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Root Bound Monstera (Symptoms and Solutions)

The sprawling leaves of the Monstera are a tropical delight for any home. What about the roots? Do these enticing tropicals require space to spread their roots as well? And what if they don’t get enough space?

If left in the same pot for too long, Monstera will become root-bound. Symptoms include the presence of visible roots in or above the soil, particularly in drainage holes. Slow growth, yellowing leaves, or wilt or curl are also signs of root problems. 

What Does It Mean to Be ‘Root Bound’?

Root Bound Monstera
Root Bound Monstera

A root-bound Monstera is one whose roots have completely filled the container. Because it’s grown so large, its container is no longer adequate.

The roots tangle and snarl, taking up all of the available space in the pot, including the water and nutrients it contains.

The roots become compacted as well. They squeeze into one another until they form a single solid mass. Monstera can’t absorb water because it either doesn’t soak in or drains away too quickly.

Monsteras, for the most part, prefer to be somewhat root-bound. However, to gain access to higher ground in rain forests, these plants, known as aroids, have developed the ability to scale the canopies and reach the branches above them.

Roots grow into small pockets of leaves or other debris that have been stuck in the nooks and crannies of branches, where they can grow and thrive.

Even though they’ve been well-adapted to live in a packed-out container, there comes the point when it’s no longer possible for them to do so.

This is because a plant can’t survive without water or minerals, and this condition reduces the root’s functionality. 

How To Tell If Monstera Is Root Bound

monstera roots coming out of drainage holes
Monstera Roots Coming Out of Drainage Holes

Drainage Holes Filled With Monstera Roots

It’s common for monstera roots to grow out of drainage holes to get the water and nutrients they need. But, unfortunately, it also means that there aren’t any places for the roots to breathe.

Monstera Roots Growing Above Ground

By sending out roots above the soil’s surface, your Monstera will seek out additional living space. If there isn’t enough room in the pot, the new roots grow upwards rather than downwards as they usually would.

Leaf Wilting Or Curling

When a Monstera becomes root bound, it loses its ability to draw water from the soil. There is not enough exposed surface area for the roots to draw in moisture because they are pressed against one another. They will also become stressed and lose whatever function they still have.

Dehydration happens when the roots don’t work well. The leaves will become wilted or curled. Water is essential to Monstera’s structure as well as its biological function.

Each leaf cell fills itself with water until it is strong enough. Turgor pressure is the technical term for what I’ve just described.

A Monstera that is root-bound is unable to maintain its turgor pressure. Evaporation and transpiration cause the moisture in the leaves to evaporate. It’s also used to support the plant’s biological function at the expense of its structure.

Growth Stops

The Monstera can’t produce new growth if the root-binding goes unchecked. It will be stunted, slow, or misshapen if it manages to grow at all.

Minerals and other nutrients from the growing medium are required for all new growth. In addition, other minerals, such as boron and magnesium, are crucial in building robust leaves as nitrogen.

If any nutrients are left in the soil in a root-bound plant’s pot, they may be gone. There will be signs of mineral deficiency in the newly emerging leaves.

Poorly formed, oddly shaped, or small Monsteras won’t have the lush tropical green that makes Monsteras so coveted.

How to Examine the Monstera Root System

The first step in inspecting the roots of your Monstera is to provide it with a good drink. It’s easy to break down dry roots because they’re so fragile.

They’ll be less likely to be damaged if you give them a thorough watering the day before you plan to inspect.

The next step is to inspect your drainage holes for roots. If they’re tangling their way out the drainage holes, you’ll have to snip them to get the pot out.

After a few taps on the pot’s sides to loosen the root mass, carefully remove the Monstera from the pot. If you’re growing in plastic or highly glazed ceramic pots, you may be surprised at how easily it slides out.

Some other materials, such as terra-cotta or stone, may require some effort. Climbing Monsteras are known for their rough roots. They evolved to grip tree trunks, but they can also grab a textured pot just as quickly.

Take a close look at the roots after the Monstera has been freed from the pot. Monsteras are commonly moderately root bound, with thick roots circling the pot’s interior. These are not dangerously bound and can be returned to their pot.

It is time to repot the plant for those with roots that appear more like spaghetti noodles, with no dirt visible. I’m surprised by how little soil is left in a root-bound Monstera’s pot. 

Do Monsteras Like to Be Root Bound?

Monstera, in general, performs admirably in confined spaces. This is because those climbing roots are efficient and adapt well to small spaces.

If they get enough water, fertilizer and show no signs of stress, you can leave a Monstera in a pot for years at a time. You will need to repot a young plant every year, but a more mature monstera only needs new soil every two or three years.

Do Monsteras Prefer Small Pots?

Monstera doesn’t give a damn about the pot in which they’re planted. Instead, they prefer to hike or climb rather than bury themselves in the ground with a dense network of roots.

They leave the hard work of developing strong, deep roots to the trees they climb in the wild. Even the genus’s showy giant, Monstera deliciosa, would instead climb a wall or a large tree then send its roots burrowing through the ground.

