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Why Should You Use Totem Poles for Your Houseplants?

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totem pole for houseplants

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Indoor gardens are often adorned with climbing and trailing plants, which are beloved by plant enthusiasts worldwide. These plants possess unique qualities and a captivating appearance that sets them apart from other houseplants. They elegantly cascade from shelves, drape down walls, and infuse any interior design with a special charm. Moreover, they are the perfect houseplants for small spaces, as they can easily fit into even the tiniest corners and rejuvenate living spaces.

If you're a fan of these climbing and trailing plants, you may have come across pictures of them on moss or coir poles. These structures are referred to as plant totem poles and are more than just support systems. They hold the key to unlocking the full potential of your green companions, promoting growth, and adding a hint of botanical magic to your indoor oasis. With the help of these poles, your indoor garden can achieve new levels of beauty and vitality.

What Is A Totem Pole?

A totem pole is a tall, vertical structure commonly used in gardening and plant care, particularly for climbing and vining plants. It serves as a support system for these plants, allowing them to grow upward and providing stability. Totem poles can be made from various materials, including moss, coir (coconut fiber), or natural branches. These materials mimic the plant's natural environment, where they would naturally cling to trees or other structures as they grow.

The primary purpose of a totem pole is to encourage plants to develop their natural climbing or trailing habit. Many climbing plants, such as certain types of philodendrons and pothos, produce aerial roots that seek support. When these roots come into contact with a totem pole, they attach themselves to it, helping the plant grow upward.

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Trailing plants need totem poles or moss poles to grow upward.
Photo by AnSyvanych

3 Types of Totem Poles

There are three main types of totem poles that you can choose for your plants:
  • Moss Totem Pole: Made from a core of moss, typically sphagnum moss, enclosed in a mesh or netting, moss totem poles can retain moisture, creating a humid environment that encourages healthy root growth and prevents drying out. They also offer an attractive, rustic appearance, making them suitable for epiphytic plants like certain philodendrons and monstera.
  • Coir Totem Pole: Made from coconut fiber (coir) with a natural, textured surface, coir totem poles are durable and long-lasting, even in moist conditions. They provide strong support for climbing plants and work well with a wide range of species.
  • Natural Branch Totem Pole: Made from natural tree branches, often hardwoods like ironwood, natural branch totem poles offer sturdy support and are environmentally friendly as they repurpose natural materials. 

Differences between Totem Poles and Trellises & Stakes

Totem poles, trellises, and stakes all serve as supports for climbing plants, the key distinctions lie in their materials, functions, and aesthetics. Totem poles are typically constructed from natural materials like moss, coir (coconut fiber), or natural branches. These materials create a supportive structure with a distinct organic appearance. Totem poles primarily serve as both support structures and microenvironments for climbing plants. They encourage plants to grow upward while providing stability. Additionally, the moss or coir used in totem poles can retain moisture, creating a humid environment around the plant. Totem poles often have a rustic and earthy look, adding a natural, authentic touch to indoor gardens. On the other hand, trellises and stakes can be made from a variety of materials, including metal, wood, or plastic. Metal trellises are common in outdoor gardening. Their primary function is to provide vertical support, helping plants grow upward and preventing them from sprawling on the ground. Trellises and stakes offer a wide range of design options, from simple grids to intricate patterns, allowing for customization based on aesthetic preferences. 

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Totem poles will help the plants look more attractive.

Why Should You Need Totem Poles?

Totem poles offer several benefits when used in gardening and plant care, particularly for climbing and vining plants. Here are the key advantages of using totem poles:

  • Support for Climbing Plants: Totem poles provide vertical support for climbing and trailing plants, allowing them to grow upward. This helps prevent the plants from sprawling or becoming entangled on the ground, promoting a more organized and attractive appearance.
  • Encourages Natural Growth Habits: Many climbing plants exhibit a natural tendency to climb and attach themselves to vertical surfaces. Totem poles replicate their natural environment, encouraging plants to display their natural growth habits, including the development of aerial roots.
  • Enhanced Aerial Root Growth: Climbing plants often produce aerial roots along their stems, which seek out surfaces to cling to for support. Totem poles create an ideal surface for these roots to attach to, promoting their growth and stability.
  • Healthier and Fuller Plants: When climbing plants are supported by totem poles, they tend to develop a more upright and bushy growth habit. This can lead to the production of larger, more lush foliage, resulting in healthier and more attractive plants.
  • Space Utilization: Totem poles allow for the efficient use of vertical space in your indoor or outdoor garden. This is especially valuable if you have limited floor space but want to grow taller plants.
  • Decorative Element: Many totem poles, such as those made from moss or coir, have a natural and attractive appearance. They can serve as decorative elements in your garden, adding visual interest and enhancing the overall aesthetics of your plant display.

How to Use Totem Poles

  • Select the Right Location: Choose a location that provides adequate space for your plant to grow vertically. 
  • Prepare the Plant: If you're installing the totem for an existing plant, gently remove it from its current container or support structure. Be careful not to damage the roots or the plant. Prune off damaged parts. 
  • Position the Totem Pole: Insert the totem pole into the pot or the ground next to the plant. Make sure it's positioned securely and vertically. The totem should be at a distance that allows the plant to reach it easily. Be careful not to damage your plant’s root systems. 
  • Secure the Plant: Carefully guide the plant toward the totem pole. If it has aerial roots, encourage them to make contact with the totem by gently attaching them or wrapping them around the pole. Use plant ties or twine to secure the plant in place without causing damage. Ensure the plant is evenly distributed around the totem pole.
  • Water the Totem Pole: Moss or coir totem poles benefit from regular moisture. Use a watering can or spray bottle to keep the totem pole moist, especially the sections where the plant is in contact. Maintaining humidity around the pole encourages the plant to develop more roots and adhere to the totem.
  • Monitor Growth: As your plant grows, you may need to prune and train it to follow the totem's shape. Adjust ties and provide additional support if required. Regularly check the moisture level of the totem, especially in drier indoor environments.

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Monstera Deliciosa on totem pole or moss pole.

Photo by Natalia Duryagina

Types Of Plants Suitable For Totem Poles

  • Monstera (Monstera deliciosa): Monsteras look wonderful and can grow very well in a totem pole. Using a totem pole also encourages aerial roots to develop and make your plant more vibrant and healthy. 
  • Philodendron: Various philodendron species thrive on totem poles. Ensure the totem is securely anchored in the pot to support the philodendron's growth.
  • Pothos: Pothos is an excellent choice for totem poles due to its vigorous growth. Prune the plant as needed to maintain its shape and prevent it from becoming too top-heavy.
  • Syngonium:Syngoniums are perfect for totem poles. Train their stems to climb the pole and consider using plant ties to secure them initially. You should maintain a consistent humidity level around the pole to encourage root attachment.
  • Ivy: Various ivy species, such as English ivy (Hedera helix), can be grown on totem poles, both indoors and outdoors. 

Extra Tips 

  • Moss and coir totem poles benefit from regular misting or watering to maintain humidity. This is especially important in dry indoor environments.
  • For larger or heavier plants, consider reinforcing the totem pole with stakes or additional support structures to prevent bending or toppling.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of pests that hide in the pole. Early detection and treatment can prevent issues from spreading to other plants in your garden.
  • If you bring your plant outside, consider providing protection during severe weather conditions like strong winds or heavy rain to prevent damage to both the plant and the pole.

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