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Philodendron Painted Lady Care & Propagation

Did you get a philodendron erubescens “painted lady”? Learn all about philodendron painted lady care, including if they revert, how big they get, how often you should water them, and more.

How do you care for a Philodendron Painted Lady?

Hello all! Today we have another plant care post 🙂 And it’s another philodendron! This is a philodendron that, quite frankly, I was not that into until I saw it in person. It’s the philodendron painted lady.

It has also been a bit pricier in the past, so I was excited to find a great plant with gorgeous variegation and nice, healthy foliage for about $30. Have a look below at the baby I brought home not too long ago.

What does a philodendron painted lady look like?

Painted lady has a growth pattern much like other philodendrons you may be familiar with: philodendron birkin and philodendron silver sword, for example. It grows up and out.

A climber, painted lady’s leaves unfurl an almost neon yellow-green. They look almost as if someone painted the variegation on with a watercolor style—hence the name. 

The leaves do darken as they age. But as you can see with my plant, they keep their bold colors. And their striking variegation.

hand holding a philodendron painted lady

What is a philodendron painted lady a hybrid of?

Philodendron painted lady is a hybrid of plants that are native to South and Central America: philodendrons, erubescens “burgundy” and philodendrons, erubescens “emerald queen.”

I have read online that the plant was created by Robert McColley sometime in the late-19th century. However, I have not found anything definitive from a primary source on that—and nothing in the U.S. patent database.

I believe it, though. His name is thrown around a lot. Have you ever heard of the philodendron “McColley’s Finale”? It’s like a more vivid version of the philodendron prince of orange—and it’s named after Robert McColley.

philodendron painted lady leaves

Are painted lady philodendron rare?

When I address rarity in posts in the future, I’m going to start noting exactly when I’m writing about it. Because rarity is such a relative concept based on climate, geographic location, supply, demand, and more.

And prices can fluctuate a lot in a short period of time. I used to see philodendron painted lady plants selling for upwards of $100, and now there are lovely specimens in some of our local nurseries selling for $30 to $50 depending on the size.

I would say that philodendron painted lady is no longer “super rare.” You can purchase it online for reasonable sums, and once I start seeing it locally mixed in with the regular plants (not the “rare” table), it’s game on for me to buy!

philodendron painted lady plants at a nursery

Do painted lady philodendrons revert?

Yes, they can. But the variegation seems to be pretty stable. Even in some of my most stable variegated plants, I’ve witnessed variegation being very much a sliding scale.

Some leaves can be far more variegated than others. And new growth that has low variegation doesn’t necessarily mean that the growth following it won’t have nice variegation—though it could.

If you notice your philodendron painted lady’s leaves reverting to solid green, cut the plant back to its newest variegation leaf. Follow an optimal care routine and there’s a decent chance your plant will push out new variegated growth.

philodendron painted lady leaves

Lighting needs

Speaking of an optimal care routine, let’s jump into the philodendron painted lady’s care needs. We’ll talk about light first. Like other philodendrons, this tropical plant enjoys bright, indirect light.

It should not be grown in too much direct sun, as this can burn the leaves without proper acclimation. Too little light, though, will lead to slower, smaller, leggier, and less variegated growth.

Near a sunny window is probably best. If you take it outside, make sure you have some protection from the sun in the form of a large tree, a covered patio, or a shade cloth.

If you are growing your philodendron painted lady in an area that gets light only on one side, I recommend rotating the plant to help ensure event growth. It may grow lopsided toward the light source if left unrotated.

If you notice the leaves are unfurling much smaller and there is increased space between them on the stem, this is known as “leggy” growth. The plant is literally reaching for the light source because it doesn’t have enough light.

If you notice the variegation fading to a dull color or white/brown burn-like spots developing on the leaves, that’s a sunburn. Shield the plant a bit more from direct light. Cut off the affected foliage—it won’t revert like human skin does!

philodendron painted lady leaves
philodendron painted lady

How often should you water a philodendron painted lady?

I recommend letting the top several inches of lady’s soil dry out before you water the plant again. In fact, when in doubt, I typically err on the side of waiting another day or two with philodendrons.

They aren’t exactly drought-tolerant, but I’d say it’s best to err on the side of less water rather than more. Generally that means roughly weekly in the summer for my growing conditions, roughly every 2 weeks in the winter.

