Is Your Pothos Plant Dying? Here’s 10 Common Reasons Why

Is your pothos plant dying and you don't know why? There are several different contributing reasons that your plant may be dying. Depending on how far along your plant's damage is, you may or may not be able to reverse it. In this article, we look at the ten most common reasons your pothos plant may be dying.

Dying Pothos

A houseplant collection is incomplete without at least one pothos. Although, considering the many interesting cultivars to choose from, stopping at one is almost impossible. 

Whether you have one or many, you likely appreciate your pothos most for their ease of care. Topping every beginner-friendly houseplant list, these climbing plants can handle low light and almost no attention, continuing to grow and stretch along your bookshelf. 

Due to this carefree nature, it can be incredibly distressing when the plant displays signs of struggle. If these plants are deemed unkillable, how could they possibly be dying under your care? Well, there are actually possible 10 reasons why. But, with each reason, there is an easy solution to revive your pothos and ensure the problem never happens again. 

Too Much Sunlight 

Leaf Turning Brown in Bright Sunlight
These ground-dwelling plants cannot tolerate too much harsh, direct sunlight.

Pothos plants are native to tropical forests and jungles where they can be found climbing up tree trunks, shielded from the sun by the tall tree canopy above. They love dappled sunlight and thrive indoors when kept in moderate indirect light. 

When the plant gets too much direct sun, the leaves will begin to turn yellow. If the problem persists, they may go a pale color and lose the vibrance of their variegation. You’ll see this on the leaves facing the direct sunlight, while others shielded from the sun will retain their color. 

In intense direct sunlight, the leaves can burn. They turn a pale yellow color due to the lack of chlorophyll as a result of this exposure. Left for too long with no green leaves, the plant cannot photosynthesize to produce the energy necessary for survival. 

If your pothos is receiving too much sunlight, simply move it away from the sun. Be careful not to move it to a spot with very low light, as it will not respond to the extreme change in conditions well. Pick an area with moderate indirect light or cover the window with a sheer curtain to protect the leaves from sunburn. 

Too Little Sunlight 

Pothos Plant in a Clay Pot
These plants still need to photosynthesize, so some light is required for them to live.

Pothos plants are typically labeled suitable for low light. And this is largely true, depending on how you define low light. Plants we grow indoors were not designed to grow that way, so what we consider low light and what they consider low light can be vastly different. 

Low light does not equal an incredibly dark room with no windows. The designation simply means low light plants can be placed a few feet from a bright window, possibly with some obstructions, without any negative impacts on growth. In other words – low light does not mean zero light. 

Pothos plants placed in low light conditions will not grow correctly. The leaves along the stem may become sparse due to the lack of energy. Variegated leaves will lose all variegation as the plant makes more chlorophyll to compensate for the lower lighting conditions. Left in these conditions, the plant will slowly begin to die as it struggles to sustain itself. 

Luckily, the fix is simple. Move the plant to a brighter room. It should still receive indirect light from a nearby window, even if it is a few feet away. It will grow best in moderate lighting conditions with protection from direct sunlight. 

Underwatering 

Thirsty Pothos Plant on a Table
Though pothos plants can tolerate periods without water, they still need it to survive.

Due to their ability to look good while struggling, many pothos owners forget the occasional watering. Unlike other plants that begin to collapse when they lack water, pothos holds up incredibly well for long periods. 

However, that doesn’t mean the plant is thriving. It just means it doesn’t display any obvious signs of struggle until it is too late. When your pothos hasn’t been watered for a while, the leaves will start to curl inward in an attempt to conserve moisture and energy. The stems will dry out and the leaves may even start to fall off if the problem is severe. 

If the soil is incredibly dry, it’s best to water the pot from the bottom. Dry soil becomes compacted, leading water to run off the top and down the sides of the pot rather than saturating the soil. When watering from the bottom, the soil will absorb all the moisture it needs over time, ensuring it gets delivered to the roots. You can also aerate the soil with a skewer before watering to improve moisture retention. 

