Ever since building a landscaping company in Canada, I’ve wanted a way to bring plants inside my house in quantity. I’ve seen this specific plant before, but I never knew it was called a Pothos. I have a few actually. I’ve propagated them before, but I wanted to get a little bit more technical. I’m looking into different methods and rounding out my knowledge on some of the finer points.
There are some great articles spread out across the internet covering different aspects of golden pothos propagation. I put together a review of the state of the art (if you can call it that). Here’s the quick answer:
The simplest most reliable method for propagating Pothos is cuttings: cut a stem section with at least 1 leaf and 1 node. Keep the cuttings moist by immersing the stem and node(s) in water or moist soil. Keep under filtered or indirect sunlight. If rooting in water, plant in soil after ½ inch of roots appear (2-4 weeks) to ease the transition.
Pothos make an incredible living wall plant. They’re easy to grow, fill out nicely, and are really hardy and decently pest resistant. Propagating pothos can be a great way to turn one into many. If you’re thinking about making your own living wall, it’s a great way to reduce costs and it’s kind of a fun quasi-experiment.
What is this Pothos we’re talking about?
Pothos or Golden Pothos is arguably the most common houseplant, and goes by many names. The latin or scientific name is Epipremnum Aureum. This means it’s actually from the genus Epipremnum, not Pothos! The name is vestigial, from a time when the plant was in the Pothos genus. The Pothos genus was a bit of a catch-all for vines in the 1800’s.
From Wikipedia: this plant has many common names including Golden Pothos, Ceylon creeper, Hunter’s Robe, Ivy Arum, Money Plant, Silver Vine, Solomon Islands Ivy, Taro vine, Devil’s Ivy, Devil’s vine.
Propagation is the process of creating new plants. There are two flavors of propagation, and both occur in certain situations in the wild.
Sexual propagation is is when pollen and egg from two parents combine genes to create a new unique plant. Sexual plant propagation involves the floral structures in a plant. This ia very common form of plant reproduction in nature. Sexual reproduction is necessary for evolution, which is a huge benefit in the long term, especially for plants, because they can’t relocate themselves.
- Pros: often cheaper, easily scalable (think outdoor farming), genetic diversity and hybrid vigor, can avoid disease transmission
- Cons: Pothos doesn’t really flower on its own indoors. It requires artificial hormone supplements for this. This might be because the plants we’re growing in our houses are actually a minor shadow of what they’re capable of in nature. They generally don’t reach their natural scale indoors, which could be a necessary condition for flowering.
Asexual pothos propagation
But in the short term, especially for Pothos, asexual propagation can be a quick shortcut. Asexual propagation is when a plant splits into two or more plants with the same genetics. Each part regenerates into a full plant if it survives. Asexual propagation involves the vegetative plant structures, mainly the leaves, stems, and roots, for Pothos. Asexual reproduction occurs in nature too, here are a few types:
- Pros: bypasses slow juvenile growth, easier and faster in some species, should work for most cultivars
- Cons: Identical genetics across plants mean less disease resistance
- Cuttings: a section of a plant is severed, it regenerates into a new plant. There are many types of cuttings, but they generally full under leaf cuttings or root cuttings. This is what we’ll focus on in this article.
- Layering: rooting before severing. Stems still attached to parent plant are given access to soil or a rooting medium. Once the stem roots, it can then be separate. This has the benefit of avoiding water and carbohydrate shortages in the plant.
- Division: if a plant has more than one rooted crown, a plant can be separated into multiple plants. I’m not sure if Pothos can have more than one rooted crown.
- Grafting: grafting is common with many plants like fruit trees. It appears possible, but uncommon and unnecessary for Pothos.
When I’m referring to propagation below, I’m referring to cloning through cuttings.
Propagating Pothos consists of a few steps:
- Understanding the anatomy
- Taking a cutting
- Cutting preparation
On the right you can see a cutting that was rooted in water. It’s showing initial roots, it’s ready to go into soil!
Now that we know what we need to do, we need an idea of the best way to go about each step. There is some conflicting information here, so we’ll have to dig in a bit.
There are a few considerations when cloning pothos:
- Putting the cuttings in water vs soil
- Using of rooting hormones
- Scarification: scraping a thin layer from the stem to encourage roots
- Foliar feeding: Give your cuttings a boost!
Pothos Anatomy: What are the parts of a Pothos?
I’ve illustrated the pothos anatomy so you can clearly identify the different structures.
Illustration 1: Pothos anatomy
A pothos has these main structures:
- 1 Leaf blade: the green, leafy part of the plant.
- 2 Leaf Petiole: the connecting tissue between the leaf and the stem.
- 3 Root: the roots interface with the soil, and anchor the plant.
