Why Does My Pothos Have Brown Stems? How Can I Fix it?

If your pothos plant has brown stems, you may be wondering why this happens! There's actually a few different reasons that your plant may be showing these signs, so it's important to properly diagnose why it happens. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton examines why Pothos have brown stems, and what you can do to prevent it from happening, or fix it if it's already happened.

Pothos Stems Browning

Most houseplant enthusiasts have at least one type of Pothos in their collection. Known as low-maintenance and beginner-friendly, these plants rarely give their owners any trouble. However, on rare occasions, there are different problems that can happen with any houseplant, including the Pothos.

Incorrect care or problems with pests and diseases can make them look far worse than the day you brought them home. Problems usually show up in leaves first, but also present themselves in the stems, often turning brown. If they are neglected for too long, it can unfortunately result in the death of your pothos plant.

So, if your pothos stem has started browning, you’ve come to the right place. There are a few different causes for this, and we will take a look at each of them in more detail. We’ll help you identify the possible causes for brown stems in your Pothos to help you get them on the path back to good health.

Overwatering

Yellowing Leaf Damage
When overwatered, stems will turn brown and mushy and leaves will yellow.

As with most houseplant problems, the main culprit is typically overwatering. Typically when this happens, you’ll notice your pothos leaves start to yellow.

Pothos plants have thicker leaves than many other houseplants, holding quite a lot of water in their foliage and stems. While they appreciate regular watering, they are happiest when the soil is left to dry out slightly every couple of days.

If you water while the soil is still moist, or if your pot has no drainage holes, the soil becomes waterlogged. This excess moisture causes the roots and stems to go soft and lack the oxygen needed to sustain the plant.

Overwatered Pothos plants will slowly develop brown stems that may also be soft and mushy between your fingers. If this is the case, your Pothos requires immediate attention to avoid an untimely demise.

If the problem is minor, you can simply leave the soil to dry out and change your watering routine. However, brown stems typically indicate a severe root rot issue.

Remove the plant from its pot and wash off all the remaining soil. Trim off any rotten roots back to the healthy growth and repot into brand new soil. You should also remove vines with very damaged stems as they may struggle to recover and sap energy from the plant when it is trying to establish new roots.

Incorrect Soil

Repotting in New Pot
Soil issues can be easily resolved with a quick repotting in an airy and well-draining houseplant mix.

Like overwatering, choosing the incorrect soil or not paying attention to soil health can also turn your Pothos roots brown.

Pothos plants require soil that is airy and well-draining. A mixture of potting soil, coconut coir and perlite will retain moisture when needed, draining away any excess and delivering oxygen to the roots.

When planted in the wrong soil, your Pothos may get too little water, or more likely too much water. Either way, moisture problems can cause the stems to turn brown. Never repotting and leaving the soil to disintegrate and become compacted has the same effect.

Starting with the right soil is an essential foundation of growth. When repotting, try to match the new soil mixture to the consistency of the old one to prevent stress and ensure your Pothos will be happy in their new home.

Any soil problems can be resolved with a quick and easy repotting. Keep an eye on their progress and prune away any parts of the plant that do not recover.

Underwatering

Underwatered Issue
If underwatered, stems and leaves will begin to loose their luster and beautiful green color.

If your Pothos leaves are turning brown, that is typically a sign that the plant is heavily underwatered. This problem can also spread to the stems, leaving them dry, stiff, and discolored.

They may be low maintenance, but Pothos plants do require watering around once per week, and once every two weeks in winter. Checking the soil every few days is recommended to ensure you do not water too early or, in this case, too late.

An underwatered Pothos will typically turn yellow at the leaves first, then browning of the leaves and the stems later. In later stages, you may notice the leaf edges become black and cracked. If the steps are excessively dry, they can even split, creating irreparable damage that is best pruned away.

If the soil has become compacted after underwatering for long periods, it’s best to leave the pot in a sink or bucket filled with water for 15-30 minutes. The dry soil will slowly soak up the water from the bottom, becoming completely saturated.

The pot may start to float, leaving the vines in the water if it is too light. In this case, weigh it down with one or two rocks so the pot does not tip over.

Those who find themselves underwatering often will benefit from a stricter checking routine. Keep your Pothos in a visible area and set a reminder to test the soil every couple of days. You can also use a moisture meter that will indicate when the soil has dried out enough to require watering again.

Root Rot

Compacted Roots
If root rot is the culprit, trim away damaged stems and affected roots and repot in fresh soil.

Root rot is associated with overwatering first and foremost. However, the disease is actually caused by a fungus residing in the soil that eats away at the roots.

