One of the most attractive things about trailing Philodendron houseplants is how they tend to cascade over the sides of their pots, creating curtains of foliage that can be displayed from hanging baskets or shelves. However, did you know that, with a little support, they also climb? If you run out of high perches to display your Philodendrons, it might be time to consider staking your plants to grow toward the ceiling.
By providing your Philodendron with some supporting structure, such as a moss pole, coco coir pole, or other type of trellis, you can train your plant to climb. Many varieties are considered “climbers” and will take to growing up a support easily, where they tend to expand and produce larger leaves than if they were left to trail.
Aside from a little help from you, your Philodendron already knows how to climb and won’t require much to start growing upright. In this article, we’ll cover why and some of the best ways to encourage your Philodendron to climb.
Do Philodendrons Like to Crawl, Hang, or Climb?
Not every Philodendron is built the same way. Seeing as there are over 450 different varieties of Philodendron, it would make sense that some of them have found different ways to grow. Of the vining varieties, there are two main growth habits to consider.
“Crawlers” are varieties that have adapted to grow horizontally, tending to spread their footprint by pushing adapted stems called stolons through the soil, which eventually root out and form new leafing parts of the plant. These varieties cover more square footage but don’t ever get much taller than a low hedge.
“Climbers” are the types of Philodendrons that utilize vertical growth to spread in an effort to secure more sunlight for the plant. These varieties use their vine-like stems and aerial roots to grab onto other plants or trees near them to grow higher. As they get taller and more secured to their support structure, they often start putting out larger leaves to capture more sunlight.
Fun fact…your trailing Philodendrons are likely just climbing varieties that lack a support structure. That’s right. Climbing varieties tend to do just fine spilling over the sides of their pots and can create very dramatic cascades of foliage, but the leaves will stay smaller in this form. It’s easy enough to turn any trailer into a climber. In fact, in most cases, you can also train any crawler to be a climber, as well. All you need is the right support structure.
Why Do Philodendrons Need Support to Grow Upright?
Most climbing varieties of Philodendron don’t necessarily need to grow upright. They actually do just fine and are often sought out as trailing plants. However, these climbing varieties have actually evolved to be epiphytes in nature, meaning they utilize growing on other plants as a means to secure the resources they need to survive.
In their native habitats, you would find Philodendrons growing up the nearest tree, using vining stems to wrap along branches and trunks and aerial roots to secure main stems to anchor points along the way. This growth method allows the plant to climb several feet higher than it could on its own.
As a houseplant, the same is true. If you would like to see these varieties grow upright as they do in nature, they must have a support structure to cling to. With proper support, some Philodendrons can reach impressive heights in your home and will often reward you with larger, fuller leaves and deeper variegation patterns, depending on the variety.
When Should a Philodendron Start to Climb?
There is a bit of timing involved in training a Philodendron to climb. You shouldn’t expect any newer plants (either freshly propagated or repotted) to shoot skyward right away. Typically, your plant needs to develop enough foliage around its crown before it begins to climb.
For one thing, the plant needs to be established and large enough to capture enough sunlight to create energy for new, exploratory growth. The vines a Philodendron produces can be considered fast-growing, which requires lots of energy to produce.
After a year or two, your plant will likely be big enough to begin producing that exploratory growth and will be looking for vertical surfaces to climb. It might be hard to tell exactly when this time comes, but a couple of indicators include smaller leaf growth near the vine tips and the appearance of any aerial roots (although in some varieties, aerial roots come much later).
How to Train Your Philodendron to Climb
When your Philodendron is ready to start climbing, you will want to make sure you have a support structure in place and begin training your plant by attaching individual vines to the support.
Although your plant is capable of figuring out how to attach itself to a support structure on its own, it takes time, and it appears as if nothing is really happening. By making the initial attachments, you can significantly speed up the process of training your plant upwards.
Garden ties or tape are great ways to make these first attachments to your trellis structure. Both ties and tape are sturdy but also have some give as the stem grows, avoiding pinch points that can cause injury.
