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Philodendron Atom: Complete Care Guide

If you are looking for a beautiful rare plant that won’t break the bank, the philodendron atom could be just the plant for you! While many of the most popular philodendron species are vining plants, philodendron atom is actually a clumping variety. This means that it will stay relatively small and should make a great addition to your houseplant collection. 

As a native to the tropical forests of South America, the philodendron atom generally likes indirect light, higher humidity, and warmer temperatures, but for more in-depth care requirements check out the rest of this article. You will be more than ready for your new plant by the end of our care guide. 

Philodendron Atom Care

Our complete care guide will give you all the information you need to keep philodendron atom successfully. Other names you may hear for this plant are lacy tree philodendron and horsehead philodendron. 

Temperature

Similar to other South American philodendrons, like the splendid, atom prefers temps between 70-80 degrees. While they can tolerate some fluctuations, they will start to show signs of stress when exposed to temps above 85 and below 60 for extended periods of time. 

Signs of stress from high temperatures can be dried-out soil, yellowing leaves, brown leaves, and wilting. 

Signs of stress from low temperatures are wilting leaves, poor water absorption, and yellow leaves. 

Humidity

As a rainforest plant, philodendron atom prefers relatively high humidity, between 60-70%, but they can usually tolerate as low as 50%. Since most houses are much lower than this, you will need to raise the humidity around your plant for it to thrive. 

You can raise the humidity several ways relatively easily. Humidifiers, pebble trays, and misting are the most common methods. 

Humidifiers

If you are looking for the simplest solution, look no further than a humidifier. These can be purchased online or in your local big box stores. While this is the most expensive option, it is also the easiest, and you can get more bang for your buck by placing several humidity loving plants nearby. Simply keep the humidifier filled and your plants will be happy and healthy. 

Pebble Trays

My favorite method for raising humidity is DIY pebble trays. You can make them as basic or as intricate as you like. This option tends to be very cost effective and it will keep your plant happy. To make a pebble tray, simply find a tray that is about 2-4” tall and a few inches wider in diameter than your plant pot.

Place pebbles or rocks in the tray up to the edge of the tray. Then fill the tray with water to just below the top of the pebbles. Place the pot on top of the rocks and voila. As the water evaporates from the tray, it will provide your plant with the humidity it craves. 

Misting

I don’t like to rely on misting as my only means for raising humidity, but it is good in a pinch, or as a supplement to a pebble tray. If you like misting your plants and can be dilligent with how often you do it, you could use this method as your sole means of raising the humidity.

Missing a few of your scheduled mistings can result in your plant showing signs of stress, so if you know you won’t always be able to mist on a schedule, try a pebble tray or a humidifier instead. 

Water

One of the most important aspects of plant care is a good watering schedule. Every plant is different, so you will need to get to know your plant to know when the optimal time to water is. For most philodendron atoms, you will want to water roughly once a week in the spring and summer, and every other week in late fall through winter. 

Keep an eye on your plant’s soil to be sure you are watering frequently enough. Philo. atom prefers its soil to be damp at all times, but not soggy, as soggy soil can lead to root rot. Before watering, always check the top 2” of your plant’s soil. If the top is starting to dry out it is a good time to water. If it is still wet, check back in a day or two. 

Light

Since philodendron atom is native to the understory of the rainforest, they have evolved to thrive in the indirect light that filters down through the trees of their habitat.

To recreate this in your home, place your plant in a room that gets lots of bright indirect light throughout the day. An east-facing window is usually ideal for this, but other windows can work as well. 

If you notice your plant’s leaves have spots that are starting to look burnt, it could be that your plant is getting too much direct sunlight.

Try moving it further from the window. If your plant is having trouble absorbing water it could be due to not enough light, so move it to a brighter area, or consider adding a plant grow bulb to the room. 

Soil

Philodendron atom prefers well-draining rich soil. For mine, I use a mixture of one part potting soil, 1 part sphagnum moss, and 1 part perlite. I prefer to use FoxFarms brand of potting soil, but it can sometimes be hard to find, so feel free to use whatever potting soil you prefer. 

Repotting

It’s a good idea to repot your philodendron atom every other year. Even if your plant hasn’t outgrown its pot, it will appreciate fresh soil. Every time you water your plant, some of the soil is lost through the drainage hole, and even with added fertilizers, your plant will quickly eat up the nutrients from the soil in its pot. That is why regular repotting is so important. 

