Monstera plants are epiphytes. They put out aerial roots to anchor onto structures. In the wild, aerial roots latch onto trees to climb up so they can access more sunlight, which in turn, lends an assist in photosynthesis.
Left to trail to the ground in the wild, the aerial roots would spread, just like ivy does, along the forest floor until it found something to anchor onto.
Monstera plants are what is known as a vining plant, or a climbing plant. The only way they can do either is by using their aerial roots to spread or climb.
For some Monstera growers, they cannot stomach the look of aerial roots. It does, to an extent, detract from the plant’s aesthetics.
Others though, they love the brown and green color combo and the dual texture of soft velvety leaves with woody air roots protruding from the base. That is, until they become unruly.
When growing Monstera indoors in a potted container, the aerial roots can take over. They continually grow and will eventually need to be tamed.
If you love the look and texture of aerial roots, you can have the best of both. If you loathe the sight of them, you can totally cut them off.
What you do with the aerial roots on your Monstera is entirely a personal choice.
Before you make your decision to keep, train, trim, or cut them, know that you are dealing with a part of the plant that helps it grow.
Do Monstera Plants Need Aerial Roots?
In the wild, yes. Indoors, not so much. Just because they have the word “root” in the name does not mean that you need to care for them in the same way as you would care for the plant’s subterranean roots.
The purpose of aerial roots is very different to standard roots beneath the soil.
Aerial roots serve two vital functions (outdoors):
1 – Anchors
Monsteras are a vining plant. Like all vining plants, they can climb. And you can train your Monstera to climb. That is the first purpose that they serve.
As anchors, the aerial roots will latch onto solid surfaces and begin to climb towards sunlight. The more light the plant gets, the better its growth because light, after all, encourages photosynthesis. Monsteras have a natural tendency to climb.
2 – Nutrient Absorption
The second purpose is to help get more moisture to the plant. The aerial roots absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. It is one of the reasons that these plants prefer high humidity.
The higher the humidity levels, the more moisture the aerial roots can absorb.
4 Options for Dealing with Monstera Aerial Roots
1 – Cut Them Off
Advantage: neater aesthetics.
Disadvantage: Slower growth and smaller sized leaves.
How to Cut Monstera Aerial Roots
When cutting aerial roots, make sure that you only cut the aerial root from the stem without damaging the stem. Each aerial root will be attached a stem. It is the brown woody stalk protruding from the base of the stem.
Using a pair of sterilized sharp scissors, or pruners, make the snip a little bit away from the stem. Get close to the stem, but not so close that your snippers can nick into the stem.
If you damage the stem of the plant, it introduces an entry way for pathogens and bacteria to enter, risking disease that could see your Monstera wilting and dying shortly after cutting the aerial root off.
What you are looking to do is cut back the aerial root to the point that only a tiny stub remains.
One important consideration to keep in mind before you take a pair of pruners or scissors to any part of the plant is that the aerial roots are a part of the Monstera that assists its survival.
They ought to be pruned with the same degree of care as you would take when pruning any plant.
The rule for pruning is to never cut off more than one third at a time.
The reason being that the more aerial roots that are removed, the less moisture and oxygen the plant can get.
If, for example, your Monstera plant has an abundance of aerial roots, cutting them all off is likely to result in shock. It will instantly cut off a lot of the nutrients that the plant has become accustomed to getting.
For Monstera plant care indoors, the aerial roots are not a necessity, provided you cut them off before the plant develops a tendency to rely on them for moisture and oxygen. The best time to start removing the aerial roots is as soon as they start to develop.
2 – Bury Them in Soil
Advantage: Neater aesthetics while still increasing the water absorption from the soil.
Disadvantage: More frequent repotting required because the roots will crowd the pot.
Aerial roots can be planted in soil to hide them. By allowing the aerial roots of a Monstera to grow into the soil, they effectively become aerial-subterranean roots.
Still, not your standard plant roots but they will still absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil and transport those to the leaves.
Once in the soil, the aerial roots will continue to grow. The more the aerial roots fill the pot, the less aeration there will be in the soil. The lack of aeration leads to Monstera leaves curling, then eventually, the roots crowd the pot.
At that point, the plant will stop growing because of a lack of oxygen/aeration in the root system. Once you notice your Monstera not growing, it will definitely be time to repot it in a larger container.
3 – Let It Climb
Advantage: Taller plant that is able to grow the largest Monstera leaves.
Disadvantage: Increased maintenance.
How to Train Your Monstera to Climb Up a Moss Pole
As the primary purpose of aerial roots are to anchor onto solid surfaces to help the plant climb, why not give them what they were naturally intended to do? Let your Monstera climb!
All you need to do for this is add a moss pole into your container. Preferably before a monstrous number of air roots develop. The earlier you add a moss pole, the sooner the aerial roots can anchor. That will happen very soon after they sprout from the stem.
The advantage of training a Monstera to climb a moss pole is extra moisture and nutrients can then be absorbed. It gives the plant the absolute best chance of growing bigger leaves and it is among the best ways to make a Monstera bushier. Just remember that the taller the plant gets, the heavier it will become.
There will come a point when you have to halt the climbing behavior of Monsteras indoors. Until your Monstera reaches that stage, a moss pole can be used to support the plant’s growth.
The more aerial roots are anchored to the pole, the more nutrients from the air it can get and then feed all those into the plant to help it grow bigger and faster.
The drawback is that there will be more maintenance required.
Installing a moss pole is as easy as staking it, then using garden tape or something similarly stretchy to secure the stem to the pole.
But then, you need to keep the pole moist, ensure new leaf nodes are secured as close to the pole as possible so that when the aerial root does appear, it anchors as soon as possible.
All the while, the moss pole will need to be monitored for algae. It is one of the most frequently complained about issue with moss poles and it happens because they are kept constantly moist. It makes them prone to developing algae and that needs to be managed.
Like the idea of letting your Monstera climb, but not on a moss pole?
Many things can be used to help Monsteras climb. It doesn’t need to be a moss pole. It just needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the plant, yet not too heavy that it risks the pot tumbling.
Alternatives to moss poles include a decent sized natural wood stick, bamboo stakes, jute or coir poles, or just use a trellis.
The superior option is to use a stick of natural wood because in the wild, these would naturally anchor on trees.
4 – Submerge Them in Water (Or Your Fish Tank!)
Advantage: Less frequent watering.
Disadvantage: Once you start, you need to keep it up.
Aerial roots can be kept in water, but once you start, you really cannot stop. The plant will become accustomed to having a high concentration of water.
What happens when aerial roots are submerged in water is it increases the turgor pressure in the plant cells. Leaves filled with water open their stomata, increasing photosynthesis.
In that respect, submerging aerial roots in water does what you would expect. Increase turgidity, in turn, the plant stands upright and is rigid. The aerial roots are constantly feeding water to the plant.
However, when you take the aerial roots out of the water, the turgor pressure is going to drop rapidly. Cells shrink, and the result of that is wilting.
If you do decide that you want to use the aerial roots to keep the plant watered, without having to water it as frequently, you can. But, you will need to keep doing it, and keep replenishing the jar of water the aerial roots are submerged in.
There is a caveat and that is the issue of guttation. Given that the aerial roots will be consistently delivering a high volume of water, if it becomes too much, you may notice water dripping from Monstera leaves.
There is one other convenient way that you can use the higher turgor pressure to your advantage, and that is with aquaponics.
Rather than using a jar of water to submerge the aerial roots in, let them trail into a fish tank. As they are roots, the plant gets the benefit of additional nutrients from the fertilizer (fish waste), and you get the convenience of less frequently cleaning the aquarium.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.