What is a pothos plant?
Pothos is a house plant that is known by many names, including Devil’s ivy and monkey plant. Pothos plants require well-draining potting soil and cannot be placed in direct sunlight, though all in all they have a reputation for being one of the easiest houseplants to take care of.
Being fast-growing plants, pothos vines can reach up to 30 feet long if allowed to grow freely.
What does it mean to be root-bound?
‘Root-bound’ or ‘pot-bound’ are both terms to describe the same issue, in which a plant’s roots become tightly packed or coiled within the container. This can slow growth, as well as the intake of water and nutrients vital for the plant’s survival.
While usually deleterious, the effects of becoming pot-bound can vary wildly depending on the species of plant.
The worst has happened- despite your careful attention, keeping the soil moist when it needs to be, and ensuring the pot’s drainage holes remain unblocked, you’ve noticed your pothos plant start wilting. The soil surface is always dry, you notice leaf discoloration, and you haven’t seen any new growth in ages.
When you try to research the problem, you’re inundated with information- could it be one of the many root diseases that can affect house plants? Should you have used a sterilized potting mix, or perhaps added rooting hormones to the bottom of the pot?
The simple answer Do Pothos Like To Be Root Bound
Fear not, dear reader- in all likelihood, the answer is your pothos plant’s roots have simply run out of soil space.
When this happens, the root system doesn’t have anywhere to go and the plant is root-bound. You can sometimes see spiraling roots or even roots growing upwards in root-bound plants.
Pothos plants tend to form a dense root system, making them especially susceptible to this issue. Root binding can cause serious issues, but with fresh soil and a new pot, you’re guaranteed to see your plant recover.
Is it bad for a pothos to be root-bound?
In short, yes. Most plants have problems when they find themselves pot bound. Root-bound pothos plants are no different.
In addition to the stress of inadequate space, the mass of roots has the potential to clog drainage holes. This can leave your pothos plant vulnerable to further issues such as root rot.
Can a pothos plant survive being root-bound?
Given this information, you may be asking yourself whether your pothos will make it at all.
While things may sound dire, rest assured that with proper care and attention, your root-bound pothos can continue to lead a long and healthy life.
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Signs of a root-bound pothos plant
As mentioned above, there are several root-bound pothos symptoms that will make themselves known.
When healthy, pothos plants are known for their rapid growth rate. Like many other vining plants, it can climb structures rapidly to add an alluring natural accent to decor.
However, if your pothos plant is growing slowly, this can be a sign of an issue with the plant’s roots.
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Healthy pothos plants have broad, bright green leaves studding the long vines the plant puts out.
If the leaves start to appear shriveled or wilted in any way, that can be a sign of a root-bound pothos.
As stated, a healthy pothos plant should have bright green foliage, sometimes speckled with paler green or even white.
While not enough on its own to make a diagnosis of a pot-bound pothos, any yellow or brown visible on the plant should be taken as a sign of distress.
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The surest sign that your pothos plant is root-bound will be the roots themselves.
If you have visible roots growing through the top of the soil, or conversely, if the roots have begun to poke out of the drainage holes, you definitely have a root-bound plant on your hands.
If your plant is extremely heavily root-bound, it actually has the potential to crack or chip the pot! Thankfully, it was going to need a new pot anyway, but this can still be very distressing to a plant owner.
How do you fix a pothos that’s root bound?
When your pothos is root bound, the cause is often that it has been in the same pot for too long. A small pot can interfere with root growth.
The solution? Transfer the root-bound pothos to a larger container. This gives any new growth room to breathe, allowing the root-bound pothos plant to heal.
How to re-pot a root-bound pothos plant
Repotting can be a bit nerve-wracking for those new to plant care. When repotting a root-bound plant, it can be even more so- after all, nobody wants to let their root-bound pothos die.
Thankfully, the process is surprisingly simple, though we’ll still take you through it step-by-step.
First off, you will need a pot- I prefer clay pots personally, as the porous material helps with draining, but any good-sized pot with large drainage holes will do.
You will also need fresh potting mix- a well-draining variety, if you can find it, though if not you can always doctor up some garden soil by mixing in sand or gravel.
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Removing the pothos
Remove the plant by tilting the pot and gently tapping on the sides. This should allow it to slide out easily.
Do not try to pull on the plant or tip the pot upside down- damaging the plant while it’s already in such a delicate state could spell disaster.
Once your pothos plant is safely out of its previous pot, inspect the roots carefully. If the plant is root bound, this should be clearly visible at this stage.
