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Propagating pothos is an easy task for the experienced houseplant enthusiast, but it can be daunting to try if it’s your first time dealing with propagation.
In this article from HerbSpeak, you’ll learn how to propagate pothos easily and efficiently, along with several answers to common questions.
How to Propagate Pothos
For first-time pothos propagators, it’s important to first consider the health of the plant before you start snipping.
Is your pothos thriving, or is it just barely holding on?
Cuttings – snips of the plant tissue for propagation – should ideally only be taken from healthy plants.
When it comes to plant health, you might be thinking about houseplant diseases and pests. While it is ideal to take cuttings from healthy pothos plants that are not afflicted by these factors, propagation may also be used as a last-ditch effort to save a portion of the plant.
If you are taking a cutting of a plant to save it, make certain to keep it quarantined from other houseplants as it propagates until you can be sure it is free of the disease or pest.
In pest and disease-free plants, however, there are other factors that we must look at to determine if taking a cutting is safe for the overall health of both the parent plant and the resulting cutting:
- Growth Habit
Even though plants are indoors, fluctuations in indoor temperature and humidity can influence their growing habits. This usually follows the seasons, though changes won’t be as drastic as it is for outdoor plants. (1)
Indoor plants, especially flowering varieties, are sensitive to drafts […] foliage indoor plants grow best between 70° and 80°F during the day and from 60° to 68°F at night […] Protect them from sudden, brief changes in temperature. Do not locate your indoor plants near heat or air conditioning sources.
If your home has lower temperatures, chances are, you’ve noticed your pothos’ growth slowing down. Likewise, moderately warm temperatures under 80ºF with moderately high humidity will bring this houseplant closer to its natural environment, encouraging growth.
It is common for the average home to fluctuate 10ºF or so during season changes – and the local temperature may fluctuate with season changes more so if your plant is near a window.
If your plant is not getting adequate lighting, it may start showing signs of slow growth, yellowing leaves, or otherwise have a sickly appearance.
This is because the leaves need to photosynthesize to manufacture nutrients and turn light into glucose, starch, and other supportive tissues which then get transported to growing areas of the plant. Adequate photosynthesis also helps the plant absorb nutrients and minerals from the soil.
Plant growth will slow with inadequate soil nutrition. Necessary minerals and nutrient ratios vary for different types of plants, but pothos will do well with a balanced tropical houseplant fertilizer lightly on a semi-regular basis.
- Soil Type and Density
Too many nutrients and poor absorption are both problems that could cause a plant to suffer; if your pothos is suffering from lack of nutrients while on a regular fertilization schedule, the soil could be the wrong type or too dense for the roots to adequately absorb the nutrients.
While many houseplant enthusiasts have workarounds, personal preferences, and home techniques they swear by. You can experiment with all kinds of techniques and see which one works best for you. At minimum, however, these are the recommended propagation supplies:
- A pair of small pruning shears, scissors, or a sharp knife
- Isopropyl / rubbing alcohol (to sanitize blades)
- Short jar or vase (for water propagation)
- Small pot or container and potting mix (for soil propagation)
You can get almost all of this for free at home, but if you want specialty equipment, there are plenty of beautiful jars, vases and snippers you can get like those listed below:
How to Take a Stem Cutting
Before you take a stem cutting, wipe down your cutting or slicing tool of choice with isopropyl alcohol. This will ensure that no foreign bacteria from plants, cardboard, or food latch onto the freshly cut plant tissue. If the cutting is infected, it could cause problems for your propagation attempt.
Once you’re ready to take a stem cutting, locate a stem on the parent plant that has several nodes on it. Ideally, you should be able to find a stem that has at least four leaves on it, between 4-6” in length.
With a sharp knife or pair of scissors, cleanly snip the stem in a single cut and remove the leaf closest to the cut end. This will give you at least an inch or so of room along the stem without worrying about rot.
This is called a cutting. Once you have your fresh cutting, you’re ready to begin propagation in either water or soil.
Should I Use Rooting Hormone?
You can add rooting hormone, but it isn’t necessary. Pothos is typically able to root very easily, making the addition of rooting hormone unnecessary.
This hormone can, however, yield better results for plants that are difficult to root or may need assistance due to poor health prior to propagation.
Rooting in Water
Optionally dip your freshly-snipped stems in rooting hormone, then place in the jar, ensuring the leaves stay clear of the water level.
Your propagation water should be free from chlorine or heavy metals; since the plant has an open wound and is recovering from the snip, it will be more sensitive. If possible, distilled water works best, but you can also use aquarium water, or tap water that has sat out for 24 hours.
When learning how to propagate pothos in water, it’s important to schedule your water changes. Weekly is best, two weeks at most.
The reason for this is that water loses oxygen, and just like in soil, plant roots need oxygen to survive. If the soil is too compact – or if the water is deoxygenated – they won’t be able to absorb nutrients very well.
Use a few drops of quality liquid fertilizer with your water changes to ensure the plant has plenty of nutrients to thrive and continue growing. Since they are not growing from seeds, they do not have the starter nutrients that a newborn sprout would have.
If you see algae on the glass, take the pothos out and wash the jar. Rinse and dry thoroughly to remove any soap residue before placing the plant back with lightly-fertilized water.
Rooting in Soil
Ensure you have a loose, semi-water retaining soil when rooting your pothos. The goal is to keep the soil loose – so that it doesn’t compact the roots – as well as retain enough water to balance the moisture around the roots, so that it doesn’t dry out or become waterlogged.
