Pothos Plant Care 101

by | Gardening

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Pothos is a great beginner houseplant that is easy to care for and survives in many different home environments. The Latin name of this plant is Epipremnum aureum, but many common names include Solomon Island’s Ivy, Devil’s Ivy, Ivy Arum, Taro Vine, Ceylon Creeper, and Devil’s Vine.

The Latin name comes from Greek; epi which means “upon,” and premnon which means “tree trunks.” Pothos’ scientific identification is “upon tree trunks.”

While it does not flower in the typical home environment, its leafy vegetation is becoming more and more popular with houseplant hobbyists as time goes on and appreciation for the plant grows and new varieties emerge.

In this article, HerbSpeak will cover how to care for your pothos plant, answers to several common indoor gardening questions, and ideas on how to display your pothos with pride!


Growing Pothos Basics

Botanical Name: Epipremnum aureum

Botanical Family: Araceae (Arums)

Life Cycle: Perennial

Common Lookalikes: Heart-leaf Philodendron – foliage and stems are typically darker and smoother than Pothos

Native Habitat: Tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Islands

Growth Pattern: Vining, trailing stems which climb or hang easily.

Foliage Type: Thick, heart-shaped or lance-shaped leaves. Pothos stems have a slight groove or indentation in them and have small brown nubs, or aerial roots attached to them. Leaves can come in a variety of colors from white, green, blue, or variegated patterns.

Size: Typically grows 6-10 feet long in the home environment. On average, Pothos can grow anywhere between 30-50 feet in the wild.


Pothos Plant Care Requirements

Pothos are considered excellent beginner plants because of their tolerance of many indoor conditions. For a pothos plant that thrives in your home, however, it is important to establish a care routine and place the plant in your home based on its needs.

Light Requirements: Bright-to-low indirect sunlight

Pothos will always prefer bright indirect light over low-light conditions, but it can still grow in low-light conditions. In low-light, pothos will not need to be watered as much and will experience slower growth.

Soil Requirements: Grow in well-draining potting soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.1 to 6.5.

For standard gardening soil without any additives, it is recommended to add a supplemental medium to help aerate the soil and allow it to drain excess moisture easily. Fine-grade perlite is a great, inexpensive additive to use in this case.

Potting Requirements: 1-2” wider than root ball with adequate drainage holes.

While no pothos likes to be “rootbound” it is true that rootbound plants will typically produce more leaves. The production of extra leaves is the plant looking for soil elsewhere to expand and grow larger. For pothos plants in larger containers, they will instead spend the energy gained through photosynthesis to develop a stronger, bigger root system.

Tolerant Temperatures: Minimum of 50ºF, Maximum of 90ºF

While pothos plants can tolerate lower or higher temperatures, they thrive in temperatures between 65-80ºF.

Tolerant Humidity: Low to High

Pothos are tolerant of a wide range of humidity conditions but prefer high humidity as that is closest to its native habitat. Stunted or slowed growth may occur in rooms with dry air or drafts, but a quality humidifier or regular misting can help pothos thrive.


Basic Pothos Plant Care and Plant Care Tips

Establishing a care routine is important if your pothos is going to thrive in a home environment. While pothos is a forgiving plant, it has its drama queen moments. Knowing the signs can help you determine what your pothos needs any given day.

Watering Pothos:

Overwatering is a big problem with pothos and should be avoided. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings. When the plant begins to need water, it will begin to droop slightly. Do not let it collapse fully before watering. Any excess water that has drained to the bottom of the pot should be discarded to prevent root rot.

Alternatively, you can bottom-water pothos by placing it in a tray of water until the plant stops absorbing the water. The water should be removed afterwards and the pothos should be allowed to drain any excess moisture.

How Often to Fertilize Pothos:

Pothos do not need to be fertilized frequently. Simply apply a small amount of a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer every 2-3 months to keep the leaves looking healthy. You can purchase a recommended liquid fertilizer here.

When fertilizing, be sure to top-water, avoiding direct contact with the leaves, for the best absorption. Bottom watering will prevent maximum absorption and residue will be left on the bottom tray.

How Often to Prune Pothos:

The frequency of pruning depends on what you want your plant to do. Do you want it bushier and more compact? Trim long runners when they start to spread too far. Bare stems can be cut back to the soil-level to encourage new, bushier growth.

To encourage length and vining habits, allow the plant to grow naturally without pruning.

