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How to Grow Pothos, an Easy to Grow Houseplant

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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My pothos is the toughest, more durable houseplant that I have ever grown. It doesn’t get enough light. I over water it. It hasn’t been repotted in years. And yet it just keeps growing and growing.

What is Pothos?

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a tropical vine that is native to the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific. Thanks to European colonization, it has spread all over the world, becoming an invasive species in many tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. It has acquired various nicknames including golden pothos, Solomon’s Islands ivy and, most appropriately, devil’s vine or devil’s ivy because it is nearly impossible to kill.

When grown outdoors, the vines can reach 66 feet in length with stems that can be 2 inches in diameter. Indoors, the vines grow 20 to 40 feet long. They are fast growing, often adding between 12 and 18 inches length each month.

The vines climb using aerial roots which means they are roots that don’t need soil. Instead they cling to the surrounding trees in the wild or whatever support that is provided indoors.

The leaves are heart shaped and often sport variegations of white, yellow or light green. In the wild, mature leaves can grow to 39 inches long and 18 inches wide. Indoors, they are more likely to be less than 8 inches long.

You will not see any flowers on this vine when grown as a houseplant because of a genetic impairment. You can try to induce flowering by adding hormonal supplements to the soil. When it flowers in the wild, the flowers grow on a 9 inch spathe. The resulting fruit is orange and is covered by green scales.

Pothos fruit

Pothos fruit

Is Pothos Poisonous?

Pet owners should not grow this plant in their homes. It is poisonous for both cats and dogs. All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate which are microscopic crystals. If the plant is eaten or even chewed on by a curious pet (or child), the microscopic crystals will irritate the mouth, throat and intestinal tract, causing vomiting and difficulty swallowing due to swelling.

Pothos is mildly toxic for us too. If you chew on or eat the plant, the calcium oxalate will cause a burning sensation and swelling in your mouth and even around your mouth. Always wear gloves when handling this plant because the sap can irritate your skin.

Pothos is very invasive.  It crowds out native plants by covering the ground and the trees.

Pothos is very invasive. It crowds out native plants by covering the ground and the trees.

Do Not Grow Pothos Outdoors

If you live in a tropical or sub-tropical region, it is not recommended that you grow pothos outdoors in the ground outside of its natural range because of its invasive properties. Without its natural enemies to keep it in check, it will quickly cover the ground and climb trees, crowding out the native plants.

How to Grow Pothos as a Houseplant

Pothos is easy to grow as a houseplant. It prefers bright, indirect light but will also grow in low light or even under fluorescent lights. This is why you often see it grown in offices and shopping malls where there is little natural light. It also a good plant to grow in apartments and college dormitories where there is not a lot of natural light.

If the leaves on your plant are losing their variegation, that means that it is not getting enough light. Either move the plant to a sunnier spot or add some fluorescent lights.

You can grow your pothos in regular potting soil formulated for houseplants. Just make sure that the pot you use has a drainage hole. The plants don't like wet soil, so drainage is important. Allow the soil to dry out a little between waterings so that the top of the soil feels dry.

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The rapid growth on your vine means that it will quickly outgrow it spot. You should plan on repotting it every two years.

Fertilize your plant every other month using a fertilizer formulated for houseplants. Stop fertilizing during the winter months when growth on your vine slows down.

Pothos growing in an office under flourescent lights.

Pothos growing in an office under flourescent lights.

How to Prune Pothos

Probably the most difficult part of growing pothos is wrangling the long vines. You will need to periodically untangle the vines. Remember, they grow very quickly. You can make your life easier by pruning your vines to keep them a manageable length. You decide which length works best for you.

If your vines become hopelessly tangled and you just want to start all over again, you can prune them back to 2 inches from the top of the soil. Don’t worry, they will grow back in no time.

How to Propagate Pothos Using Stem Cuttings

During the growing season in the spring or summer, make a cutting from one of your vines that has at least three leaves. Make the cutting 1/2-inch or 1 inch below the bottom leaf.

Try not to make cutting too long or it will flop over and the stem will come out of the soil before it has a chance to grow roots.

Remove the bottom leaf. This is where the roots will grow. You can dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone if you wish but it’s not necessary. Then gently press the cutting into pre-moistened potting soil in a pot with a drainage hole. Place the pot where it will get indirect light.

You can use regular potting soil that is formulated for houseplants. I like to water it before I plant my cuttings because I have found that if I water the soil after I have added the cutting, the cutting either floats away or the soil shrinks so much that the bottom of the cutting is exposed.

Usually gardeners will root multiple stems in one pot because one vine in a pot looks kind of sparse. Try three or four cuttings to make the pot look fuller.

You will know that your cutting(s) have rooted when you see new leaves. Plants without roots cannot grow new leaves.

Aerial roots growing from pothos vines.

Aerial roots growing from pothos vines.

How to Propagate Pothos Using Air Layering

Air layering is almost as easy as stem cuttings. During the growing season in the spring and summer, choose a vine or more than one vine if you like and look for aerial roots. Wrap some damp moss around those roots and then wrap the damp moss in plastic wrap, gently taping it to the vine, to keep it moist.

In one to two weeks, you will see the aerial roots growing through the moss. Cut your vine below the plastic wrap. Then carefully unwrap the plastic and the moss and plant your new vine in a pot filled with pre-moistened potting soil that is formulated for houseplants.

I water the potting soil before I plant my new vine because if I water it after planting, the soil very often shrinks so much that the new tender roots are exposed which can kill them.

© 2021 Caren White

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