8+ Signs of Root Bound Pothos (Solutions Included)
This article covers all you need to know about root bound pothos including the symptoms and step-by-step solutions.
Are you seeing roots of your pothos plant coming out of the pot’s drainage holes all of a sudden?
Well, you don’t need to panic.
It means your pothos plant is root bound. Being root bound is definitely not healthy for your plant. But at the same time, it is good news as well.
You may ask, what’s good about being root bound?
Read on, I will be sharing everything you need to know about root bound pothos in this article including the good news. Some of the important topics include,
- What is Pothos Root Bound?
- Do Pothos like to be root bound?
- What are the symptoms of root bound pothos?
- How to fix pothos root bound? (two ways)
- Can you prevent pothos root bound?
- And lots more.
So, we got a lot of things to cover. Let’s start right away without any fluff.
What is Root Bound Pothos?
When a pothos plant’s roots are stopped by some barrier that does not allow it to grow freely, then it is called a root bound pothos. Generally, the term is used when an indoor pothos plant’s roots are confined in a smaller pot.
Being in a root bound state for a long period of time is not healthy for your plant. But if it’s just started showing symptoms then it is good news, at least morally.
In indoor conditions, root bound occurs when a pothos plant outgrows its pot.
When your pothos plant is outgrowing its pot very frequently, then it is a sign of good growth which further proves that your way of caring for your plants is working perfectly.
When you know your plant is growing at the rate that it’s outgrowing its pots, then it is something that you should be proud of.
But, as I already said, being root bound for too long is definitely not a healthy state for your plant. In the long run, it may even kill your plant.
But in the internet community, there are some people who make statements like pothos plants like to be in root bound and you should not touch it. Are these statements based on any scientific evidence? Let’s find out.
Do Pothos like to be Root Bound?
No, scientifically pothos plants do not like to be root bound. Generally, pothos plants are highly adaptable and don’t mind being confined in a small pot until the roots stop getting enough aeration and nutrients from the soil.
Keep in mind that it’s not just about pothos plants. No plant likes to be in a root bound state, but there are some exceptions and I will share them in a moment.
Pothos plants are known to be pretty invasive in their natural habitats (tropical forests). Even though they grow above barks of trees, they have a strong root system that’s very tightly connected to the soil underneath.
So, confining a pothos plant to a small sized pot makes its growth slower than their natural counterparts.
As I said, there are some plants like spider plants, peace lily, aloe vera, african violets, etc that even like to be in a root bound state. But for pothos, root bound is generally looked at as an issue that needs to be fixed in a timely manner.
But, in order to fix a problem you should be 100% sure that your pothos plant is actually facing that problem in the first place, right?
How do you know that your pothos plant is actually root bounded?
And, that’s exactly what I’m going to explain in the next section.
Symptoms of Root Bound Pothos
The most commonly seen symptoms of root bound pothos plants are stunted growth, roots coming out of drainage holes, roots visible from the top, yellow and brown leaves, etc. But these alone are not the only symptoms and there are a couple more signs that tell the same story.
The root bound pothos plant shows symptoms based on the severity of the problem. If the root bound is in the starting stage or not severe, the signs include
Roots coming out of drainage holes :
When your plant’s root doesn’t have enough space inside the pot, then it will try to come out of the pot to find some space. As a result, it will start growing towards the drainage hole and eventually it will come out.
Potting soil coming out of drainage holes :
When there’s no space inside, roots will put pressure on the potting mix. And, at some point some quantity of potting mix will be pushed outside through the drainage holes. It is not a common symptom, but many plant parents have reported it in a couple of forums in the past.
Roots visible at the top :
The reason for this symptom is also the same as the above one. When the roots do not have enough space underneath, it will curl and grow upwards. At some point, it will even reach the top layer of the soil and that’s when you see the roots from top while watering.
At this stage root bound has not affected the plant’s growth yet.
But, when the root bound is severe, it will have a toll on the plant’s health. The signs of severe root bound include,
Small, yellow & brown leaves :
If you are someone who grows a lot of houseplants, then you already know that if a plant is in distress, then its effects will be seen on the leaves. And, that holds true for root bound pothos plants as well.
When the roots of pothos plants are suffocating inside the pot, there is very less space available for oxygen and water to pass through. This induces a false belief in plants that it is not getting enough water. Yellowing of leaves is one of the main symptoms of underwatering. Because of this, plants start to save energy instead of spending.
As a result, the existing leaves start turning yellow and eventually turn brown and then start wilting. At the same time, the newly grown leaves will be much smaller than the previous ones.
Stunted growth :
This is the next stage after yellowing of leaves. At some point, the root bound pothos plant will completely stop producing new leaves to go dormant as it’s not able to suck water due to tight roots.
Roots pushing out plant :
When roots don’t have enough space to grow inside the container, it starts to push the plant upwards to get some space. If you see the top layer of your pothos plant soil is moving upwards slowly, then there is a high chance that the roots are pushing the plant upwards to make some space underneath.
Water not reaching the drainage holes :
If the root bound is very severe, then the drainage holes might have already been closed by the tight roots. So, even if you overwater, water will stay at the top and won’t drain through the drainage holes.
Cracks on pot :
This actually happens when the plant no longer can even breathe inside the pot for a single moment. The pressure exerted by the tight roots may result in creating cracks on the pot. This is actually seen in earthen pots like clay and not in synthetic ones like plastic. After watering, the clay pots will absorb some water and become a little more brittle than when it is dry.
These are the commonly seen signs of root bound pothos plants. These signs are aggregated based on my personal knowledge and information gathered from credible resources and personal experiences.
It is very unlikely that your pothos plant will show all of these symptoms. Instead, some of them will be shown and be always ready to get your hands dirty. Why? Because fixing root bound pothos will make your hand dirty for sure!