Cleaning Pothos:

Every few weeks, give the leaves a quick wipe-down with a damp cloth or duster. This will help keep the leaves looking healthy, and it gives you an opportunity to check the undersides for any signs of pests.

Pothos Maintenance and Growing Tips

Pothos plants make a great addition to any indoor space, whether you have it in a container, in a fishtank, or in a vertical garden. (1) Able to live in a range of conditions from low light to full, indirect sun and everything in-between, pothos make a perfect houseplant for indoor gardeners. Follow these plant care tips when you plant pothos!


“One of the best indoor plants for low-light situations, pothos is a vining plant that is super easy to care for and can be coaxed to climb or to hang from its resting place.”


In this plant care review section, many common questions about pothos plant care are answered in-depth. Have a question that isn’t covered here? Submit a comment at the end of the article and ask away!

Are Pothos Plants Easy to Care For?

Pothos plants are incredibly easy to care for and do well in a wide array of conditions common to most homes. They can tolerate low light, low humidity, and a wide array of temperatures and soil conditions. Pothos care is easy and does not require a lot of regular maintenance. This plant makes a great gift for beginner houseplant hobbyists.


How Can I Train My Pothos to Climb?

Pothos are natural expert climbers in the wild, they need to be trained in the home environment, where they are more prone to vining and hanging than growing upwards.

You can train your pothos to climb by gently wrapping the tropical plants vines around the desired location – such as a trellis or stake – and pin the vines gently with string if necessary. You can also use wall hooks or picture hangers to hold the vines if you want it to begin climbing on a wall. 

In addition to this step, it is important to introduce frequent misting directly to the foliage of the plants, especially in dry environments. Increased humidity will help the aerial roots on the vine attach themselves to the apparatus.

On walls, the vines will not often attach themselves to the flat surface unless it has texture or grooves for it to attach to, much like it might attach to a tree in the wild.

Eventually, once the plant has had a chance to establish its new growth pattern, you can remove the string. Be careful not to detach any part of the plant from its trellis or stake once it has established its growth pattern.

What Are These Brown Nubs on My Pothos?

Most pothos have little brown to pale yellow “nubs” on the vines, which are leafless protrusions on an otherwise green and vibrant vine. To the beginner grower, this might be alarming.

Fortunately, there is nothing to worry about, and no, these are not pests trying to kill your pothos, either! These are called aerial roots.

These roots should not be removed by any means. These are like little “legs” that help the pothos climb to reach more light in the wild. They will not damage walls or surfaces they attach to, nor are they dangerous to the plant in any way.


Can I Keep Pothos in Water?

You can keep pothos planted in water so long as the cutting was started in water. Pothos can be started and grown in either soil or water, but it is difficult to get them to switch mediums once they have started growing.

When keeping pothos in water, be sure to always keep the roots below the water line and change the water once every 2-3 weeks.

Algae blooms should be cleaned as often necessary and add liquid fertilizer once every 4-6 weeks to keep plants looking healthy and thriving.


Does Pothos Grow Faster in Water or Soil?

While pothos can be grown in water or soil, it cannot be switched from one to the other easily as the roots of soil-grown pothos will react negatively to being overwatered or in standing water. Likewise, water-grown pothos will have a hard time adjusting to the comparatively dry environment of soil.

Pothos grows fastest in well-draining, slightly acidic potting soil.

Why Are My Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow?

A strong sign that your pothos is stressed and in need of help is the leaves yellowing. While yellow variegation is possible on healthy plants, these unhealthy yellow leaves will have turn a sickly yellow all the way through. Often, this is combined by droopiness or browning on the leaves and it is a cry for help from your pothos.

Overwatering Can Cause Yellow Leaves

Yellowing leaves are a clear sign of improper soil moisture. Typically, this is a strong sign of over-watering. Pothos thrive when the soil moisture is kept consistently damp but not wet; pothos is susceptible to “root rot” if it is kept in standing water and this can kill the plant if left unchecked.

Likewise, alternating between bone-dry to soaking wet soil conditions can stress the plant and cause leaves to yellow.

Humidity is Too Low

Other reasons why your pothos’ leaves are turning yellow can be because of low humidity. Low humidity and dry soil combined can cause the leaves to droop and brown around the edges, followed by leaves turning yellow and dropping from the plant. Mist the leaves or use a humidifier to increase the humidity level in the home.

Inadequate Lighting

Pothos can adapt to low light if necessary, but they do best in bright indirect sunlight. If they are placed in light that is too dim, leaves may yellow.

