Pothos aerial roots are often considered unsightly because they are thick, woody and firm roots that grow from above the soil.
As such, I often get asked what these aerial roots for and if they can get rid of them because they don’t like their appearance.
In this article, I’ll answer all those questions and more.
Pothos aerial roots develop on the stems at the base of your plant. They help your pothos get moisture and nutrients from the air while providing support when it climbs up posts, walls and trees.
These aerial roots often grow to help your plant get more light, moisture from the air, supplement lack of water and nutrients.
What are Pothos Aerial Roots?
Aerial roots are also called air roots. As their name suggests, these are roots that grow above the ground.
So, unlike terrestrial roots which grow under the soil, aerial roots don’t develop under the plant. Instead, they emerge from the stems and shoots.
Thus, you’ll see them suspended in the air.
Note that not all plants have or will develop aerial roots. But certain plants will.
At the top of this list are epiphytes.
Epiphytes like philodendron, monstera, pothos, some orchids varieties and other plants develop aerial roots to help them cling onto and anchor themselves onto other plants.
They use these roots for support and climbing up the bigger trees, trunks and plants in the forest.
This allows them to get more sunlight in the midst of very tall trees.
These plants also use their aerial roots to climb up trellises, pergolas, walls, poles and other vertical structures.
As such, you’ll notice that pothos aerial roots, just like other air roots, are stronger, firmer and have a woody feel to them.
They are not soft nor flexible like the soil roots that most people are familiar with.
The strength of these roots allow plants to provide a firm grip and create support to keep itself stable.
Besides support, aerial roots also function to help the plant get air, moisture and nutrients from their surroundings.
What are the Functions of Pothos Aerial Roots?
Pothos aerial roots serve different functions. But for the most part, these unique roots are present to help the plant support itself and stay healthy, especially in the jungle environment.
Aerial Roots Absorb Moisture from the Air
One of the most useful functions of pothos aerial roots indoors is moisture absorption.
Pothos like humid conditions. And they will grow better if you keep them somewhere with good humidity.
While underground roots absorb moisture for the plant to stay hydrated, aerial roots help plants like pothos, orchids and philodendrons get moisture from the air even when humidity is not optimal.
This helps prevent their leaves from drying up and turning brown on the tips and edges.
In their native environments, aerial roots allow plants to absorb nutrients from dew, rainwater and other debris that fall from above.
This allows the plant to get any dissolved nutrients that happen to fall or drop from their host trees or plants.
That said, this is feature is less useful indoors since rooms won’t have any debris or moisture falling from the ceiling.
Aerial Roots Help Keep the Plant Stable and Climb
The reason why aerial roots often develop on epiphytes and vines is that they need the extra support as they get bigger.
Plants like the pothos, philodendron and monstera can grow to good size indoors. But in the forest, they can get really huge.
This is more so the case with rubber plants.
As such, the higher up they go, the more support they’ll need.
This is where aerial roots are helpful.
In the same way that underground roots provide the support and stability, aerial roots allow these plants to cling onto trees, trunks and other larger plants for stability as they grow upwards.
This allows pothos and other epiphytes to get more sunlight due to their elevated position.
In doing so, they’re able to grow better.
In backyards and gardens, aerial roots allow pothos and other similar plants with aerial roots to cling onto to trellises, walls, pergolas, arbors and other vertical structures as well.
The reason why epiphytes and vines need aerial roots for support and stability is that unlike trees, they do not have large trunks or similar support structures to keep them upright.
This is why pothos, monsteras, orchids and philodendron need poles, posts, totems or similar objects to climb on when grown indoors.
Increase Propagation Success Rates
One of the things I’ve noticed when propagating pothos plants is having aerial roots present in the cuttings increases propagation success rates.
As such, I don’t remove the aerial roots and allow them to help the plant. So, when it comes time to propagate my pothos plants, I’ll pick out the stem cuttings with aerial roots.
Aerial root help with propagation as they give the cuttings extra support.
Since pothos cuttings can be propgated in soil or water, having the aerial roots helps by supplementing the cuttings with important nutrients, oxygen and moisture.
All of these help new roots, shoots, stems and leaves develop.
Aerial Roots Help Plants to Breathe
In some instances, pothos grow in marshlands, swamps and other wet environments. This can make it more difficult for their terrestrial roots to absorb the moisture, oxygen or nutrients the plant needs.
Thus, having aerial roots helps the soil roots get the oxygen, moisture and nutrients from the air any debris that falls from above.
That said, this is less of a problem when a pothos is grown as a houseplant.
However, in case it is left in soil that’s compacted, has poor drainage or low quality, then the aerial roots will be able to help it survive better.
Can You Get Rid of Pothos Aerial Roots?
