Why is my pothos turning yellow? Here's why and what to do to solve it
There are 7 main reasons for a pothos turning yellow, so learn how to revive and nurse your houseplant back to health
Any houseplant fan might at some point find themselves wondering why their pothos is turning yellow. As although pothos are among the most popular houseplants to grow, and deservedly so, there are a few factors that could cause it to turn a different color.
Also known as devil's ivy, they are suited to many rooms in a home, and, if you follow the general tips of pothos plant care, you will hopefully be rewarded with happy, healthy plants that flourish.
'Pothos is one of my favorite houseplants because of the variety of colors available and its hardiness,' says Emily Lawlor, owner of Happy Houseplants. 'It is one of the easiest houseplants to keep alive and thrive indoors.' That said, if the conditions aren't quite right, it can have an impact on the health of your plant and cause the leaves to turn yellow.
Over the last five years, Emily has built Happy Houseplants into a respected and successful houseplant brand, winning a coveted RHS Chelsea gold medal for her efforts.
Why is my pothos turning yellow? The main reasons
Among the best low maintenance indoor plants, pothos have long, trailing stems that can grow up to 8 feet long, making them ideal as plants for hanging baskets.
'They make perfect plants for beginners and experts alike but need basic care to thrive and grow,' explains Emily Lawlor.
So what are some of the main causes for pothos turning yellow?
1. Incorrect watering
'One of the main causes for a yellowing pothos plant is irregular watering and moisture levels in its soil, particularly when the plant is watered too frequently,' explains Lindsay Pangborn, plant expert at houseplant provider, Bloomscape.
That raises the question of how often should you water indoor plants? 'Typically, a pothos plant should only be watered when 50 to 75 percent of its soil volume is dry. Providing consistent moisture levels for a pothos plant can create less stress on the plant, preventing yellow leaves,' Lindsay adds.
Both overwatering and severely underwatering can lead to your pothos turning yellow. When the soil is too wet for too long, leaves will turn yellow. On the flip side, if you haven't watered it in a while, the leaves will turn yellow and fall off.
Incorrect watering can also cause your monstera leaves to turn yellow too, so bear this in mind if you also have one of these in your home.
ACTION TO TAKE
When watering indoor plants like a pothos, it’s best to water deeply. 'I recommend always using a pot with a drainage hole. Add water slowly, allowing it to soak into the soil until the excess freely flows out of the drainage hole and into the saucer,' adds Lindsay.
'Leaves on a pothos can also turn yellow when the plant is regularly allowed to dry out too much between waterings – avoid allowing the soil of your pothos plant to dry out completely.'
Check, too, what water you are using as plants can react to the chemicals in tap water by yellowing. Try using filtered, bottle, or rainwater wherever possible.
'Pothos like their topsoil to be dry between waterings. If the leaves are beginning to fade or yellow and the soil is always damp, try placing your pothos in a brighter spot. Moving it to a sunnier spot usually cures the problem in a few days,' says Emily Lawlor.
'Use a soil moisture meter to get an accurate picture of what’s happening below the soil’s surface and adjust as necessary,' advises Mark McCance, director at Hortology Houseplants and Plant Pots.
Only re-water once the top few centimeters of soil are dry. Pothos are among the best winter houseplants, but 'it can be easy to overwater your plants in winter as they aren’t getting as much light so don’t need as much watering,' advises Morag Hill, co-founder of The Little Botanical.
Lindsay Pangborn is a Plant Expert at Bloomscape, a modern garden center that delivers plants directly from the greenhouse. She received a horticulture degree from Ohio State University, and lives and gardens in central Ohio. With 15 years of green industry experience, she's keen to share her knowledge and make people more comfortable with plants and plant care.
2. Poor drainage
'Poor drainage is also another sign of yellowing leaves on a pothos. If the water is sitting in the cache pot after watering for more than 30 minutes, the plant's roots will drown. They need oxygen, so submersing them in water can damage the roots. Also, drainage helps the plant get rid of salts from fertilizers. If sitting in this concentrated water, it can burn the roots,' advises Debbie Neese, horticultural advisor at Lively Root.
ACTION TO TAKE
Lift the plant out of the cachepot and take it to the sink to allow excess water to drain away.
'Always use a pot with a drainage hole. Excess water should always be removed from the saucer. Allowing it to remain can lead to root rot which can kill the plant,' adds Lindsay Pangborn.
3. A change in light levels
Pothos are among the best indoor low light plants. 'They are very adaptable to multiple light settings ranging from indirect, bright light to low light. However, an abrupt transition to low light can cause leaf yellowing as the plant adjusts,' explains Lindsay Pangborn.
'If a full pothos plant is thriving in bright light, a sudden switch to low light means it has a reduced ability to photosynthesize and can no longer support all of its existing leaves – leaves will yellow and drop in response,' she adds.
ACTION TO TAKE
To avoid leaf yellowing, transition plants slowly to their new environment, if possible. Acclimatize them over the course of a week to gradually decrease light levels.
