How To Care For Monstera Aerial Roots

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Monstera deliciosa, commonly known as Swiss Cheese Plants, captivate with their lush, uniquely perforated leaves. As their popularity continues to surge in homes everywhere, a key aspect of their growth – the emergence of long, woody aerial roots – often raises questions.

What are these aerial roots? How can you best care for them to ensure your Monstera’s overall health? Can they be safely removed? This article is here to answer these queries and guide you on how to care for Monstera aerial roots. So, stay with us as we delve into this fascinating topic.

Where The Wild Monsteras Grow

Pruning Monstera Aerial Roots in basket
Pruning Monstera Aerial Roots in basket

Found in tropical rainforests in Mexico and Central America, the monstera deliciosa had to create a way to get to the life sustaining sunlight. In dense rainforests, sunlight is often blocked out by the dense canopy and the broad leaves of other tropical trees. 

The monstera plant developed a way to live off very little sunlight from a seedling. When they start off, monstera plants don’t need much light. They will grow toward a dark trunk of a tree, then they start producing aerial roots. 

These roots help the plant cling to the host tree for support and allow it to climb up and reach the sunlight above. As the plant grows, the need for sunlight increases. It actually thought that the holes in the leaves help sunlight filter through and reach the lower leaves of the plant. 

Some plants develop roots that bore into a host tree and then feed off of it because they can’t produce their own food through photosynthesis. A couple of the most familiar parasitic plants include the corpse flower (rafflesia), and dwarf mistletoe. 

These two plants steal nutrients directly from their host trees instead of making their own. They are very similar to fleas and ticks on mammals. Fortunately, monstera plants don’t feed off other plants, they just use them as a support so they can reach the sunlight. 

What Is The Purpose Of Aerial Roots?

Close up of trunk of Montera plant and aerial root
Close up of trunk of Montera plant and aerial root

If you purchased your monstera plant when it was rather small, there may not have been any aerial roots. Through your constant attention and dedicated care it has grown much bigger and now has these long, somewhat woody protrusions on it. 

You may be wondering what they are, why they are there, and what you can do with them. Should you leave them alone? Can they be cut off? Will they propagate new swiss cheese plants?

Aerial Roots Provide Structure

Monstera deliciosa plants are climbers. They are a type of vining plant that is often sold with a pole or moss covered structure in the pot with them. 

The aerial roots are used to attach the plant to a larger tree’s trunk. Unlike some other vining plants, these won’t harm the host tree. They don’t strangle the tree, and won’t dig into the trunk and leech nutrients from it. 

Aerial Roots Absorb Moisture

Another important job of these roots that stick out from the above ground plant nodes is to absorb moisture from the air. They can’t survive by absorbing the humidity out of the air though, monstera plants still need to be watered on a regular basis. 

Since the native habitat of these plants is the rainforest, they need a humid environment. They thrive better when the air around them is between 50 to 60% humidity. 

As the plant grows—some varieties can ascend up to 100 feet—it becomes difficult to transport water from the ground roots to the very top of the plant. Aerial roots help to move more water to the large leaves. 

Some Aerial Roots Grow Into The Ground

Left to their own habits, some monstera aerial roots will droop to the ground and continue to grow into the soil. This is a perfectly normal habit and won’t hurt the plant to let them “do their thing.” 

Some owners even train some of the aerial roots to do this, but it’s ultimately unnecessary. If the plant is growing well enough to create the offshoots of roots, it doesn’t need more of them forced into the ground.

What Should I Do With The Aerial Roots?

Close up of Monstera Aerial Roots
Close up of Monstera Aerial Roots

When your plant starts to mature, you may notice little nodules forming on the stems of your monstera. These will continue to grow into these aerial roots. The good thing is, you don’t have to do anything about it. 

This is an indication that your plant is happy and healthy, and you are doing a great job of caring for it. Monsteras can be a low maintenance houseplants that need little care other than repotting about once a year, higher humidity, and regular watering. 

Should Aerial Roots Be Misted Or Placed In Water?

Unless the room your monstera deliciosa is growing in is very dry, you don’t need to spritz your plants. As long as your plant is growing well and looks healthy, keep doing what you have been. 

