How to Grow, Plant, and Care For Split Leaf Philodendron
Thinking of choosing another houseplant, and think the split leaf philodendron might be the right fit for your home? These plants can get a bit larger than others, and can also flourish outdoors. In this article, gardening and houseplant expert Madison Moulton discusses planting, care, repotting, and clears up the confusion around what a Split Leaf Philodendron actually is.
Throughout the houseplant popularity boom, large and leafy plants have been highly sought-after. Whether it’s the ever-popular Monstera or the towering Fiddle Leaf Fig, everyone seems to love foliage. In the search for something a little out the box, another plant has entered the popularity contest – the Split Leaf Philodendron.
These plants are often grown outdoors but have made their way into houseplant lovers’ hearts. They are hardy plants, and can thrive in both indoor and outdoor conditions, provided they are in the right hardiness zone with a hospitable growing environment.
There is a ton of confusion surrounding both the common name and scientific name of this plant. In this guide, we’ll clear all the misconceptions and cover everything you need to keep your Split Leaf Philodendron large and thriving.
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum
Native Area South America
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests & Diseases Spider mites, mealybug, scale
Exposure Bright indirect light to full sun
Soil Type Airy and well-draining
Hardiness Zone 8-11
What Is It?
Split Leaf Philodendrons are shrouded in confusion and mystery. They are often mistaken for Monstera deliciousa or given the same nickname Swiss Cheese Plant. They have several botanical names, sometimes used interchangeably and with different genera.
So, let’s clear up some of the misconceptions.
Firstly, Split Leaf Philodendrons are not the same as Monsteras. The common name Swiss Cheese Plant is usually attributed to Monstera deliciousa but occasionally to the Split Leaf Philodendron, even though they are different plants.
To make matters even worse, some attribute the common name Split Leaf Philodendron to Monsteras too. They come from the same plant family – Araceae – but are from completely different genera.
Common names can be tricky, which is why it is best to go by scientific names when searching for the right plant. However, in this case, the botanical naming confusion isn’t much better.
According to Kew resource Plants of the World Online, the scientific name for Split Leaf Philodendrons is Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum. In other words, they are not part of the Philodendron genus at all, but the Thaumatophyllum genus. Instead, they are classified plants in the Philodendron tribe.
But, their association with Philodendrons isn’t completely gone. They are commonly labeled Philodendron bipinnatifidum and Philodendron selloum in nurseries and online stores. Confused yet?
The most important thing to know is that the Split Leaf Philodendron is not the same as a Monstera, even though they look similar. They are not a variety of philodendron, despite what some plant owners may claim.
Split Leaf Philodendrons have been studied for many years. Heinrich Wilhelm Schott, a Philodendron enthusiast, classified Philodendron bipinnatifidum and Philodendron selloum as two different plants in the 19th century.
However, recent research revealed these plants are genetically very similar, with only slight anatomical differences that did not warrant the separation into two species. Philodendron bipinnatifidum was chosen as the main species name as it was published first.
The plant was originally placed in the Meconostigma subgenus. In 2018, scientists recommended this subgenus had enough substance to become a new genus altogether. That genus was named Thaumatophyllum.
Philodendron bipinnatifidum therefore became known as Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum in online databases from 2019 and onwards.
As the change is so recent, they are often still called Philodendron bipinnatifidum or even Philodendron selloum. If you ask for one at your local nursery, they’ll know what you’re talking about.
Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum is native to South America, found in tropical rainforests in the central areas of the continent. Common in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, they have also spread North to Central American forests in Belize.
Widespread throughout these forest regions, this plant was often used for medicinal purposes by indigenous cultures in the region. The berries were also used as medicine and for food.
In their native habitats, they are known to grow over 10 feet tall and just as wide. They grow large stems that can support the weight of the plant, but they also have the ability to attach themselves to trees and use them as a support.
These shrubs have deep green leaves in a triangular shape. Evident in the common name, the leaves develop splits at the sides that have a ruffled texture. The leaves are incredibly large, known to reach over 3 feet in length under the right conditions.
The plant is supported by a large central stem. The leaf stems are also thick and strong to hold up their weight, making them great for cutting and placing in vases as a decorative indoor feature.
Indoors, they are confined by the size of the room and their pot, reaching a maximum height of around 6 feet. The leaves will still grow large under the right care, but not as large as they do outdoors.
Their ability to support themselves is one of the characteristics that set them apart from the similar Monstera. You can also have a look at the holes in the leaves. Monsteras have holes contained within the leaf, known as fenestration, while Split Leaf Philodendrons only develop slits in the sides.
Split Leaf Philodendrons are often grown as houseplants due to their love of tropical conditions and their ability to adapt to indoor growth. However, they can also be planted outdoors in the right regions.