I generally check the moisture of my soil by using my finger. (One day I’ll get a moisture meter; that day is not today!) But I also find that I get into a seasonal routine with my plants and that a schedule is usually fine.

philodendron painted lady leaves

Overwatering & underwatering

Philodendrons and other tropicals like them are prone to root rot, which occurs when wet, dense soil drowns the roots and prevents the flow of oxygen—a critical part of the plant growth process.

If you have overwatered your plant, you’ll likely notice some yellowing leaves. And maybe even some moldy soil. The first step is to let the plant dry out!

I also recommend cutting off the affected foliage, but others say it’s best to wait until the foliage completely dies off on its own before cutting it. If you think this won’t be enough, you’ll want to take the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots.

Cut off any mushy, gray roots and repot with fresh potting soil. (See my post about this exact process and how I saved a dying clearance philodendron xanadu for more.) Water after a few days.

I mentioned that I would err on the side of underwatering, but that doesn’t mean you should dehydrate this plant. If you find you’ve let it dry out too much, use a fork to break up any caked soil.

Then give the plant a thorough drink in the sink. Make sure to completely soak the soil until water runs out of the pot’s drainage holes. Let all of the excess water run out before putting your plant back.

philodendron painted lady leaves

What is the best soil?

The best soil is one that is well-draining and chunky. In general, it will probably do fine in a pre-mixed bag of anything marked “houseplant” or “indoor plants” at your local nursery.

I often add in a few other things to help with lightweight moisture retention and drainage, too. Those include coconut coir and coconut husk chunks, chunky perlite, or bark. Read more about soil amendments in my houseplant soil 101 post.

Using a mixture like this helps the soil retain the appropriate amount of water without drowning the plant. It also helps to encourage aeration and oxygen flow to the plant’s roots.

philodendron painted lady leaves

Temperature & humidity needs

Philodendron painted lady does well in a wide variety of normal household temperatures and humidity levels. That means 70s, 80s, and even low 90s Fahrenheit is best. 

This plant is not cold or frost hardy, so if you live in an area with all four seasons, this lady can’t stay outside all year round. However, it will love summering outside if you live in a warmer, humid climate!

Try to keep the plant away from drafty windows or heat/AC registers indoors. Most houseplants prefer a more stable temperature, and cold drafts are not great for tropical plants.

Don’t be alarmed if growth slows considerably or even stops in the winter. Growth will pick back up when temperatures rise and the days get longer in the spring.

As far as humidity goes, it will probably be just fine in your home. Many philodendrons are super adaptable. However, in nature, philodendrons enjoy higher humidity levels.

Your plant will certainly enjoy extra humidity if you can provide it! That means summering outdoors (if you live somewhere humid) or adding a humidifier. Adding a humidifier can also help a lot in the winter when the air is dryer.

philodendron painted lady on a table with other plants

How big do painted lady philodendrons get?

Philodendron painted lady plants can get quite large. In optimal care conditions, the plants can grow to be many feet tall—up to over 5 feet tall. They can also be several feet wide.

If you want to fertilize the plant, you can use a diluted houseplant fertilizer. However, this plant is not a prolific feeder, so make sure you don’t overfertilize and burn it!

You can also choose an alternative route of working worm castings into the soil for added nutrients. Or use something like a heavily concentrated Liqui-Dirt in your watering can!

philodendron painted lady leaf

Potting, repotting, and pruning

Painted lady is not a particularly prolific grower—I’d say about average. You don’t need to repot the plant until its roots grow out of the pot’s drainage holes. Or you can repot when the plant becomes rootbound and circle the bottom of the pot.

When you do repot the plant, make sure to use fresh well-draining potting soil. And don’t use a pot that is significantly larger than the one the plant lives in now. An inch or two larger is the max!

This is not a plant that requires a lot of maintenance as far as pruning goes. Generally you’ll need to prune only if there is dying or browning older growth you want to cut off. You can also prune the plant to control its size, but since it is not a fast grower, you probably won’t need to.

hand holding a philodendron painted lady against a brick wall

Does a philodendron painted lady need a moss pole or trellis?

This plant grows up and out. But once it gets to a certain size, it will need a little support. (My painted lady has not yet reached that point, but it’s never too early to add a pole if you want to!)

