Philodendrons are the sort of plant you see hanging overhead in a lovely indoor garden, or standing tall and undeniably green along the walls of hip plant nurseries. They grow massive, thickly-living leaves (though maybe not as big as a monstera, thankfully).
These plants are pretty easy to care for – at least if my once-weekly watering at work has shown. Maybe it’s just the conditions in the office that they enjoy so much! I use a well-draining soil with plenty of woody and organic components. The top of the dirt is bare (no sphagnum moss), while the pot sits over a catch plate full of rocks. This way I can water through the plant and let it drain without the plant sitting in a puddle. All the plants are packed into a corner together, which hopefully keeps the humidity up a bit. I also have a spray bottle to amend them on especially dry days. Because the office keeps a pretty consistent temperature, I can be pretty sure of when the soil in the pots will dry out.
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Largely, this habitat hasn’t been the best for taller philo. Or, maybe it’s been too good. Early on in its life, around the third or fourth leaf, a book fell on it. This snapped off one of the leaves, which I couldn’t manage to propagate. The injured plant started to grow sharply to the side, until it finally reached out over the side of the pot. Now it’s danging roots in an attempt to spread onto the carpet, utterly ignoring more than half the pot. If the roots hanging in open air are any indication, the roots inside the pot must’ve already reached the very bottom. On its own, this plant needs to shuffle a little to the side.
The roots are impressively thick, around as thick as the stems. They’re getting a bit woody, if that’s what you call it when roots get dry and tough. These will be the most difficult part of transplanting this particular plant, as none of it seems to want to move. The roots aren’t flexible, the leaves stand tall, and nothing wants to bend. I’m afraid the foliage weight will cause the stems or roots to snap when I’m still packing the dirt in.
Meanwhile, the Red Emerald is in desperate need of a moss pole. It’s been growing little root bumps all up alongside the stalk, while the heart of the plant is dropping and winding. I think that if it stood tall, it might reach up as far as the other philodendron.
On top of those two (though not literally), I’ve got a pepperomia and a boston fern that both could use a little more leg room. The Boston Fern was already transplanted once around six months back, when it grew too big for the hanging planter on my wall at home.
With all these plants needing some love at the same time, I feel like it’s time instead for a makeover. I absolutely love having plants by me when I work. Whether at home or the office, a little greenery makes everything happier. I’m hoping that the transplant will give these plants the room and humid climate to be as happy as they make me.
Step 1: Acquire a big enough pot. It will fit one root-heavy philodendron that grows sideways, one tangled philodendron that grows anywhere at all, a boston fern that’s remarkably aggressive, and a pepperomia that hasn’t changed in a year. What a cast of characters.
Step 2: Take the plants out of their old homes.
Step 3: Install the plants in their new homes.
This stage is going to have a few sub-steps; Make a moss pole for the red emerald, make sure the moss pole and the other philo don’t fall over while the dirt is loose. Really, those are the two most important pieces. As long as these plants stay vaguely upright, I get the feeling they’ll be alright.
I picked up at 16” pot meant for cacti. With the depth the roots are currently and the extra room that I want to give these plants, this should work out just fine for a long time. I have a bag of cacti dirt that I’ve found good for potted indoor plants – it’s quite breathable, and doesn’t sit in dampness nor compact over time. I’m also prepping the sphagnum moss by soaking it. The bag I have is getting on in years, but it’s been useable the whole time. I’ll wrap that around a bamboo pole with some string. If it takes advantage of the room I’m giving it, it’ll get 18 inches tall.
Here’s to hoping!
First step was the drainage tray. It got an inch of small rocks, to keep the pot off the bottom where water might pool. I’m also hoping any standing water will provide a bit of humidity for the plants up above. I set the moss to soak at the same time, both the night before the main event. The drive had caused the taller philo to tilt away from its support sticks, threatening the outside-the-pot roots.
The next morning, I wrapped up the moss pole. I tried to get at least ½” of moss all around the pole, but it looks more like a hairy stick than anything. The bottom six inches are bare to stick in the dirt. Next I layered more rocks in the bottom of the pot, then threw a thin layer of dirt over them. I’ve historically had problems with soil drainage and and water retention – usually having pots that hold onto water much longer than they should.
First up was the red emerald. The dirt was a little dry, so it was pretty easy to run the trowel around the rim of the pot and loosen up the dirt. I poked the dirt bundle out through the drainage hole in the bottom, and it fell right out. The stem is thinner than I’d like for the amount of foliage squishing in from above, so I hurried to pack dirt in place to keep the bundle upright.
The moss pole stuck perfectly in the dirt, which was kind of a bad thing – The soil was much more compacted than I’d liked. And it seems the overall height of the pole is leaving it prone to wobbling. I’ll try to run some lines to the edge of the pot to help keep it upright when I transfer it back to work. Eventually, maybe the vine will lock it in place.
Next up was the dangerous philodendron (that looks like a monstera). It has roots hanging out and getting dry in the air. They’re not flexible, and seem like they could break pretty easily. Once I freed the plant up upside-down, I had to hang onto the thickest part of the stem while hoping the dirt stayed balanced atop. Because of the past damage, the stem in the dirt was only as thick as the roots that grew from the stem further up.
Fortunately, the roots in the dirt were quite study. The plant creaked a bit and the leaves stretched out to drag on the ground – it was a heck of a lot taller than I planned. When I finally managed to finagle it into flipping back over, it managed to balance in the pot on the dirt and outer roots. I had a tricky time packing dirt in around the open spaces without knocking the talle leaves over. It’s such a strong, upright plant yet has such a delicate hold on the dirt. It can only balance exactly as it is. I wonder how such an elegant plant gets by in the wild! Near the end of settling in, it needed a sharpie to prop it upright – just the barest shift in its balance.
The boston fern’s roots had spread out to fill the trough, so it slid into an open spot like a brick. I used it as a wall to pack the rest of the dirt around a few of the roots, finally anchoring the tall philo in place. The pepperomia was tucked in below another standing root – still no idea why it hasn’t grown in such a long time. I’m really enjoying the way the boston fern puts up a splash of feathery leaves between the gargantuan firm leaves of both philos.
Finally, the plants were ready to be ensconced in their new home. I spent a careful time watering and packing more dirt in place. As the soft pockets filled in with shifting dirt, the tall philo finally seemed to settle in place. Then the whole group got a working-over with more moss. With how wide the planter is against its depth, I’m thinking I’ll need the moss to keep all the plants from drying unevenly. The fern enjoys the wettest conditions out of the four, and got an extra helping of moss.
The first day is going pretty well. They’ve been in place around 8 hours at this point and don’t seem to have any complaints. I’m really enjoying how unevenly the plants have grown so far – the way the tall philo’s leaves spread out is especially dramatic, looking like a spray of fireworks punching out. Meanwhile, the squat semi-vine is standing with unnatural height, tied to a pole to save its life. I hope it doesn’t feel like it’s being stretched too far. It’s being held onto the pole by string – eventually I’ll have to see if the roots can grab on by themselves. That’ll be a big day, like a bird leaving a nest.
A few months in, and the plants seem to have taken to their new homes with reckless abandon. The pilea is the only one not responding at all, staying compact and green with its resolute bundle of leaves. The red emerald enjoyed being tied to the moss pole, and has since started to extend some of its roots in a small way. It seems shy of the moss for now, but I have hope it’ll wrap around further. I just need to make sure to keep it damp all the time. And the tallest philodendron has started to enjoy its newfound stability. It’s firmly dug into the dirt, utterly unmovable.
I’m proud of my group of plants.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!