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Leggy Pothos are the nemesis of the houseplant world. Luckily it’s pretty simple to grow Pothos full and bushy IF you’re prepared to disregard everything you’ve ever heard about Pothos.
- Give them a load of light
- Keep them cut back
- Propagate the bits you chop off
- Skip all that and plant five Pothos plants in one pot
- Stake them up. Trailing Pothos are leggier because they’re growing the wrong way (for a Pothos)
Done that? Cool, let’s dive in.
What does leggy mean?
Leggy means that there’s a lot of stem between the leaves.
Pothos grow on a single vine, and petioles branch off the stem, and then there are leaves at the end of each petiole.
See the pink bits? We need to make them shorter. OR introduce another stem so there are twice as many leaves.
This article will show you not only how to go from changing a leggy stem into a bushy stem, like the example above, but also how to get rid of that leggy growth so all the plant looks bushy.
There are a few different methods of sorting out leggy Pothos, depending on how confident you are in your propagation abilities.
By the way, this is a Pothos-focused article BUT most of the advice can be applied to similar vining plants. Pothos belong to the Epipremnum family, Satin Pothos are actually Scindapsus, and heartleaf Philodendron are different again but they can all have their legginess rectified using the methods outlined below.
Why do Pothos get leggy?
Pothos get leggy because of CAPITALISM.
Jokes, jokes, but also…hear me out.
Pothos have a niche in the houseplant market that is quite unique:
- they can survive in low light
- they don’t mind a bit of neglect
- they can tolerate overwatering more than most.
- they have no strong feelings about humidity, water quality, or ambient temperature, and they stay quite small.
Of course they get leggy. We’ve been told how to make them suit our lives, so most Pothos are grown in unsuitable positions, but because they’re Pothos, they can survive.
So what do I mean by unsuitable positions?
Pothos tend to be kept in low light
Pothos can survive in low light. You can grow them pretty successfully in low light BUT if you’re an inexperienced plant person, you’re putting them at risk.
Pothos grown in low light can’t photosynthesise as much (because there’s not enough light).
Therefore they don’t have much energy and grow more slowly than they want to. They’re also more at risk from pests and root rot when they’re in low light, due to a lack of energy.
The reason Pothos get leggy in low light is that they know they need light, so they stretch their petioles towards the nearest light source. The stem grows longer and thinner so it can reach towards the light, and the petiole also stretches.
Not only does low light make Pothos weak and leggy, BUT if you put a heavy leaf on the end of a long, thin petiole, which itself is on the end of a long, thin stem, then the leaf is gonna weigh the stem and petiole down, and your Pothos will look droopy.
Pothos CAN live in low light, but you’ll struggle to have them grow, er, bushily.
They’re trailing/have no support
Pothos are often sold as trailing plants. They can trail, absolutely, and look bushy but you’ll struggle if they’re also in low light.
If you want a trailing plant, keep it in as bright a spot as you can find.
Pothos are climbers in the wild – that’s why they have aerial roots.
When you grow a climbing plant vertically, something in its little plant brain tells it to grow bigger leaves closer together.
They’ve dropped leaves
Incidents like thrips, root rot, or underwatering can cause leaf drop, and missing leaves can make Pothos look leggy.
You can’t get the leaves to grow back, but you can lay the vines on soil, root them, and then have them produce new growth points from the bare nodes. This is a form of propagation called layering, and we’ll cover it later on.
They’ve put out runners
Runners are stems that don’t have any leaves on. Some plants put out runners and then fill them in with leaves later, like Hoya. Other plants just produce long vines for fun (like Amydrium medium silver).
Pothos don’t tend to produce vines unless they’re in super low light but Scindapsus have a bit of a vining habit.
Some Pothos have naturally short internodes, regardless of how they’re cared for, so always look bushy. Others just have long internodes.
The Pothos in the photo above will probably look very bushy in a couple of years because the vine at the bottom just grows that way. The other one, ahem, is a little leggier.
Does your Pothos have long vines but no leaves?
This almost always a light issue. There isn’t enough light for the plant to grow new leaves, so it grow leafless runners in the hopes that it’ll come across a window at some point. And then leaves will grow on the end of the vine in a bunch.
Unless you have a satin Pothos, which just like vining.
Why does my Pothos only have one vine?
Pothos are actually meant to only have one vine. They’re not naturally a bushy plant. There’s nothing wrong with your Pothos if it only has one vine.
That being said, Pothos can develop multiple growth points under certain conditions, which is why plants we buy from nurseries sometimes have multiple growth points on one vine.
Most bushy Pothos we buy will be several plants in one pot because that’s how we like our Pothos to look. It’s just a shame that that isn’t how they like to grow!
How to make a Pothos bushy, not leggy
In order to grow a Pothos bushy rather than leggy, we either need to give it awesome care, or fake it. Or both. I recommend both for the best results.
Plant multiple plants together
First off, we have a quick solution that a lot of garden centres employ – plant a tonne of plants in one pot so they look bushy.
This is especially important if you want your Pothos to trail because it’s almost impossible to get a pothos to look bushy and trail unless you have several vines.
If you want, you can mix different Pothos cultivars together – I have a pot with a neon Pothos, a lemon-lime Philodendron, and a Manjula Pothos together and they grow really well.
