Plant ID – Tree philodendron and care for potted evergreen

(Question)

Please I.D. this plant and advise how to care for it, along with the tiny Blue Spruce (I think it’s a Blue Spruce!) that I planted this summer. It lived on the balcony till the cool weather came.

I’m in downtown Toronto, and the window faces west and gets plenty of sun (maybe not right now!). I’m not sure what soil they have, but I am willing to get the proper soil for each. Please see the attached photo. Thank you!!!

(Answer)

Dear gardener,

The tropical plant in your photo is a Philodendron bipinnatifidum commonly known as Tree philodendron and it belongs to the non-climbing group of philodendrons. It is original to tropical South America and as such, it requires indirect or filtered light (you may want to set it back from its current direct sunny location) and moist soil (but not waterlogged). During the winter when the air in the home is generally dry, you can mist the leaves regularly.

If you need to repot, this can be done every 2-3 years in the spring. Use a slightly larger container and fill the empty areas with indoor potting soil. Please be aware that this plant can grow quite large reaching up to 4 meters in 20 years.

In terms of you small spruce (sorry, it is hard to identify properly from the picture), I am a bit hesitant to tell you what to do. Spruces are native to cold climates and as such, have developed under the normal cycle of the seasons. Some research indicates that evergreens loose their winter hardiness when kept inside. They also struggle with the drier and warmer indoor temperatures. On the other hand, evergreens are often used in the art of Bonsai and they seem to do fine indoors.

If this had been last month, I would have recommended to leave it outside but winterize the container properly. Spruces are native to our climate and as such can withstand being outside as long as the correct steps have been taken to winterize it properly. Containers should be at least 24″x 24″ and can be insulated with styrofoam in order to protect the roots from the thawing and freezing cycles. Non-porous containers should be used as these do not crack as easily when freezing (also, they are lighter to move!); lastly, if the balcony is quite high and exposed to strong winds, you can protect your evergreen with burlap after the first frost (keep watering until this point so that needles retain moisture and do not desiccate). As the evergreen grows, you can move to larger containers, always using potting soil as it is lighter than garden soil and allows to retain the correct amount of moisture required .

However, at this point I am not sure if the plant will go through too much of a big shock if put outside as it has already been inside.  I would suggest to locate it in a bright but cooler area of the apartment and water normally (make sure the pot has good drainage). Let the soil dry between waterings. In the spring, start acclimatizing it to the outdoors slowly until it can finally remain outside for the season.

Good luck and remember that gardening involves a lot of trial and error sometimes in order to succeed!

If you would like to read a bit more about shrubs and trees in balcony, please see the following entry: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/askagardener/tree-for-a-balcony/