Repotting 5y/o Pothos

klin03June 5, 2012

I am getting ready to repot my 5 y/o pothos and the task is weighing on me so I'm hoping to get a little advice. I had intended on including pictures but wasn't given the option, but it's a VERY dense plant, still staked on the original stake from when it was purchased 5 years ago. The vines have grown so long, wrapped around the plant at the soil, tied up the stake again, and grown back to the floor. It has been repotted once, from it's original plastic pot, but it was much smaller at that time and the original pot being plastic, it was easy to remove. I have ordered a new moss stake (30" plus a 12" extender) from Mosser Lee and my intentions are to have a tall column of pothos. How should I go about making the move from it's current ceramic container AND replacing it's stake? There's SO much unstructured plant to handle, should I prune it back pretty heavily? I was hoping I could use it's current size to begin to fill up the new stake but I'm anticipating a tangled mess and the cringe-worthy sounds of leaves being snapped from their stems as my 2 and 4 years olds try to "help". Weeeeeee! Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

First, potting up is only going to return the plant a part of the way to it's potential for growth and vitality. Repotting, which includes bare-rooting, root pruning, and a change of soil restores the plant to full potential AND has a rejuvenating effect on the entire plant - especially if it's accompanied by a hard pruning of the top. There are physiological reasons for the rejuvenating effect that I'll explain if you're curious ..... PLUS, a hard pruning would short circuit the angst you're feeling over the possible 'breakage'.

If you're up for a full repot, let me know & I'll walk you through it. If not, you'll get what appears to be a growth spurt after potting up, but it's not really a spurt. Essentially, what's happening is, your plant is growing under the limitations of tight roots presently. Potting up partially relieves the condition and allows the plant to grow a little closer to its potential, but the congestion in the center of the root mass will still be limiting.

Best luck - no matter your course.


    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 4:48PM
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I know this is not going to help, but I do think it sounds like a job for at least 2 ppl. and not the 2&4 yrs old either... (how cute) Sounds like a job tho, would love to see before and after pics of it.

Sorry I can't be of much help here, but I will be keeping up on this thread cuz I "plan" on having a potho that big some day too..

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 4:59PM
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@A1, YES! Please share your knowledge on the physiological reasons for a rejuvenation. I'm a stay-at-home mom of 5 years with a BS in Agronomy and a minor in Horticulture which means nada because I never really put it to use before starting a family so reading and taking care of houseplants is about all I can do to keep a tiny grasp. I truly value learning experiences; even if it's not my own experience! I'm not sure when my new moss stake(s) will get here (I just ordered them today) but if there are any steps I can take while I wait, that would be nice.

@Lamora - I will do my best to get some pics. I don't know if I have to have a certain number of posts under my belt in order to have the privilege of posting photos or what, but I haven't been given the option yet. Maybe I'm doing something wrong.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 6:18PM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

You need a photo hosting site like WebShots or PhotoBucket. Upload photos and go from there.

I posted detailed instructions on each in the African Violet Forum's Gallery.


    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 6:52PM
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Thanks for chiming in, Linda. Working on posting photos now. I thought I'd read somewhere during my registration process that I would be able to add photos to my posts once I clicked "preview", so I've been assuming I'd see some sort of upload tool. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 7:13PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

The antiquated upload facility on these forums only works on initial posts in certain forums. And THEN it makes you shrink your pic down so small nobody can see it. A 3rd party hosting site is far superior and worth a bit of effort. I chose imageshack. Click on pic to go there.

In addition to more sophisticated options and larger pictures, a 3rd party photo hosting site holds all of your pics in one place for YOU to reference later. Very handy & more reliable than memory.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 9:16PM
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    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 9:21PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

We tend to think of the age of plants in the same manner we think of age in humans or animals - chronologically. We, like plants, go through several life stages - embryonic, juvenile, adolescent (intermediate in plants), and mature, are stages roughly mirrored in plants. Where we vary greatly is in the way our cells age. In animals, body cells all mature at approximately the same speed. Plants grow by consecutive divisions of cells at the growing points (meristems), so their various parts are different ages. Chronologically, the tissues at and near the transition from roots to shoots will always be the oldest tissue, but ontogenetically, it will always be the youngest tissue and will retain its juvenile vigor. Which is why when we cut our shrubs back hard to force strong new growth it's called rejuvenation pruning.

