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Easy Houseplant—Swiss Cheese Plant or Monstera Deliciosa

Dolores has landscaped for private clients, maintained one client's small orchid collection, and keeps 30 houseplants.

Swiss cheese plant.

Swiss cheese plant.

A Dramatic Houseplant

Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera Deliciosa, or Cut Leaf Philodendron is a large showy houseplant with dramatic foliage. Mature leaves can be nearly three feet long with deep, uneven cuts along the edges. Holes appearing in the leaf give this easy to grow house plant its common nickname. The holes are charmingly irregular and add interest to the large leaved plant. The foliage is a deep, glossy green.

Though young Monstera deliciosa have heart shaped leaves that resemble a common heart-leaf philodendron, the Swiss Cheese Plant is not a philodendron.

Swiss Cheese Plant has been a popular indoor specimen for many years and adds a beautiful tropical touch that can brighten a corner in a large room or office. The vivid green leaves add a touch of color to a room decorated in neutral colors.

Though it flowers in the wild, it will usually not flower when kept indoors.

Native to Central American rain forests, Monstera deiciosa will not tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep out of cool drafts.

Monstera Deliciosa

Monstera Deliciosa

In Decorating

Monstera deliciosa is a hot decorating trend. Images of the leaves are popping up in advertising, promotional photographs, on wallpaper, textiles, and dishware. A single leaf placed in a glass vase (don't forget to add water) makes an attractive statement in a room, so it is a popular prop for interior design.

When a floral arrangement or bouquet may seem too fussy in today's minimalist culture, a single leaf fills the bill adding a natural element that has a clean line, but an interesting structure.

How to Grow a Swiss Cheese Plant

Swiss cheese plant does best in bright light, but not direct sunlight. Light from an East facing window is best. Avoid placing in south facing window as the intense heat may scorch the leaves. If you wish to place the plant in a room with south facing windows, keep the plant away from the window or cover the window with a sheer curtain.

Plant in a loose, rich soil. Add peat to enhance drainage. Make sure your pot has drainage holes at the bottom. (Water that can not drain out may cause root rot) Place pot on a large saucer or tray to collect drained water so as not to damage floors or furniture. Do not allow standing water to accumulate in the saucer.

Allow soil to dry out between watering. Mist occasionally especially in dry conditions (such as winter when the heat is blowing or summer when air conditioning dries out the air).

Tropical Swiss cheese plant appreciates humidity. The dry environment of a house in winter can be mitigated with an occasional misting. As the large leaves collect dust, an occasional wipe with a damp cloth is beneficial. Hold the leaf, supporting the underside so that it does not tear as you clean the leaves.

A temperature between 65-85 degrees F is best for Monstera deliciosa. Apply fertilizer once a month with a balanced (20-20-20) fertilizer. Use half the recommended dosage. Grown in a large pot, Swiss Cheese plant will sprawl and appear like a shrub. It can also be tied to a support and grown upwards for vertical interest.

Repot the plant every two to three years. Spring is the best time to repot as the plant is beginning its most vigorous growth. Shake old soil out from the roots. If the roots have formed a dense mat or grow in a tight circle, prune away some of the roots. Add new soil. Pot up to a slightly larger pot if needed.

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Swiss Cheese Plant - Problems

Swiss cheese plant, like many houseplants, is toxic. Do not allow dogs, cats, or children to touch or chew on leaves. If chewed, poisons in the foliage can cause irritation of the mouth, blisters, and vomiting. The plant can also cause skin irritation in sensitive people. Wash hands well after touching or wear gloves when handling.

Yellow leaves are usually a sign of overwatering

Yellow leaves can also be a sign that the plant needs nitrogen, a common ingredient in fertilizer. Some older leaves at the base of the plant may turn yellow with age and is not a cause for concern. In any case, remove yellowed leaves as they will not revive.

Brown Leaves can be caused by sun scorch if plant is set in a southern exposure. Move plant and remove brown leaves. Brown leaves may also be cause by over fertilizing. Cut back on fertilizer and remove brown leaves.

Lanky plants, or plants with very long stems and small leaves probably need more light.

When Monstera Grows too Large

A Swiss cheese plant can overgrow a container and take over a room. Outdoor plants can grow very large and out of hand. You can prune a Monstera to keep its size in check.

Use a clean, sharp pair of sturdy clippers or a very sharp knife. Regular household scissors will not be make a clean cut. Cut into the vine just below a node (the beginning of an aerial root) in spring. New shoots will emerge. This plant can cause skin irritation so use gloves when handling.

An open cut on any plant can be an invitation to fungus or bacteria. Use a fungicide on the cut. I use a paste made of cinnamon and water to smear on the cut. You can also spray the cut with peroxide to prevent bacterial or fungal infection.

If you want yet another plant you can encourage the cut pieces to grow. Place a section of the cutting in water for decoration or to encourage new growth. Change the water every few days. In a month or so you should see changes. The best piece of the plant to try to propagate will have some of the aerial root attached.

After you see new growth, plant in potting soil and keep moist.