An easy recipe for this is:
- 1/3 quality potting mix
- 1/3 sphagnum moss, crumbled
- 1/3 fine perlite
The sphagnum moss will retain water, so you won’t need to water it too frequently yourself.
Keep the roots out of direct sunlight. Bright, indirect sunlight is best. Roots should develop within one month, and anywhere from 4-8 weeks later they should be within the optimal root length to transplant to a new pot or thin out.
How to Know When Your Rooted Pothos Are Ready to Pot
You’ll know when your rooted pothos are ready to pot in soil when they have roots between 2-4 inches in length.
These roots are established and should be transferred to soil as soon as possible for the healthiest and least shocking transplant.
Assuming you are propagating in water, you can absolutely leave these roots in water with regular water changes for a few months, letting the roots grow and become much longer, but the transition to soil will need to be elongated to prevent shock. The roots will also be more fragile when they are longer, so be careful when handling them.
If you do leave the plant rooting in water for longer periods, you can add a very light supplementation of fertilizer to the water to keep it healthy and supplied with the necessary nutrients that would otherwise be present in soil.
Transferring Pothos from Water to Soil
In general, this plant does best if it is propagated in the growing medium that it will survive in for the rest of its life, and it can be difficult to get it to adjust properly without putting the plant into shock.
Not to say it is impossible, or even difficult – water rooting pothos is an incredibly popular method of propagation – just know that you’ll have to be gentle with the plant while it adjusts to soil and it may start off slow until the roots are established in the new medium.
To properly transfer pothos from water to soil while minimizing shock, follow these steps:
- Wait until the roots are 3-4” in length.
- Place your soil in a pot with drainage holes
- Take the established pothos cutting from water and rinse it with new dechlorinated or distilled water
- Place the cutting roots-down into the new pot and, while gently holding the stem, cover the roots and first inch of stem with soil.
- Water thoroughly until the soil is soaked, then allow to dry out before initiating a regular care routine.
Remember that plants only need 1-3” of space between their roots and the pot rim. Too much space will cause the plant to dedicate more growing energy to its roots in an attempt to fill the space and find more nutrients – especially with improper soil type or nutrition – rather than its leaves.
Pothos Propagation FAQ:
There are plenty of questions around pothos propagation that go beyond “how to do it” which is exactly what we’ll address in the following section.
If you have any Q&A pieces you’d like to see added to the list, leave a comment at the end of this article!
When Should I Propagate Pothos?
Typically, propagation should be done in the plant’s active growing season. Cold weather or conditions can inhibit how quickly the plant grows.
Only propagate pothos that has been allowed to grow enough so that your cutting does not take more than a fourth of the plant’s total tissue.
When Will Roots Start to Emerge?
Assuming propagation is successful, roots will begin to form from the node tissue at around the 2-week mark. If roots have not yet formed, ensure the stem still contains healthy, green, and somewhat moist tissue.
Tissue that has rotted and turned black should be removed and the rooting process attempted again in drier conditions. Tissue that is dry and sickly-looking should be cut and the rooting process attempted again in moister conditions.
When are Cuttings Ready to Plant?
Typically, pothos cuttings will be ready to plant once there is about 6 weeks-worth of root growth.
Ideally, this will be the same timeline for when side branches will begin forming in the roots, which is a sign of healthy root development and spread.
If your growing conditions are optimized and the plant is outgrowing its container, or roots have reached several inches in length and have begun branching, you can start transferring the plant to soil earlier than 6 weeks.
Can You Propagate Pothos Without a Node?
No, pothos must contain a healthy portion of stem tissue that includes an axillary node, as this is where new shoots and roots will grow from.
This often means that leaves that have fallen off on their own will not grow, as the abscission layer has been created and the plant tissue is no longer considered active or healthy.
How Do You Keep a Pothos From Getting Leggy?
It is possible to keep pothos from getting “leggy” or elongated by pruning it. While you are caring for pothos, remember there is no need to prune it, however, this will encourage more “bushy” growth.
A lack of light may also encourage leggy growth, a symptom of phototropism. This is often characterized by weak or frail leaves getting paler or falling off easily. In variegated varieties, you may notice a lot of the lighter coloration disappearing for leaves as it attempts to compensate for the lack of light.
How Long Does a Pothos Plant Live?
The standard accepted lifespan of a single pothos plant is 10 years if it is kept healthy. Many cultivated plants have lived much longer than that in the right conditions.
Many houseplants seem to live indefinitely, but this is often due to healthy spread of roots and consistent leaf regrowth. Old leaves and stems may still yellow and wither on a healthy plant.
Can I Put Pothos Cuttings Directly in Soil?
Yes, you can propagate pothos directly in soil. Propagations should be allowed to grow in their chosen medium until the roots are larger; at least a few inches long. Only then can they be slowly transferred to another growing medium.
Transitioning from one medium to another too early in root growth may shock the roots, resulting in stalled growth of a decline in the plant’s health.
Can I Propagate Pothos From One Leaf?
Some plants can be propagated vegetatively, meaning one leaf – or significant amounts of healthy tissue – can grow roots. Unfortunately, not all plants can change veins into root cells without axillary buds found in the stem tissue.
In pothos, or Epipremnum spp., you cannot propagate straight from the leaf. You must include some stem tissue for a successful propagation.