- 4 Stem: the stem system connects the roots and the petioles of the plant together
- 5 Root nodes: these are structures where roots form under the right conditions
How to make the cuts
I like to use an Olfa utility knife, wipe it down with rubbing alcohol, and do a 90 degree cut right in the middle of two nodes, with at least 1 leaf, and at least 1 node on the cutting. I then place the cutting directly into water to keep it moist, whether or not I’m going to root it in soil or water. Here’s some more detail:
- Choose a blade. A sharp blade like a utility knife or razor blade provides a cleaner cut, which reduces surface area for pathogens to get a foothold. Scissors will work in a pinch. Make sure they’re clean, and try not to crush the plant tissue too much.
- Clean your blade. Rubbing alcohol, fire, or any household disinfectant that doesn’t leave a residue should work fine.
- Identify where to cut. Identify a section of plant where you can have at least 1 leaf, and at least one node (where the petiole connects to the stem), preferably with existing root nodes.
- Leave at least half an inch below or above the node (towards the roots of the plant).
- People have had success reviving pothos cuttings with no leaves, all the way up to long vines. The plant is really forgiving. There seems to be a bit of a goldilocks leaf-count. Too many leaves and the plant is consuming more water and energy, supporting more life. Too few leaves and the plant takes a lot longer to revive, growing leaves is energetically expensive.
- Pothos will root from a leaf and petiole with no stem. But, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t grow new leaves. I would like to experiment on this.
- Make the cut
- Some sources recommend making the cut underwater. This prevents the plant from sucking air bubbles into the stem, which can slow water uptake.
- Some sources recommend cutting at a 45 degree angle instead of 90. A 45 degree angle increases surface area. Surface area is a double edged sword. It creates more area for rooting hormone and water to be absorbed. But this is also more area for bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms to invade. Also, a 45 degree cut is more susceptible to physical damage.
Illustration 2: Leaf with no stem: may root, but doesn’t seem to develop new leaves without a section of stem.
Preparing the cutting
So now we’ve got our cutting, what’s next?
Preparing a cutting has a couple key steps: ensure correct polarity, decide if we’re going to use hormones, and decide if we’re going to use scarification. I root the end of the stem that was towards the roots before the cutting was removed. I don’t think it’s worth going out of your way to use hormones or scarification.
Ensuring correct polarity for cuttings
Keep track of which end was towards the roots. If you’re just taking one cutting off the end of a vine, it’s easy to keep track. But if you’re taking chunks out of middle of a longer vine for multiple cuttings, lay them out deliberately. The reason is that the plant has a natural polarity.
Illustration 3: Pothos polarity, the sleeves grow “away” from the root direction. Root direction is to the right.
What is pothos polarity?
Polarity is the natural orientation in a plant, stem, or cutting. The plant is used to flowing nutrients and water in a particular orientation relative to the leaves and the roots.
The leaves, among other things, evapo-transpire releasing water, create sugars, and convert CO2 into Oxygen. These are then transported away from the leaves, and towards the rest of the plant.
Roots absorb water and minerals from the soil that the plant can’t get from the air. They also store energy in the form of sugars and other compounds for later use. This all flows away from the roots, towards the leaves.
So there’s an inherent direction in these flows, and it’s important for cuttings. If you plant a cutting “upside-down”, it will have more difficulty.
Deciding whether to use rooting compounds or not
Rooting compounds are hormones that encourage plants to root. There are a few different types designed for different situations. Some are designed for softer tissue, some for woodier tissue. We want the softer tissue variety.
They come in a few varieties, gel, liquid, and powder. The gel version is nice, because it coats the cut, and in doing so provides an extra barrier for pathogens. Giving roots a little more head-start. Hormones also can contain micro-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, which give the cutting a leg up.
Some un-answered questions:
- Are they worth the money?
- Does the data backup their success?
If you already have rooting hormone, I say why not use it. Otherwise, unless you’re keen to experiment, or are planning on doing a large volume of cloning, just move forward and don’t worry about it.
Cutting scarification is scraping a thin layer from the stem tissue with the goal of increasing root node formation. The theory is that this disruption somehow causes the plant to focus energy on creating roots in the scarified zone. There are some websites that describe the practice with certain species, but I can’t find any good data on whether it creates a measurable improvement in Pothos.
It seems to me removing the stem’s natural barrier would invite additional bacteria, fungi and pathogens to grow.
If you experiment with this, let me know.
Rooting the cutting
Now that the cutting is prepared, place it into either a moist substrate, soil, or water.
Illustration 4: Prepared cutting, encourage roots, then plant right side down for proper polarity.
