A huge part of Pothos care is about maintaining the parts you can’t see – the roots. How can you tell if your plant’s root system is healthy? And how can you keep it that way? This article is all about preventing problems with Pothos roots, and treating them if they crop up. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly how to make your plant’s roots healthy.
Caring for Pothos roots is a balancing act. Avoid watering too much or too little by hydrating only when the top 1-2 inches of soil feel dry. You should also repot or root prune the plant every 1-2 years so that its container isn’t too large or small for the roots.
We’ll explain how to tell when any of these growing conditions are out of whack. A lot of it is about paying attention to your own care habits – things like how often you’re watering and when you last repotted your plant. When something happens to your Pothos roots, the most likely culprit is you!
What Do Healthy Pothos Roots Look Like?
If you take a healthy Devil’s Ivy plant out of its container and inspect the roots, what will you see? Healthy Pothos roots will have a white or beige color, though this may be a little obscured by the dirt. Their width can vary a fair amount, but the oldest and largest ones will typically be about as thick as a charging cable. If you poke them, they’ll feel firm and slightly springy.
They also should be spread out to a certain degree. Some of the roots will overlap even in a healthy Pothos, but there should be a decent amount of soil mixed in among the roots.
Sometimes a Pothos plant will also develop roots above the ground. They’re called aerial roots, and your plant uses them to anchor onto other objects as it climbs. They can also extract oxygen and water vapor from the air. They tend to be a darker brown than the plant’s underground roots.
Are My Pothos Roots Supposed to be Fuzzy?
You might notice what looks like a fine coating of fuzz on your plant’s aerial roots. This may not be cause for alarm. Aerial roots often start to look fuzzy when:
- They’re in contact with another surface
- They’ve been sitting in water
- The humidity is especially high
This “fuzz” is actually a coating of fine hairs designed to help the roots absorb moisture and cling to other surfaces.
If you’re concerned it might be mold, try wiping the roots with a damp paper towel. Mold is usually fairly easy to brush off. If the fuzz stays firmly in place, it’s probably root hairs. Note that if you do find mold, you should check whether you’ve let the soil get too damp. Look for brown or black spots on the stems or leaves. This can be a sign of root rot (more on this below).
Caring For Pothos Roots
We’ve explained what Pothos roots look like when they’re healthy. Now let’s talk about what they need in order to stay healthy.
We’re guessing you already knew this one. Caring for your Pothos roots – and for the entire plant – requires hydration. A Devil’s Ivy plant will be healthiest if its roots are constantly a little bit moist.
The best way to accomplish this is to check the pot every 2-3 days. Poke a finger an inch or two into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water it. If it’s still damp, wait a day and test again. Don’t hold back with the watering can – when your plant needs water, drench the soil thoroughly. This will make sure that all parts of the root system get the moisture they need.
How to Tell If Your Pothos Roots Are Too Dry
You won’t usually need to check the actual roots to tell that they’re short on water. A dehydrated Pothos will slump over as the cells lose the water pressure that keeps them firm. Chronic underwatering may turn the leaves yellow, then brown and crispy, starting at the edges.
Sometimes other problems can mimic the symptoms of underwatering. So always check the soil. If it’s completely dry and crusty, you’ve let it go too long without water. Repeated underwatering will also slow or stop your plant’s growth.
Pothos roots also need oxygen – yes, even the underground ones! Good potting soil is loose enough that air can make its way to the roots. However, if you’re watering too often, you’ll swamp the roots in mud and smother them. That’s why you should stick to watering only when the soil dries out, as described above.
You should also give your Pothos an appropriate potting mix. A little more than half of the soil should consist of coarse material that leaves room for air. The rest can be spongier stuff that retains moisture. Our favorite blend includes 40% perlite, 30% coconut coir, 20% orchid bark, and 10% worm castings.
How to Tell If Your Pothos Roots Are Overwatered
Overwatering often turns your Pothos’s foliage yellow, starting with the lower leaves and moving up. It also causes wilting and browning. You might notice that these are similar to the signs of underwatering. One way to spot the difference is that the texture of a thirsty plant is often dry and brittle, while an overwatered Pothos is more likely to be soft and limp.
And, of course, you should check the soil. If it’s damp to the touch, it’s probably overwatered, not underwatered. As a matter of fact, you can assume that your Pothos is at least a little bit overwatered if the soil remains soggy for more than a few days at a time.