No matter which you choose, you need to ensure you start with a healthy plant. When purchasing at your local nursery, check for signs of growth issues and pests and diseases. You need to avoid bringing these into your garden or home at all costs as they can easily spread to other plants.
Also, make sure the plant you’ve purchased is actually a Split Leaf Philodendron. We’ve discussed the naming confusion before, but this can also lead to confusion in care. While their needs are similar, Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum and Monsteras are not exactly the same and require slightly different care.
If you plan to keep your plant indoors, they should be happy in the pot they came in for at least a few months before needing repotting. If you’d like to move them into a more decorative pot, follow the same repotting instructions below.
To grow them outdoors, it’s best to choose a plant acclimatized to those conditions. If your Philodendron is found in the indoor plant section, they are accustomed to greenhouse conditions and may struggle if planted outdoors in full sun.
Alternatively, you can plant them in a spot under a tree to receive dappled shade. They look fantastic in foliage gardens amongst other leafy tropical plants and ferns. Only plant outdoors if temperatures do not drop below 50F throughout the year as cold temperatures will kill the plant.
How to Grow
When it comes to growing these plants, they can thrive both indoors and outdoors. But it’s important to make sure that you have their environmental conditions correct, both inside and out. You’ll need the right amount of light, a split-leaf friendly soil type, the right amount of water, and the right pH balance on your fertilizer. Let’s dig in a little deeper.
Split Leaf Philodendrons are adaptive plants suitable for a wide range of lighting conditions. When grown indoors, they prefer plenty of bright indirect light throughout the day and can even tolerate some direct morning sun.
In their native habitats, you will often find them growing in full sun when temperatures are moderate. They will grow their largest and quickest in these conditions. However, most of them are grown for indoor use are accustomed to greenhouse conditions and can experience burning when thrust into areas will full sun.
If you have a full sun spot in your home and want your Philodendron to grow larger than life, it’s best to slowly introduce it to direct sun conditions. Place the plant in front of a south-facing window covered by a sheer curtain.
Start with a few hours of direct morning sun in spring when the light is not too intense, and slowly increase the hours of direct sunlight exposure. If the leaves start to burn, use the sheer curtain to filter the light as needed.
Keep the leaves out of afternoon sun in summer as it is typically too intense for this plant, especially when concentrated through a glass window.
On the other hand, if all their other needs are met, they can also grow in rooms with moderate to low light. Here, they will survive, but they won’t grow quickly or thrive under these conditions. Ultimately, bright indirect light and some morning sun in front of an east-facing window is your safest bet for moderate but healthy growth.
Similar to other Philodendrons, such as the Pink Princess Philodendron, Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum enjoys moist soil that is never soggy or waterlogged. They can’t handle excessive moisture as this can quickly rot the roots and stem at the base of the plant.
In young plants, water when the top inch of soil is dry. For larger plants in pots that hold more water, the top 2-3 inches of soil should dry out before watering again.
To test the soil, use your finger or a skewer. If you can feel moisture or if the skewer has soil stuck to it, you can hold off on watering for a few days. Moisture meters left in the soil perform the same purpose.
This method of watering is far safer for the plants than watering on a strict weekly schedule. Environmental conditions change frequently, leading the soil to dry out quicker or slower day by day. Watering on a schedule ignores these factors and can quickly lead to over or underwatering.
If your Philodendron has been overwatered, the leaves will begin to turn yellow and the thick stems will become mushy. In severe cases of root rot, the roots cannot draw up any more water, unable to transport moisture and nutrients to the leaves and stems.
This requires repotting and trimming of the roots to resolve, or it will end up killing the plant.
An underwatered Split Leaf Philodendron will begin to wilt. The leaves are thin and don’t hold much water, so they will quickly display signs of underwatering. Due to the lack of moisture, they may also begin to turn brown at the leaf tips.
Monitor the soil moisture regularly to keep the plant happy and healthy.
Split Leaf Philodendrons will grow quickest in soil that is rich in nutrients and drains well.
When growing indoors, specialized soil is needed to combat the soil drying out slower than it would outdoors. It needs to be incredibly light and well-draining to prevent root rot, while also holding on to enough moisture to keep the roots saturated.
Most general houseplant soil mixes will be suitable for this plant. These mixes contain combinations of materials designed to provide the right environment for indoor container growth.
If you grow and repot houseplants often, making your own soil mix is a far more cost-effective option. It also allows you to tailor the mixture to the needs of the plant and the environmental conditions found in your home.
