Why is My Pothos Plant Turning White? How Can I Fix it?

If your pothos plant is turning white, there could be several reasons why. While it's not always a cause for concern, it's important to undertsand if it's just part of that plant's genetic makeup (color) or if it's something more sinister, like an infection. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines why this happens, and how to fix it.

Pothos With White Leaves

You probably dream of lush beautiful houseplants like pothos vining and growing throughout your home, but that vision is impossible with healthy vibrant green leaves. Nobody wants a sickly-looking houseplant!

Pothos plants are a low maintenance houseplant that willingly adapts to many growing conditions. The tropical vines come in a wide range of varieties and leaf colors, but what does it mean when the leaves start to look pale or white?

Whitish leaves may be nothing to worry about, or they could be a sign of a much deeper issue. Fortunately, the solution may be as simple as moving the plant to a new location with more or less light, fixing any nutrient deficiencies, or re-potting it in better soil.

Let’s dig into 8 potential reasons why your pothos plants could be turning white and how to fix them!

Variegated Varieties

Variegated Plant
Pothos are bred for specific traits.

Sometimes new Pothos parents panic about white leaves without realizing that this is a natural attribute of variegated pothos varieties. The first thing you should do is try to identify the type of pothos you have. There are dozens and dozens of cultivars of pothos, ranging from the classic ‘Golden Pothos’ to ‘Marble Queen’, ‘Manjula’, ‘Neon Pothos’, ‘Jessenia Pothos’, ‘Silver Satin’, and more. Each of these varieties has been bred for specific traits, usually related to the appearance of their leaves.

Since pothos has gained more and more popularity as a decorative houseplant, marbling or colorful variegation in the leaves is the most common breeding attribute. Plant breeders can cross different strains to get gorgeous dark green leaves with splashes of neon, blue-tinted leaves with speckles of silver, or even leaves with white marbling splashed onto a green canvas for a dazzling display.

In this case, white splotches on pothos leaves can be a trait that is bred into the plant! A lot of times this trait originates as a mutation. These patches of white are lacking chlorophyll: the key compound that makes leaves green and helps them photosynthesize. So, while these variegated plants are beautiful, they have less capacity to produce food for themselves through photosynthesis. This means that they can often struggle in low-light conditions.

The most common white marbled pothos include

  • ‘Marble Queen’
  • ‘Manjula’
  • ‘N’Joy’
  • ‘Pearls and Jade’
  • Snow Queen

How to Fix It:

Knowing whether or not you have a white-vareigated variety of pothos is the first step to figuring out the cause of pale leaves. Sometimes it’s just a genetic mutation that doesn’t need to be fixed. However, although this is a trait bred into the plant, severe whitening can progress from poor growing conditions. In general, white marbled pothos need more sunlight than other types and may get “too white” from low light environments.

If you don’t have a white-variegated type of pothos (for example, ‘Golden Pothos’ and ‘Neon Pothos’ both include green and yellow foliage), then you may be dealing with a disease or nutrient issue.

Not Enough Sunlight

Plant in Bright Light
Variegated varieties need more sunlight.

The number one cause of pale or white leaves in pothos is low-light conditions. Again, this goes back to those photosynthetic cells in the plant leaves that contain chlorophyll.

Without chlorophyll in leaves, all plants would be white and unable to feed themselves. The green-pigment chlorophyll is light sensitive and designed by nature to capture energy from the sun. If there isn’t enough sun, the chlorophyll may lose its green color and start to look yellow, whitish, or pale.

Like I mentioned above, some plants have genetics that create less chlorophyll in order to have a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. This means that the green portions of the plant have to work double-time to get enough sunlight for the pothos to thrive. If your pothos isn’t getting enough sunlight, it may get paler and whiter even on the variegated leaves. Overall, a pothos without enough light looks sad and sick.

How to Fix It:

Thankfully, the solution is simple. Move that baby closer to the window and watch it come back to life! Pothos prefer bright indirect sunlight. Some people mistake this as meaning “shade” or “no light”, but that definitely isn’t the case.

Indirect sunlight just means that the pothos plant doesn’t want to be right up against a south facing window receiving harsh sunbeams straight onto its leaves. A little closer toward the center of a brightly lit room tends to suit these plants best, or placed right next to an east or north-facing window.

Remember that variegated pothos need even more light than green-leaved types, so play around with the placement of your plant over the course of a month to see what it likes best. Just remember that gradual changes in light are always better than sudden ones.

Too Much Sunlight

Brown Spot on Leaves
Too much sun and your pothos may burn.

If you put pothos plants too close to a window with harsh direct light, you may find that your plants begin to look more shriveled, yellow, or even develop brown spots on the leaves. This is a symptom of sunburn, the result of a plant owner’s mistake.

Just like paler people who spend a lot of time indoors and then suddenly go out for a weekend at the lake, pothos are especially prone to sunburn if they have been in low-light conditions and then get moved to a spot with direct sun.

How to Fix It:

With too much sunlight exposure, pothos can also start to look pale or white due to damage to the chloroplasts in their photosynthetic cells. Pale leaves may wither and die off.

Simply moving the plant farther away from a window can make a world of difference and promote healthy new growth to replace any sunburn damage. Lightly shaded (but still with indirect sunlight) and high humidity places in the home tend to be best.

Powdery Mildew or Other Diseases

Diseased Plant
Good air circulation helps keep your plant healthy.

If your pothos plant looks like it has white or grey powder on its leaves, you may be dealing with a disease called powdery mildew. This common fungal infection affects lots of different plants and causes light grey or white dusty spots that resemble mold growth.