It’s best to confirm your diagnosis of overwatering by checking the roots. If they look gray, black, or brown instead of their healthy khaki color, it means they have root rot. This is a deadly plant disease caused by overwatering. A squishy or slimy texture also indicates an infected root.
You’ll have to remove all of the rotting roots and repot your Devil’s Ivy in fresh soil. That’s the only way to ensure the rot doesn’t spread and kill your plant.
Caring for Pothos roots also means giving them room to grow. When your plant fills all the space in its pot, the root bunch up into a tangled mass. A plant in this condition is said to be root bound.
And despite what you may have heard, Pothos do not like to be root bound. A root bound Pothos can no longer take in enough air, water, and nutrients to thrive. To avoid this, you should repot your Pothos in a larger container every 1-2 years. The best time to do this is the early spring, though any point during the growing season is okay.
You only need to increase the space a little bit. A pot about 2 inches larger in diameter should work just fine. An overly large space can be dangerous for your plant, because the increased soil mass will take longer to dry out. This makes it easier to overwater.
How to Tell If Your Pothos Is Root Bound
One common indicator of a root bound Pothos is stunted growth. If your plant is getting a good amount of sunlight, water, and fertilizer, but it’s not getting any bigger, it may be root bound. The tips of the leaves may also start to die.
Neither of those signs is conclusive on its own, though. They could also be due to problems like over-fertilization or inadequate humidity. A more telling symptom is a pot that fails to hold water. Pothos roots can get so overgrown that they crowd out most of the soil in the container. Then there’s very little left to soak up moisture. So if water starts draining out almost as soon as you pour it in, your Pothos may be root bound.
Of course, the surest way to tell is to check the roots. It’s easy to spot when they’re root bound, because they’ll be wound tightly together like a ball of yarn. The newer ones may even be circling tightly around the older ones instead of spreading downward.
Repotting a Root Bound Pothos
There are two ways to deal with a root bound plant. The simpler option is to simply move it into a larger container. As we noted above, a pot that’s 2 inches wider is usually sufficient. You could size up a little bit more if the plant is seriously root bound, but it’s not generally necessary.
Prepare a loose, airy potting mix like the one we outlined in the section on overwatering. Moisten it a little bit, until it’s about as damp as a wrung-out rag. Then fill the bottom ⅓ of the new pot with soil.
Now gently pry the roots of your Pothos apart with your fingers. Don’t try to spread them out completely. It’s not necessary, and trying to do this will probably break some of the roots. Simply create a little bit of space to encourage the roots to grow out instead of in. Then you can settle your Pothos in its new pot and bury the roots.
Your plant will probably slouch for 1-3 weeks after being repotted. This is normal; your Devi’s Ivy has been stressed out and needs time for its roots to adjust. During the intervening period, keep it out of direct sunlight and don’t provide any fertilizer. And be extra-careful not to overwater it. Your plant will also appreciate anything you can do to keep the humidity high during this time.
Root Pruning a Pothos
This is the other method for treating a root bound plant. The idea sounds very strange at first. We’re used to trimming the leaves, but is it really okay to cut into the roots?
Actually, yes. Sometimes caring for Pothos roots can involve a little surgery. The main reason to take this approach is to avoid moving your plant into a bigger pot. Root pruning will help keep it at roughly the same size without causing its roots to trip over each other.
The tool we recommend is a serrated garden knife. Swab it down with some rubbing alcohol, or a solution of 1 part bleach in 9 parts water. Then uproot your Devil’s Ivy and lay it on its side. Grip the stems firmly, then saw off the bottom ⅓ of the root mass.
It can be hard to make yourself do this at first, but trust us, you won’t hurt the plant. After the operation, you can pop it back into the same container. (Though it’s usually best to provide fresh soil, especially if you haven’t repotted it in a couple of years.) For the next few weeks, treat the plant just as you would after an ordinary repotting.
You can also root prune your Pothos proactively. Instead of repotting in a larger container every other year, simply trim back the roots. This will feel less blasphemous with repeated practice! As with repotting, early spring is the optimal time for this operation. The lengthening daylight hours will help speed your plant’s recovery.
Skillfully caring for Pothos roots will go a long way toward keeping the whole plant healthy. Make sure the root system has the right amount of moisture, oxygen, and space, and your Devil’s Ivy should thrive. We hope this guide helps you keep your Pothos roots in tip-top shape!