Why is my golden pothos turning yellow? Advice for nurturing this trailing plant back to health

Plant experts advise on the causes of a yellowing pothos, and what you can do to help it

Green Epipremnum Aureum plant lush foliage on a ground
(Image credit: Punkbarby / Alamy Stock Photo)

If your golden pothos is turning yellow, you'll want to fix the problem quickly so you can get your plant back to looking its best. 

Golden pothos is a popular plant, and with good reason. Its pretty variegated leaves and attractive trailing nature are perfect for suspending from ceilings and bookshelves. 

It's also an incredibly low-maintenance plant. Pothos thrive in most indoor conditions, even in relatively low light. However, if yours has multiple leaves that are turning yellow, you need to figure out what is stressing the plant. Like any other plant, pothos will eventually succumb if you don't fix the issue. 

yellowing leaves of a golden pothos plant

Yellowing leaves on a golden pothos

(Image credit: Firn / Getty Images)

Reasons for a golden pothos turning yellow

Don't confuse the normal leaf pattern for disease: a golden pothos leaf has a variegated nature, which means it is multi-colored. Typically, golden pothos has gold-toned streaks throughout its green leaves. This is its normal coloring, and the reason for its visual appeal.

One or two entirely yellow leaves once in a while aren't cause for concern, but if multiple leaves on your plant are turning yellow and falling off, you need to investigate why your indoor plant is suffering.

1. Over or underwatering

Indoor Golden pothos houseplant next to a watering can

Keep an eye on how much water you're giving your pothos

(Image credit: Jonny Forsey / Alamy Stock Photo)

This is the easiest problem to diagnose and the most likely culprit for your golden pothos turning yellow. 

'If the plant is kept too moist, the leaves will turn yellow and drop off. If the plant is kept too dry, the leaves will also turn yellow and drop off,' explains Brody Hall, a certified horticulturist at The Indoor Nursery. 

'The best way to fix this problem is to water the plant when the soil is dry, down to about a half an inch below the surface,' says Brody.

Brody Hall headshot
Brody Hall

From managing a vineyard to studying horticulture, all the way to obtaining a degree in Environmental Science - Brody loves nothing more than taking his years of knowledge and understanding of ecological science and applying it to the world of gardening.

2. Insufficient humidity

small golden pothos plant in a pot

Golden pothos prefer a humid environment

(Image credit: atuphot Phuatawee / Alamy Stock Photo)

As a tropical indoor plant, the golden pothos prefers humid conditions, so they make good bathroom plants. 'If the air is too dry, the leaves will turn yellow and drop off,' says Brody Hall. 

'You can try misting the leaves regularly or, in particularly dry climates, use a small humidifier for plants (available at Amazon) to raise humidity levels,' says Brody. 

3. Inadequate lighting levels

Close up of mature golden pothos plant's leaves

A healthy golden pothos plant

(Image credit: MASC05 / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo)

As is the case with most tropical plants, golden pothos aren't considered to be low light indoor plants. They like bright, indirect light. 

'If the plant is kept in too much shade, the leaves will turn yellow,' says Brody Hall. 'However, if the plant gets too much direct sun, the leaves will turn yellow and then brown.' Lots of indirect sunlight will keep it at its happiest.

4. Pest infestation

Close up devil's ivy leafs in white pot with white background

Do regular checks for pest infestations to stop leaves yellowing and dropping off

(Image credit: Cavan Images / Getty Images)

Although golden pothos are generally considered easy indoor plants, they can be prone to pest infestations, especially by aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects. These pests feed on the plant’s tissue and will cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop off. 

The best way to fix this problem is to manually remove the pests using a q-tip soaked in isopropyl alcohol. 'Although if the infestation is particularly bad, an organic or commercial insecticide may be a grower’s only choice', says Brody Hall.

5. Poor soil

Pothos plant with long trailing leaves

Nitrogen deficiency can cause plants to lose their green color

(Image credit: Giovani Dressler / Getty Images)

Anthony Selvaganam, a horticulturist and founder of Plantials, says one cause of pothos leaves yellowing that is often overlooked by gardeners is a lack of nutrients in the soil.

'When it comes to nutrient deficiency, lack of nitrogen is the number one cause of golden pothos leaves turning yellow,' he says. 'Nitrogen deficiency in plants triggers a condition called chlorosis which is nothing but loss of chlorophyll, the pigment that is responsible for the green color in leaves.'

Anthony says the best strategy to treat golden pothos plant nutritional deficiencies is to add a slow-release houseplant fertilizer like this Easy Peasy Liquid All Purpose Indoor Plant Food at Amazon, to the soil, which will provide the plants with an ongoing supply of nutrients over time.


How do you fix yellowing on pothos?

'As with many indoor plants, from calathea to kentia palms, problems can emerge from incorrect watering and a golden pothos turning yellow is a sign that you have this issue,' says Zia Allaway, houseplant specialist and gardens writer.

'Droopy leaves that slowly become yellow, and then turn crisp, are usually a sign that your pothos is not receiving enough water,' says Zia. 'Whereas, leaves that suddenly turn pale yellow before turning brown are a sign of overwatering, so leave your plant to dry out.

'If the compost is waterlogged, you can fix an overwatered plant by repotting it in a container with drainage holes in the base, and do not water for a couple of weeks until it has recovered,' she adds.

Zia Allaway
Zia Allaway

Zia is a published garden book author, editor, and journalist. Her books include Eco-GardeningCompostLow MaintenancePractical House Plant BookPractical Cactus & Succulent BookIndoor Edible GardenWhat Plant Where, and the Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers.

There are several reasons why a golden pothos' leaves may start to turn yellow. The solution comes with identifying the cause and treating accordingly. This may involve adjusting your watering, the light and humidity levels, adding some nutrients to your soil, or repotting it altogether.

If pests have taken hold, an insecticide can be used, or if this is against your eco-friendly gardening principals, then do away with your plant altogether and start again.

Anna K. Cottrell is now a freelance writer, having previously been a Content Editor for Future's homes titles. She writes about interior design, property, and gardening. On H&G, she specialized in writing about property – buying, selling, renting – sustainability and eco issues.