rio is easy to care for and is bound to spice up your interior design. If you decide that the Rio is not the perfect fit for your home garden, never fear, as there are plenty of different philodendron cultivars that will make your indoor garden space pop!