Why Doesn’t My Pothos Plant Have Leaves? Is There a Problem?
Pothos plants are one of the most popular houseplants you can add to your indoor garden space. So what happens when you get it home, and it's not growing the beautiful green leaves that you've seen it grow in pictures? In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines why your pothos may not have grown leaves, and how to fix it.
Most plant enthusiasts dream of gorgeous lush leaves vining through our homes and offices to brighten our days and purify the air. Pothos plants are the perfect vines for the job: they are easy to grow, widely adapted to different conditions, and thrive in the indoor climate of most buildings. But what do you do when the plant starts losing its foliage and showing only barren leafless vines?
Suddenly the gorgeous pothos plant you brought home from the garden store or nursery looks like a sickly spindly mess. What causes pothos vines to drop their leaves? Why do the vines look barren? Here are five potential causes and simple solutions.
Regardless of the pothos variety you’ve chosen, if you follow our advice, your pothos vine will be back to its verdant green beauty in no time!
Five Reasons for Leafless Pothos Vines
Pothos vines are sometimes called Devil’s Ivy because they are so resilient and difficult to kill. These Solomon-island natives are tropical understory plants that tolerate a range of conditions as a houseplant.
But this doesn’t mean they are immune to problems entirely. Leafless pothos vines can result from lack of light, overwatering, underwatering, nutrient deficiencies, or pest infestations. These issues cause spindly or “leggy” pothos plants that aren’t as beautiful as healthy bushy plants.
The potential reasons for “leggy” pothos are listed in order of “most common” to “least common,” so you can use a process of elimination to determine the core problem(s). As you’ll see, the solutions are often as simple as moving the plant, repotting, or adjusting your watering and fertilizer schedules to get those vines to start growing leaves again.
Not Enough Light
Pothos are renowned for their ability to tolerate low-light conditions in bathrooms, kitchens, and offices. But that doesn’t mean no light conditions. A common misconception is that pothos can survive on just a tiny bit of light from a small window or lamp. Maybe some types can survive, but they definitely won’t thrive.
If your pothos is mostly vine and not much leaf, chances are it doesn’t have enough light. Spindly, “leggy” vines are reaching toward the light.
You will notice tannish-brown nubs along the vines where leaves used to grow. These are called nodes, and they are the point from which all growth (either leaf or root) will come out. If a plant has dropped a lot of its leaves and left behind only nodes on a long scraggly vine, it isn’t getting enough sunlight to photosynthesize and produce its food.
You can often see that the leaf nodes are growing farther and farther apart from each other as the plant stretches towards the light. This is a definite sign of sunlight deficiency and you should move your pothos ASAP.
How to Fix Pothos Sunlight Deficiency
Simply move your pothos closer to a window or into a new room altogether. While pothos are understory plants that tolerate quite a bit of shade in the tropical rainforest, they still prefer bright indirect light for 4-8 hours per day. You don’t want to put the pothos plant right next to harsh sunlight in a south-facing window (this will cause leaf sunburn), but you should prioritize keeping it near a window, perhaps a little farther toward the center of the room or by a north-facing window.
Worst case scenario, you can always add supplemental lighting with a simple LED grow light setup. Either keep the lights on a low setting or keep the pothos a little to the side so it isn’t directly under the light.
After relocating your plant to an area with more light, wait a month or so to see if things improve. You can mist the nodes to promote new leaf growth along the vine. If you prefer to prune it back and get more bushy growth, read the section below about pruning and re-rooting pothos so that all that vine growth doesn’t go to waste.
Lack of Pruning
Pruning helps keep plants bushy and full rather than “leggy” and leafless. When you cut back leggy growth, the pothos will put energy into growing larger leaves closer to the base of the plant, which will create a fuller look. If you don’t prune your pothos plant and it is also in a low-light setting, you often end up with long naked-looking vines.
At first, it seems counterintuitive to prune the plant for more growth. But the reason this works is that you’re cutting off the apical meristems (growing tips) that are located at the very ends of the vines. Just like “topping” a tree or a tomato plant, removing the vines promotes more lateral bushy growth from the meristems closer to the base.
All botanical science jargon aside, pruning is super simple. You can even use the parts you prune off to root more pothos plants! It’s a win-win situation: a bushier, leafier mother plant, and a bunch of new baby plants!
How to Prune Pothos for Leafier Growth
Use scissors or garden pruners that are sanitized with a diluted bleach solution. Grab a vine and make a clean single cut as close to the plant as you’d like, cutting just below a node (those brownish nubs along the vine stems).
If my pothos is extra leggy, I will cut all of the vines back nearly to the base of the plant, leaving only the shortest leafiest vines to keep growing. Provide the plant plenty of light and water, then watch it regenerate!
How to Propagate Leafless Pothos Vines
Take your vine cuttings and place them in a jar of clean non-chlorinated water with 2-3 lower nodes fully submerged. The jar can be put next to the mother pothos plant in an area with bright indirect sunlight and moderate to warm temperatures.