You’ll want to carefully brush away the dirt and gently untangle the root ball, making sure to prune away any dead or damaged roots.
Replanting your pothos
Add a good layer of potting mix to the bottom of the pot, about one-quarter to one-third of the way up. Place your newly-pruned pothos plant inside, and cover gently with more soil.
Leave a gap of at least one inch between the surface of the soil and the top of the container, and be sure not to pack it too tightly- this could compress the roots, leaving your pothos root-bound all over again.
Dividing your pothos plant
If your root-bound pothos is looking a bit too hefty for any of the pots you have on hand, an easy solution would be to divide the pothos plant.
Simply follow the directions above up to the point of root pruning, and then carefully divide the roots in half with a sharp sterilized knife. At this point, you can re-pot your two new plants into individual pots.
This has the added bonus of adding a new plant to your collection, or alternately, acting as a thoughtful gift to a loved one.
Pothos plant care
Once you have successfully repotted and/or divided your root-bound pothos plant, you may be asking yourself how to provide proper care going forward.
Pothos plants like bright, indirect sunlight, though they can also thrive in low-to-medium indirect light.
Never place your pothos plant in direct sunlight, as this runs the risk of burning the delicate leaves.
It is best to water pothos plants once every week or two, making sure to let the soil dry completely between waterings.
Overwatering can lead to yellowing leaves and blackened stems, in some cases even leading to root rot.
Underwatering is a less common issue with this particular plant, though if you notice dry soil and wilting leaves in a plant that is not root bound, this may be the cause.
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Temperature and humidity
Pothos are native to tropical environments, having originated on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia.
While they are hardy plants capable of surviving in a wide array of different biomes, if your pothos plant is looking sad an easy solution may be to mimic its native conditions.
In the wild, the plants generally prefer humidity between 50 and 70 percent, as well as a temperature range between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Common Questions and Concerns
So, you’ve repotted your plant, placed it in bright, indirect sunlight, and watered it regularly. Still, you can’t help but wonder- is it enough? Do I really have all the information I need to ensure my plant lives a long and healthy life?
Luckily for you, we’ve curated a list of the most common questions and concerns about pothos care and pot-bound plants below.
How often should you re-pot your pothos plant?
Pothos plants grow rapidly and thus need to be repotted every year or two to give the pothos roots room to grow freely.
The best time to repot your pothos plants is during the spring, as this precedes their growing season- repotting at the wrong time of year can sometimes put undue stress on the plant.
How do I know if my pothos plant needs to be repotted?
Becoming pot-bound is not the only issue that can require repotting pothos to fix. If the stems on your pothos become discolored or mushy, that may be a sign of root rot-another issue solved by transfer to a new pot.
In general, it’s good to keep a close eye on your pothos plants, as any changes in appearance may require intervention on your part.
Do pothos plants like big pots?
Pothos plants tend to prefer pots that are larger, as a bigger pot leaves plenty of space for new growth. This ensures the pothos roots will have enough soil to spread out. As pothos can grow between 12-18 inches in just one month, providing adequate space is vital.
However, no matter the pot size, your pothos will still need repotting after 1-2 years, as nutrients in the soil become depleted over time.
At the end of the day, the ideal pot will depend entirely on the size of your plant. The larger the plant, the more likely you are to need a larger pot to ensure it has adequate soil space.
Preventing root-bound pothos plants
The pruning method advised above will go a long way towards protecting your pothos roots from becoming so tangled again in the future.
Using breathable containers, such as fabric pots, can also be useful- once the root ball comes into contact with the open air, this tends to hinder any further growth.
While these tips will slow the process, the most important thing you can do to prevent plants from becoming pot-bound is to regularly transfer them into new containers with fresh potting mix.
Are there plants that like to be root bound?
With all this talk about root-bound pothos, you may be curious- how do other plants respond to the issue? Are there any plants that actually like to be root bound?
The answer is a resounding, if surprising, yes! Certain plants, such as the African violet and the Christmas cactus, actually benefit from being root-bound.
The nature of the benefit will vary based on the type of plant. The Christmas cactus, for instance, actually only blooms when the plant is mildly stressed- therefore, allowing it to become pot-bound also allows for a dazzling display!
The spider plant, meanwhile, is able to thrive in large containers. However, it only puts off ‘pups’, small segments that have the ability to grow into new plants, when under stress. This means that allowing the plant to become root-bound is one of the easiest methods of propagating it.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of pothos care as well as root-bound plants in general.
While it’s rarely ideal for your plant to be root bound, with proper vigilance you can ensure your pothos will continue to provide that little splash of greenery for many years to come.