How to fix Root Bound Pothos?
After analyzing your pothos plant for all the symptoms that I mentioned above, if you found that it is root bound, then it’s time to fix it.
Inorder to fix a root bound pothos plant, there are two ways. Since it is a problem inside the soil, you need to uproot the plant from the soil for all the two methods. There are no quick fixes.
So, here are the three ways to fix a root bound pothos plant.
- Repotting in a new pot
- Dividing the roots
Let’s see how these are done.
How to repot Root Bound Pothos?
In short, repotting is the process of transplanting your pothos plant to a new container or pot of another size or same size depending on the condition.
Since root bound is a problem created by space constraints, you should repot it to a pot of larger size. Ideally, you should go with the next sized container but if the root bound is very severe, then you can go up to tow size above your previous pot.
Once you have your new pot and potting media ready, it’s time to repot it safely. Follow the below step-by-step instructions to minimize the root damage during repotting.
Take your pothos plant and turn the pot upside down so that the existing soil will loosen a little bit.
If the soil is not loosening up, use a sterilized knife to run around the edge of the pot.
Step 2 :
Once the plant is taken outside you can see how severe the root bound is. Irrespective of the severity, dip the roots with soil inside lukewarm water.
This step is to loosen the tightly bound roots and soil. Once the soil is wet, it is very easy to get rid of it.
Don’t skip this step because without loose roots it’s very hard to remove old potting soil. Also, many people who have no idea about this repotted without loosening the roots and their plants never grow in the new container. Then they have to repot it again after loosening the roots.
Step 3 :
When the old soil is removed, fill the new pot with fresh fertilized potting media up to ⅓ of the pot height.
After that, plant your pothos inside the new pot and fill up the remaining space in the container with the same fresh potting medium. It is recommended to keep at least a few inches of space at the top for efficient watering purposes.
So, that’s all. You’ve successfully repotted your root bound pothos plant.
After repotting, water your pothos plant so that the new potting media really sets in. Then follow the same pothos care routine to make your plant grow. But remember, the repotted plant will be in a state of shock and stay still for a couple of weeks.
How to divide Root Bound Pothos?
This is actually a lot more harder than simply repotting a root bound pothos plant. In fact, dividing your plant includes the repotting process as well.
Dividing is the procedure done to make multiple small plants from a single parent plant.
So, if you have a root bound pothos plant, then follow the step 1 and step 2 of the repotting guide above.
Once your pothos plant’s root is loosened up, using a sterilized knife or scissors cut the plant in such a way that each cutting has some roots, stem and leaves. It should look like a complete pothos plant, but with a single or two shafts of stem.
Then you can put these mini plants into new pots and follow the normal care routine.
How to prevent Pothos Root Bound?
Since root bound is not a disease, there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Being root bound is just a temporary condition for your plants unless you are not fixing it even after seeing the symptoms.
Preventing root bound in pothos is similar to fixing the issue. All you can do is repot, divide and prune. But here, you do it before your plant is root bound.
If you are providing the standard conditions that majority of the beginner plant parents give, then you should repot your plants every two years.
While repotting, make sure that you are pruning the roots as well so that root bound won’t happen anytime soon.
Root Bound Pothos – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
As I already said, being root bound is one of the most common problems faced by a lot of plant owners. And, this has led to a plethora of questions asked by these people on different forums.
In this section, I will answer some othe most frequently asked questions regarding root bound pothos so that you don’t have to ask these in any other places.
Can pothos recover from root bound?
Yes, pothos plants can recover from root bound if timely action is taken. For example, if you prune, detangle the root and repot the plant in a larger container with proper potting media, then root bound pothos will recover very quickly.
For the first few weeks, you may not see any visible change in terms of growth. You don’t need to panic, because whenever pothos plants undergo massive changes like pruning, repotting, etc it will be in a state of stress for a couple of weeks.
Should I water after repotting my root bound pothos?
Yes, you should water your root bound pothos plant after repotting because watering helps the new soil settle in. Before watering make sure that your root bound pothos plant is healthy in all aspects.
For example, root bound pothos plants are very susceptible to root rot. If your pothos plant’s roots are decaying, then it’s not a good idea to water them until a few days after repotting.
Will root bound pothos die?
The phenomenon of root bound is not really a deadly condition for pothos plants in the beginning stage. But, if it is at a stage when there is no room left for the plant to provide enough nutrients and water, then it results in stunted growth for a while and the plant will die eventually.
How long does it take for root bound pothos to recover?
Recovery time for pothos plants from root bound depends entirely on the severity of root bound and the conditions you provide after the treatment. When you provide an ideal environment for your treated root bound pothos, then you may witness the plant behave like a normal one in 6 to 7 days.
If the root bound was severe and has led to root rot, then it will take at least a few weeks to a month to recover completely after repotting.
So, in this article I’ve shared what is root bound and everything I researched about root bound pothos plants.
And, the most important thing is we’ve had a deeper look into all the symptoms that a pothos plant will show if it’s root bounded.
Now it’s time to spend some quality time with your plant and check for any signs.
If you don’t find anything, then great.
But, if you found some signs, it’s still great. Why, because you at least found the problem sooner than later.
To fix it, either repot your pothos plant or divide based on your preferences. Then, provide the best possible care you can afford so that it will thrive in your home.
- Qu, L., Chen, J., Henny, R.J. et al. Thidiazuron promotes adventitious shoot regeneration from pothos (Epipremnum aureum) leaf and petiole explants. In Vitro Cell.Dev.Biol.
- Yin-Tung Wang, Lori L Gregg, Propagation of Golden Pothos in American Society for Horticultural Science