Monstera thrives in pots that are slightly smaller than average. Until they have room to grow, they’re happy. You’ll need to repot them once they’ve become root-bound.

How Do You Repot A Root-Bound Monstera?

Repotting Root Bound Monstera
Repotting Root Bound Monstera

You’ll need a pot that’s no more than two inches wider across the top than the old one to repot your Monstera. A minimum of three drainage holes are required in the new pot, but the more, the better. Monsteras need excellent drainage.

In addition, you’ll require enough growing medium to cover the difference in volume between the old and the new.

I go into greater detail about potting mediums for Monsteras and other aroids here. In short, your best mix should be free draining and chunky in texture to promote root growth.

It’s also a good idea to have clean shears or scissors to hand (check out the prices on Amazon here) and a garden trowel or small shovel. Of course, plenty of clean water is also required.

  1. Give the Monstera a good watering the day before you plan to repot it. This, like a root inspection, will protect the roots from harm.
  2. Make a layer of your growing medium in the bottom of your new pot. A third of the pot’s depth is ideal, but no less than an inch is required.
  3. Tap the Monstera to release it from its pot. If you have errant roots growing out of drainage holes, you may need to trim them first.
  4. Loosen your root mass with care. At this point, it’s also a good idea to rinse away any exhausting soil with clean water. It may take some effort to loosen a badly rootbound root system enough for it to function, but take your time and be gentle.
  5. Trim any roots that are too long, as well as any that are damaged or discolored.
  6. Fill the growing medium around the roots of the Monstera and place it in its pot.
  7. If you use a moss pole or stake to support the plant, put it in the medium at its base. Check that it is securely in place and, if necessary, tie the Monstera into place.
  8. Tap the pot on a firm surface once or twice to help the medium settle. Top up the pot with a few handfuls of your medium if necessary.
  9. Water the Monstera thoroughly and drain before returning to its original location.

Dividing Monstera

A Monstera can grow too large not only for its pot but also for its surroundings. So you might also want to cut it down to size to make it easier to handle. They aren’t called monsters for anything!

One option is dividing the plant and propagating two or more new plants. This is a great way to keep them at a manageable size while also filling your growing environment with tropical lushness.

Begin by inspecting the soil’s surface before dividing your Monstera. Do you have a lot of growth points coming out of the soil? Then, each end of growth can be separated and grown into its own plant.

Prepare pots and growing medium in the same manner as described above, with enough pots for each new plant.

Then, tap your Monstera to loosen the root mass. Next, carefully cut through the root network between the growth points with clean scissors or shears and gently separate. For each new plant, you should have stems and roots.

After you’ve separated each new Monstera from the parent plant, pot them as usual. They require a pot one inch larger than the root mass. Treat them as new, young plants, and repot them to a more permanent location within a year.

This is a reasonably traumatic process, and your new Monstera will need a week or more to recover. In addition, the roots are severely damaged during division.

As a result, they may show signs of transplant shock. Water them sparingly until they have completely dried out, as the new babies will be susceptible to fungal disease until their severed roots heal.

If you don’t have enough growth points to divide the monster Monstera, you can always cut it back and water it as well. If you leave a cutting with at least one leaf and one set of aerial roots to root in clean water for a few weeks, it will grow quickly. For best results, I recommend two or three leaves.

Root Pruning Potted Monstera

Of course, not everyone has the space in their growing environment for an ever-increasing army of Monstera, so it’s best to just prune back the roots in these cases.

This will allow you to plant in a smaller pot. It’s a space-saving option ideal for people who live in apartments or work in small offices.

Remove the Monstera from its pot and work the roots free. Snip away the circling roots from the outside until you have a more manageable mass.

Avoid cutting the thicker roots, as these are the ‘highways’ that carry most of the Monstera’s water and nutrition. Instead, concentrate on the more delicate roots at the root mass’s periphery.

When this is finished, gently rinse the roots in lukewarm water and repot as usual. Trim back the newest points of growth as well so that the Monstera can focus on rebuilding its roots rather than growing fresh leaves. The new growth can be propagated through water or simply discarded.

Expect the Monstera to show signs of transplant shock, and avoid watering it until the medium is dehydrated. Like dividing a plant, pruning back roots leaves the Monstera with injured roots vulnerable to disease as they heal.

How to Keep Monstera from Getting Root-bound

It is best to repot your Monstera on time to avoid becoming pot-bound. This will keep your Monstera healthy and grow beautiful geometric leaves.

Repotting young plants once a year is ideal. However, they are still maturing and require a fertile medium to lay down the foundational growth that will set the tone for the rest of their lives.

Older plants require less frequent repotting. Aim to update their medium every two or three years. Given how large they can grow, it’s a blessing that they need so little from their soil!

Manhandling a four-foot M. deliciosa or a ten-foot M. adansonii into a new pot is difficult, especially when stakes and moss poles are involved. It won’t hurt them to put off that task a little longer than you might for other plants.