If you reuse old soil that contains this same fungus to repot your Pothos, or use dirty tools that are carrying it, your plant may develop a problem with root rot.

The stems will typically start browning at the base near the soil, slowly traveling upwards until the issue is resolved.

Pothos plants with root rot require immediate repotting. Remove the plant from its existing pot and wash away all the soil, exposing the roots. Trim off any damaged stems until the healthy growth is exposed. Try to trim as little as possible while removing all the problematic roots, as any parts left behind will continue to spread the issue.

Repot into brand new soil and preferably a new pot, or clean the old pot thoroughly with soap and water before replanting.

Diseases

Drying Browning Leaves
Blight is the most common disease that causes browning stems and foliage.

Houseplants are not majorly susceptible to disease, protected from the outdoors and in clean environments. However, that doesn’t mean they are immune. Whether brought in from a nursery or open window, diseases can spread to your Pothos plants, resulting in browning stems.

The disease typically responsible for browning stems is blight. There are several types of blight, either caused by bacteria or fungi that hide out on the leaves or in the soil and cause havoc. Anthracnose, another fungal disease, is also known to turn stems brown, but typically presents itself on the foliage first.

If the problem is minor, your best defense is to prune away and destroy any affected leaves and stems. There are also commercial products that can potentially remove small problems, but most are more effective in prevention than eradication.

Once most of the stems and leaves have turned brown, it is likely too late to save the plant. It’s best to discard it and keep it away from any other indoor or outdoor plants to prevent spread.

Prevent disease from attacking your plants by giving them the right care and conditions. This will ensure their natural defenses work to their best ability, allowing the plant to protect itself from any threats.

Pests

Aphids on Houseplant
With pest issues, such as aphids, it is critical to take care of the problem before they spread.

Pests are a more common issue when compared to diseases. Whether it be aphids, spider mites or scale, there are several bad bugs that love to feed on Pothos stems, causing them to turn brown.

Pests generally feed on plant tissues and sap to keep themselves alive. Some also lay eggs between the leaves and stems, growing their colonies and reproducing until the infestation becomes uncontrollable.

Luckily, pests are generally the easiest issue to identify. If you look at your browning stems and notice a few bugs hiding out, there are a number of fixes you can try.

For small infestations, simply pick the bugs off and squeeze them between your fingers or drop them in a bucket of soapy water. The concern here is finding them all before they have a chance to spread, but if there are only a few, you can be successful.

Larger infestations require the help of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Wipe your chosen product on the leaves to remove the bugs and prevent any eggs from hatching.

It may take a few rounds to completely remove all the bugs so consistency is important if you want your Pothos to return to good health.

Cold Exposure

Proper Light and Humidity
Be sure your plant is in proper lighting and temperature conditions in your home.

Your Pothos (and other tropical houseplants) need warm temperatures and high humidity to thrive. They cannot handle cold weather, stopping growth below 60F and facing severe damage below 50F.

This problem is not common, since Pothos plants are generally kept indoors in temperatures we are comfortable with. However, if you happen to leave your Pothos outside by accident, or against a window during extremely cold weather, the stems can turn brown due to the shock.

Even less common is shock from cold winds or air conditioners, but if exposed for long periods, it’s not unheard of.

Here, the fix is simple. Move your Pothos to a warmer area and wait for the slow recovery process to finish. If the damage is severe (to cell level), the plant may not recover at all.

Prevention is by far the best defense in this case. Never leave your Pothos in temperatures below 50F, and preferably 60F, to stop the stems from facing damage.

Overfertilization

Slightly Browning Stems
With consistent repotting, fertilizer isn’t typically necessary for this low-maintenance houseplant.

When repotted frequently, Pothos plants don’t generally require much fertilizer. They may need a boost during the peak growing season, but a weak dose of liquid fertilizer is often enough to do the trick.

Lack of nutrients is far less common in these plants than overfertilizing. When a Pothos stops growing, owners often look to fertilizer to resolve their problems. But, if you fertilize when not required, or add more fertilizer than is recommended on the packaging, you may end up doing more harm than good.

Overfertilizing results in a build-up of salts in the soil. This can burn the roots, leaves and in severe cases, stems of the plant, causing them to turn brown.

To remove the salts, flush the soil with filtered water and stop fertilizing for several months. Always read the instructions carefully and only fertilize when absolutely necessary to avoid causing any irreparable damage.

Final Thoughts

Brown stems on your Pothos are not pleasant to deal with. But the good news is that most of the causes for this are fixable. You just need to identify these causes early, so you can properly treat them. With a few fixes and a change in care, you can make your plant healthy again and prevent any problems from occurring in the future.

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