To water your plant from the bottom, fill a bath, sink, or container with enough water to sit halfway up the pot. Place the pot in the water, ensure all the trailing stems are held out of the water. Weigh the pot down with rocks if it begins to float. Keep it in the water for 15-30 minutes, or until the water level stops dropping. 

Remove the pot from the water and let any excess water drain from the bottom before returning it to its original home. 

Overwatering 

Person Pulling Rotten Roots From Soil
Too much water can result in root rot, which can ultimately kill the plant.

Neglect can kill a plant over time but fussing over them can kill them far quicker. This leads to one of the greatest houseplant killers (especially when it comes to pothos) – overwatering. 

A plant’s roots can only take up so much water. They take enough to keep the plant alive and happy, leaving the rest in the soil. When you overwater, this excess moisture in the soil sits around the roots and causes a whole host of problems. 

The main issue is root rot. The roots become mushy and start to decay, preventing them from taking up any more water. They also have no oxygen around them and effectively suffocate in the soil. 

Fungal and bacterial growth is another concern. When water pools around your plants, either in the pot or underneath them, it stagnates. This stagnant water attracts a range of creatures and critters that can end up harming your plants permanently. 

Signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves and mushy stems, especially around the base of the plant. The leaves will also wilt over time as the roots cannot carry water around the plant. Leave the pot to dry out before watering again and increase your times between waterings, testing the soil frequently. 

Unfortunately, if the problem is severe, you’re likely dealing with a bad case of root rot. Root rot does not resolve itself and requires immediate attention from you in order to avoid the death of the plant. Start by removing the plant from the pot and washing all the soil off the roots (the soil can harbor a fungus that spreads to other roots, even if the watering issues are fixed). Trim off any affected roots with sharp scissors and repot the plant into new soil. 

Soil Choice 

Pothos Plant Growing in Soil
It is very important for a pothos to be planted in a soil that is well-draining.

Pothos plants need a light, airy soil that is very well-draining. Soil that is too compacted or dense will not drain well enough, leaving water pooling around the roots. Soil with smaller particles (like clay-based soils) will also prevent oxygen from reaching the roots, suffocating the plant. 

Like overwatering, incorrect soil choice can also lead to yellowing leaves and root rot. The water still pools around the roots, not because of excessive water, but because it has no way to leave the pot. 

If your plant has been in the same pot for several years, the opposite issue may occur – the pot drains too quickly. Over time, the soil in containers begins to degrade. It can no longer hold on to water and contains no nutrients, letting all the water escape from the pot. 

The resolution in both cases is repotting. Move your pothos to a pot filled with a light and well-draining potting mix. Alternatively, you can make your own houseplant mix by amending potting soil with coconut coir and perlite for added drainage. 

Cold Temperatures 

Pothos Vines With Yellow and Brown Leaves
Pothos are native to the tropics, so cold environments can eventually kill them.

Often problems with pothos plants are not due to incorrect care on the owner’s part, but rather external factors that are difficult to control. One of those is temperature

As tropical plants, pothos prefers warm temperatures between 70F and 85F. They can manage down to 55F but will struggle below that. 

This is not typically a problem indoors as temperatures stay relatively moderate. However, if your plant is left outdoors or placed near an open window during a cold spell, the cells may become damaged. Even if it is placed next to a closed window, the build-up of cold near the glass can damage the leaves and stems of the plant. 

Signs of cold damage include wilting or dropping leaves that turn brown or black. The stems will go limp, unable to climb nearby structures. 

If the exposure is prolonged, it is unlikely that your plant will recover. However, if you notice small signs of cold damage, move your plant away from the area immediately and into a room above 60F. If the soil is dry, you can water the plant with lukewarm water to improve the conditions in the soil, but be careful of overwatering in cooler temperatures as the soil will dry out far slower than usual. 

Low Humidity 

Pothos Leaf With Brown Spot
Tropical regions are humid, so pothos plants prefer some moisture in the air.

Plants grown in tropical conditions need a high moisture content in the air to thrive. This includes most houseplants. Pothos isn’t too fussy about humidity in comparison to other houseplants, happy with any humidity over 50%. However, if your indoor humidity is lower than 50% (which many homes are), the plant may begin to show signs of struggle. 

