How to Care for a Congo Plant – 7 Top Tips Plus an Extra!

Philodendron Congo Rojo or the Red Congo plant is one of the most underrated plants in my opinion. Gorgeous, lush and pretty easy to care for, once you know what you’re doing. The key things are watering, lighting and how to figure out what your plant is telling you! The Philodendron Congo is a plant with striking foliage that can be found in a few different varieties, Rojo (red leaves), Emerald (deep, rich green), Moonlight (a pale, faded green color) and Green.

This particular philodendron is an evergreen plant which is ideal for a houseplant. You don’t need to worry too much about seasons, just adapting to temperature and lighting changes. This plant can climb, meaning you can grow it on a support to discover its full, mature form, which is even more stunning.

Personally, philodendrons in general have always been one of the easier plants to keep alive, and I’ve found the Rojo Congo to be no exception. I pretty much leave mine in the bathroom, do nothing and it’s happy as a lamb! That’s because I know three key things: bright, indirect light, as usual, under-watering is always better than overwatering and just like us, plants need haircuts too! Read on to learn more, get the full explanation for our tips and a detailed walk through of how to keep your Philodendron Congo healthy and thriving.

congo plant

Table of Contents 

What Light Is Best?

Philodendron Congo Likes Bright, Indirect Light Best!

Philodendron congo plant will flourish best in bright, indirect lighting, which means near a south-facing window but not right up against it.

You’ll want to keep your plant out of direct light, because it might cause burns or scorched leaves. Bright light is light that will cast a super distinct shadow of the plant directly behind it, generally that’ll be light from a south facing window in the morning and midday. Therefore you’ll want to keep your plant a little distance from south facing windows. The phrase, ‘bright indirect light’ can be a bit confusing. But it just means your plant is slightly further away from the window or the light is coming through a sheer curtain. You’ll need it to be bright enough that you could comfortably read by the light. If you’re not sure about it, that’s okay, just keep an eye on the plant itself. 

philodendron in white pot with sunlight

If you start finding that the leaves are going brown or bleached/white then it’s probably getting too much light. When the leaves are not really growing or growing very far apart your plant probably needs more light. It’s okay if you want to keep your plant where it is, even if it doesn’t get enough natural light. Try supplementing with a grow light or moving it to a higher light area every now and then. If you’re looking for any advice on which grow light to get we have an honest review you might find helpful. 

What Does Hemiepiphytic Mean?

These philodendrons are hemiepiphytic* which means they begin their life in the canopy of other trees where they grow until their roots reach the ground. Bear this in mind as the key thing for happy plants is to replicate their natural growing environment. This plant (and most of them) need less light as immature forms and as they mature they will need more light. So if your philodendron is super young consider reducing how much light it is receiving!

sheer curtain covering window

*Epiphytes are plants which grow on others. The prefix hemi means half, referring to the way that these philodendrons start as epiphytes before establishing as a separate plant.

Too MuchToo Little
Stunted growthStunted growth/ leggy
Brown patches on leaves Yellowing or pale leaves
Crispy leavesLeaning towards the light 

You can bring your plant outdoors for some more sun if the light inside your house just isn’t cutting it. However you need to keep in mind that the plant could get shock or sunburn from being moved too quickly. I’d recommend gradually increasing the sun exposure in order to acclimate the plant a bit better. You can start by putting your plant outside for half an hour and increasing its time outside each day by ten minutes or so. Alternatively you can move your plant closer to bright windows before putting in the shade outside and gradually moving it out of the shade close to the bright sun.

philodendron in white pot outside

How Much Water Do They Need?

Depending on how warm your house is, how high the moisture in the air is, and the time of year, your plant will need watering between twice a week and twice a month.

Since these plants are hemiepiphytic and would usually receive water and nutrients through rainfall and moisture in the air, root rot is a real concern when growing them in a medium such as soil.

person in white gloves watering a philodendron

Always check the soil with your finger or a moisture meter before deciding it is time to water it, you’ll want to wait until the top 2 or 3 inches of soil feel dry. Never let your philodendron sit in stagnant water as this will lead to root rot, pests and over saturated soil.

Here’s How to Check If the Soil Is Dry / Needs Watering:

If you’re using just your finger or a stick: 

When the top 2-3 inches of the soil feel dry and your finger comes out of the soil clean (the wet soil sticks, the dry soil falls off) it’s time to water your plant. If you don’t want to use your finger just use a stick or similar for the same process.

If you have a moisture meter:

a person clicking a moisture meter

Keep your moisture meter in the soil at all times or stick it in to test the moisture levels every week or so and when the soil is dry, give the plant a drink. Make sure to not have the moisture meter too deep in the soil or the plant will end up underwatered. 

If you are increasing the humidity surrounding the plant then make sure to decrease the frequency of watering as plants lose less water in a humid environment. If the light levels or temperatures are going to increase then it can be beneficial to water your plant slightly more often.

