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Monstera Care Guide

Monstera deliciosa is quickly becoming one of the world’s most popular indoor plants.  Its interesting leaves, unusual growth habit, and low maintenance care are lending to its popularity.  And it’s particularly trendy with Millennials who enjoy many of its attributes without a lot of fuss.

This fashionable plant is a member of the Araceae family – characterized by a tuberous root system and a flower called a spadix, which is almost always surrounded by a modified leaf (not to be confused with a petal) called a spathe.  Some plants in the Araceae family are grown ornamentally for their flowers – mainly Anthurium and the Peace Lily (aka Spathiphyllum), but more are grown for their interesting foliar characteristics and variegation – Caladium, Aglaonema, and Alocasia to name a few.  This family of plants is native in the understories of tropical rainforests, so they are collected and propagated for their natural inclination for indirect light.

A little background on the taxonomy and a plant’s native setting lets us make connections to its relatives and infer some things about its care.

So, the Monstera deliciosa is in good family with other plants we may be familiar with but moving to the genus level, the ‘deliciosa’ is the most widely cultivated for indoor use.  It’s also known as the Swiss cheese plant because the holes and splits in the leaves resemble the look of a piece of Swiss cheese with its characteristic holes.  Inaccurately, it’s also known as a split-leaf philodendron, but the Philodendron is another genus in the Araceae family.  Other common names associated with the plant’s tasty fruit included Mexican breadfruit, fruit salad plant, and fruit salad tree – the plant can bloom and produce fruit prolifically in its native setting (in the tropical forests of Mexico and Panama), but it rarely produces fruit when cultivated indoors.

With all that said, let’s focus now on keeping the Monstera alive and kickin’ it in your home.

Like other houseplants, the two most important factors contributing to your success with the Monstera are light levels and watering – or, more preferably for green thumbers, “adjusting the soil moisture level”.

The Best Lighting Conditions for a Monstera

As noted, the Monstera deliciosa grows in the wild in understories of tropical forests where it naturally gets filtered sunlight – so it can survive in low light in your home but it is best to keep it near a window so it can grab a little dose of direct or indirect sunlight shining through the panes.  With some direct light through a window, the plant will maintain its heart-shaped leaves, its characteristic “cheese” holes will be more pronounced, and it can even take a vertical turn upward in really good light.

Caution, though, that direct mid-day light in the summertime can burn leaves that have been acclimated to the shade.  So, if you are going for the bright light in an east, south, or west window, move the plant there gradually.

How to Water a Tropical Plant

To get going on this topic, we really do not like to call it “watering” – what we are really doing is adjusting the soil moisture with water and sometimes even nutrients.  With that in mind, you always need to have a starting point to understand how much moisture is already in the soil.  We’ve tried the “stick your finger in it” method and even experimented with electronic soil moisture meters but have found both these methods unreliable.  What works best and gives you the most accurate reading for how much moisture is in the soil at various depths is a soil probe – and we like the Soil Sleuth.  If you probe the soil before watering with a soil probe, many times you will discover that the soil is dried down pretty thoroughly in the top couple inches (where the “stick your finger in it” method stops), only to find out there is ample moisture in the lower levels of the soil profile.  So, while the “finger” method may have inclined you to add water, the probing method would allow you to back off and wait for the entire soil profile to dry down.

Water Note #1 – We operate a plant leasing and rental service in Tampa, Florida, where our plant care technicians are mostly on a 14-day service cycle.  This means that we see each plant about every 14 days.  And whether your servicing weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, the most difficult task for any plant care technician is to NOT add water to the plant.  It can be painful and cause lots of anxiety – probing the soil only to find out there’s good moisture and then doing nothing.  But nothing is what the plant needs.  We know it is nearly irresistible but when it comes to watering, doing nothing is the best thing for your plant – and the best way we have discovered to give you confidence to do nothing is to probe the soil and discover the relative levels of moisture throughout the soil profile.
Water Note #2:  Since watering is the biggest controllable factor in plant care for your Monstera, it is okay for us to dwell on it…and we will…here:  Your plant needs to be configured with adequate drainage and we additionally recommend a sub-irrigation system to help you control soil moisture and give you additional confidence to do nothing.  One of the biggest mistakes a plant owner can make is removing a plant from its nursery growpot (the ugly black plastic thing that your plant has grown up in at the nursery where it was propagated) and planting (aka re-planting or re-potting) it directly in a decorative planter THAT HAS NO DRAINAGE HOLES.  If you plant your Monstera in a planter that has no drain holes you’ve just issued a death sentence for your prized plant.  In that configuration when you water it, some of the water will be absorbed by the plant roots; but most of it will succumb to a time-tested and undefeated natural law – it’s called gravity.  That’s right – the excess water will end up in the bottom of the planter and will drown and kill any roots that low in the soil profile.  We recommend leaving your plant in the ugly black plastic thing with the drain holes – it is your friend.  And if you are inclined, like we are, to hide the nursery growpot from view then set it up inside a decorative planter so that your drainage system still works.  This simply means you should place the plant, still in its growpot, inside a decorative planter so that the excess water can drain completely through the soil and not accumulate in the bottom of the growpot.