Watch the cuttings begin to form roots within 4-6 weeks. Change the water as needed. Once a few inches of roots have taken hold, you can transplant the cuttings into a quality potting mix.
One of the biggest mistakes with houseplants, in general, is overwatering. This is especially problematic for pothos plants, which can easily get root rot and start dropping their leaves when in soggy conditions. Pothos plants actually prefer to dry out between waterings. If your plant looks droopy, yellow, or has “naked” vines that are missing lots of leaves, you may be overwatering.
Stick your finger in the soil and check the moisture levels. Any sogginess or oversaturation of the soil is an indicator of overwatering. It’s best to let the roots dry out and/or re-pot to the pothos plant in a soil mix with better drainage. Repotting, in combination with pruning, is often the secret to fixing leafless pothos vines.
How to Repot Pothos for Better Drainage and Leafier Vines
Find a pot slightly larger than the one your plant is already in. Be sure it has a large bottom drainage hole and water catchment tray. Use a mix of 1 part standard organic topsoil, 1 part high-quality compost, and 1 part perlite or vermiculite to promote better drainage.
Make a hole in the new soil, gently remove the pothos plant from its current container, and replant the pothos. Be sure not to tamp down or compact the soil because we want as much airspace as possible in the root zone.
Water in the plant and then allow it to acclimate to its new environment. Check the soil about once a week by sticking your finger in. Only water when the soil feels dried out in the top 2-3 inches. Water just until liquid comes out of the bottom drainage hole and no more. Your pothos should begin to grow back leaves fairly quickly after repotting.
In general, pothos plants are light feeders that don’t need much fertilizer. But after many months or years in a small pot, some plants become deficient in essential nutrients. This can lead to yellowing, browning, leaf drop, and even death. Thin, leggy vines with yellowing or pale leaves are a sure sign of nutrient deficiency.
How to Fertilize Pothos for Fuller Growth
To grow a fuller plant, apply a diluted liquid fish or kelp fertilizer 1-2 times per month. You can also incorporate quality compost or a simple all-purpose granular fertilizer in the soil at the time of repotting. These extra minerals will promote faster growth and bigger leaves along trailing vines. If using a liquid fertilizer, be sure to dilute properly so you don’t burn your pothos plants.
Pothos vines only fall victim to a handful of pests, but if these bugs take hold on your houseplants, they can cause a lot of damage. Fallen leaves and barren vines may be a sign of a pest infestation. Pests significantly weaken your plant and can cause a whole cascade of other issues if they get out of hand. The primary culprits are probably either mealybugs, scale insects, or spider mites.
If you notice little balls of fluff underneath pothos leaves or near the leaf nodes, you may have some pesky mealybugs on your hands. They suck the sap out of pothos leaves and can weaken leaves, causing them to fall off. This slows down the plant’s growth and may cause leggy or spindly vines with very few leaves. Luckily, they’re easy to get rid of. Just thoroughly wipe down the leaves or spray with a diluted neem solution to kill and repel the mealybugs.
Scales are another sapsucker insect that attacks the plant’s juices and weakens its growth. You may find them in hard brown scab-looking fortresses on the stems and leaf nodes (but don’t confuse scale insects with the nodes themselves)! Their nasty little hard growths have to be gently scraped off with a fingernail or knife and then wiped down with diluted neem solution to keep them away.
These tiny bugs aren’t actually spiders; they’re mites that hide underneath pothos leaves closer to the soil. The main sign of spider mites is translucent leaf parts where they sucked out the chlorophyll (green pigment) of the leaf.
There may also be a spider-looking webbing near the base of the leaves. Severe spider mite problems can definitely cause barren vines and dropped leaves. To get rid of them, take the plant outside and squirt the leaves with a moderate pressure of water.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I make my pothos grow more leaves?
The easiest way to promote leafier pothos vines is to prune back “leggy” vines, move the plant closer to sunlight, and check for any signs of overwatering, root rot, or pests. You can also use an organic all-purpose fertilizer to promote more rapid leaf growth. Pothos often lose their leaves when they don’t have enough sunlight or they are not being properly cared for.
How do you fix a pothos leggy?
Pothos vines usually become “leggy” in low light conditions. To fix leggy pothos, move the plant to a brighter location and do a bit of pruning to promote bushier growth.
What causes spindly pothos vines?
Spindly or “leggy” pothos vines are most commonly caused by a lack of light. The plant is reaching towards the sunlight, but not getting enough energy to grow new leaves along the vines. The result is often long, thin vines without many leaves. The easiest fix is moving the plant to a location with 6-8 hours of bright, indirect sunlight.
Though they’re known for their low-maintenance growth habit, pothos still prefer certain conditions to thrive. If your pothos vines are lacking leaves, the plant is trying to tell you something. Luckily, more sunlight, pruning, repotting, proper watering, and checking for pests are super simple steps to put your plant back on the right path. Pothos are super forgiving and will eagerly re-grow gorgeous leafy foliage after a little TLC.