Bottom Watering

Personally, I find bottom watering the most effective way to care for most of my plants. Use lukewarm water (cold or hot water can shock the roots) in a container and allow your philodendron to sit in the water for roughly twenty or thirty minutes. Just watch for when the plant stops absorbing water. Bottom watering encourages strong roots as the plant has to grow downwards to find the nutrients it needs. A stronger root system will help your plant in the long run. So don’t be discouraged or disappointed if your plant is putting out more roots than foliage to begin with, it’s all part of the process. 

water dripping on leaf

The most important thing is to not stick rigidly to a schedule. Whilst consistency is good for a plant it’s okay to wait longer to water or to water early when you think it’s appropriate. 

Here’s a Guide:

FactorIncrease or decrease in watering 
Humidity increaseDecrease
Temperature increaseIncrease
Light increaseIncrease
Bigger pot sizeDecrease 
Age of plantYoung plants require more water 

One tip for watering is that if you’re using tap water for your plants, let it sit out for 24 hours. Ideally you’d want rain water, or filtered water, but that can be expensive, time consuming or otherwise inaccessible for many people. By leaving the tap water to stand for a day you allow the fluoride and chlorine to dissipate at least to some extent from the water, reducing the damages done. Note that isn’t necessary if you have soft water where you live, but more of a problem if your water has added chemicals (hard water). 

many droplets on a green leaf

To be completely honest, I usually just use the water straight away as is. If I’m not using rainwater, because I don’t have the time or patience to let my water stand, but I’m not that fussed about brown tips on the leaves. But if you notice the leaves are crisping up at the edges, then you might want to consider being a bit more careful than I am!

Do Philodendrons Like Humidity? 

Philodendron Congo needs at least 40% but will be happiest in around 50-60% humidity. Lots of people will recommend misting but I advise that you do not do this. Create a humid environment using a humidifier if need be.

Misting encourages pests and sunburn by creating pools of stagnant water – I recommend you do not let any water sit in your plant or pot. It’s a lot easier to take precautions against pests than deal with a full on infestation.

humidifier with lemons in a living room with plant

Alternatively, if you want to boost humidity in your home without spending any money on a humidifier there’s a few DIY tricks. Grouping plants together – plants lose moisture in their leaves. Therefore by grouping many plants together they create a more humid microclimate. You might also consider the old trick of adding a shallow tray of pebbles under your plant, and adding a little water. The pot with the plant sits on the pebbles, keeping the roots out of the water. The water evaporates throughout the day and the humidity around the plant will increase. 

Here are the main signs your philodendron plant needs some more humidity: 

  • Brown edges/ crispy leaves 
  • Dull color (pale or blotchy, use the other leaves as a comparison but remember than new, young leaves are sometimes pale anyways)
  • Yellow leaves
  • Wilting 
  • Stunted Growth 

Do These Plants Like the Warmth? 

Most plants will be damaged, potentially even fatally if they are left in super cold conditions. Philodendrons are no exception. So it’s important therefore to keep them away from windows in the winter. They should be kept roughly at between 65ºF and 80ºF but there’s no exact number when it comes to plants. Keeping your plant at lower than 55º and it’s likely to suffer as Philodendron Rojo Congo has absolutely no frost hardiness whatsoever.

temperature on blue background

Be careful with chilly windows, hot morning sun, radiators, fans and big electric devices which can all sometimes get to extreme temperatures which can damage your Congo plant causing scorched leaves, browning foliage or even shock.

Can I Propagate It?

This can be done through stem cuttings.

Not sure how? Look no further! First, use a clean, sharp knife to cut a three to four inch shoot below a leaf node (the spot where a leaf emerges from a stem as shown). Then cut off the bottom leaves of the shoot and snip off any flowers or buds. After that plant these cuttings, and watch them flourish.

Do Philodendrons Need Fertilizer?

Philodendron Congo requires a little extra nutrition, and therefore generally will need fertilizer. If you’ve added a compost to your soil mix, it’ll be fine without the extra fertilizer for the first six months or so (the packaging should indicate how long it’ll feed your plant for). You can add a little bit of liquid fertilizer occasionally, and that will be enough. Alternatively, you can mix a small amount of slow release fertilizer granules in the soil, just personal preference, make sure you never combine both fertilizers.

person pouring fertilizer onto soil

A balanced fertilizer will be okay for this plant, if that’s all you have but ideally a nitrogen rich fertilizer would be best. Something like 3-1-3 or 3-1-2 NPK is ideal as this balance will promote bigger foliage and better, more rapid leaf growth. Only fertilize during spring and summer, and stop during colder months where the plant is not growing actively.

Fertilizer typeProsCons
LiquidEasier to control and useNeeds to be use more often
Better for young plants as they have a lower salt content Harder to keep track of 
The nutrients are more mobile so can reach the roots more easily 
Granules/ Pellets CheaperLess control over the nutrients
Easier to storeHarder to use 
Needs using less frequently 

How Do I Overwinter My Philodendron? 