Just keep the soil in the pot moist, and the humidity in the room around 50%, and your plant will be fine. 

Okay, that’s fine, but what about putting the aerial roots directly into water? Unless you want to have a separate container full of water all the time (or several if your plant has a lot of roots) then don’t do this.

You’ll have to keep the roots in the water all the time, and you’ll have to constantly clean out and replace the water as it evaporates, gets absorbed by the plant, and/or becomes stagnant and dirty. 

Also, this increases the water pressure in the plant and if you cut the root(s) or get tired of taking care of it this way the plant is likely to wilt no matter how much you water it. There are other actions you can take with aerial roots to make them look tidier. 

They’re Getting Long, Can I Trim The Aerial Roots?

Though the monstera deliciosa is considered a slow growing plant, it can last for decades with the right care. As the plant grows and matures, these aerial roots will grow longer, thicker, and become more unruly. 

If this aesthetic doesn’t appeal to you, there are a few things you can do. First, you can trim the aerial roots back if you do it correctly. Just know that they will end up growing back, and multiples could sprout from a single root node.

Be sure, if you are trimming the aerial roots to trim them after the growing season. So when fall is in full swing, the days are getting shorter, and your plant is not growing as much, get ready to trim the roots. 

Before going wild and cutting every aerial root off at once, only take a few off at a time and wait to see how the plant responds. After about a week, if the plant doesn’t show any signs of stress, cut a few more off. Continue this cycle until you get the plant where you want it. 

Get a pair of sharp garden snips, or sturdy scissors and make sure they are clean and disinfected. Think of trimming plants as surgery. You want a clean environment and sharp cutting tools so the “wounds” heal faster. 

Snip the roots off near the stem of the plant, but be careful not to cut the stem. When you do that, be aware that just like trimming branches off a tree, multiple aerial roots could start growing back from the single node. 

Try Training The Aerial Roots

Since the natural growth habit of monstera plants is to climb you can give it something to hold on to and train the roots to wrap around the support. This will keep the roots out of the way, and support the plant as it gets taller. 

In the rainforests, monstera deliciosa can reach heights of nearly 60 feet in its search for sunlight. When it’s grown in your house, these plants can grow to between 6 and 10 feet tall with the right support. 

The best way to add support is to place a moss pole, or moss totem in the pot. These are thin, long, sometimes bendable structures that help to support the plant and allow for vertical growth. 

If you’re the handy type you can make some out of coconut coir or sphagnum moss, wire, and a wooden stake. Once you have your support, start training the aerial roots to grab onto the totem so it will start growing upright.

Using some type of plant ties such as TELENT Indoor and Outdoor Stretch Tie Tape, 1” Wide will help to pull the aerial roots out of the way. It will also make them look tidier while supporting the natural climbing habit of the plant.

When using plant tape or something to tie your aerial roots to a support, be sure to tie them loosely. If the ties are too tight, they can damage the plant.

You may need to mist your moss totem and the aerial roots to help them adhere better, but once they are holding tight, you can stop.

Can I Train The Aerial Roots To Grow In The Pot?

Since aerial roots can grow in the potting soil, can’t I simply train them to grow downward and into the pot out of the way? You can do this if your pot is big enough and the aerial roots don’t rot.

Most of the time, aerial roots that touch moist soil will start growing into subterranean roots. You’ll just have to make sure there’s plenty of room for these extra roots. Your monstera plant can quickly become rootbound if more roots are added.

You may need to repot it if there are a lot of aerial roots that you want in the ground. Another thing to watch out for is root rot on the aerial roots.

If they start turning dark brown and/or getting mushy, go ahead and cut them back to the stem to prevent the rot from affecting the entire plant.

Can You Propagate Aerial Roots?

You can if it’s done the right way. Trying to propagate a new monstera plant from just the aerial roots has been deemed nearly impossible. That doesn’t mean it will never happen, because as we have learned from Jurassic Park, “nature always finds a way.”

