When and how should you cut your Devil’s Ivy? There are lots of reasons you might want to trim Pothos vines or roots. Pruning can help you manage excessive growth, create a bushier appearance, encourage branching, and more. Keep reading for our comprehensive guide on how to trim your Pothos for a healthier and more attractive plant.
Trim Pothos vines or roots with sanitized blades to stop the cuts from getting infected. You only need to prune once or twice per year if you’re simply looking to clean up your plant. For a bushier appearance, you can trim at different heights and even plant the cut vines back in the pot.
Pruning your Pothos occasionally is an important part of helping it look its best. This article will give you a complete breakdown of how to properly trim your Devil’s Ivy foliage. We’ll also cover more advanced techniques like pinching and root pruning. Once you know what you’re doing, you’ll have no problem keeping your Pothos from getting overgrown!
Why Trim Your Pothos?
There are a few different scenarios in which cutting back your Pothos can be helpful. Let’s review them and talk about which type of pruning should work best.
Scenario 1: Your Pothos Has Dead or Damaged Leaves
All Pothos leaves eventually age out and die, and you might want to clip them off once they begin shriveling and turning yellow. This is the simplest issue to handle. You can simply remove a leaf or two as needed to get your Devil’s Ivy looking fresh again.
Your Pothos might also have damaged or dead foliage as a result of a health issue. Brown or yellow leaves can result from all kinds of things, including:
- excess fertilizer
- temperature stress
- low humidity
Unfortunately, this damage will stick around even after you fix the problem that caused it. You can’t un-yellow a leaf or bring a brown one back to life. So cleaning up a damaged plant is another good reason to trim Pothos vines and leaves.
Don’t get carried away, though. Partially green leaves are still taking in some life-giving sunlight for your plant. After recovering from health issues, your Pothos might have a lot of ugly but functional foliage. If you remove too much, you could seriously set back its growth.
Here’s a good guideline to follow: don’t prune more than ⅓ of your Pothos plant’s foliage unless you absolutely have to.
Scenario 2: Your Pothos is Overgrown
Is it any surprise that a plant called the Devil’s Ivy can quickly grow and spread out of control? Pothos is a bona fide invasive species in some parts of the world. It probably won’t get that overgrown in your house, but it’s likely to eventually get bigger than you want it.
In the short term, the best way to manage this is with regular maintenance pruning. Every year cut back some of the longest vines to keep your Pothos in check. But remember that the roots will keep growing even if you snip the foliage. If you don’t want to keep moving your Pothos into larger containers, you should give it a root pruning every couple of years.
Scenario 3: Your Pothos Looks Sparse
The growth habits of Pothos can give them a somewhat raggedy appearance over time. This plant sends out a series of long vines that almost never split and branch. Once they push past the edges of the pot, those vines generally hang straight down unless they find something to grab. They can wind up looking a bit too stringy for some peoples’ tastes.
This problem is worse if your Pothos gets leggy. Lack of sunlight can make the stems stretch out, creating wide gaps between leaves. This makes for an even more sparse appearance. You can trim Pothos vines and plant them back in the same pot to make your plant bushier.
Another option is pinching, a pruning technique designed to encourage branching. It takes some patience, but it can be a great way to produce a fuller-looking Devil’s Ivy.
Will Trimming a Pothos Promote Growth?
Though pruning can help keep your Pothos under control, it’s also a good way to promote growth. Confused? The paradox lies in the way plant cells age.
Since most growth in a Pothos happens near the end of the stems, the parts that are furthest from the roots have undergone many more cellular divisions. Even though, in one sense, this is the newest growth, the genetic material is “older”.
When you trim Pothos vines back, you’re encouraging new growth from genetically “younger” parts of the plant. As a result, the new stems and leaves tend to be healthier and more vigorous. You don’t need to worry that this will clash with your attempts to limit your plant’s size, though. A Pothos grows fast, but not so fast that one or two annual prunings can’t keep it in check.
Tools For Pruning Your Pothos
What do you need to cut back your plant? A blade, for starters. In theory, you can pinch or snap the stems off, but we don’t recommend it. You want to make a clean cut because uneven edges make it easier for fungi and bacteria to invade.
These Fiskars pruning scissors are our favorites for snipping through the thin vines of a Pothos plant. However, if you’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like buying new gear, ordinary kitchen shears are fine. Just make sure they’re fairly sharp.
Speaking of preventing infection, get some disinfectant too. You should wipe down the blades of your trimmers with sanitizer before every cut to get rid of sneaky microbes. Some good options for this:
- 1 part bleach diluted in 9 parts water
- rubbing alcohol
- a household disinfectant like Lysol
Get a clean rag you or cloth to apply disinfectant to your pruners If you have sensitive skin, garden gloves are also a good idea. The juices of a Devil’s Ivy plant contain chemicals that can irritate some people’s skin.
When Should You Trim Pothos Vines and Leaves?
Dead leaves or damaged growth can be removed pretty much whenever they pop up. Unless your Pothos is very small, it’s not going to notice the loss of a leaf or two here or there.
If you’re pruning your Pothos to keep it from getting overgrown, the best time to do this is at the beginning of the growing season. Once the days start getting longer and the weather starts warming up, you can give your plant a haircut. This will help refresh and revitalize your Pothos as it kicks off its growth for the year.
For a really fast-growing Devil’s Ivy plant, you might want to add an extra cleanup cut in the fall. It’s up to you! And remember that what we’ve said above is like the Pirate’s Code: more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. If you decide to trim your Pothos in the middle of the summer or winter, you’re not going to hurt it.
How to Trim Pothos Foliage
Here’s our step-by-step guide to pruning a Pothos. Some of these steps can be modified or left out depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but the basic process is pretty standard.