Vigor wanes as the distance between newly forming cells and the root to shoot transition increases. That is why the maximum height of trees and other upright plants is limited. If you're happy with the way a plant looks, by all means, enjoy it. If you're unhappy with its appearance, you can usually whack it back and start over - especially if the plant is reasonably healthy. Cutting it back hard both above & below ground can give a tired plant a new lease on life. Ideally, if you decide to cut the plant back hard, you would not prune the top back all the way at the same time you repot/root prune. Leave a good amount of foliage on the plant to make food for the newly forming roots that regenerate after the repot. In 2-3 weeks, after the plant has its feet back under it, finish pruning the top back as hard as you're comfortable with.

Most growers are unnecessarily timid about pruning or manipulating the growth habits of their houseplants - afraid they'll die if they're relieved of a little mass. I was once the same, but some of the radical procedures I regularly perform on trees has taught me that plants in general are survivors. If they have a reasonable amount of stored energy, they will tolerate almost anything in the way of mechanical manipulation.

Can you imagine a maple tree with a 1" thick trunk being split in half from the roots to the top of the plant, making 2 trees from one, and both surviving as though nothing had happened? If you think about it, that is less traumatic than severing a cutting from the parent plant and rooting it. At least the split in two maple had half of its roots. ;-)


    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 9:31PM
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dellis326 (Danny)

Root pruning can do wonders on a plant that seems to be sputtering along not doing much of anything. Another option over at the other end(s) of things is to allow the vines to keep growing. As they get longer the leaves can get larger.

Mature Pothos can grow leaves as large as 3 feet long but generally they will only grow larger if the vines are growing upwards towards light, mimicking the natural growth pattern of growing up a tree. They won't grow like this if they are hanging down or growing across the floor or table. 42" probably isn't tall enough to for much but you might see leaves up to 6" or 8".

    Bookmark   June 5, 2012 at 11:13PM
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Thanks for all of the great information. The leaves at the top of my plant are already over 8" long and that's on a measly 12" stake! I can't imagine leaves larger than that; these are already the largest I've ever seen! The stakes I ordered can be extended in 12" increments, so the possibilities are endless!

So I'm thinking I'll take the plant out into a large, open space and try to untangle my mess, removing the vines from the current stake and lay them out like a green sunshine around it's current pot. I'll do some pruning from there. How/when do I change out the stakes? How to I get it from one pot to the next? As a mass, trimming and loosening the roots? I guess it will be one of those things I'll just have to see as I go...

Once it gets moved and recovers from any shock, I will do any more pruning that it might need. In a plant like this, what is considered a "hard prune" anyway?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 1:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hard pruning is removing a considerable fraction of the foliage or roots. On plants with scaffold branching or vines, you might prune every branch/vine back to 2 or 3 healthy leaves to promote vigorous back-budding and reinvigorate the plant. I guess technically the term should be rejuvenate because vigor is a genetic trait. A plant can be blessed with tremendous genetic vigor and still be wasting away due to poor vitality because it's operating at or beyond the limits imposed by cultural conditions it wasn't programmed to tolerate.

Hard pruning of the canopy of a Ficus in training.

Same tree - VERY hard root pruning, with still more work to be done reducing the large roots next time:

I do have a bittersweet vine that is so vigorous I have to hard prune it several times each growing season to keep it in check. It's another woody plant, but I'll snap a picture if you're interested.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 1:50PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Not to disagree with any of the above, good advice to which I subscribe wholeheartedly... Just something to go next to it.

Pothos and lots of other vine-type plants have an ability and additional option of completely discarding the old soil, root ball and all. If one is in an apartment, has an office plant, or just doesn't really like messing with it, you don't have to for some plants. Just cut off the pieces you like, remove a few of the leaves from the end that was nearest the roots (not the growth tip,) and rebury those ends (preferably 2 nodes each) in the same pot with fresh soil, don't let it completely dry out or stay soggy. The more pieces, the more lush your new plant. Optional: Once the pot is put back together, snip the newest leaf from the growth tips to encourage new stems from the existing vines.

