Pothos plants, or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum), are resilient and one of the easiest houseplants, but they do need to be repotted every one to three years. As the plants grow, so do their roots, and they need a larger area for the new roots to expand into.
Different varieties of Pothos will grow at different rates. Golden Pothos and all-green varieties will typically grow faster than highly variegated ones, like N’ Joy, Glacier, and Snow Queen. But no matter the growth rate, all Pothos varieties will need to be repotted when they begin to outgrow their pots and before problems develop.
If you give your plant a new home regularly, you may be able to fix or prevent the following three problems that can happen to your Pothos when repotting is overdue.
When It’s Time For Repotting Pothos: 3 Signs
1.) The Plant Is Root-bound
As roots grow within a pot, they spread out, searching for minerals and water to absorb. With time, the roots take up more and more space within the pot and become crowded, limiting the amount of nutrients and water they can access.
When this happens, the plant has become root-bound, aka pot-bound, and it can affect the plant’s growth and well-being. That’s why it’s important to repot before it gets to this point.
How to tell if your plant is root-bound
The plant is root-bound if roots are growing out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, if there is a thick network of roots within the soil, and if the roots are circling the inside of the pot. Its leaves can become droopy and yellow, and its growth can slow down.
Root-bound plants need a larger pot and fresh soil for better root growth and access to nutrition and water.
The first thing to do is to untangle the root ball as much as possible. Gently pry the roots loose and shake off the soil.
You can trim the longest roots to about three-quarters of their size, then repot the plant in a pot one size larger than the current one in fresh potting mix following the steps below.
2.) The Soil Is Compacted
Another problem you may encounter is that the soil can become compacted, keeping it from having access to water or aeration.
Some types of soil can dry out too much and become hydrophobic and repel water. Potting mix with a high peat content is good for drainage and air circulation, but if it dries out completely, it can become hydrophobic.
How to tell if the soil is compacted
The soil is compacted if it becomes hard and it pulls away from the sides of the pot, and water runs over the top of the soil and down the inside of the pot without wetting the soil.
Plants with compacted soil will always need fresh potting mix and may or may not need a larger pot, but you will need to soften the soil first to safely remove the plant and repot it.
How to fix compacted soil
Take the plant out of its pot and set it in a container of tepid water, completely covering the root ball. Gradually, the water will penetrate and loosen the soil.
After it’s soft and crumbly, gently tease the soil away from the roots with chopsticks or another tool, being careful to damage as few roots as possible. Then go ahead and repot your plant in well-draining soil following the steps below.
3.) Pests and Diseases
If the soil has been infested with insects or has root rot, your plant needs to be treated and repotted in fresh soil. You may or may not need a larger pot in this case.
What insects might be infesting your potting soil
Small insects flying around the plants, or up from the soil when the plant is jostled, are fungus gnats, the most common pests of potting soil.
Adult fungus gnats lay their eggs in the top layer of soil, and when their larvae hatch, they feed on the plant’s roots, damaging the plant. The larvae mature into flying adults that emerge from the soil, and the cycle starts again.
Unsterilized, commercial potting mix can often have fungus gnat eggs, and you may want to either treat the problem or completely change the soil.
Treating the soil
If you have recently repotted your Pothos and you discover fungus gnats, you may want to treat the soil rather than repot again. There are several things you can do.
Since the eggs and the larvae are in the soil, you can water the plant with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water that will kill the eggs and larvae and provide oxygen to the soil.
Mix 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 4 parts water and pour it through the soil. You may need to repeat this treatment the next time or two you water to completely rid the soil of the pests.
Next, you’ll need to use sticky traps in the soil or an attractant light to trap the adult gnats and keep them from laying eggs back in the soil.
Alternatively, some people like to use a dilute Neem oil drench on the soil per package instructions that will kill the eggs and the larvae.
A good preventive measure that works for all potted plants is to bottom water. It provides water for the roots but keeps the top of the soil dry and prevents fungus gnats from breeding.
Set the pot in a tray of water for an hour and allow the soil to soak the water up through the root ball but not to the top of the soil.
You may see other pests of houseplants, such as mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, and thrips wandering around the soil, but they live and feed on the stems and foliage, and need to be treated separately from fungus gnats.
How to tell if your plant has root rot
If your plant is droopy and on the verge of dying, it may have a case of root rot. This fungus disease usually comes from overwatering the plant when the soil cannot dry out, and no air can get to the roots.
Tip the pot on its side and gently remove the soil ball. Tease apart the roots with chopsticks or a fork and shake or wash off the soil to get a clear look at the roots. Healthy roots should be firm and white, but rotted roots will be black and have a foul smell.
Trim off any rotted roots with clean scissors or shears and treat the remaining roots with a fungicide or a solution of 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide to 4 parts water to prevent reinfection.
Plants with bugs and/or root rot will need repotting with fresh soil and may or may not need a larger pot.
How to Repot Pothos Plants Like a Pro: 8 Steps
Repotting pothos is necessary when a healthy plant needs more root space, and also to fix the problems of a root-bound pot, compacted soil, fungus gnats, or root rot.
After you follow these steps and repot, your plant will need some time to recover from transplant shock. It may take a couple of weeks, but then your plant will resume its regular growth.
Remember that when you’re repotting a plant that has outgrown its current pot or is root-bound, only use a pot that is one or two sizes larger than your current pot.
A bigger pot will hold more soil and will also hold more water and dry out more slowly. A pot that is too big may supply more moisture than your Pothos can handle.
8 Steps: How to Repot Pothos Plant
1) If your plant is root-bound or has compacted soil, take care of those problems first as mentioned above before repotting.
2) Prepare the new pot, which should only be one or two sizes larger than the current pot.
3) Pour some potting soil mixed with perlite, peat moss, compost, or cocoa coir into the bottom third of the pot.
4) Take your plant with its root ball out of its current pot and loosen the soil so the roots can expand.
5) Place the plant in the pot and fill it in with more soil mix around the root ball.
6) Press it down so that the plant is stable in the soil.
7) Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil per instructions or to the water.
8) Water it thoroughly until it runs out of the drainage holes and empty any excess water out of the dish underneath the pot.
Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.