“Lean on me, when you’re not strong. And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on… It won’t be long, ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” Sound familiar?
You got it: Bill Wither’s classic, “Lean on Me.” If you’re looking at a half floppy Monstera or an out-of-control vine, it needs “somebody to lean on.” It’s time for your plant to get a Moss Totem pole! If you’re new to the world of totems, you probably have questions: Does my plant really need one? What are they? Should I get a Moss Totem or something else? How do I install it? And what maintenance do they require? Keep reading to answer your questions!
The Origins of Climbing Plants
When you think about your plant’s “origins,” what comes to mind? The department store or nursery you bought it from? Well, your plant’s true origins go way further than that. Where does it naturally grow? While the answer to that question differs from plant to plant, most climbing houseplants have one thing in common: they aren’t terrestrial. (No, that doesn’t mean they’re aliens either!)
Getting Familiar with Terrestrial and Epiphytic Plants
Terrestrial plants grow in the soil their entire lives. We see examples of these kinds of plants everywhere (seriously, look out your window at the grass and trees).
Hemi-epiphytic plants are “partially terrestrial.” This can happen in two ways: (1) The seed germinates in the soil, fueling the plant’s treetop ascent. (2) The seed begins life on a tree but grows downward to make soil-bound roots and then goes back up into a mighty forest dweller!
Epiphytic plants grow soil-less for their entire life. The majority of Moss Totem climbing plants are either epiphytes or hemi-epiphytes! Yes, that even includes the chunkier, more tree-like varieties like the Monstera and Philodendron Hope.
Why Your Plant’s Origins Matter
Let’s get real: You can’t care for an epiphytic plant the same way you would a terrestrial plant. Why?
Terrestrial plants rely on their underground root system for just about everything. Epiphytic plants depend largely on their leaves and aerial roots to absorb moisture and nutrients. In fact, their underground roots quickly become rotted when exposed to soggy soil.
In a nutshell: Your climbing plant was made to… well, climb. So let it!
What is a Moss Totem Pole for Plants?
This might sound obvious: It’s a pole made out of moss. Okay, there is more to it than that! Here at Plant Havn, we carefully handcraft each pole, which consists of three main components:
- A birch dowel to keep the pole upright.
- Heavy-duty mesh (in either black or white), and…
- Pure, long-fibered sphagnum moss.
What do Moss Poles do? Simply put: They mimic your plant’s natural environment, giving them something to climb. Plus, the moss provides your plant with the moisture, humidity, and nutrients its aerial roots crave.
A word to the wise: Craftsmanship matters! Poorly constructed Moss Poles will eventually need to be replaced, and (if there are gaps) your plant may have trouble affixing to it.
The Benefits of Training Your Plants to a Moss Totem
Giving a Moss Totem to your climbing plant is like transporting it to its “happy place.” In their natural environment, Philodendron Micans grow leaves that are 7-8 times larger than houseplants. Why? Partially because of their ascent! So, giving your plant something to climb up will likely give you a bigger, lusher plant! How?
As noted, the aerial roots of your climber are responsible for much of your plant’s moisture and nutrient absorption. As these roots attach to your Moss Totem, your plant will become more established; the absorbed water and nutrients help it produce larger leaves.
If you have a Monstera, attaching it to a Moss Pole will also accelerate its fenestration development (you know, those Instagram-worthy slits!).
Does it Have to Be a “Moss” Pole?
There are plenty of products out there, including Coco Fiber Poles and Metal Trellises. Will they fuel the same kind of growth?
- Coco Fiber Poles: Yes! As far as benefits go, these poles are comparable to moss-based products. These structures do dry out more frequently; you will need to be ready with your mister! One thing Coco Fiber Poles are great for? Keeping your unruly plants upright! So if that’s all your plant needs, we got you.
- Metal Trellis: Nope, but it can give your plant a face-lift. You will have to continue attaching your plant to the structure with ties.
A Support Structure vs. A Climbing Structure
For the record, both have their place! (And without the proper TLC, your plant’s Moss Totem can quickly turn into a support-structure-only… more on that to come.)
