What you need to know about monstera
Name: Swiss cheese plant, fruit salad plant, Mexican breadfruit, split leaf philodendron, Monstera deliciosa, Swiss cheese vine, Monstera obliqua
Height: can reach between 10–20m high with adequate support
Foliage: juvenile foliage is smaller, and entire, adult foliage is larger and perforated.
Climate: prefers a warm-temperate, tropical or mild growing environment outdoors, but will easily adapt to most indoor conditions.
Soil: a premium potting mix should always be used indoors. A moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil is preferred outdoors.
Position: a partially shaded position under trees outside, or in bright indirect light indoors.
Flowering and fruiting: thick cream spathes are produced on mature plants only in warmer climates, and these ripen over 12 months to produce sweet-smelling cones of edible fruit.
Feeding: use a controlled-release fertiliser in spring and a water-soluble fertiliser every month from spring to late summer.
Watering: keep moist during summer but allow the potting mix or soil to dry out between waterings.
Appearance and characteristics of monstera
Monstera is a substantial climbing evergreen tropical plant that naturally scales large trees by attaching itself with long aerial roots. With majestic glossy, perforated and segmented leaves, the adult leaves grow up to 90cm in length from thick green stems. Juvenile leaves are smaller, with entire margins and no holes or perforations. Monstera can reach up to 20m in height in its natural habitat, but is more often seen growing indoors as a potted plant, where it will growing to around 4–5m tall and 2–3m wide.
Monstera is naturally found in the tropical Central and South American regions, from southern Mexico to Panama, along with the islands of the West Indies. Usually growing as an understorey plant in rainforests, monstera attaches itself to trees by aerial roots as it scrambles through the canopy. The spathes of cream flowers are only produced in warm or tropical climates on mature plants, and these take around a year to ripen and develop into cones of sweet-smelling edible fruit up to 25cm long.
How to grow monstera
Monstera is best grown in partial shade outdoors in most warm temperate and tropical climates. Indoors, Monstera deliciosa is easily adaptable and will grow in most climates except those with very cold indoor conditions. This is why it is such a popular indoor plant. The harder-to-find Monstera obliqua, which is becoming more popular, produces smaller green leaves with holes and perforations on a fast-growing climbing or trailing vine.
Monstera will grow in most garden soils, but prefers a moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil. The soil pH should be in the range of around 5.5–7 for strong growth; this can be easily monitored with a pH kit.
A premium standard potting mix should always used for potting up monstera into pots and containers indoors. Re-pot every two years into a larger container to maintain growth. A large totem, moss pole or support structure will be required for the thick stems and aerial roots to grow on or into. Keep well watered during spring and summer, allowing the potting mix or soil to dry out between each watering.
Caring for monstera
Apply a controlled-release fertiliser when potting up indoor plants. A water-soluble liquid fertiliser should be applied every month during spring and summer.
Tall or vigorous plants can be pruned in spring to autumn to control their size and growth, and to keep them tidy by removing the top growth. Dead or damaged leaves can be pruned off close to the main stems to avoid leaving any stubs.
Diseases and pests
The most common problem with monstera grown in cool or low-light conditions is yellowing leaves, with the usual cause being overwatering. To improve the plant health, place it in a brighter spot and reduce the amount of watering. Paler leaves with straw-coloured patches are usually the result of too much direct sunlight.
Dry air may cause brown tips on the leaf edges. To increase humidity, mist the leaves regularly or double-pot the plant in a bigger container with moist peat. Dull or dusty leaves should be wiped clean with a damp cloth using water only, and allowed to dry. Leaf shine products may be applied to the upper leaf surface of mature leaves to enhance the gloss and look of the leaves.
Common pests include mites, mealy bug and scale, which may controlled with an insecticide.
How to grow monstera from cuttings
Monstera can be propagated by semi-ripe tip cuttings in spring or early summer.
- Use firm tip growth with at least two leaves around 10–12cm long
- Place them in a 130mm pot with seed and cutting mix, or 50:50 peat and coarse propagating sand or perlite.
- Reduce the surface area of large leaves by cutting them in half or more.
- Dip the bottom of the stem in rooting hormone and place in a propagator or pot covered with the top of a clear 2L-bottle and position in partial shade. In around 6–8 weeks the cuttings should have taken root.
Cuttings with existing aerial roots will also take if treated this way. A reliable but slow method for larger plants is air layering. A partial cut or wound is made on the main stem or branch. This is then treated with rooting hormone and wrapped in moist sphagnum moss, then covered in polythene film or aluminium foil and tied at both ends with string or wire. Roots will form in the moss and the plant can then be cut off below the bottom wire after 6–12 months.
Monstera can also be grown from freshly sown seed in a heated propagator. The young plants will first produce the juvenile leaves, and then perforated leaves after at least 6 months to a year’s time.
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