While you don’t have to add a pole or trellis for the painted lady to climb, doing so will allow this plant and others like it to climb, producing bigger, healthier leaves. That’s because it mimics how they grow in nature 🙂

You can use plant tape to gently attach the painted lady’s stems to a moss pole. Keeping the moss pole moist helps to encourage the plant’s aerial roots to grab on so the climbing can begin!

philodendron painted lady foliage
large philodendron painted lady
Large philodendron painted lady at a local nursery

How do you propagate a painted lady philodendron?

Propagating a painted lady philodendron can be easily done using stem cuttings. First locate a spot on the stem you can cut off. It should have 1-3 leaves and at least one growth point. 

The growth point can be a little nubb on the stem, or you can take a cutting and remove the bottom-most set of leaves to expose a growth point. Just take this leaf removal into consideration when choosing your cutting.

I recommend using either sphagnum moss and perlite or LECA to propagate the cutting. You can also use water to keep things easy, but the cutting will likely suffer more transplant shock when you eventually move it to soil.

To propagate in moss and perlite, dampen moss and mix in perlite. Then add the cutting and keep the humidity high using a plastic bag or DIY plant propagation box. Read more about sphagnum moss propagation.

To propagate in LECA, simply pop the cutting in a jar with LECA. Then add water up to just below the bottom of the cutting. See my LECA propagation 101 post if you’re new to this medium!

Whatever method you choose, when the cutting has roots that are several inches long, you can transplant the cutting to soil. Keep the soil moist but not wet for a week or two, and keep the new baby plant in bright indirect light.

Once you can tug on the cutting gently and are met with resistance, it has started to establish roots in the soil. Begin treating the cutting as you would any philodendron painted lady!

hand holding a philodendron painted lady

Pest issues

This philodendron variety is vulnerable to all of the normal houseplant pests. Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mites, and fungus gnats particularly. 

1. Mealybugs

A tell-tale sign of mealybugs are white cotton-like masses on the undersides of the leaves or the areas where the leaves meet the stems. Those are the nests. (Read more about mealybugs.)

The adults crawl on the leaves. You can kill them off using a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, but I prefer soaking the plant in a store-bought houseplant insecticide spray. Make sure to get the undersides of the leaves!

2. Spider mites

Spider mites thrive in warm, dry conditions. So keeping humidity high is a great way to help keep them at bay. Look out for them in the fall and winter especially!

Signs of spider mites are very fine webbing on a plant, specifically on the tips of the leaves or the areas where the leaves meet the stems. If you see webbing, the mites have already moved in and set up shop.

I recommend completely rinsing off all foliage with cold water in the sink. Then cutting off any yellowing or dying foliage the webbing was on and spray the plant down thoroughly with a store-bought houseplant insecticide spray. 

Monitor for signs of the infestation returning before putting your plant back into an area where it is near any others. Spider mites can spread FAST!

3. Fungus gnats

Fungus gnats won’t necessarily hurt your plant, but they are often a sign that you are overwatering your plant. And that can definitely hurt the painted lady!

I have a whole post on what causes fungus gnats and how to get rid of them. In a nutshell, the first step is to let the soil dry out. The gnats lay eggs in the top few inches of soil, and they need the soil to be moist.

Making the soil a less hospitable environment will help deter them from moving in and laying their eggs. If this doesn’t work, the post I have linked above has many other solutions to try.

philodendron painted lady leaf

Is the philodendron painted lady plant toxic?

Yes. Like other philodendrons, philodendron painted lady contains insoluble calcium oxalate in it. According to the ASPCA, ingesting any part of the plant can cause oral irritation; pain and swelling of mouth, tongue and lips; excessive drooling; vomiting; and difficulty swallowing.

It’s best to keep this plant away from nosy pets and feral children. 🙂

Is Calkins gold the same as painted lady?

No. Philodendron painted lady and philodendron Calkins gold are not the same plant. Though they do look quite similar, don’t they?

You can tell them apart because painted lady has a pink/reddish petiole (the area where the stem meets the leaves). Calkins gold also has leaves that are a bit longer, thinner, and more upright.

Pin my philodendron painted lady care post!

collage of philodendron painted lady plants with text overlay that says philodendron painted lady
philodendron painted lady with text overlay that says philodendron painted lady care and propagation

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