To further dwell on watering – the biggest controllable factor in plant care – we are offering a final note…

Water Note #3:  Try sub-irrigation.  It is a high finesse plant care configuration with high rewards for your Monstera.  It’s like using your laptop for years only to discover there is another battery in it that you never knew about.  There are a few good methods and systems for sub-irrigation, but the most simple and inexpensive is what we call PlantAssure. Like getting more screen time from your laptop from a bonus battery, PlantAssure sub-irrigation creates a reservoir from which your plant can absorb water when it needs it.  Admittedly, this method is not for overbearing plant addicts who like to check their plants daily; this is for the ‘wet it and forget it’ plant lovers who enjoying staring at a plant just as much as caring for a plant.  As noted, it’s simple – several strips of wicking material, a riser/ring, and a liner.  That’s all you need.  With the plant in its nursery growpot, wicking strips are inserted into the drain holes and pushed several inches up inside the soil profile.  Then, the plant is placed on a riser – in our case, a cross-section of a PVC pipe – lifting the plant above the bottom of a liner with the wicking strips allowed to fall down below into the bottom of the liner.  The system is then “charged” by wetting the soil from the top and filling the newly created reservoir with additional water.  When the soil profile dries down – from absorption by the roots and evaporation from the top – capillary action pulls water through the wicking strips from the reservoir up into the soil profile where it can be used by the plant as it absorbs water and transpires.  Depending on other factors – light, temperature, and humidity – using PlantAssure can extend your watering interval by several weeks.  Meaning you could water your plants, charge the reservoir with additional water, and go away for four to six weeks and not worry about your Monstera having enough soil moisture to bridge the gap.

Water summary:

  1.       Leave your Monstera in its nursery growpot.
  2.       Use a soil probe to understand how much moisture is in the soil.
  3.       If it’s wet, do nothing.
  4.       If it’s dry, add water.
  5.       Use a sub-irrigation system if you’re looking to minimize effort and maximize results.

Instructions for the Best Nutrition for Indoor Plants

In production, Monsteras (and all other foliage plants) are grown rapidly to achieve desired size for marketability.  This means growers have the plants in nearly ideal lighting and are pumping it with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (aka N-P-K, or maco nutrients) so that the plant achieves marketable size in as little time as possible.  These elements are mostly delivered to the plant in salts containing those elements and the salts are broken down, over time, and metabolized (used) by the plant in its photosynthetic quest to separate oxygen from hydrogen.  By the time you get your Monstera, it has been fed a good dose of nutrients and some portion of those nutrients are likely still resident in the soil when you park your Monstera next to your window in your home.  This makes it probable that you won’t need to add any nutrients to the soil for about six months after you get it – this time estimate, of course, must be adjusted for extremes in light, temperature, and humidity.  Extremes in one or combined factors will cause your Monstera to metabolize and need more/less nutrients, but we think we are safe adding more nutrients at about six months.  You should adjust and begin a nutrition regimen if you notice your Monstera’s new growth is less than deep green, yellow, or deformed.  In this case, begin a nutrition program then.

Back on the six-month mark, we recommend a complete fertilizer formulated for indoor plants.  It should contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and an appropriate component of minor elements to sustain the health and growth of your plant.  For indoor plants, this is usually formulated as a liquid that you can add to your water when you adjust the plant’s soil moisture (aka water it).

Fertilizers will be labeled with recommendations that allow you to gauge the concentration of fertilizer – you will add higher concentrations of fertilizer if the less frequently you fertilize and lower concentrations the more frequently you fertilize your plant.  If you get in to a regimen of adding fertilizer to your irrigation water every time, that’s likely best and you will be “spoon feeding” your plant the nutrition it needs, giving it a little taste each time you water.

With all that, we recommend the “spoon feeding” method with Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 by Dyna-Gro.  Its N-P-K ratio is ideal for your Monstera and most other tropical plants grown indoors.  It’s complete and balanced and delivers nutrients that are immediately available for uptake and use by your plant.  For additional protection and longevity for your Monstera, we also recommend using Dyna-Gro’s Pro-TeKt – it’s additional potassium delivered in a silicon solution that contributes to cellular strength when absorbed by your Monstera.