Selecting the right pot can also be an important part of plant care. I recommend using a terra cotta pot with a drainage hole for philodendron atom.

I like terra cotta for these plants because it allows me to water them more frequently without worrying about root rot. However, if you don’t like the look of terra cotta, any pot with a drainage hole should work fine. 

The ideal time to repot your plant is in the spring when it is just starting to wake up from its dormancy. Gently remove your plant from the pot and use your hand to work the soil from the roots. Be very careful as you work not to damage the root system.

If you are using the same pot, empty the old soil and give the pot a good wash with dish soap and water.

Then refill it with your potting mixture and place your plant in the soil. If you are using a new pot because your plant has grown, try to select one that is only slightly larger than the current pot. Always keep the soil at the same level on your plant as this tends to be its ideal soil depth. 

Fertilizer

The ideal fertilizer for philodendron atom is one that is balanced. I usually use 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer at half strength twice a month from spring-the end of summer. I then do once a month in the fall and stop fertilizing in the winter. If you are intimidated by liquid fertilizer, don’t worry, there are other options. 

Pelleted slow-release fertilizers are a great substitute and they are only applied once a year. This makes them easy to use and forget.

If using pelleted fertilizers, keep in mind that the best time to apply them is the spring and that you must top water for your plant to get the nutrients.

When you water, nutrients from the pellets are washed down to the roots in the soil of your plant. Bottom watering won’t reach the pellets and therefore won’t get the fertilizer to your plant. 

Propagation

To propagate philodendron atom you will need a relatively large plant. Water a few days before you plan to take your cutting so your mother plant is in optimal shape. You will want to use very sharp shears that have been sanitized.

You will want to remove a piece of the plant at the base below the nodes. Select a spot that has several leaves and a strong stalk. Make the cut here and then transfer the cutting to water. Once you see the start of roots, you can move the cutting to its own pot. 

Where to buy

Philodendron atom is still rather rare in the plant community, so you likely won’t see it at Home Depot or Lowes. If you have a locally owned plant store, you can check with them to see if they have it or if they can order it.

If it isn’t available through them, there are lots of cuttings and small plants available at affordable prices on Etsy and eBay. Try to avoid shipping plants during extreme weather if possible to make sure you receive the healthiest plants you can. 

Common Issues

Root rot

While philodendron atom likes damp soil, it is also prone to root rot. Too much water and not enough sunlight can lead to your plant’s roots rotting.

If your plant’s leaves are turning yellow and seem to be wilting it may be due to root rot. Check the soil, if it is overly wet and soggy, you will want to remove your plant from its pot and check the roots.

Healthy roots will be whiteish and firm while rotten roots will be dark brown or black and mushy. Remove any rotten roots with clean shears and then repot your plant in fresh soil. If there are enough healthy roots left, your plant should bounce back in a few months. 

Brown leaf tips

Crispy brown leaf tips are caused by low humidity. Since the tips of the leaves are the last part of the plant to get water from the roots, and since water is naturally expelled from the tip of the leaf, this is the first area that will dry out. While you can’t undo brown leaf tips, you can prevent new leaves from turning brown by increasing the humidity around your plant. 

Yellow Leaves

It can be hard to diagnose exactly what is wrong with your plant based on its leaves turning yellow. Yellowing leaves can be a symptom of too much water, not enough water, extreme temperatures, not enough light, and too much light.

Basically, if the leaves are yellow, your plant is unhappy. 

To best diagnose the issue, start by checking your soil. If it is dry your problem is likely underwatering. Start watering more regularly and this should take care of the issue. If the soil is soggy and wet you are likely overwatering.

Check for root rot and reduce the amount of water. If you aren’t watering very often and the soil is still soggy, it might not be getting enough light. Try moving it closer to a light source. 

Pests

The best form of offense against pests is good defense. Always quarantine new plants away from your current collection for a month and treat the new plant as if it has pests. Treat with neem oil once a week until the end of quarantine. 

If you quarantined but somehow pests managed to infiltrate your plant colony, there are several options to eradicate them. If it is spring or summer and the weather is nice outside, simply place your plants outdoors. Natural predators will take care of the pests and in a few weeks, allow you to bring your plants back inside. 

If the weather is poor, or you live in an apartment, you can use neem oil, or insecticidal sprays to get rid of pests as well, but be careful using them around pets, especially birds or pet rodents.