Pothos plants will grow quickly and can become root bound if you don’t provide adequate space for root growth, but do pothos plants like to be root-bound or is this detrimental to the plant?
Pothos’ do not like to be root bound, as it will cause the plant to struggle to absorb water and nutrients properly from the soil. If you haven’t changed repotted in a while and notice your pothos starting to show signs of bad health, there is a good chance that it has become root bound.
If you want to learn how to identify and treat root-bound pothos then you’ve come to the right place. I’ll walk you through the steps in this guide, and give you a few tips from my personal experience of growing golden pothos to ensure you don’t run into the same problems in the future.
What Does Root-Bound Actually Mean?
Root-bound, often known as pot-bound, is a condition where the roots of a plant have no space to grow into and instead start to grow back on themselves – forming a dense area of roots.
In severe cases, the roots will continue growing in this manner even when the plant is placed into a different container with more space and soil. Over time a root-bound plant will starve itself of nutrients as the amount of soil will be reduced drastically as the roots take over the entire area.
Why A Root-Bound Pothos Will Struggle
Some plants such as snake plants and umbrella trees like to be root-bound. Plants that are suited for this tend to be those that are used to competition from other plants, or those that originate in areas where soil lacks nutrients and water.
Pothos, on the other hand, are not suited for this kind of root growth. The main reason for this is that pothos originates in places where competition is low and the conditions are ideal for fast growth. There is a reason why pothos’ grow very fast, and allowing pothos to become root bound will only prevent this from happening.
As I mentioned earlier, root-bound is a term used when the roots of a plant run out of space. As most of the area becomes full of roots, your pothos will struggle to absorb water and nutrients from the soil which will negatively impact it.
There are a few signs you can look out for which may indicate that your pothos is root-bound.
Signs Of A Root-Bound Pothos
If you notice roots growing out of the bottom of the pot, or even at the surface of the soil in extreme cases, this is an almost certain indication that the plant has become root-bound.
You can be sure of this as the roots will only grow to these places if they have nowhere else to grow. As a pothos becomes root-bound there becomes less and less space for the roots to grow, ultimately leading to the aforementioned symptom.
If the leaves on your pothos begin to wilt or turn yellow it could be an indicator that the plant has become root-bound.
The same can be said if the stems become leggy, but it’s always worth inspecting the roots properly before you diagnose a root-bound related problem.
Most of the time smaller issues like these are due to issues with water, nutrition, humidity and temperature which can easily be fixed.
Another symptom of your pothos being root-bound is that it will start to grow much more slowly than usual.
In peak growing months you can expect your pothos to grow up to 18 inches per month depending on conditions and the type of pothos that you have. If you notice a departure from normal, it could be due to the plant being unable to absorb as much water and nutrients from the soil due to being root-bound.
If you’re worried about this, then inspect the roots ASAP (more on this later).
What To Do With A Root-Bound Pothos
If your pothos starts to display the symptoms above then it may be suffering from being root-bound.
Use the steps below to both confirm this and learn what to do afterwards to ensure your pothos survives.
You should always first inspect the roots of your pothos to see where it is root-bound or affected by a different issue.
When inspecting my golden pothos I firmly grab the base of the main stem with my right (dominant) hand and pull gently until it starts to lift. This is easier if you hold the pot securely with your other hand, or get somebody to help.
Once you’ve fully lifted it out you can inspect it to see whether it has become root-bound. If your pothos is root-bound you will struggle to see any soil past all of the roots (this article has a great example of what it looks like).
Loosen The Roots
If you’ve confirmed that your pothos is root-bound then you will need to loosen the roots to promote growth after you transfer it into a new pot.
If the problem isn’t too severe you will be able to loosen the roots around the edge with your hand. If the roots are stubborn use a fork or a stick to provide some assistance.
In cases where the roots have become almost solid and are unable to be loosened by hand, you can cut into them with a knife. This has a higher risk of damaging the plant but it is the only way you can solve the issue if your pothos is completely root-bound.
To do this, gently cut vertically into the root ‘ball’ by half an inch or less. Repeat this in lines, or an ‘X’ mark, until you have made sufficient room for the roots to grow. In extreme cases, you can remove a small layer from the bottom (usually half an inch or less).
After the roots have been addressed you can repot the plant, ensuring at least an inch of soil at the bottom of the pot to provide room for growth, with the same on the edges.
In my experience, you’ll want to repot your pothos once every two years on average into a pot that is only an inch or two wider. If you opt for a much larger pot, you will run into problems with root rot as the roots will not be able to process water effectively from the excess soil.
If your pothos grows particularly quickly you can always inspect the roots to check when it is time to repot.
Once your pothos has been repotted it’s time to water. This will promote growth and encourage the roots to grow into the new space within the soil.
Leaving your pothos root-bound can lead to some serious issues down the road.
Luckily, you should always be able to spot the signs early on – especially if you routinely inspect the roots.