Use small lengths of your ties to lash individual vines to different sections of your support structure, twisting the ends together to hold everything in place. Consider attaching longer vines at multiple anchor points for added support if you have longer vines. Once your Philodendron begins to climb on its own, occasionally check your ties to ensure they are still secure yet not impeding any growth or pinching your growing stem.
To further encourage your plant to go vertical, be sure it receives a lot of light from above. Most houseplants will grow toward a reliable light source, so having it higher than your plant will help keep growth upward. Also, consider trimming back any stray vines that spill over the sides of the pot. This will keep the plant’s energy directed towards the vertical growth.
What Types of Support Can Philodendrons Grow On?
Now that you know how to get your Philodendron to grow upright, you just need to decide what you want it to grow on.
Stakes, Dowels, and Boards
Likely one of the most economical options is a simple stake, dowel, or board. Wood, bamboo, plastic, or metal stakes of all kinds are readily available at most garden centers and won’t break the bank. With so many different options to choose from, you’re likely to find something that fits with your home décor.
Stakes should be driven into the soil, all the way down to the bottom of the pot, in order to offer the most support. Wooden boards can be installed the same way, but be careful to avoid hammering them down and disrupting the root ball too much. Also note that the smoother the stake material is, the harder it will be for the plant to attach to, so if you are picking metal or plastic, look for textured finishes.
Another classic option is a trellis. Trellises vary in shape, size, and materials, but they are all similar in that they provide some kind of vertical grid or lattice for plants to climb up. You can pick shapes to match your taste, whether it be Victorian, mid-century modern, or something in between. Most trellises have multiple anchor points in the soil but can be installed just like a stake or pole. Again, drive them down as deeply as you can for the most support, being careful not to disturb your plant’s root system.
If you want to go the more natural route, consider installing a large tree branch as the support for your Philodendron. Obviously, this closely resembles how these plants actually grow out in nature, and the natural texture of a tree branch is the perfect surface for your plant’s aerial roots to attach to.
One caveat with this option is that you’ll be introducing new plant tissue to your houseplant, which could be an issue if the tree you took a limb from harbored any pests or diseases. Consider drying and aging your tree branch for a season in a clean, dry spot before installing it to limit any cross-contamination.
Moss Poles/Coco Coir
One of my favorite options to support Philodendrons is a moss or coco coir pole. These are essentially stakes, often bamboo, covered in organic material, either sphagnum moss or coco coir, that create excellent support structures for climbing.
The organic material on the surface has the right texture for aerial roots and vines to attach to easily, and when watered, the moss or coir fibers can hold moisture that aerial roots can soak up for the plant’s use. The moisture in these poles can also keep humidity levels around the plant a touch higher, which can help with things like respiration regulation and leaf unfurling.
You can buy ready-made moss or coco coir poles from most plant shops or make your own with a few simple supplies. The main thing is to secure your moss pole by, again, driving it down into the soil as deep as you can get it. Once your Philodendron has attached to it at multiple points, it will be harder to anchor if it starts to wobble in the pot.
Some of the most amazing displays of upward Philodendron growth have been along the elaborate string or wire setups people have installed in their homes. Almost any type of string pulled taught makes a good support structure for your Philodendron, and because of its thin width, vines have an easy time circling the string over and over again for increased support.
A string or wire support can be as simple as anchoring a strand from the pot up to a point on your wall or ceiling, secured with a thumbtack. You, of course, can get much more elaborate, depending on the types of anchors you use, how many, and the number of strands you want.
We’ve also seen wire grids created across entire walls, where several Philodendrons have been set below to grow upward, merging at different points. Be creative and do what works best for your particular space.
How to Care for Your Climbing Philodendron
Once you have your Philodendron trained to start growing up some kind of support structure, all you really need to do is make sure it stays happy and healthy to promote new growth. Below are a few helpful tips to help you set your climbing Philodendron up for success.
Be Prepared for Vine Growth
As soon as your Philodendron realizes it has something sturdy to climb up, it will start putting energy into extending its existing vines as high as it can go. In nature, this is a solid strategy for reaching over other plants to capture sunlight.
