Pothos plant takes the pride of place in any houseplant owner’s collection of easiest to grow plants. There isn’t much that this tropical plant needs in order to give its best growth through its widely prized cascading trails of green shoots and leaves. However, the ease of care also leads most gardeners to often neglect the needs of the plant. As hardy and tough as pothos plants are, failure to subscribe to their key requirements and providing ideal growth conditions result in the plant showing signs of declining health that can ultimately lead to its death in extreme cases.
There could be a single cause or a combination of different factors contributing to the lack of growth and ill-health of your pothos. The most common causes that lead to the death of pothos plants are root rot due to overwatering, temperature fluctuation, stress due to constant movement, diseases, improper light and watering routine, and pest infestation. Thankfully, almost all of the problems faced by your pothos plant can be addressed in a timely manner as and when you start seeing the plant exhibiting the signs of stress. First, you need to figure out the cause behind why the pothos plant is dying and then you can execute the proper steps to bring your pothos back to life.
What Causes Ill Health Or Death Of Pothos Plants?
If your pothos plant is dying and in need of rescue, the following can be some of the reasons why it is not doing well. We have even talked about what you can do to treat each of the issues.
Overwatering is a common reason why most houseplants die. Often the false notion that giving more and more water to your pothos will lead to healthier and better growth causes more problems. When there’s excessive water being given to the plant, the soil gets waterlogged and the roots drown in the soggy conditions, unable to perform their proper function. In turn, the plant fails to receive an adequate supply of water and nutrients. Unlike the similar signs of yellowing and curling of leaves and wilting of the plant when it is dehydrated, overwatering also results in the leaves and the stem becoming soft to touch. Also, checking the soil for dryness or wetness can help differentiate between the two.
Checking for root rot is the best way to identify if your pothos plant is overwatered or not. The roots start to rot when left for too long in wet conditions. When there’s root rot you will notice the roots are black, mushy, and limp, looking like seaweeds. Healthy roots are firm, white, and pliable. On the outside, you can notice your pothos leaves turning pale and yellow, even showing brown spots. There could be pest infestations as well.
- Trim any damaged leaves and remove leaves that are completely yellow.
- Throw away excess water, in case you forgot to empty the saucer under the pot.
- Check and ensure that the pot has ample drainage holes such as these.
- Stop watering until the soil becomes dry to the touch.
- Always allow sufficient time in between watering for the soil to dry to avoid overwatering
- In case of root rot, you will need to follow the following process
- First, carefully remove the plant from the soil. Gently get rid of the soil to reveal the root ball.
- Cutaway the affected roots using sterilized and sharp pruning tools. You can also remove some healthy leaves or top growth. This will give the roots a better chance at re-growth as there will be fewer leaves to support.
- To get rid of any root fungus, you can dip the healthy roots in a fungicide solution and prevent any future harm.
- Repot the plant in a new pot with sufficient drainage and new soil.
- Place your pothos plant in indirect light while it is in recovery.
If you are certain that you have not been overwatering your pothos but the plant is still showing similar signs, the issue is most likely caused by poor drainage. If the pot has no or too few drainage holes, the water gets stored for a longer period in the soil, leading to soggy conditions. If the pot has a good amount of drainage holes, you might have forgotten to empty the tray or saucer below. If the excess water that filters down into the tray is not thrown out, the plant ends up sitting in water and the roots become limp and start to rot. When you have a good drainage system, you can even get away with the mistake of overwatering once or twice as excess water drains out quickly.
- Never plant your pothos in pots without sufficient drainage holes.
- Empty out the excess water from the tray each time you water the plant.
Like overwatering, underwatering results in your pothos plant wilting and the leaves curling and yellowing. The difference is when your plant is dehydrated, the leaves become dry and crisp. There’s no distribution of water from the roots due to the soil being dry. In addition to wilting and drooping of leaves, discoloration of leaves and brown edges also occur, ultimately affecting the growth of the plant and in extreme cases drying out completely.
Pothos plants are resilient and tough, able to survive without water for around 10 days. That doesn’t mean, you wait till the soil is bone dry before watering. If your pothos is dehydrated, these few easy steps will help revive the plant. Once your pothos leaves become stiff and shiny again, you can rest assured it has recovered well.
- You can remove the dead leaves and stems, and trim the damaged portions.
- Replenish with adequate water till the soil becomes moist and the excess water filters down into the saucer.
- Water again when the top layer of the soil becomes dry up to 2 inches deep. Watering too soon and too often will result in overwatering conditions.
- During their growing season, more frequent watering may be needed, and less during the slow growth winter months.
- You can also mist around your plant from time to time.
Too Much or Too Little Light
Pothos can survive in varied lighting conditions but it grows best in bright and indirect light. If the plant has been placed in direct sunlight, you will notice burns on the leaves. The leaves may also turn brown at the tips and start drooping. When there isn’t sufficient light, the growth might stop or become slow, with no new growth taking place. The leaves may also turn paler and lighter in color under poor light conditions.
- If the plant is sunburnt take the plant to a shaded area.
- If there’s a lack of light, move it to a bright spot.
- When growing indoors, keep your pothos in moderate light.
- If grown outdoors, place it in partially shaded areas.
- Windowsills and windows are the best places for pothos.