Try this soil mixture for your Split Lead Philodendron:
- Two parts potting soil
- One part perlite
- One part coconut coir
The perlite will increase the spaces between the soil particles, improving drainage and aeration. The coconut coir retains moisture but doesn’t weigh down the mixture. Coconut coir is a sustainable alternative to peat moss, so you can replace it with that if you already have some on hand.
If they are kept in lower lighting conditions, they may need some extra help with drainage as the soil will dry out slower than it would in full sun. Add a handful or two of bark to the mixture, depending on the size of the pot, to improve drainage and consistency.
Temperature and Humidity
Accustomed to rainforest conditions, This plant requires high temperatures and humidity to thrive. They cannot handle cold will and struggle in dry regions.
Keep indoor temperatures comfortable and consistent throughout the year, between 65F and 80F. Below 60F, the plants will stop growing and below 50F they can face serious tissue damage. In higher temperatures, they will also stop growing under heat stress.
Due to their rainforest habitats, they also need high humidity levels to thrive. Anything above 40% will maintain their growth, but they prefer conditions between 60% and 70%. Humidity below 40% will cause the leaves to turn brown at the tips.
If you need to raise the humidity around the plant, consider grouping several houseplants together or placing the plant in a high humidity room like a kitchen or bathroom. You can also invest in a humidifier that will recreate the ideal conditions for this plant and all other houseplants.
Ensure you monitor changes in temperature and humidity between the seasons. Keep the plant out of the way of cold drafts from open windows in winter or air conditioners in summer. Heaters can also dry out the air in your home, lowering the humidity.
All plants require certain nutrients to thrive. The macronutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – are the most important. But, secondary nutrients like calcium and magnesium and micronutrients like boron or iron also play essential roles in plant health.
Plants get these nutrients from the soil, transported by the roots through the water they draw up. In containers, there are a limited amount of nutrients in the soil that do not get replenished naturally. Once those nutrients are used up, there are none left to sustain the plant.
That’s where fertilizer comes in.
Fertilizer, made up of a combination of macro and micronutrients as well as filler materials, replenishes the nutrients in the soil to maintain healthy growth.
Houseplant fertilizers are typically water-soluble; diluted and poured over the soil in conjunction with your regular watering routine. However, there are also slow-release fertilizers that release nutrients over time when exposed to water.
When it comes to fertilization, fertilizing this plant is normally not necessary. These quick-growing plants require frequent repotting which limits the need to replenish the soil as they get a soil refresh every year or two.
However, if your plant has been in the same pot for several years, is showing signs of nutrient deficiency, or stops growing, fertilizer can resolve the problem.
A balanced houseplant fertilizer is suitable. Alternatively, you can choose a specialized fertilizer high in nitrogen for strong leaf and stem growth. Only apply in spring and summer during the peak growing season and follow the instructions on the packaging exactly to avoid overfertilizing.
Split Leaf Philodendrons are not high-maintenance plants. Some basic houseplant care practices, only needed once every few months or so, will keep your plant looking as good as the day you bought it.
Dust and debris often collect on the large leaves. This layer hinders photosynthesis and transpiration, impacting overall plant growth. Every few months, wipe down the leaves gently using a damp cloth to remove this layer and keep the leaves looking shiny.
As the plant ages, pruning may also be required to remove dying or damaged leaves. These can sap energy away from the plant as it tries to fix the problem, preventing new growth. By removing damaged leaves as they arise, you can direct all the plant’s energy toward healthy growth.
Always use a clean, sharp pair of scissors (or a knife for thicker stems) and cut just above a leaf node to promote new growth at the site of the cut.
Split Leaf Philodendrons can be propagated by air layering, but this requires more technical expertise than other methods. You can also propagate from seed, but they don’t typically produce seeds when grown indoors. Your best bet for success and ease of growth is to propagate by stem cuttings.
A clean and disinfected knife is the only tool you’ll need to get started. Choose a healthy stem with solid leaf growth and remove it from the plant just below the node (the point where the leaf meets the main stem).
You can either pop that stem into a glass of water or a pot filled with a specialized propagating mix. While they can grow roots in water, soil is far more reliable and provides the strongest roots for later growth.
When growing in soil, a combination of coconut coir, perlite and vermiculite will provide the best conditions for growth. This mix has less resistance for new and vulnerable roots and drains well enough to stop the stem from rotting.
Once planted, place the cutting in a warm and humid spot to stimulate root growth. This can take a few weeks. Once the roots have grown an inch or two long, transplant the cutting into a larger pot filled with the potting mix discussed above.
These quick-growing plants enjoy their space. When repotted frequently, they can easily reach a high of 6 feet indoors, becoming a towering houseplant feature.
Smaller plants need to be repotted every year as they will quickly outgrow their pots. Larger plants can be repotted every one to two years. Once it has reached full size, you can keep the plant in the same size pot. However, you will need to change out the soil every 3-4 years once it has disintegrated and cannot hold onto any more moisture or nutrients.