The video below may be a bit long but it gives you a good clear look at a node and the right place to cut the Monstera.

How to Take a Cutting

To solve some confusion

Monstera Deliciosa is sometimes confused with a Tree Philodendron. In fact, both plants are occasionally called Split Leaf Philodendron. In the video below, you can see the difference.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: During the summer months I put my Monstera deliciosa on the patio. What can I use to keep bugs from eating it and leaving holes ?

Answer: The leaves of Monstera deliciosa often show naturally occurring holes. Google image the plant to see the natural holes to understand what it is that you are seeing - you may not have an insect problem at all!

There are several types of pests that can eat holes in the leaves of plants. If you see slimy trails on the leaves the problem is probably snails or slugs. Sprinkle some diatomaceous earth on the soil and dust near the holes to deter (or kill) these pests. Diatomaceous earth is a powdery sand that can also harm humans. If inhaled, it can cause sneezing, runny nose, or shortness of breath. It can also be an eye irritant. Wear a mask if you use this stuff. Wash hands after use.

Some pests can be fought with neem oil. Available in many forms (I use a concentrate mixed with water in a spray bottle), neem oil repels Japanese beetles and several other pests. It can be an eye irritant. Avoid getting mist on face. Wash hands after use.

If the holes you see on the plant are caused by outdoor pests, the easiest solution would be to leave the plant indoors year round.

Question: I have been given an old Swiss cheese plant that has been thriving for years. Since I’ve had it for the past month, leaves are slowly turning yellow then brown, then shriveling up. It is out of direct sunlight and I water it a small amount every 2 weeks and mist the leaves in between. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: The old Monstera has lived elsewhere for some time. Often, when a plant is moved, it experiences a kind of shock. Everything is new to the old plant: the air, the light, watering, etc. This stress can lead to problems. Also, remember that an older plant will lose some bottom leaves. That is normal. If the yellowing leaves are higher than the base of the plant you may actually have a problem.

Swiss cheese plants, as well as most houseplants, need to be repotted every two to three years. The soil fails or the roots may overcrowd. Try repotting in a slightly larger pot with well drained soil. Use equal parts potting soil, perlite, and bark chips (the kind used for ochids). This mix will help drainage. If you see that the roots grow in a tightly packed circle it has become root bound. Prune away 1/3 of the roots with a sterilized sharp pair of scissors or clippers. Water the newly set plant well.

When watering make sure that water does not pool up in the saucer. The usual cause of leaf yellowing is over watering. It does not sound like you are doing that but if water stands in the saucer, it can wick up into the soil and cause root rot. Make sure that your new pot has drainage holes. If there are no holes in the bottom, retained water can damage the roots.

When you buy potting soil, read the label. Many soils on the market have built in fertilizers. If so, you don't want to add fertilizer. Yellowing leaves can also be a sign of poor nutrients so the new soil/fertilizer can help in that regard.

Make sure that the plant is not subject to chilly draft. Keep it away from heat registers, radiators, or air vents.

It may take a month or two for the plant to establish and get settled in its new environment. If you like, you can clip off a piece of the plant just below a new air root and place it in water. Change water every 3 - 4 days. Soon, new roots will grow and you can plant it! So even if you lose the old plants, you can get a new one started.

Question: For an indoor plant, which grows taller, the Swiss Cheese or the tree Philodendron?

Answer: Both of these plants can grow very tall. Notice the telltale names, "Monstera" for the one, "tree" for the other.

If you are concerned with a choice that depends on eventual size, don't worry about that. Choose the plant that you like the best. Either one can be pruned to restrict its height.

Pinch back top shoots in Spring. This will encourage side shoots that cause the plant to widen rather than growing very tall.

Question: I have a Swiss Cheese plant on an outside, screened balcony. Should I keep my Swiss Cheese plant indoors?

Answer: Most houseplants including Monstera Deliciosa are tropical or warm weather plants. While they may benefit from some time outdoors in warm weather, you need to move the plant indoors when the weather gets cold. I prefer to bring my plants indoors before the nights cool below sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Plants may be okay in the high fifties but you don't want to subject the plant to extreme variations in temperature.

A frost or temperatures at or below freezing will kill a Swiss Cheese Plant.

Question: I found a mushroom growing in my plant. What do I do?

Answer: Mushrooms will occasionally pop up in the soil of indoor plants. Mushrooms are a fungus that spread by spores that could have come in your soil mix or could have been airborne. Growth is encouraged by moisture and warmth. You may have over watered the plant.

The mushrooms will not hurt your Monstera or other indoor plants. The growth can be a sign of a healthy soil. Some people just leave them alone. To get rid of them you can simply pull them out along with a small bit of surrounding soil. You can choose to replant your Swiss Cheese plant in fresh container soil. Or you could use a fungicide (not my favorite choice).

May sure that your plants have adequate ventilation. You can use a small fan to circulate air but do not allow the fan to blow directly on plants. I like to open windows in the house for fresh air (for people as well as plants). But do not set the plant in a cold draft. Opening your windows at the top will avoid direct drafts on plants.

© 2013 Dolores Monet

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