However, this also means that the plant spends less energy on stem branching, which over time, can leave the plant looking a little sparse. This tradeoff is a good thing to remember as you try to encourage your Philodendron to be wide-spreading.
The best way to compensate for this situation is to wait until your plant has several vines spilling over its pot before encouraging them to climb up a support. That way, you are already starting with lots of vines that can be trained in different directions.
You can also trim vine tips and propagate the cuttings back into the same pot to encourage new vine growth. Eventually, these cuttings will establish in the pot and start producing climbing stems that can help fill in any gaps along the vertical support.
Expect Leaves to Get Bigger
The really cool thing about training your Philodendrons to climb is that, as they grow securely to their support structure, the plants will start producing larger leaves as they climb. Again, this is a natural method of capturing more sunlight and outcompeting their crowded neighbors in a rainforest.
The key to encouraging this behavior is ensuring the plant is secure along the entire support structure. Check to make sure vines are well attached where they wrap around stakes or wires, and pay special attention to how the aerial roots are attaching. These roots are the plant’s main anchor points, so ensuring they have good contact with the support structure is crucial.
If you find the plant is barely hanging on in some areas, use more garden ties to secure it to the support structure.
Be Prepared to Prune
The great thing about Philodendrons is that they don’t mind occasional pruning. In fact, they tend to thrive when given fairly regular trims. Pruning can be used to redirect the plant’s energy to where you want it, mainly those climbing vines, by removing any weak or small vines that spill over the side of the pot.
You can also regularly trim back the climbing vine tips to control the height of the plant. Once it hits your ceiling, your Philodendron might become a bit of a hassle to care for, so keeping the height in check is a good practice. You can root out and replant any cuttings back into the pot to encourage new vine growth to keep the plant looking nice and full.
Don’t Forget the Feed
Once you introduce a support structure for your Philodendron, you’ll find out just how fast they climb. Although all this new growth is exciting to watch, remember that your plant uses substantial energy to push these vines upward. This means you will likely want to ensure your Philodendron has enough resources by adding supplemental feed to the soil.
Use a well-balanced liquid fertilizer at half strength (pretty standard for houseplants). Start by applying fertilizer once every four to six weeks and monitor your plant for both increased growth and signs of distress. Taller, more mature plants may need slightly more, so you can experiment by increasing the frequency of feedings to every three to five weeks.
Keep a close watch, however. Houseplants can be sensitive to added fertilizers, and growth can be stunted if overfed. If you notice any signs your plant is struggling (wilting, burned leaves, yellowing), flush the soil with clean water and dial back the frequency and strength of your feedings.
Your Philodendron Will Eventually Need to be Repotted
Vertical growing Philodendrons can get pretty large very quickly, which means that your plant will likely outgrow its pot sooner than expected. Although not a huge issue, this task can get complicated depending on how tall your plant is and the configuration of the support structure. You likely won’t be able to tip your plant over to remove the root ball, so some nimble maneuvers or help from a friend may be necessary to successfully pot up your Philodendron.
Any support structure you have stuck into the soil is most likely surrounded and entwined by the plant’s root system, so you don’t want to remove it from the soil. This means that you will need to loosen the soil from the edges of the pot, lift the entire root ball and support out, and then swap out the old container with a larger one before setting the plant back in and adding soil. As we mentioned, another set of hands might be needed.
While the plant is out of the pot, it’s a good idea to remove as much old soil as possible and gently loosen and untangle some of the roots from the root ball to prepare it for the new container. This leaves more room for fresh, nutrient-rich, well-aerated potting soil to be added to the new pot.
With just a little encouragement from you, and a sturdy support structure, almost any trailing (and some crawling) Philodendrons can become beautiful climbers. As soon as the plant gets established on its support, you can expect rapid growth and lots of large leaves, eventually making their way toward your ceiling.
Be sure to keep an eye on the plant’s overall health, provide excellent care, and don’t be afraid to give it the occasional trim. As long as your Philodendron stays happy, you’ll have an amazing specimen that can fill any vertical space in your home.