The goal is to keep the rooting nodes still and moist, and prevent growth of unwanted microorganisms and algae. In rough order of importance, you’ll need to consider the following while your cutting grows roots:
- Moisture: Keeping the cutting moist through water or moist soil, or something like a rockwool cube in a tray of water.
- Temperature control: Room temperature is fine, anything between approximately 18C to 24C. Too high will encourage growth of unwanted organisms, too low will slow the plant’s metabolism.
- Water replacement: if growing in water, top it up every few days, and change it completely once a week. Too long and the water can become stagnant and unwanted pathogen growths can build up.
- Indirect sunlight: Keep the plant out of direct sunlight. Set back from direct sunlight, or on a window sill that receives indirect sunlight work well. If it’s cold outside, don’t put the cutting too close to a single glazed window.
- Immobilizing the cutting: this can be accomplished by putting the cutting in soil, or if rooting in water, by putting some gravel or pebbles in with plant to keep it still. Movement may damage the delicate new roots.
- Foliar Feeding: Foliar feeding is an advanced method for giving your cuttings a boost. Leaves are sprayed with a dilute nutrient solution. More info here.
Rooting in water has the benefit that the cutting won’t dry out. But it can take longer, and the roots will have an adjustment period from water to soil.
Rooting in soil means any roots are developing in their end media. They’ll grow and be accustomed to soil. However, it’s important to keep the soil moist as cuttings can dry out quickly. Soil takes a little more care, but it can speed up development.
The cutting pictured on the right was rooted in water. It’s ready to go into soil. Note how the end of the stem isn’t rotting away. That’s a good sign!
Another option is rock-wool cubes. They’re almost like hydroponics. You can put your cutting into the little cube, then place the cube on a tray with water. The cube wicks up the water and the cutting grows roots into the cube. It can be tricky to use rock wool cubes with larger cuttings.
I prefer water so I don’t have to check in as often, but I’ve had success with both methods.
If you’ve rooted directly into soil, your plant should become less sensitive to lower moisture levels over time. For soil or water rooted cuttings, increase light levels gradually.
If it was rooted in water, it will take longer to establish itself. The roots will have to readjust to soil. So it’s a good idea to move a water-rooted cutting into soil once there are ½ inch roots (2-4 weeks).
Filtered light is recommended. Harsh direct light evaporates more water, and puts more pressure on the plant to perform. Because the leaves have much more ability than the new roots, the plant doesn’t need strong light and benefits from filtered light.
Monitor moisture in the soil. The plant is particularly susceptible to drying out before it become established.
Difficult Pothos Varieties to Propagate
As far as I can tell, there aren’t any hard to propagate types of Pothos. This means if you’re having trouble it should be something in your method, not the genetics of the plant itself. Let me know if you’ve run across any.
Foliar Feeding Speeds Propagation
Foliar feeding can be done on healthy established plants, but it benefits cuttings that much more. It works by exposing the leaves to moisture and dilute nutrient solutions.
Foliar feeding is as simple as spraying some water on the leaves. It’s a temporary boost, but it can help young cuttings get a bit of extra water or nutrients before they have roots established.
It’s important not to use nutrients that are too concentrated or the leaves can be damaged. I would recommend just using plain water for cuttings.
My Favorite Houseplant Supplies and Tools
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you nurture your houseplants and bring more green into your life. Here are some houseplant products I use that I thought might help you too. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a commission at no cost to you. Think of it as buying me a cup of coffee!
Leaf-shaped watering funnels: These sit on the edge of your plant’s pot and help you water without spilling as much. You water every week or two so why not make it a little easier with some leaf-shaped watering funnels. They’re green so they blend in a bit too.
Grow-lights: These plant spectrum grow lights drop into regular light sockets. This means your can turn any lamp or fixture you already have into a grow light. If you live in the North, or don’t have enough space near windows these can really perk up your plants.
Plant Food: I really like this indoor plant food (fertilizer). It’s nothing fancy, and it’s not organic, but it gets the job done. It’s popular for a reason. Has a nice spout so you don’t have to worry about losing the lid, or knocking it over and spilling it everywhere . If you think you’re likely to forget to fertilize regularly, plant food spikes are a great alternative.
I’m Alex Lafreniere. I learned a lot about plants when I built and operated a landscaping company. But, there’s always more to learn. Ever since travelling across the world, I’ve wanted to find ways to bring more tropical and exotic plants into my life. This is the site where I share everything I’ve learned with you.
This site is owned and operated by Plant Hardware, a sole proprietor headquartered in Calgary, Canada. Plant Hardware is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.Plant Hardware may also participate in affiliate programs with Bluehost, Clickbank, CJ, ShareASale, and other sites. Plant Hardware is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.