Make sure their roots are healthy
This is a gentle way of me telling you that you need to get your watering right. If you want your Pothos to look bushy, you can’t water it too often or let it get too dry.
Pothos aren’t too picky about watering. They don’t mind tap water and their roots are quite resilient to both over and underwatering, but try to get into the habit of checking how damp the soil is every week or so.
Give them lots of light
Pothos don’t need a lot of direct light. They can definitely tolerate it (if they’re acclimated properly) but unless you have the space, there’s no need to give them a prime spot.
My Pothos grows very well about five feet away from a north-facing window, but an ideal spot is sitting in an east-facing window, or a few feet away from a south or west-facing window.
Increase the humidity
Pothos are actually fairly chill about humidity, and will be pretty happy in anything above 40% HOWEVER they will grow much faster with higher humidity.
If you’re growing your Pothos up something, you’ll also find that high humidity increases the rate of aerial root growth.
Make sure they’re warm enough
If you increase the humidity, make sure your Pothos doesn’t get too cold. Some plants, like succulents, can tolerate very cold temperatures, but tropical plants like Pothos like the temperature range that humans do. If it’s nice and warm, your Pothos will grow well. If it’s cold, it won’t die, but it won’t be happy.
When it's cold, try to reduce the humidity down to about 50%. You need to keep light, humidity, and temperature balanced, otherwise, you risk rot and fungal infections.
Have them climb rather than trail
Pothos are natural climbers. They want to climb. It’s almost impossible to convince a leggy Pothos to grow less leggy when it’s trailing.
I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear. It’s not my fault! Blame Pothos.
Feed them regularly
I fertilise my Pothos every other time I water them and it’s really increased the speed at which they grow.
Except my Pothos N-joy, who HATED it, and got all these black marks on his leaves. Those things are never happy though.
Ok, so that’s all the things you can do to convince your Pothos to grow in a less leggy fashion, but what to do with a Pothos that’s already leggy? They look a bit weird if you just start implementing good care without getting rid of the bare stems:
How to fix a leggy Pothos
Chop and prop. It’s the only way. Pothos vines won’t reactivate bare nodes (I mean, they might, but we can’t control it). I’ve also put instructions for layering for inexperienced propagators who don’t want to hack up their plants.
Cut it back
Cutting Pothos back can result in the plant producing multiple growth points, purely because when you cut a plant back hard, the root-to-leaf ratio will increase. You’ll have the same amount of roots, but it won’t have as many leaves to support.
Rather than wasting that extra energy (or saving it for winter like a sensible person), it activates multiple nodes on a single vine, rather than the regulation one.
Chop and prop
Ok, we’ve actually already chopped, but now we prop.
If you have sections without leaves, read this article on wet stick propagation. If you have stem sections with leaves, put the stems in water. I wrote an article on speeding up Philodendron brasil propagation here.
The idea is that we cut back the plant, activating multiple nodes, and then we root all the bits we chopped off, and once they have roots, we pot them all up together.
I do advise that you make sure the plants are well rooted in soil before consolidating them into one big pot. Don’t move them straight from water to the big pot unless you’re an experienced propagator. So go from water to a small pot of soil, and then into the main pot.
Layer the nodes
Ok, this is for those of you who don’t want to risk all the cuttings failing.
Layering is the process of rooting the nodes whilst they’re still attached to the plant. Leggy Pothos are a great candidate for layering because they have a long, flexible vine.
All you need to do is lay the vine on some soil. The picture above is that neon Pothos I showed before – I’ve just put the stem back into the pot and pushed the node into the soil.
I layer in the same pot, but you can set up a separate pot next to the plant if you’d prefer. If the vine won’t stay in the soil, pin it down on either side of the node using hair pins or greening pins.
The nodes will root in the soil and produce new growth points. In general, Pothos like to have a dominant growth point, so to maximise vines, slice between the nodes once they've each got a leaf.
I’ve layered my neon Pothos before – you can see the root of a previously layered node above. Interesting that she’s just gone for the one long root rather than growing a single secondary one. Never mind.
Put it on a pole
Once you have all your cuttings together, you can add a pole. You could actually add it after you’ve cut the Pothos back, but it can make potting everything up together a bit trickier when you have a pole to contend with.
There are a few options for poles:
- A coir pole
- A moss pole
- A Kratiste pole
A coir pole is a quick, cheap solution, but you’ll need to manually attach the vines – the aerial roots are unlikely to attach themselves and coir is impossible to keep hydrated.
Moss poles are awesome for growing your Pothos HUGE (fenestrated leaves and everything!) but they do require maintenance, like keeping the moss damp.
I’m lazy so I go for a Kratiste pole. the aerial roots attach themselves and you don’t need to maintain them. The aerial roots won’t grow into a subterranean root system so you don’t get the super big leaves as quickly, but for me, it’s worth it because you don’t need to water them.
Give it more light
No more low light for your Pothos if you want it to be bushy. As I said before, it doesn’t need hours of direct, blazing sun, but a spot near a window is great.
And that’s it! Make sure you water and feed your Pothos regularly, and it should stay pretty bushy. If you do get errant runners or bare vines, you can chop them back and propagate them.
Leggy Pothos no more
And that’s it! As long as you keep your Pothos in good light and keep it well-fed and watered, it should continue to grow in a non-leggy fashion. If it’s still not bushy enough, repeat the chop and prop stages until you have your dream Pothos.