'Pothos need a northern or eastern window for perfect conditions. Sitting your pothos three feet away from a window with little indirect light will turn the leaves yellow. Without supplemental lighting, plants that can survive in low light still need to be near a northern or eastern window,' says Debbie Neese.
4. Nutrient deficiencies
If your pothos is turning yellow, it could be due to its nutrient levels. 'Pothos plants need a balanced diet to thrive. In the case of a pothos turning yellow, it could be a sign that the plant is not getting enough of one or more essential nutrients,' advises Mark McCance of Hortology.
ACTION TO TAKE
'Feed with a little bit of general houseplant feed, and see if that helps perk things up,' says Mark.
'We recommend fertilizing your pothos every two to three months during the spring and summer. There is no need to fertilize in the winter when the plant is getting less light and going through a dormancy period,' adds Debbie Neese.
Mark McCance is a director at Hortology. Having shipped thousands of pothos to homes and businesses, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to keep these plants in top condition.
5. Environmental stress
Changes in temperature or humidity can cause stress to the plant, which can lead to your pothos turning yellow.
The winter months, in particular, can be especially hard for houseplants. 'Between the heater kicking on in the winter and the air conditioner blowing in the summer, your plant may feel the breeze. With tropical plants, their leaves can often turn yellow and drop because of temperature changes in your home. Near a drafty window, door, or air vent can discolor the leaves from the temperature change,' explains Debbie Neese.
ACTION TO TAKE
'If a couple of leaves are yellowing, then try not to panic. Check you’re doing everything you can to maintain your pothos’ health and if you’re doing everything you can then try to hold your nerve. Chances are this hardy plant will rally again in the spring,' advises Mark McCance.
'Investing in a hygrometer can help you monitor the amount of humidity your plants are getting. While the heat is on in some areas, it will take more work to maintain adequate levels in the winter. Adding a humidifier close by or grouping plants together on pebble trays can help increase the humidity,' adds Debbie Neese.
'Pothos enjoy higher humidity levels above the average of 50 percent, the higher, the better for pothos comfort – 50 to 70 percent is optimum.' This makes them a good choice as a bathroom plant.
6. Pests or diseases
Pests and diseases can often be the cause of yellowing leaves too. 'When facing an infestation of common houseplant pests, the sap is sucked out of the leaves, causing them to yellow. It will occur in a more mottled pattern and worsen over time. Common pests include spider mites, thrips, and mealybugs,' says Lindsay Pangborn.
ACTION TO TAKE
'To make your pothos plant less susceptible to infestations, make sure it is fertilized and watered regularly – a healthy plant is more resilient,' adds Lindsay.
'Clean the leaves regularly, which can help identify pest infestations early on. If an infestation has already started, I recommend using insecticidal soap [available from Amazon] to reduce pest populations.'
7. Natural causes and leaf variegation
In some instances, there might be nothing wrong with your plant and the yellowing leaves are simply caused naturally.
'Pothos leaves can vary greatly in shades of green and yellow. There’s no shame in worrying about yellowing leaves only to find its natural variegation – if anything it should come as a relief that all is well,' explains Mark McCance.
'Take a look at Epipremnum aureum 'Neon' – golden neon pothos for an extreme example of how yellow pothos leaves can naturally grow,' he adds.
In addition, 'when a pothos plant is experiencing new growth, its older leaves may begin to yellow since the plant is ready to shed its outdated leaves. This typically occurs on the vines closest to the soil,' adds Lindsay Pangborn.
Should I remove yellowing leaves on pothos?
'I would advise to trim off those yellow leaves on a pothos,' advises Morag Hill, co-founder of The Little Botanical.
It will prevent pests from being attracted to the plant, tidy up its appearance, and help the plant focus its attention on healthy leaves.
Can yellow pothos leaves turn green again?
Once pothos leaves have turned yellow they will not generally turn green again. Once the plant has lost its chlorophyll – the green pigment – it will draw off any nutrients left in the leaf and effectively abandon it. The only exception to this is when a plant is suffering from a nutrient deficiency, then it might be possible to revive the leaf color.
Generally, however, the yellow leaf will not recover, but as long as you address the cause of the pothos turning yellow, it will still have plenty of healthy green leaves left.
Rachel is senior content editor, and writes and commissions gardening content for homesandgardens.com, Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors. She has written for lifestyle magazines for many years, with a particular focus on gardening, historic houses and arts and crafts, but started out her journalism career in BBC radio, where she enjoyed reporting on and writing programme scripts for all manner of stories. Rachel then moved into regional lifestyle magazines, where the topics she wrote about, and people she interviewed, were as varied and eclectic as they were on radio. Always harboring a passion for homes and gardens, she jumped at the opportunity to work on The English Home and The English Garden magazines for a number of years, before joining the Period Living team, then the wider Homes & Gardens team, specializing in gardens.
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