Gardening

The Indoor Plant We Have a Monster Crush On

Plant guru, Hilton Carter, on the transformative powers of the Monstera—and how to keep yours flourishing.

July 20, 2020
Photo by Hilton Carter

The other day, while I was browsing the plant section of Home Depot, I came across a truly magnificent Monstera deliciosa, aka Swiss Cheese Plant. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you this beautiful specimen was almost as tall as me—so big that I wasn’t sure if it would even fit in the back of my car, and it only cost $90. How often do you find a 5-foot Monstera for under $100?!

I hemmed and hawed and walked several laps around the store, trying to decide whether I should take the plant home with me. I ultimately walked away—slowly and looking back often—because I was by myself and didn’t know how I’d get it into my apartment without help. Naturally, I regretted it, and returned to the store with my boyfriend in tow a few days later, but the beautiful babies were gone. Now there’s a hole in my heart where a hole-y Swiss Cheese Plant should have been.

Forever Dreaming of Swiss Cheese Monsteras...

Monsteras have been the darling of the Instagram plant world for a while now, finding a home on every plant-lover’s wishlist. Hilton Carter, the plant stylist behind @hilltoncarter and author of Wild at Home, is a devoted fan and loves how they can brighten up a room—he owns a flourishing Monstera deliciosa himself.

“What’s great about the Monstera is how quickly it can transform a space, making it feel more alive and tropical,” says Carter. “With its large leaves, holes, and splits, it’s an instant eye-grabber.”

What’s less clear, though, is its ‘Swiss cheese’ moniker. Some people—Carter included—refer to Monstera deliciosas in general as Swiss Cheese plants; I, however, thought the term was reserved for the particular Monsteras with the extra inner leaf holes. (Anyone else confused here? Just me?) Let me explain: In addition to their signature notched edges, some larger Monstera deliciosa also have inner leaf fenestration—a fancy term for leaf holes—that gives them an extra cheese-like appearance.

See what I mean?

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, Carter explains that these holes actually serve a functional purpose, as well: “The more light a Monstera gets, the larger the leaves grow, causing more holes and splits. The leaves of the Monstera open up to allow light to shine through its upper leaves so that its lower leaves can bask in the light, as well.”

What a thoughtful plant! Personally, I just love the shadows that hole-y Monstera leaves cast around a room.

But Wait, What About This Plant?

If you read the last section and thought, “Hold up, that’s not what my Swiss Cheese Plant looks like,” you’re not wrong. You see, the Monstera adansonii, a cousin of the deliciosa, also has delightfully hole-y leaves and is also referred to by some as a Swiss Cheese Plant.

This type of Monstera is typically smaller, and it has long tendrils that make it a lovely hanging or climbing plant. It features similar heart-shaped leaves to the deliciosa, but the difference is that its holes don’t reach the edges. Frankly, of all the options, I think this one most closely resembles the slices of dairy we slap onto our sandwiches.

No Matter Your Monstera, They All Want the Same Thing

Whether you bring home a big, beautiful Monstera deliciosa that you found at Home Depot or a lanky Monstera adansonii, you’re going to want to care for them in the same way. Because they’re native to tropical areas, Carter explains Monsteras do best in bright, indirect sunlight—so place it in a room that gets plenty of natural light throughout the day, but not right in front of the window. Try not to let the temperature drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and if the room is particularly dry because you’re running the heat or AC, you may want to give your plant its own mini humidifier or mist it a few times a week.

You can let your Monstera dry out between waterings: “Only water when the top half of the soil is completely dry,” recommends Carter. He also suggests keeping your Swiss Cheese Plant in a porous pot to allow extra moisture to be absorbed.

Monstera not looking so hot? If the leaves turn yellow or the stems turn black, chances are your plant is getting too much water, and if the leaves curl or wilt, chances are it’s not getting enough. Most Monsteras will need more water in the summer, and you can also give them fertilizer during this time to encourage growth.

Finally, if you want your Swiss Cheese baby to not just survive, but thrive, you can give it something to climb on, whether it’s a trellis or moss pole. Aim to repot it every two years or so, and keep it away from any pets, as its foliage can make them sick.

More Monsteras, Please!

If your friends are begging you to share your Swiss Cheese Plant with them, the good news is that it’s easy to propagate. (I used to be scared of propagation, but now I do it all the time. My best advice is to just accept that it might not work and try anyway!)

Carter explains that all you have to do is cut off a stem just after a leaf node, then pop it in lukewarm water. Within a few weeks, it should be sprouting roots, and you can then move it into soil. If you want to learn more about his favorite propagation techniques, Carter actually offers a whole class on it, called Propagating Plants with Hilton Carter.

Are you as much of a Monstera fan as we are? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.

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