If your plant has roots growing through the drainage holes or stops growing in the peak seasons of spring and summer, you may need to repot sooner.
The rule of choosing a pot one to two sizes up doesn’t really apply to these plants. They grow incredibly quickly and need lots of space to accommodate their large root systems. A larger pot is also more capable of holding the weight of the plant to stop it from falling over.
Use your judgment, based on the size and growth rate of the plant, to choose a new pot that will accommodate its growth. It shouldn’t be too large as it may hold on to too much moisture, rotting the roots, but it can be bigger than one size up.
How To Repot Your Split Lead Philodendron:
- Remove the plant from its current pot and shake off the loose soil around the roots.
- Gently tease the roots to untangle them, especially if they have begun to circle around the bottom of the pot.
- Fill the new pot with the right soil mix, using the old pot as a measure of how high the bottom soil line should be.
- Lower the plant into the pot, spreading the roots outwards. Holding the plant in place, fill in the gaps with extra soil mix up to a few inches below the rim of the pot.
- Press around the base gently to anchor the plant in place and remove large air pockets. Water immediately after planting and move the plant back to its original home to limit chances of shock.
Similar to all other plants, the split leaf has its own problems. Some of the most common problems are caused by both under and overwatering your plant, as well as pests and diseases. Let’s take a deeper look at common problems with this plant, along with a few troubleshooting tips if you happen to run into them.
One of the most common problems in Split Leaf Philodendrons (and all houseplants) is yellowing leaves. There are many causes, but the most likely is overwatering.
When you overwater, the excess moisture in the soil rots the roots. They are unable to transport moisture and nutrients around the plants, turning the leaves yellow. The stems can also become mushy, especially at the base of the plant around the soil line.
If the problem is severe, you will need to trim off the affected roots and repot into fresh soil. Root rot can be incredibly difficult to resolve, so it’s important to act immediately.
Other causes of yellowing leaves include nutrient imbalances, incorrect temperatures and humidity, or underwatering. Examine your plants to determine which is most likely and adjust your care accordingly.
While these plants are known to handle low light relatively well, extremely low light or ‘no light’ conditions will result in problems with growth. One of the most common problems is stretching as the stems and leaves extend toward the nearest light source.
This leggy growth does not make for a healthy plant and will not return to normal if conditions are improved. It’s best to prevent this problem altogether by keeping your Split Leaf Philodendron in bright indirect light for most of the day.
You may notice the large leaves of your Split Leaf Philodendron turning towards the light source. This helps the plant maximize photosynthesis by increasing the surface area of the light hitting the plant.
Over time, this can cause an imbalance in growth. Not only will all the leaves be facing one direction, but they will begin to grow bigger leaves and put out new leaves on the side of the plant closest to the light source.
Once a week, rotate the pot to give all sides of your plant even sunlight exposure.
Like yellowing leaves, brown leaves are also a common affliction. Leaves browning at the tips indicates a moisture issue, either with a lack of water or low humidity. This brown section will only grow if the moisture issues continue, so it’s important to resolve the problem straight away.
Brown leaves can also be caused by exposure to intense direct sunlight. Like humans, plants can also experience sunburn. Cover the light source with a sheer curtain in the hottest parts of the day to prevent sun damage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Split Leaf Philodendron and Monstera the Same?
They may look similar, and their names are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same plant. Split Leaf Philodendrons are part of the Thaumatophyllum genus or sometimes the Philodendron genus, while Monsteras have their own genus separate from these plants. They do come from the same plant family (the Arum family) but are not closely related.
Are They Poisonous?
Split Leaf Philodendrons are toxic to pets and should be kept away from all prying paws. They contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause pain, swelling, and a host of other health issues when ingested.
Can They Be Planted Outside?
In tropical and subtropical regions with winter temperatures above 55F, they can be planted outside. They are great leafy plants for tropical foliage gardens and make good companions with other plants in the Arum family, such as Anthuriums.
When Can I Propagate Split Leaf Philodendron?
Propagation is best done in early spring during the peak of growth for quick root establishment. They can technically be propagated all year round, but root growth will likely be slower and your chances of success less likely.
How Do I Support a Split Leaf Philodendron?
Unlike similar leafy Arums, Split Leaf Philodendrons support themselves with a large central stem. They do have epiphytic tendencies and can grow along moss poles or up trees, but they will be perfectly happy growing on their own too.
Split Leaf Philodendrons are an interesting addition to leafy houseplant collections. They also look equally great when planted outdoors, providing that tropical jungle feel. Considering their ease of care and adaptability, there is no reason not to get one.