If you like to do things no one else has done, then you can try it. Maybe when someone tells you it’s not possible to do something, it becomes your mission to prove them wrong, then go for it. If you succeed in propagating a monstera plant from aerial roots alone, we want to know about it! Leave us a comment.

Propagating a swiss cheese plant can be done by cutting a part of the stem that has an aerial root. Find a suitable section of the plant.

It needs a few leaves, a healthy stem, and an aerial root or two growing from it. Using your sharpened, cleaned plant shears, snip the stem beneath the aerial root and place it in water.

Change the water regularly to keep it from getting stagnant and cloudy. This may need to be done daily, or every 2 to 3 days, but keeping the water clean will increase the health of the plant, and allow you to see when underground roots start to appear.

Once you see roots starting to develop, transplant them into a rich, well draining soil and water it like you have been watering the parent plant.

You can also skip a step and place the cutting directly into the soil to get it started. You’ll have to make sure the soil stays moist for several weeks until the subterranean roots start becoming established.

Repotting A Monstera With Aerial Roots

We touched on this earlier and said that you probably need to repot your monstera deliciosa about once a year to keep it healthy and give the roots enough room to grow. While most houseplants are pretty simple to repot, a monstera plant can be difficult.

Not only do they have a lot of aerial roots, but some have soft leaves and if you have a moss pole or totem, it’s yet another thing to take into consideration.

You really need more hands than you have to repot them. Having a good friend, roommate, or a partner to help you is ideal, but if you don’t have an extra set of hands, you can still do it.

Whether you have a pole or not, using a towel, sheet, or something to wrap up the leaves and aerial roots in a nice bundle can make transferring it to another pot a bit easier. Here’s where the extra body with another pair of hands helps.

Lay the plant on its side if it’s wrapped, or have your friend hold it steady as you gently pull the pot off the root ball. Just be sure you don’t pull on the base of the plant or the support pole.

Squeeze or massage the pot if it’s thin enough plastic and if it doesn’t fall away easily. If that doesn’t work or it’s in a rigid ceramic, terra cotta, or another hard container, use a trowel or other thin, bladed object to coax it off the rootball.

Now just add a little bit of soil to the new pot and slide it onto the roots. Either have your helper lift the plant up or do it yourself if you don’t have anyone to recruit and fill in the side with extra dirt. Gently pack it down and water it normally.

FAQs

Should I place the aerial roots in water?

There are a lot of videos and hacks showing you to put the aerial roots in water and how it helps the plant to grow better. These roots are on the plant to help anchor it, not to absorb water. While they can take in small amounts of moisture, they are best utilized to hold the plant onto a moss totem or on a tree trunk. Monstera deliciosa plants are vines that like to climb. That’s what aerial roots are for, so don’t place them in water.

If the roots don’t grow in the dish of water they can rot and affect the overall health of your plant.

Is it okay to cut the aerial roots off my monstera plant?

If you don’t want to deal with a moss totem or other object in your pot and the roots are looking like it’s got a bad case of bedhead, you can trim them off. Be sure to use sharp, clean tools and cut them close to the stem, but don’t damage the stem.

Just know that the roots will eventually grow back. It’s just the natural habit of the plant.

Why are there so many aerial roots on my monstera plant?

Straight up, aerial roots are a sign of a healthy plant, so keep doing what you have been. The monstera deliciosa plant is a vine and these aerial roots are what help anchor it to larger trees in the rainforest. It’s the natural growth habit of this plant.

If you’ve trimmed the aerial roots off your plant, they will end up growing back, and they could grow back in bigger numbers. If you really don’t like the look, keep trimming them back, or place some of them into the ground for extra support.

Final Thoughts

When you see the strange growths reaching out and stretching down from your monstera plant, don’t worry. Instead, give yourself a pat on the back because it’s a sign of the health of your plant.

Aerial roots are normal and show that the plant is growing as it should be. If they look unruly and take away from the aesthetic of the plant you can trim them, place them in the soil, or give them something to climb on.

Monstera plants are quite unique and have several one of a kind habits. From the holes throughout the leaves, the strange fruits that take a year to ripen, to the aerial roots, these plants are some of the most interesting tropical houseplants out there.

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