It is especially problematic in high-humid areas like bathrooms or in moist climates with warm temperatures. Oftentimes spring and fall cause the most powdery mildew issues due to extra moisture in the air, warm temperatures in the day, and cooler temperatures at night.

How to Fix It:

First, remove all of the infected pothos leaves to prevent the mildew from spreading. Throw them away or toss them in a fire.

Next, try to reduce humidity by moving the plant to an area with more air circulation. Consider placing a fan nearby (but not directly on the plant). You should also avoid getting pothos leaves wet. Only water from the base of the plant

Lastly, if the infection is pretty severe, you can use a diluted neem solution (an organic fungicide spray) misted directly on the leaves to combat powdery mildew and prevent future infections.

Nutrient Deficiency

Person Fertilizing a Plant
Pothos are typically low maintenance when it comes to ferilization.

Chlorosis is the yellowing or whitening discoloration of leaves caused by nutrient deficiencies. A lack of minerals like nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, or molybdenum can lead to pale leaves, stunted growth, and even death of the plant. If your pothos has been in the same pot for a long time, or was planted in poor soil, it may be lacking in certain essential mineral nutrients that it needs to grow.

How to Fix It:

Pothos generally don’t need a lot of fertilization, but nutrient deficiencies can be quickly remedied with a nice dose of organic fertilizer. My pothos plants absolutely love diluted liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer for a boost of major nutrients as well as micronutrients and trace minerals. 

Mix 1 tablespoon of fish and seaweed fertilizer with 1 gallon of water and lightly water your pothos plants once a week for a few weeks until you see an improvement in the leaves. Oftentimes, the yellow or white spots will perk right back up and start to restore their gorgeous green or marble appearance. After that initial recovery phase, you can feed the plant once every 2-4 months to promote continual growth.

Always pour diluted liquid fertilizers at the base of the soil (never on the leaves). Avoid over fertilizing or dousing the plant in harsh nitrogen fertilizers that may cause fertilizer burn.

Overwatering or Root Rot

Person Watering a Plant in a Pot
Make sure you let the soil dry out in between waterings.

Beginner pothos owners sometimes give their plant a little too much love in the form of overwatering. Too much water can cause whitish-yellow limp leaves that may even develop water blisters or brown spots. Water can build up in the bottom of the pot and cause soggy puddle-like water conditions that become stagnant and may even start to smell. This eventually leads to root rot, which

Pothos is a tropical plant that prefers deep waterings and then a period of drying-out in between. This mimics the natural cycle of tropical regions, where heavy rain monsoon seasons alternate with prolonged dry, warm seasons. You can learn more about the pothos watering needs here.

How to Fix It:

The easiest way to fix overwatering is to remove excess water (any puddling or accumulation in the bottom tray of your pot) and let the soil dry out. Pothos are very drought resistant, therefore the soil can almost completely dry out before it’s time to water again. You can check this by sticking your finger in the pot. If it comes out dirty, the soil still has moisture. If it comes out clean, the soil is dry and it is time to water your plant.

If you think that your plant may have some root rot, you will have to repot it right away. Grasp the plant from the base and turn it slightly upside down to wiggle out the root ball and let any excess soil fall away. Prune off any soggy or foul-smelling root parts. Replant the pothos root ball in a bigger pot with quality well-drained soil. Adding vermiculite, perlite, or peat moss to your standard potting mix can help ensure plenty of drainage.

Poor Soil Conditions

Garden Pot with Soil Inside
You may need to re-pot your pothos in a high quality soil mix.

If your pothos look pale and sickly, you definitely need to check out the soil. If your potting mix is very compact and hard, the pothos is likely having a difficult time pushing its roots down to absorb water and nutrients. On the other hand, if the soil is too sandy, water may be rushing through before the plant has enough time to drink it up.

How to Fix It:

Compost is the easiest way to fix poor soil. It helps aerate compacted soil while also adding water holding capacity to sandy soil. Re-pot your plant in your own high quality soil mix with 1 part potting mix, 1 part compost, and 1 part perlite. Avoid tamping down the soil when planting. You want the potting soil to be nice, loamy, and fluffy for a happy pothos plant.

Temperature Fluctuations

White Varigated Pothos in Garden Box
If your plant isn’t doing well in one location, try moving it to see if it’s better in another.

Lastly, temperature fluctuations can cause whitening leaves. We all know how badly stress takes a toll on our own health, but did you know that plants can also get stressed? Pothos are especially prone to discoloration and pale leaves when they are under cold or heat stress.

This tropical plant is used to a pleasant 65-85°F. An environment that is too cold or too hot can stress out your pothos and cause a change in the color of the leaves. It can also kill your pothos if you aren’t careful.

How to Fix It:

Keep pothos plants away from cold drafts in the winter and safe from extreme heat in the summer. This means no air conditioners, cold windows, fireplaces, heaters, or direct sunlight should be on near pothos. Try out a few different areas of your home to see what the plant likes best. Leaves will restore color when they are back in the low-stress temperature range that they prefer.

Final Thoughts

Pothos plants are very resilient and low-maintenance, but sometimes they will give you signs that they’re not happy in their conditions. White leaves could be a natural part of variegated pothos genetics, or they could be an indicator of improper sunlight, nutrient deficiencies, overwatering, poor soil, or temperature fluctuations.

A little experimentation and TLC can get your pothos leaves back to its full vibrancy so you can enjoy its beauty and air-purification for years to come.

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