Dear Carol: Our philodendrons have been in the family for years. Both hung near the large south-facing windows and slept with the runners we hung through the windows and around the rooms. Our frustration is that they will sometimes have long (4 to 6 foot long) stretches of runners where the leaves turn brown. We originally thought it was due to the cold air from the windows, but the same falling leaf also occurred on a wide corridor between the kitchen and dining room. We water the plants usually every weekend, we rarely miss doing this, and we fertilize the plants about every two months during the growing season. – NS, via email.
Dear NS: It’s fun to hear about what people do with philodendron hearts, philodendron scandens, adorning them around window frames, doors, and stairs. This is how these vines grow in the American tropics, above trees and in the canopy.
Loss of leaves is normal. Nothing lives forever. Leaf loss in certain sections may be related to air drafts, whether hot or cold, limited light or low humidity. Homes are very dry in the winter because the cold air outside can contain very little water vapor. When this cool, dry air is heated, the relative humidity indoors drops to desert levels.
If the leaves are drying out at the tips of the vines, the problem is most likely with the roots. When the roots cannot absorb enough water, the plant dies from above. The root problem may be related to lack of watering, over-watering causing root rot, or a root system that is too small. The roots and top should be balanced so that they can provide enough for each other.
House plants respond to longer days and more sunlight. Now is the time to start preparing them for seasonal growth.
Many plants benefit from repetition. Match the pot with the root system. It’s easy to pull the plant out of its pot to see if the roots have enough room. If the roots are round and round the pot, the plant is clingy. The new pot should be a size or two larger than the old pot.
Many plants can be cut back. If there is weak weak growth, cut it back into strong stems. Fertilize the plant lightly and regularly as soon as there are signs of new growth.
It’s also a good time to take cuttings. Philodendron can be rejuvenated by taking tip cuttings and placing several in a pot next to the original pot, or even in the soil around the edge of the original pot if there is one and the soil is good. New vines will grow on the old, filling in the bare areas.
– Carol T. Bradford, of Syracuse, has been horticultural in central New York for over 25 years. Her column also appears in Stars Sunday magazine. Send Questions About Home & Garden Care, The Post-Standard, PO Box 4915, Syracuse, NY 13221, fax to 470-2111 or email to [email protected] Letters can be edited for space and clarity.