Step 1: Plan Your Cuts
Deciding where to trim Pothos vines is the most important part of the process. Do you want to snip off the last inch or two of growth to scale the plant back a little? Are you planning to cut it way back so that it’s more like a bush than a set of trailing vines? Will you apply a mixture of both methods to give your Pothos a more layered look?
If you’re just clipping a few dying leaves, you can just snip them off right where they emerge from the main stem. But if you want to cut back the vines, you should plan your cuts based on the nodes. Those are the spots along the vine where the stem gets a bit thicker. They’re often a different color, too, more of a light woody brown.
The nodes matter because that’s where new growth will start after the cut. So you should usually prune your Pothos just after a node (“after” meaning closer to the end of the vine).
If you’re aiming to get your Pothos to branch out, cut off only the newest segment of the vine. Slice back to just past the previous node. This encourages branching by removing a hormone called auxin, which flows backward from the growth point. Auxin prevents branching out to the sides. Removing the newest growth gets rid of the source of auxin, freeing up the nodes to grow laterally.
What if you want to make branches further down on the stem? You’ll typically have to cut it back to your chosen spot, wait for a new leaf to start growing, and snip that off as soon as you see it. (There’s a good chance you’ll have to do that anyway – see Step 5 for details.)
Step 2: Cut the Stem
Wipe the blades with your chosen disinfectant, then snip through the stem at the spot you’ve chosen. As we mentioned earlier, you should aim to slice through with a single smooth motion. You don’t want to leave messy cuts when you trim Pothos vines.
A 45-degree angle is best if you’re planning to transplant any of these stem segments. It will maximize the surface area the cut end can use to absorb moisture. Once you’ve taken a piece off the vine, you can keep cutting it into smaller segments if you want. Just remember that a Pothos cutting won’t survive unless at there’s at least one node that can grow roots. And it will grow better if it has a few leaves.
Step 3: Repeat as Needed
Continue clipping your Pothos back as described above until you decide you’ve trimmed enough. Again, limit yourself to ⅓ of the healthy foliage at a time. The only exception is if you’re dealing with a serious infection that’s infected the foliage and will spread if not amputated, like leaf blight or root rot.
Step 4: Plant Your Cuttings (Optional)
This technically isn’t part of the pruning process. However, we’re going to include it because it’s very helpful if your goal is to make your Pothos look like a fuller, rounder plant.
Poke a small hole in the potting mix and plant one of your stem sections with the cut end down. Make sure at least one of the nodes is below the surface. Then fill in the potting mix to hold the cutting steady. Keep going like this until all the vines you want to add are in the ground.
If you want to make the foliage look evenly spaced, place your cuttings in gaps between the stems. Planting long and short ones in alternating order helps too. These techniques are great if the plant has gone through a leggy phase or an illness that’s left it with lots of bare patches on the vines.
You could also dust the cut ends with some rooting hormone for faster growth. Or add powdered cinnamon to discourage fungal rot. In general, however, those aren’t necessary. Pothos grow like weeds, and that includes their cuttings.
It’s also not necessary to let your cuttings grow roots in water first. It lowers the odds of root rot, but it also adds an extra few weeks to the process. Besides, there’s a chance that the vines will die of shock when you move them from water to soil.
One thing that will help is keeping the humidity high while your cuttings are rooting. This encourages growth while also reducing their need for water. Cuttings are at greater risk of overwatering when they’re still growing out their roots. See our article on Pothos propagation for more detail on the entire process.
Step 5: Prune Again in a Few Weeks (Optional)
We mentioned this in Step 2, but it’s worth repeating. If your goal is to get your Pothos to branch, you might need to closely monitor its growth for a few weeks after the first trim. These plants are very reluctant to send growth out to the sides. Your vine may try to push a new leaf straight out from the cut end.
Snip this new growth away as soon as you spot it. Once again, get as close to the node as possible. You might have to repeat this process a few times to make it work.
This strategy is commonly known as “pinching” because new leaves can often be plucked off using just your fingernails. Your trimmers should work just as well, though. You’ll know you were successful when you see multiple new shoots budding off from a single node.
How to Root Prune Your Pothos
We’ve talked about how to trim Pothos vines and leaves, but pruning the root system is an even more effective way to keep your Devil’s Ivy at a manageable size. The biggest challenge is convincing yourself that you won’t kill your plant by chopping off some of the roots.
But if you don’t want to move your Pothos to a bigger pot every year or two, root pruning is a necessity. Otherwise, the roots will get too long for their space, creating a cramped, tangled mess. This prevents them from getting enough water and nutrients to the rest of the plant.
Trim your Pothos roots every 2 years to avoid this issue. Like trimming the foliage, this is best done during the early spring.
Start by preparing some disinfectant as described above. You’ll need a heftier tool than pruning scissors – a serrated garden knife is usually best. Use one hand to stabilize your Pothos and the other to tip the pot over and slide it out. Sometimes you’ll need to smack the bottom of the pot a few times, especially if the plant is root bound.
Once it’s loose, hold it steady with one hand and saw off the bottom ¼-⅓ of the root mass with your disinfected knife. Then replant your Pothos with some fresh soil. Devil’s Ivy prefers a coarse, well-aerated potting mix. Here’s our favorite simple recipe:
Alternatively, you could use a 1:1 mixture of perlite and African Violet potting mix. That’s good for most aroid plants, including Pothos. Once it’s replanted, baby it the same way we advised for new cuttings in Step 4 above.
The most important thing to remember when you trim Pothos vines is to always disinfect the blades. Figuring out the best spots to cut will get easier as you practice and get to know your plant’s growth rate. If you’re consistently cleaning up dead leaves and providing a maintenance trim once or twice a year, you’ll quickly learn how to keep your Devil’s Ivy healthy and stylish.