As the seasons change, your plant will be receiving a lot less light and be enduring much colder temperatures. This inevitably calls for a change in how you care for your plant. The key things are compensating for seasonal changes in the environment and to watch out for negative effects of the way you look after yourself in the winter. 

If you use central heating then consider this a PSA, it’s really important to move your plants (all of them, not just these ones) away from blasts of air/ radiators/fireplaces. Using any kind of indoor heating will also dry out your air, which can negatively affect plants so consider using your humidifier.

close up of philodendron leaves

To begin compensating for the cold weather, reduce your watering as the temperature is lower and the plant is receiving less light they will be photosynthesising less. This means they need less water than they need in the seasons of active growth. 

Another way to adjust the plant care is to stop fertilizing the plants, again this is just because the plant is not actively growing it is not using as many nutrients so does not need extra fertilizer. Too much fertilizing leads to growth which is unsustainable and then death.

Do I Need to Repot My Congo Plant? 

Your Philodendron Rojo Congo will need repotting approximately once a year. During summer is best, until it’s fully matured, which takes roughly 5 years, but there’s no set rules with plants! Look out for roots climbing out of the pot either through the drainage holes or through the top of the soil in order to know when it’s time to repot. Once your Congo is fully mature it will still need repotting every few years due to soil degradation and lack of nutrients available. You can keep the same pot, if you want, just wash out the old soil and clean the pot with some dish soap and warm water.

I’d recommend picking a ceramic pot, or heavy clay/ terracotta. This plant’s foliage can become heavy and cause the plant to tip over. Choose a pot that’s only 2 inches bigger; pot measurements are usually done by the diameter of the pot across the widest part. 

terracotta pots in the sunshine

How to Repot?

To repot your philodendron, gently remove the root ball from the old plant, taking care to avoid snagging the roots or ripping them. Then I find it easiest to use a bucket of water to rinse the roots in, to quickly get rid of the older soil. I’ll fill my new pot with about a third full of the soil, place the plant in and fill the rest of the pot up with more soil. Then give the plant a good, thorough watering and place it in its new home.  

Use a pot that is roughly an inch or two bigger than the current pot, but it’s not a one size fits all situation, just try not to use a pot that’s a lot bigger or the plant could get stressed. If your philodendron is in a small pot then only one inch bigger can be a drastic increase, but if it’s in a large pot then maybe you’ll want to do 2-3 inches bigger. I like a well-draining soil for the philodendrons, but with ingredients that can absorb moisture and retain it well, like coco coir. I generally use potting mix with perlite for the easiest, most convenient option. If you’re a little more organized than me, you could mix together coco coir (or peat, but peat is unsustainable), orchid mix/ chunky soil mix and perlite for the ultimate soil. 

Once you find that the roots of the plant are growing out of the base of the pot, it’s time to repot. You’ll need to repot during spring or summer, when the plant is actively growing since this helps with its recovery time as the plant will have more energy for regrowth.

About Philodendron Red Congo Plant

Philodendron Rojo Congo is part of the Araceae family and is native to South America. Technically, the Red Congo was cultivated in Florida over the last 30 years but its genetic parents are from central and south america. It grows in an upright, clumping pattern, and it can reach a size of about 2 feet tall and wide, as a houseplant. It grows in USDA zones 10-12, and can sometimes flower.

Keep in mind, this plant is toxic to animals and people so keep it away from pets and babies!


What are the benefits of the Congo plant?

The philodendron red congo is an amazing plant that can filter harmful chemicals from your home, as well as improving the overall look and design with its striking features. Additionally, owning and maintaining houseplants is incredibly beneficial for mental wellbeing. 

Is Red Congo an indoor plant?

Naturally the red congo grows wildly outdoors, but it can be kept happily as a houseplant in most places around the world.

What is the lifespan of a philodendron Congo plant?

These plants tend to live for around 10 years as a houseplant, if it’s looked after well. But you can propagate it and have an immortal philodendron, should you so please!

Philodendron Congo Plant: The Last Word in Gorgeous Foliage 

Whether it’s your first plant or 50th, this philodendron is a must have in the collection. It’s truly beautiful, easy to care for and reasonably simple to get your hands on. Just remember to give it plenty of bright, indirect light as well as watering when the top of the soil is dry, and you’ll be good to go! As always, the best tip is to replicate the natural environment of that plant.

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Photo of author
Katie Riggs
Katie’s love of plants began at a young age, in fact it was the first time she went camping and discovered the medicinal wonders of a dock leaf that the fascination with all things botanical took hold. Spending time in nature and frequently visiting the Kew Gardens, she became obsessed with the diversity of plants you could grow at home. Her favorite things to grow are herbs and vegetables outdoors as well as her prized fiddle leaf fig and calathea orbifolia. Hundreds of mistakes later she has become well versed in how not to kill a houseplant. Her passions now involve sharing her love of nature and all things green to help other people keep their plants happy and healthy.

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