Yes. The good news is that you can remove the aerial roots if you do not want them.
I know many gardeners who hate how these woody roots look.
And with some plants including the pothos, monstera and philodendron, aerial roots can get very long and spread out in different directions.
Depending on how you feel about the way they look, you can keep the aerial roots, allow them to keep growing or get rid of them.
As a houseplant, these roots don’t offer as much use as they do in the wild.
And getting rid of a pothos aerial roots will not affect its health or growth.
In fact, if you take stem cuttings and notice that some of the cuttings you got have aerial roots, you can likewise get rid of those too.
How Do Remove Aerial Roots on Pothos?
Below, I’ll go through some of the different options you have if you want to remove pothos aerial roots.
Depending on what you want to achieve, you can choose one method over the others.
Cut Them Off
The simplest and most obvious way to get rid of aerial roots on pothos plants is to prune them.
This is by far the most popular way of dealing with aerial roots for those who don’t like they way they look.
To do so, you can use a pair of large scissors, pruning shears or sharp knife.
But before making any cut, make sure to sterilize the blades of your cutting tool. This ensures that you won’t be spreading any virus or pathogens from the blade to the plant.
While it may sound or look a bit frightening to cut them off, pruning aerial roots won’t harm or damage the plant.
When making the cut, snip as close as you can to the stem.
This lets you avoid any leftover protruding aerial roots. But note that aerial roots can grow back.
So, its just like trimming the long stems every now and then.
However, if you don’t want new aerial roots to grow back, make sure to remedy the cause after you prune the woody roots.
Aerial roots often grow to help the plant survive.
Thus, too high or too low humidity can cause this. Similarly, lack of light will make the plant want to climb higher up to get more illumination.
Issues with the soil that prevent the plant’s terrestrial roots from getting enough water can lead to aerial root development as well.
By fixing these issues, your pothos will have no reason to produce aerial roots because it is already getting everything it needs. Thus, it is happy and healthy.
Place them on the Soil or Push Them into the Soil
This is another solution to aerial roots that can work. But I’m not a big fan of it.
Note that it does work better on some plants and not on others.
Aerial roots are not terrestrial roots.
In some cases, they can “convert” or “transition” into terrestrial roots. And this is what you’re doing by sticking their ends into the soil.
By doing so, you’re trying to make the aerial roots serve as underground roots.
However, they’re not intended for that.
As a result, some of these roots will rot or cause more problems because now, they’re not getting the air they usually need.
So, a better option in my opinion is to lay the aerial roots onto the soil. You can place something to keep the roots on the soil. But do not stick them into the potting mix.
Each aerial root is different.
Some may decide to turn into terrestrial roots on their own. This would be great. And you’ll have additional underground roots.
Others won’t convert. And that’s okay.
That said, by placing the aerial roots on the soil, you’re able to make them look neater and organized instead of flailing out in all directions.
For those that do not turn into terrestrial roots, you can prune these aerial roots if you really don’t like them.
Include Them in Stem Cuttings for Propagation
If you plan on propagating your pothos in the near future, then don’t prune the aerial roots just yet.
Even if you don’t like the way they look with your plant, you can still use these woody roots to your benefit.
Since aerial roots help with propagation success, why not include them when taking the cuttings.
To do so, choose healthy stem cuttings with at least 1-2 nodes and several leaves. Try to pick the stems with aerial roots as well.
Then plant these cuttings in water or soil.
For pothos stem cuttings with aerial roots, place you can include the aerial roots into the water.
If you do, you’ll notice terrestrial roots grow out of the aerial roots.
In fact, these new underground roots will appear even before the cuttings produce any roots themselves.
Since the roots that come from the aerial roots are now terrestrial roots, you can plant them under the soil later when you transfer the cuttings to potting mix.
For pothos stem cuttings with aerial roots that you want to directly plant into soil, you’ll need to take a different approach.
Here, you do not want to insert the aerial roots into the soil as this will prevent them from getting enough oxygen.
Instead, just lay them on the soil or outside the pot.
In this case, the aerial roots will help the plant survive and grow faster during its initial stages.
Of the two, propagating the cuttings in water is my preferred way if you have cuttings with aerial roots.
Can You Propagate Pothos from Aerial Roots?
Unfortunately, no. Aerial roots are not designed to produce new plants parts. As such, you won’t be able to grow terrestrial roots, stems or leaves from them.
This means that you cannot use aerial roots on their own to propagate pothos.
Instead, you’ll need stem cuttings with at least one node. It is the node where the new plants are able to grow from.
Also, choosing a stem cutting with several leaves also helps as they will allow the new plant to grow faster.
That said, healthy stem cuttings with at least one node and several leaves combined with aerial roots will increase the likelihood of propagation success.