- You can use translucent curtains for the windows to filter the intensity of sunlight.
- Installing LED growth lights can also help to regulate the light requirement of your pothos plant.
- If you have planted your pothos in hanging pots, ensure it’s receiving adequate light on the top.
Lack of Fertilization and Over-Fertilizing
If you fail to give your plant enough fertilizer, especially during its growing season, then the plant might suffer from slow growth and development. On the other hand, too much and too frequent fertilization can result in the accumulation of chemicals in the soil, disrupting efficient water absorption by the plant. Stunted growth, weak stems, and paler leaves are some of the signs of over-fertilization.
- Ideally, fertilizing every few months is best for your pothos plant.
- Fertilize your pothos at once if you haven’t done so for long.
- In case of over-fertilization, it is advisable to drain out the excess chemicals in the soil by watering your plant thoroughly and letting it drain out completely. You can repeat this process at least four times to remove all the accumulated fertilizers.
- Refrain from using any fertilization for the next few months.
Inadequate Temperature, Lack of Humidity
Pothos plant prefers a temperature over 50 degrees F, especially upwards of 70 degrees F, and high humid conditions. If the temperature is too high or too low, your pothos will start deteriorating showcasing stunted growth and blackened leaves. Pothos can bear low humidity and even grow just fine. But if deprived for a longer period of time, it can lead to dry leaves and brown edges.
- Keep the temperature ranging between 70℉ and 90℉ (21℃ – 32℃ ).
- Maintain humidity levels between 50 and 70 percent.
- Remember to mist your plants once or twice a week.
- Invest in a home humidifier to regulate humidity levels around the plant
- Using a pebble tray with water, or placing bowls of water near the plant can also increase humidity.
- Place your pothos plant in high humidity areas at home like the bathroom or kitchen.
Frequently Changing Location
Stability of conditions is key to your pothos plant thriving. If you are changing the location of the plant too frequently, it will start to show signs of stress that can result in death. Your pothos plant’s natural ability to adapt to the environment gets disrupted when you shift it around too many times. Change of location can mean change of condition, from lighting to humidity and temperature and more, causing your pothos too much stress.
- Study your house for an ideal location with indirect light, adequate temperature, and humidity conditions.
- The best place will be where your pothos can receive a good few hours of morning light.
While pothos plants are generally pest-free, when there are pest infestations, it is mostly pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scales. These pests are sap suckers and they suck the nutrients from your pothos, slowing down the plant growth and exposing it to other health issues. Most pests can easily be removed using horticultural oils or insecticidal sprays.
Scale insects bear hard carapaces, looking like brown scabs and often hiding on stems and leaf nodes.
Solution: Remove by scraping them away with a blunt end of a knife.
Spider mites generally feed on the underside of the leaves near the base of the plant. If you see brown, transparent parts on the leaves and also notice web-like material, then it’s a sign of spider mites.
Solution: You can get rid of them by squirting the plant with water as spider mites thrive in dry conditions.
Mealybugs look like small fluffy balls due to their white protective coat, hiding under leaves and crevices of leaf nodes.
Solution: They can be easily wiped away using insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural pesticides.
- Isolating the infested pothos will reduce the risk of spreading it to other plants.
- Dusting your pothos plant on a weekly basis and wiping with vegetable soap can help reduce pests while keeping your plant shiny and preventing the pores from clogging.
Diseases Infecting Pothos
Phytophthora root rot is the most common disease affecting pothos, starting in the roots till it spreads to the leaves and the whole plant.
- Application of an appropriate fungicide such as dimethomorph + ametoctradin, phosphorous acid.
Southern blight appears as white feathery strands growing on the soil surface and up the plant stems. They produce spherical, compact masses of hyphae called sclerotia and spread rapidly during hot weather and wet soil conditions.
- Use a fungicide drench containing pentachloronitrobenzene (PCNB) or flutolanil on your plant.
- Repot the infected plant and discard the old pot as sclerotia can remain stuck on the sides.
Other Causes & Solutions
Damage from Application of Fungicides or Chemical Sprays
Pothos foliage can show sensitivity to certain chemical sprays which can cause white bleaching or burning of the tip of leaves.
- Test any fungicides on a single leaf before applying them to the plant.
- Spray in the morning or evening when it is cooler
If the older pothos leaves show yellow flecking or spotting, it could be due to manganese toxicity. The veins get dark and leaves may also drop prematurely. This could be due to excess fertilization or potting soil pH at 5.0 or below.
- Stop using fertilizers with manganese in its formulation
- Raise soil pH to between 6.0 to 6.5 by applying lime
- Discontinue use of fungicides having manganese
Pothos have long lives and can grow luxuriously, creating a spectacular green corner in your house. If somehow you have not managed to provide the ideal conditions for its growth, you can easily figure out the issues and their corresponding solutions through the points discussed above. When you understand what your plant needs and become responsible enough to fulfill those needs, you can become a proud pothos parent.
Ranjan Singh Moirangthem is a media professional based in India, currently working as a freelance copywriter. Growing up in a hill station and now living in a concrete jungle, he finds solace in the green corners of the city, be it parks or his housing society garden. He’s even passionate about plants and gardening and shares his experience by writing in-depth and well-researched articles for our readers.