Cleaning the leaves of a Monstera

You are watering correctly and giving your Monstera the right amount of plant food and IT STILL GETS DUSTY…UGH.  Unpreventable, your Monstera has big, glossy green leaves that seem like a magnet for dust but there is an easy fix.  When you notice dust on your plant, grab a rag, a bucket of water, add a little dishwashing detergent – the liquid kind, soak the rag in the soapy solutions, wring it out, and gently wipe down the leaves – that’s all there is to it.

How Pruning can Improve Your Plants Health

There are two different forms by which you can configure your Monstera, one being bush, and the second one being wild thing – and pruning, or lack thereof, produces the two varied forms.  The ‘bush’ form is characterized as a relatively short floor plant with multiple stems growing and producing leaves in tight proximity within the canopy of the plant.  Pruning correctly will maintain your Monstera in the bush form.  The ‘wild thing’ form is characterized by one or two actively growing stems that usually are configured to climb vertically on something – driftwood, sphagnum moss poles, or even a wall with some man-made support structure – we’ve seen tacks, monofilament, and funky trellis structures used.  This form is produced by initially pruning off unwanted stems and allowing just a few stems to lead the way up and not pruning those leading stems until they’re about to break through the ceiling.

Regardless of your monstrous end-game objective, proper pruning is must – you always make cuts just above a node (in the crotch, where the leaf petiole is connected to the stem) with sharp pair of pruners.  This will force new growth from the node and make your Monstera “bushier”.  If you’re going for the wild thing, cut out all but one or two of the stems at the base where it emerges from the soil – this will force the nutrients to be concentrated in the remaining stems allowing them to grow more vigorously out and upward.  As a reminder, it takes good lighting for the wild thing to work so make sure the leaves are getting plenty of indirect light very near a window.

Effective Techniques We Use to Keep Bugs Off

Like any indoor plant, the Monstera is susceptible to the usually suspects – mealy bugs, scale, and sometimes mites.  These little plant-sucking insects can jump on your Monstera in the calm of your home or office – usually brought inside on other plants.  In the wild, the Monstera and most other green things usually don’t have any problems with insects because rainwater can wash them away and the bad bugs are prey for other insects that find these bugs tasty.  Regardless, inside is a different story, but there are easy remedies.  Your first defense is a good offense – regular cleaning of the leaves, as previously described, simply wipes away or squishes bad bugs.  A good cleaning regime makes for good pest control too.  If you do notice bugs, then, for sure, break out the soapy solution and rags and wipe them away, being sure to thoroughly clean the undersides of the leaves as well as the tops – bugs, especially mites, like to hang out under the leaves.

Everyone asks if you should Repot Your Monstera?

Lastly, a word on pulling you Monstera from the confines of its nursery growpot and putting it in another:

We noted in Watering Note #2 that removing your plant from its growpot with nicely positioned drain holes at the bottom and planting it directly in a decorative planter with no drain holes is a bad, bad, bad idea.  So, just don’t do it.  There may come a day, however, when your Monstera’s root system uses all the space in its growpot and looses the ability to expand its roots and you need to consider repotting.  By the way, your Monstera will let you know when it’s time by poking numerous roots out of the drain holes and even out of the top of the soil.  In this case, up-potting can be in order.  To do this, you will need a acquire another bigger growpot – available at most nurseries or garden centers – and some soil suited for indoor plantings.  With a bigger pot and soil, put a few inches of soil in the bottom of the new growpot, remove your Monstera from its existing grow pot – sometimes you’ll need to prune off the extraneous roots emerging from the drain holes (which is okay) and even slice the old growpot away, but most times the well-developed root system will hold tight and you can slide the old grow pot off.  With the plant and rootball out of the old grow pot, place the rootball on top of the soil in the new growpot and lightly pack additional soil around the rootball until it’s completely surrounded by new soil.  At this point, give it a light dose of water and begin regular care of it.  If you’ve got it configured for sub-irrigation, as recommended, you’ll need to use your old wicks (or new ones) and insert the wicks up through the drain holes several inches into the new soil profile with the objective of reaching the rootball with the ends of the wicks.  This is easily accomplished with the tip of a soil probe, which you should have already, or a long, thin screwdriver.  Now, you did it – it’s reconfigured in its new growpot with sub-irrigation and set up for even longer success.

And there you have it – your complete guide to Monstera awesomeness.  Start with good light, then add a thoughtful watering regimen, some nutrients, and a few wipe downs and you are sure to enjoy many, many years of big, giant, monstrous love from your Monstera.

Monstera Plant

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