How Much Water Does My Pothos Need and How Often?
Pothos plants have become some of the most popular indoor plants over the last several years. They are hardy plants, and are very easy to care for. With that being said, overwatering and underwatering is often the leading cause of death for new plant owners. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines how much water your pothos plant needs, and what's considered overwatering or underwatering.
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is one of the most popular houseplants on the planet. The gorgeous vines come deep green, speckled gold, or even marbled white. They vine through homes and offices, purifying the air and adding beauty to the indoor environment. Pothos are known for their wide adaptability and tolerance of low light, infrequent fertilizing, and even slight neglect. It is often nicknamed “Devil’s Ivy” because it is so hard to kill.
But even beginner-friendly plants like most pothos varieties still needs proper care to truly thrive. The biggest mistakes new pothos owners make are usually related to watering. If you are wondering how often you should be watering your pothos and how to prevent moisture problems with this lovely vine, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s dig into pothos watering 101 and exactly how to determine the perfect amount of water for your plant every single time.
Watering Clues From Pothos’ Native Habitat
Pothos is a tropical plant native to French Polynesia and Southeast Asia. In its wild state, Epipremnum aureum can be found vining along moist rainforest floors and twirling its way up tremendous tropical trees to the top of the canopy.
The plant is a tender evergreen perennial that cannot tolerate frost or cold. Instead, it loves the moderate room temperature warmth between 70° and 90°F, which makes it perfect for growing alongside us in our homes.
Pothos also love humidity, well-drained soil, and a specific pattern of moisture. Being a tropical plant, the native habitat of this vine can give us lots of clues as to what it prefers when growing in a container indoors.
The Importance of Soil
Believe it or not, the first secret to proper watering of your pothos plant is actually optimizing the soil. Without properly drained soil, your careful irrigation efforts won’t matter one bit. Pothos cannot tolerate waterlogged, heavy soil and is even subject to root rot if it doesn’t have the drainage that it needs.
Once again, we can look to the pothos’ native habitat for clues of what it likes. Tropical soils tend to be sandy and heavily weathered by all those monsoon rains. Water moves through the soil profile very quickly. In a potted container, pothos thrive best in a potting mix that has lots of perlite, vermiculite, coco coir, and/or peat moss. All of these materials add extra airspace and pores that will filter water through more quickly.
Wet-Dry Moisture Cycles
The tropical climate where pothos evolved is defined by two major seasons: the wet (monsoon) season and the dry season. During the rainy season, tropical forests receive large volumes of water at once. Thankfully, their soils are very quick-draining and are typically able to filter the water through quickly without flooding. If a pothos is exposed to flooding or soggy conditions in its root zones, root rot can quickly take hold and stunt or even kill the plant.
During the dry season, tropical plants have plenty of time to dry out and soak up the warmth. The soil profile slowly dries out and may even go through a brief period of drought. Pothos is adapted to this wet-dry cycle of moisture that can be mimicked as a potted houseplant. It prefers to get a big deep watering at once and then dry out in between.
One of the biggest mistakes made when growing pothos as a houseplant is overwatering or providing small, but continuous watering throughout the week. This won’t necessarily kill your plant, but it will provide less than optimal growing conditions.
To Mist or Not Too Mist
There is some debate in the houseplant community as to whether or not pothos really need additional misting for humidity. This is an important topic related to watering because pothos plants can also absorb water through their leaves.
If you live in a warm, dry climate like California or Arizona, I typically recommend keeping a small spray bottle of water nearby to mist your pothos leaves every few days during the dry seasons. On the other hand, if you live in an exceptionally humid climate, extra moisture on the leaves could actually lead to fungal growth problems.
Pothos generally prefer a humidity level between 60% and 70% relative humidity to mimic their tropical home. A humidifier is a great investment for houseplant enthusiasts, but not necessary for the casual hobby grower.
How Often Should I Water My Pothos?
Unfortunately, watering house plants is not as simple as feeding the dog. There is no precise schedule for watering “every morning and every night.” Sure, pothos may do best when watered once a week or once every 2 weeks, but the frequency of watering that your pothos needs ultimately depends on the soil, sunlight, humidity, and season of growth.
In general, warmer brighter conditions will require more frequent watering, whereas cooler winter growing conditions call for less frequent irrigation. Instead of focusing on the exact schedule of watering, you can use a simple “finger check” technique to analyze your pothos’ moisture level super quickly.
How to Check Pothos Moisture
To check if your pothos needs water, simply stick your finger 3-4” into the soil near the base of the plant. If your finger comes out mostly clean and dry, it is time to water. If your skin comes out dirty with soil stuck to it, there is probably plenty of moisture. However, if your finger comes out muddy, the pothos plant is probably feeling suffocated by overwatering or poorly drained soil.
The ideal time to water pothos is when the top 1-3” of the soil is almost completely dry (depending on the size of the pot). The plant may even wilt a little bit to tell you that it is thirsty. Don’t panic, as this is completely normal.
While it may seem counterintuitive, this can actually be a good sign because pothos is one of those plants that prefers to dry out in between waterings. This goes back to that tropical weather pattern we discussed above. The roots like to absorb all the water they get during the big flushes of monsoon rains and then dry out before the next influx of water.
