How to Care for a Swiss Cheese Plant
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Ready to grow one of the trendiest houseplants out there? Here's how to help care for your Monstera deliciosa.
Monstera deliciosa: The name sounds like something out of Harry Potter’s spellbook. You’ve probably heard it referred to by its more common name, Swiss cheese plant, which gives a better description of this striking houseplant with holes and deep cuts in its massive leaves.
Those holes are technically called fenestration, also used in reference to windows — which is probably why it’s also called window leaf plant. You’ll also hear it called split-leaf philodendron. While Monsteras are related to Philodendron, they are not the same. Whatever you call it, Monstera plants were the most sought-after houseplant in 2019 among GrowIt! mobile app users.
Finding the Right Light for Your Monstera
Experts at the University of Georgia Extension Service say, “Of all of the factors affecting plant growth in interiors, adequate light is by far the most important.” Monstera deliciosa is considered a low light houseplant, but it still needs bright but indirect light, such as near an east- or west-facing window, to thrive. Your Monstera may survive in less light, but the leaves might not develop those cool holes and it won’t grow as large.
Tips for Watering Monstera Deliciosa
Wait to water your Monstera until the top third of the soil is dry — but don’t let the soil dry out completely. If the pot is small, you can test for dryness by sticking your finger in the soil. But if you moved your growing Monstera to a larger pot, Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, who writes as The Houseplant Guru, suggests sticking a wooden dowel down to the bottom to see if it comes out damp. Water until it runs out the bottom, then empty the saucer to avoid root rot, a common plant disease.
If your Monstera is too large to move, try placing pebbles or terra-cotta planter feet under the pot to keep it out of standing water. This will also increase humidity as the water evaporates from the saucer. Tovah Martin, houseplant expert and author (The Indestructible Houseplant), says this method or a room humidifier is far more effective than misting the leaves.
The Best Pots and Potting Soil for Monstera
Using the right pot and potting medium for your Monstera will make it easier to maintain the proper soil moisture. Make sure your pot has at least one drainage hole. And use a houseplant potting mix containing peat moss to help retain moisture without getting too soggy.
How Big Will My Swiss Cheese Plant Get?
While the name Monstera is believed to refer to the abnormally perforated leaves, your Monstera can also get monstrously large for a houseplant. In the wild, they are a climbing vine that can reach 60 feet tall. At that size they bear fruit, with a flavor described as a mix of banana and pineapple, that gives them the “deliciosa” part of their name. In your home, they will likely max out at six to eight feet and will possibly flower, but fruiting indoors is rare.
To help your Monstera reach its full potential, Steinkopf recommends using a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer diluted to one-third to one-half strength once a month. Martin holds off on fertilizing between Thanksgiving and March, when lower light levels create a natural rest period for your plant.
If your Monstera plant is getting too large for your space, Steinkopf suggests moving it to a spot with a little less light to slow its growth.
What Are Aerial Roots and What Are They For?
If your Monstera has what looks like cords pointing down from the stems, those are aerial roots. Their main purpose is to help support your Monstera as it climbs. You can prop these roots onto an indoor plant support to help your Monstera grow tall and bushy.
How to Propagate a Swiss Cheese Plant
If you want to share your Monstera with friends, Steinkopf says you can propagate it with air layering, a technique she also uses for woody plants like fiddle-leaf figs.
Starting with a stem with a leaf and an aerial root, she cuts the stem about halfway through, a few inches below the aerial root. “Use something like a toothpick or golf tee to hold the cut open,” she says. Steinkopf then wraps the cut in damp sphagnum moss covered with plastic wrap to keep it moist until roots form. “It shouldn’t take long,” she says, “maybe a month or so.” Plant your new Monstera in the same type of potting soil as the original plant.
Steinkopf says you can also try placing a cut stem in clean, unchlorinated water and changing the water frequently until roots form. Or place the cut stem in damp potting medium and keep it well watered to start a new plant. She also recommends propagation if your Monstera has outgrown its space but you can’t bear to part with it. “You’ll have a piece of the exact same plant, only smaller,” she says.
Preventing Pests in Swiss Cheese Plants
Martin says monsteras are “very forgiving plants” and “generally care-free.” But keep an eye out for common indoor plant pests like aphids, thrips and scale. These can be sprayed with an insecticidal soap or treated with horticultural oil.