Humidity is essential in the process of transpiration. When the humidity is low, the plant prioritizes conserving moisture and does not release water vapor from the leaves, preventing transpiration. 

This may not immediately kill your plant. However, over time, it will greatly impact growth. Transpiration influences photosynthesis, inhibiting the production of energy and food for plant growth. If humidity is extremely low for extended periods, the plant will likely stop growing altogether. 

There are many recommended ways to improve humidity levels in your home. The most common suggestion is misting. However, this practice only improves the humidity for a few seconds before the moisture dissipates, and is more likely to cause issues with fungal disease due to the water collecting on the foliage. 

Placing the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water is another common suggestion. Unfortunately, this only improves the humidity marginally – not enough to make a difference if you are well below 50%. 

The best solution is to invest in a humidifier and place it close to your pothos. This will improve conditions for the rest of your houseplants too, providing the exact conditions they prefer. 

The Pot Is Too Small 

Rootbound Plant

The roots of your pothos plant can easily become rootbound if the pot is too small, eventually killing the plant.

Pothos are not known for extensive root systems that require large pots. However, they do need space to grow and expand, and will ultimately need to be moved to a larger pot. 

If your pothos is left in the same pot for several years, the roots will begin to outgrow the pot. As they continue to take up space in the soil and wrap around each other, they lose their ability to absorb water and nutrients. Without these essential elements, the plant cannot survive. 

Signs your pot is too small include roots growing from the drainage holes or out the top of the soil, excessively long stems that cause the pot to tip over continuously, or stunted growth and wilting leaves. 

If this is the case, repot your pothos into a new pot around one or two sizes up. Tease the roots well to release them before repotting to allow them to grow into the new soil. Ensure the new pot and the soil you choose is well-draining to prevent issues with overwatering. 

Nutrient Problems 

Pothos Plant With Dying Leaves
Having too much or too little of a specific nutrient can cause harm to your pothos plant.

Nutrients are essential to plant growth. Without macro and micronutrients in the soil, the plant cannot survive. 

Plants in the same pot for several years without added fertilizers will slowly begin to die due to a lack of nutrients. Over time, the nutrients slowly leech from the soil and get washed away each time your water your plant. Since there is no way for the pothos to access additional nutrients, it begins to die back. 

A nutrient imbalance can also kill the plant, the first sign of which is spotty yellowing leaves. Nutrient imbalances are caused by incorrect use of fertilizer, consistent watering with tap water, or problems with growth that cause the plant to use up more of some nutrients than the others. 

While they are not hungry plants, your pothos will benefit from regular doses of liquid fertilizer in spring and summer along with the rest of your houseplants. If the soil has degraded and cannot hold on to the water or fertilizer, it’s best to repot into new, healthy soil filled with organic matter to improve nutrient availability. 

Pests 

Pothos Leaves With Leaves Eaten by Pests
There are. number of bugs that like to munch on the leaves of pothos plants to be aware of.

Finally, we have the problem every houseplant owner dreads – pests. Pothos plants are not highly susceptible to pests, but they can attract mealybugs and scale

These small bugs, either white fuzzy spots (mealybugs) or brown or black lumps (scale), attach themselves to the leaves and stems. Here, they feed on the plant sap and draw moisture and nutrients from the plant. 

A few small pests may not cause a massive issue. But, if left for long periods, these bugs multiply and can completely take over a plant. Due to the lack of moisture and nutrients, leaves and stems will become distorted around the site of the problem. 

To remove mealybug or scale, wipe the leaves with a damp cloth or spray them off in a sink or bathtub (away from all other houseplants to prevent spreading). Then, wipe the leaves with an alcohol spray or neem oil to suffocate the remaining insects. Continue to apply every few weeks until the problem disappears. 

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve identified the most common reasons your pothos may be dying, there are thankfully steps that may help you troubleshoot most of these issues. The good news is that this is an extremely hardy plant. It’s quite common for them to fully recover if they are given swift, proper care. If you have any additional plant revival tips, feel free to drop us a line in the comments section!

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