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Plant nurseries get the inexperienced plant lovers every time with the pothos plant. Never to tell you how to make a pothos fuller, or how to keep your pothos bushy. They sell the big gorgeous and plump pothos without the instructions to keep it that way.
The biggest misconception is that you’re actually working with one plant. Most bushy pothos plants are actually assembled using possibly hundreds of cuttings to give it a bushy appearance.
If you’re finding yourself with a leggy pothos that’s full of straggly vines without much to look at, there’s a few things you can try to reinvent your pothos, make it fuller and keep it healthier looking for longer.
Start with the Right Size of Container
Rather than asking how to make a pothos fuller, consider if it has sufficient space to actually grow. Chances are, if you haven’t repotted your pothos plant in a couple of years, it’s likely outgrown its container. You can only know if it needs to be sized up by inspecting the root of the plant.
Take the plant out of its container and check to see if it’s become root bound. This image posted by a concerned Reddit user shows exactly why you need to be repotting pothos plants to prevent them from becoming root bound.
If it looks like the roots are tightly wound, repot it. When you do, take your time to gently separate the roots. They don’t mind being a little close, but if the roots are compact for too long, it will have a detrimental effect on the plant’s growth.
Encourage bushier growth by increasing the space between the roots so that air flow is increased throughout the soil.
In terms of the soil that’s best used with potted pothos, lean toward a soil that’s slightly acidic with a pH value of 6.1 to 6.5. Acidic soils are faster draining.
If you find your soil is alkaline, or at least too alkaline to be suitable for a pothos plant, you can acidify soil by mixing in sphagnum peat, aluminum or iron sulfate, elemental sulfur, or apply a few inches of organic mulch over the top layer of the soil.
When you need to increase the size of your pot, go up by around 1.5” and start with the soil filled to two-thirds capacity.
Filling Out a Pot with Propagated Pothos
Propagated pothos are how the nurseries create the demand for big and bushy pothos plants. They look gorgeous for a little while, then become straggly the longer they’re neglected.
When you see the bushy potted pothos in a nursery, they’re actually a combination of multiple cuttings, planted in a compact way in a suitably sized container.
The advantage nurseries have is they have plenty of cuttings to make bushy foliage arrangements. The problem is that they don’t give you the instructions to keep you your plant looking as bushy as it did on the day you brought it home.
Pruning is a big part of it, but eventually, some leaves and vines will need to go when they become too viney. The vines you remove need to be filled in and that’s the part where propagation comes in. The process is essentially cloning the roots of the plant and there is a knack to it.
Water propagation is the fastest way to clone the roots of a pothos. Test tubes are all you need, but you can get some propagation stations that can form part of an indoor plant display too.
It is kind of a science experiment because not every cutting you try to propagate will be successful. You’ll rarely have a 100% success rate so the more cuttings you have the better.
To have the highest success rate, the plant needs to be cut carefully, paying close attention to the parts of the leaves you’re keeping. The only part of the stem you need is the part around a leaf node.
When you’re pruning your plant with the objective being to find parts suitable for propagating, look for leaves with an eye on the stem close to the leaf and cut around it.
By cutting above and below the leaf node, you’ll be able to snip off a small part of stem with a tiny eye on it that’ll be used for drinking, then the bottom is where the root will shoot out from.
It takes a couple of weeks for a pothos to be propagated in water. The ideal conditions for growth is around 80oF, and with a good degree of partial sunlight.
Water propagation of pothos is the easy part. The tricky part is transplanting new roots grown in water into soil because it’s a different growing climate.
When you’re propagating these, pay attention to the size of the root growth because you want to get them transplanted into soil as soon as possible. The longer the roots are in water, the more likely it is they’ll struggle to adapt to soil. That can lead to transplant shock.
To help the process along, you can use a little sprinkling of mycorrhizae inoculant to help the roots adapt to the soil while reducing the risk of transplant shock too. To use it, sprinkle some into the soil first, plant your root cutting, fill in the soil and water it in.
Think of the propagated cuttings as pot fillers. It’s the cuttings that help increase the foliage. The more leaves you have, the more you have to prune and the more you prune, the bushier the leaves grow back.
A big and bushy pothos plant is rarely a single plant. More often, it’s a construction project involving potentially hundreds of pothos cuttings planted compactly in a single container to give the appearance of a bushy plant.
Take advantage of that knowledge and you can create your own unique pothos plant with a variety of species. There’s nine different types of pothos, each having the same care needs so if you like more than one variety, combine them for something unique.
The Ultimate Need to Prune Pothos Plants
Never be afraid to prune your pothos. They can tolerate a heavy pruning so if yours has been neglected to the extent it’s full of leggy vines, go heavy on the pruning because remember, pothos grow fast anyway.
If you have yours growing indoors in containers, you can prune them any time of the year. Do it today, or schedule it for tomorrow or this weekend. Just make it a point to cut it back!
For really leggy pothos, don’t go nuts by snipping any and every leaf node. Methodically prune your plant by starting with the leafless vines as those are most-likely redundant. For vines with no leaves, remove them completely.
For leggy stems with leaves, snip them with sharp pruning shears about a quarter inch above the leaf. Depending on how leggy your plant is, you may want to go super heavy by cutting your pothos back to just a couple of inches above the base soil layer to encourage entirely new leaf growth.
Each cut you make on the stem on the pothos encourages it to send out new growth. Provided you’re using the right soil type, you should start to see new growth establish that’s bushier and healthier looking fairly quickly.
As the new foliage grows in, continue to pinch it back. The more you pinch the stems back as they grow in encourages the stems to grow compactly, resulting in a far bushier plant. Once you’re done pruning, water the plant until the soil is moist.
Depending on how heavy you pinch back your pothos, you may need to water it more frequently to keep the soil moist. After a heavy pruning, pothos will go into somewhat of a recovery phase where the plant will drink more so if you do go heavy on the pruning, you may need to give it more to drink to prevent drought stress.
The Types of Fertilizers to Use with Pothos and When
Balanced fertilizers are generally suited to perfectly healthy plants. When they’re struggling in any department, be it with photosynthesis, chlorosis, or growing in leggy, altering the fertilizer you use can be effective and faster.
For example, if you notice your plant is lacking its usual vibrant green leaves, you could opt for a richer nitrogen source as that’s what encourages photosynthesis.
To encourage bushier growth, an increase in phosphorus can also be beneficial as that’s also used by plants to stimulate photosynthesis. Potassium is more suited to regulate water in plant feeding rather than having an effect on how the plant stores and uses nutrients in the soil.
To treat a leggy pothos plant, try switching from a balanced fertilizer to one that’s richer in nitrogen and phosphorous with a lower amount of potassium, such as 10-10-5 for a few feeds.
Then, monitor the soil pH and keep a watchful eye for leaf droop as the lower amount of potassium could affect how much water the plant soaks up from the soil.
It may need to be watered more frequently, but this wouldn’t be a long-term solution. One study into the effect of potassium on pothos growth found that pothos can sustain growth with reduced potassium for up to three months before it becomes detrimental.
For that reason, it’d only be suited to a pothos plant struggling to get the right nutrients from the soil.
If you find there is better growth with a reduced potassium fertilizer, consider it an indicator of the wrong soil type and correct that with a better draining soil, then return to a balanced fertilizer feed.