If you observe your plant, you should see a lot of brownish nubs along the stems. With your plants' age, there may be some roots that descend a few inches from the plant into the soil. Pothos readily makes roots along its' stems, at almost every leaf node. It will do this in water, if you'd like to see it or show the kiddies. Just about any piece of Pothos has the potential to start a whole new plant. Any time a piece gets too long, you can snip it off and put the cut end in the soil of the same pot, new pot, or water.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 3:14PM
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I have 2 antique milk bottles that I have used as "vases" for pothos cuttings for years. Those never look amazing, but I love them. They are the centerpiece on our breakfast table :0).

Once I receive my stakes, I'll get going on this project and keep everyone posted! Thanks so much for helping me out.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 4:27PM
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My 5y/o Pothos needs repotting as well. I didn't buy it to begin with, but started it from 2 or 3 cuttings that my coworker gave me. After several years of growing in water, I potted up the cuttings about 18 months ago. Trouble is, it just continues to grow longer at the few growing points-one of the stems is over 10 feet long now-and never gets dense (not that I really expected it to get denser all by itself).

I want to root some more cuttings and try to make the plant fuller, but my question is, should I discard all of the existing potting medium and start fresh? (i.e. After 18 months, is the mix spent?) If so, what type of mix should I use? I repot my African Violets at least twice a year, but I don't know what Pothos' prefer.

Just some background information: I used my very light African Violet mix (basically equal parts peat, perlite, and vermiculite) and a weakly diluted African Violet fertilizer at every watering. Actually, I just treat it like my AVs (except for the repotting part). I also grow it on my light stand with timers set for between 9-12 hours a day, depending on the season. It seems to be healthy and the color is good, but I know it will be much more attractive if it is filled out.

Any advise is welcome. Thank you very much!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 11:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

There are 2 ways to look at 'spent'. One is in the nutritional sense and the other in relation to the soil's structure, more specifically, how well it supports the inclusion of an adequate volume of air.

Nutritionally, whether a soil is 'spent' should be a non consideration. Container soils should be designed around their ability to hold the right amount of air and water - the nutritional aspect is for the grower to contend with, and is actually quite easy to cover with nothing more than one good fertilizer.

As soils age, all of the cellulose in the particles breaks down, leaving nothing but lignin and a few other biocompounds like lipids, that also break down very slowly. The breakdown is accompanied by a reduction in particle size. This CAN be a problem, but isn't always, as roots actually become a part of the structure of the soil. It IS a problem if the fine particles become severely compacted or settle to the bottom of the container and remain saturated for extended periods.

One issue associated with aging soils is often a steady upward creep in pH that can occur from the additives to or dissolved solids in tap water.

The best mix to use is one that you can water properly; that is, that you can water to the point where the soil is entirely saturated and at least 10-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the bottom of the pot when you water. If you can't water in this fashion, it significantly increases the likelihood of problems and that your plant will suffer from some of the several limitations imposed by a poor soil (compaction, saturation/inadequate air, a build-up of salts resultant of improper watering ....).

So it IS better to change the soil when you repot to something that allows you to water correctly.

Prune your plant at will. The more you prune, the fuller it will become. Vines are very apically dominate, with the most effective way of trumping that apical dominance being regular pruning. If you prune every branch with 4 or more leaves back to 2 leaves, your plant will soon be so full you'll be eliminating entire branches to give your plant breathing room ...... and no more mile ling vines, either.


    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 7:50AM
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Well, we made the move today. It was a job but it's planted in its new home. Now I'm so totally overwhelmed by the unstaked plant that I don't even WANT to proceed. Trying to decide how to move forward. I'll post pics a little later tonight.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 9:43PM
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Seeing as you should have some excess plant left over, you should try multiple cuttings in a single pot to get bushier growth. If you cut pieces with about 3 leaf nodes and place them in a plastic bag in warm place they all should sprout. You'll need to rinse the cuttings regularly to prevent mould build up but the new growth should be fairly fast.

I've done this with Philos as well to get an instant full looking pot.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 8:55PM
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