How to Water Pothos
Ideally, you should use non-chlorinated or filtered water because the plant can be sensitive to contaminants. Room temperature water is also best for this warmth-loving tropical plant.
Pour water through the soil profile until it flows out the bottom drainage hole of the container into the water catchment tray of your pot. If your pothos container doesn’t have a drainage hole, it is going to be much more difficult to assess the proper moisture level. I always recommend growing pothos in hanging baskets or clay pots that have one or more drainage holes in the bottom. If necessary, transplant into a better container to make watering easier.
Once the water comes out of the drainage hole, stop watering and let the moisture fully infiltrate the soil. It should never flood or pool up on the top of the soil, as this is a sign of poor drainage. If the soil appears fully moist, you can stop watering and watch your plant perk up within the next hour or so. If the soil is still a bit dry, add another flush of water until it runs out the drainage hole and then stop watering.
Always water your pothos from the base of the plant, avoiding getting too much moisture on the leaves themselves. This will help prevent any disease or fungal issues.
Watering in Different Seasons
The watering frequency of any plant really depends on the season and conditions. Even though it is usually grown indoors, pothos is no exception. The plant senses changes in temperature, day length, and humidity, therefore you can adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
During the summer, your home is probably a bit warmer and the light is stronger through the windows. This is the most prolific growth phase for pothos in temperate climates, which means they will need more water than they do during other seasons.
A hotter climate can also lead to less humidity that will result in more evaporation from the pothos plant. Be sure to check your pothos soil moisture level using the “finger trick” a couple of times a week and water accordingly. Misting will help maintain localized humidity around the leaves to speed up new growth and keep the plant looking vibrantly green.
Fall and Winter
Late fall and early winter are when pothos plants tend to transition into a more dormant phase in temperate indoor climates. Being evergreen, they never die back or stop growing altogether, but they do slow down and cozy up. It’s important to keep pothos plants away from cold window or door drafts during the winter, as this can quickly dry them out and even cause cold damage.
This is the easiest time to care for pothos because they really don’t need much attention. Watering frequency may slow to just once every 2 weeks due to the lower amount of sunlight and heat. This is when it is most important to water only with lukewarm or room temperature water to prevent a cold shock to the plant. You should also be careful to avoid overwatering during this time because the soil will dry out much slower than it did in the summertime.
When your pothos plant begins to “wake up” in the early spring, it will begin to want more frequent waterings again. The growth starts slowly in early spring and then may become thirstier as it puts more energy into new leaf growth. Pay close attention to any wilting or slowed leaf unfurling to be sure it is getting enough water.
Watering once a week is often best during this time, but that will ultimately depend on the climate inside your home. Be careful not to overwater or over mist your pothos during the spring when humidity can be extra high and pathogens may be able to take hold.
Troubleshooting Pothos Watering
If you are still having a hard time figuring out the watering cycle for your pothos plant, your plant is probably showing some signals as to what you are doing wrong. Here’s how to assess whether you are overwatering or underwatering.
Overwatering is pothos greatest enemy because it leads to root rot. Root rot can be caused by a variety of fungal or oomycete pathogens that thrive in high-moisture, low-drainage conditions. The most common symptoms are yellowing leaves, drooping or falling leaves, black or mushy appearing roots, or even a foul smell coming from the base of the plant. If you notice any of these issues, stop watering immediately and assess the situation.
Once it’s too far along, root rot can kill a pothos plant. However, in the beginning stages, you should be able to save your plant by uprooting it, pruning off the rotten parts, and transplanting it to a well-drained soil mix in a new container.
The easiest cure to overwatering is of course letting the soil dry out. But if the underlying root cause of the problem is poorly drained soil, you will continue to have problems. Like most tropical plants, pothos really don’t like to have “wet feet.” Soggy soil will ultimately drown the plant and prevent oxygen from reaching the root zone. Always plant in a well-drained soil mix, especially one with extra perlite, vermiculite, peat moss, or coco coir.
On the other end of the spectrum is underwatering. While many people think pothos will “thrive on neglect,” this isn’t actually the case. The plant is resilient but not invincible. Symptoms of underwatering include dry, brittle leaves, yellowing, crispy spots on the leaves, excessive wilting or limp leaves, and a very dusty dry soil mix.
The remedy for underwatering is a deep, generous helping of water. Pothos plants respond very quickly to moisture and will perk up within an hour of watering. You can prune off any brown or dying leaves and regularly check the soil level with the “finger check” method from that point forward.
Remember, pothos prefer to dry out just the top 2-3” of soil in between waterings. This does not mean your plant should be totally neglected and parched every time. A thirsty pothos will be visibly wilted. Prolonged drought conditions can stunt or even kill the plant.
Ultimately, pothos is a remarkably hardy vine that can survive in a range of indoor environments. But if you want your plant to truly thrive and grow lush, verdant, glossy leaves, you will need to pay attention to the plant’s moisture levels. Thankfully, it is super easy to tell when pothos plants need water or need to dry out. Never be afraid to get your hands dirty and assess the soil moisture any time you are unsure.