A support structure keeps your plant in an upright position without giving anything for aerial roots to attach to. How does it stay up? Usually with some sort of plant ties, like twine. Some plant parents opt to train vines to “climb” up a wall with nails or push pins. The bitter truth, though? The plant isn’t actually climbing; it’s just being held in place. (Take the nails away, and you’ll have one floppy vine!)
So, what is an actual climbing structure? Something that keeps your plant upright and encourages your plant’s aerial roots to latch on. Meaning, you can take the plant ties away, and the plant will remain affixed!
How to Insert a Moss Totem Pole into a Plant
Step One: Soak it. Place your Moss Pole underwater until it is completely soaked.
Step Two: Locate the best spot. You want to stick your totem as close to your plant’s base or pot’s center as possible. You may need to really “get in there” to find the perfect location for vining plants.
Step Three: Commit! Place the wooden spear-like bottom on the soil’s surface. Slowly but surely, apply pressure to insert the pole fully. Remember, you don’t want to damage your plant’s main root system (that is all the chunky stuff!), but you’ll undoubtedly run over some of your plant’s smaller roots. Don’t be shy; tiny roots will regrow in no time!
Step Four: Attach your plant to the structure with twine or another soft tie. Ensure the nodes of your plant are firmly secured to the pole (this is where the roots will attach!).
Step Five: Admire your work! Installing a Moss Pole is amazingly satisfying because it’s an instant facelift for your plant. As your plant grows and naturally attaches to the pole, you can remove the ties.
You can also insert a Moss Totem into your plant when you repot. If you are overly anxious about damaging your plant’s root system, this is the option for you! How do you do it?
- Water your soil thoroughly the day before.
- Soak your Moss Pole until it’s fully saturated.
- Remove your plant from its container.
- “Tickle” the roots, releasing the majority of the old soil.
- Place your plant slightly off-center in its new container.
- Surround your plant with soil.
- Place the Moss Pole in the middle of the container.
- Thoroughly overhead water your plant.
- Affix your plant to the structure with ties.
Moss Totem Pole Maintenance
Once it’s in, it’s in. You won’t ever have to go through the “inserting process” again. In fact, when you repot your plant in the future, the totem will go with it. Always be careful to preserve the attached aerial roots because damaging them can lead to your plant’s downfall!
Good for you; you’ve opted for a stackable Moss Pole system! Why is that beneficial? Usually, when your plant outgrows its climbing structure, you’re left trying to figure out how to replace your totem (bad idea). Or, worse yet, try to “Macgyver” another pole on top of the existing one. But you can breathe easily! When your plant ‘outgrows’ its current Plant Havn pole, simply stack another one on top!
Do You Water a Moss Pole?
You should. Aerial roots require a moist surface to attach. If you opt-out of watering or misting your Moss Totem, you will never be able to remove any plant ties. (They really add up over time!) Another downside? You won’t reap the large-leafed benefits.
The good news? Out of all the climbing structures, sphagnum moss is moisture-retaining. What does this mean? While you will have to water it, you won’t have to water it as frequently as Coco Fiber (which requires daily mistings).
Simply water your totem when you water your plant. Have the mister out once or twice a week for your other plants? Give the pole a quick spray down.
Let’s review those questions from the beginning (pop-quiz time!):
- Does my plant really need a Moss Totem? Epiphytic plants thrive on totems: you’ll get a healthier, bushier, more attractive plant. (Plus your Monstera’s leaves will split faster.)
- What are they? Poles made out of moss, which mimic your plant’s natural environment.
- Should I get a Moss Totem or something else? Coco Coir Totems are comparable but require more maintenance. While they are great for holding your plant upright, they’re not so great at retaining moisture. The most important thing is to choose a moist, rough structure that will allow your plant’s aerial roots to latch on, such as a Plant Havn’s Sphagnum Moss Pole
- How do I install it? By placing it near your plant’s base. Temporarily secure your plant to the totem with ties (until the roots attach).
- And what maintenance do Moss Totems require? Water your totem when you water your plant, thoroughly soaking it. Mist it occasionally throughout the week.
We are thrilled to have you in our wonderful world of totems! Here’s to wishing you well on your plant parenting adventures!