Likewise, if the pothos is placed in full direct sunlight, the leaves may burn and kill the plant.

Check for Pests

If a plant is already stressed, it can be more susceptible to pest infestations. Spider mites, scale, and mealybugs are all common pests for pothos to encounter, and they can all over-stress the plant, accelerating yellowing in the leaves.

Sometimes, It’s Natural When Growing

On occasion, yellow leaves are nothing to worry about. If your pothos is showing active growth, yellowing on the older leaves is natural. The plant will shed its oldest leaves, causing them to yellow, to help send energy and nutritional resources to the new growth.

Once the leaves have yellowed, it is unlikely to turn green again and should be pruned from the plant to keep everything looking sightly. If more than a quarter of the plant has turned yellow, trim over time rather than all at once to avoid killing the plant by over-pruning it.


How do I Know If My Pothos Has Root Rot?

Yellowing leaves can be a sign of root rot, often caused by overwatering. A quick way to check for root rot once yellowing leaves are spotted is to expose a couple of roots gently. If they look black and mushy, then the plant has root rot. These roots may quite literally fall off the plant when touched or pulled from the soil.

Healthy roots will be black to brown or tan in coloration and will feel firm and pliable to the touch. These roots are healthy and a sign that your plant does not have root rot.

How Do I Deal with Root Rot?

If you discover root rot, it is important for you to deal with it immediately. Root rot will not go away on its own, and if left unchecked, it will kill the plant.

  1. With a clean, sterilized pair of scissors, cut the healthy root just above where the rot begins
  2. Repeat on all affected roots
  3. Repot the plant in fresh soil within a few hours at latest.
  4. Avoid watering immediately after repotting as this can stress the plant.

Before repotting, it is optional to use a weak, food-grade hydrogen peroxide (3%) on the roots to kill any remaining bacteria. This solution should be lightly misted onto the roots and allowed to air dry before being placed back in the soil.

To avoid root rot in the future, make sure that your soil is well-aerated and avoid overwatering.


How Often Does Pothos Need to be Repotted?

For smaller pothos, the plant should be repotted every 12-18 months assuming it is actively growing. For larger pothos, or plants in less-desirable conditions such as low light and dry air, growth will not be as fast. In these cases, pothos can be safely repotted every 18-24 months.

When repotting, you should find that the roots have reached the outer edge of the soil and started to circle in on itself. This is the root system becoming “rootbound” and is a sign that pothos needs to be repotted. If you do not see roots at the outer edges of the soil, the plant has not developed a large enough root system to require a new pot yet.

New pots should only move up in size 1-2” or else the soil may become too water logged as the plant is unable to absorb it all, increasing risk of overwatering, as well as stunting leaf growth as the plant diverts more energy to root growth.


How Often Do You Water Pothos Plants?

Pothos should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings so that the first 1-2” of soil is dry to the touch. Leaves will just begin to droop but should not collapse entirely. Typically, a pothos should be watered once every 1-2 weeks. Plants in low-light conditions will need to be watered less often, while plants in brighter light will need to be watered more often.

Overall, learning what certain signs mean and paying attention to what your plant is trying to tell you is the best test you have for learning when to water depending on where your pothos is located in the home.

Misting the foliage can be done at any frequency so long as it does not over-saturate the plant or the soil.

Do Pothos Plants Need Sunlight?

Yes, pothos (and all green plants) need sunlight to photosynthesize. The exception are plants that do not produce chlorophyll, which is the green pigment in leaves. Even varieties with white patterning contain some green in the leaves, allowing the plant to photosynthesize.

In truly low light conditions, pothos will lose any variegation and turn pale, so it is best to place non-variegated varieties in low light areas. Medium to bright indirect light is the best place for variegated varieties to show off all their unique patterns.


How Do I Make My Pothos Fuller?

You can make your pothos produce fuller, bushier leaves by pruning it frequently to encourage more leaf development.

If you are pruning a plant that was previously vining and long, it should be done slowly to avoid stressing the plant, and always during active growing periods, which are typically during the warmer months. Pruning during slower-growing, colder months will cause stress to the plant.


Are Pothos Plants Poisonous to Cats, Dogs, or Humans?

Yes, pothos is poisonous to cats, dogs, and humans. (2) Pothos contains insoluble calcium oxalates, which are oxalate crystals that can be abrasive to the internal organs and cause illness.

“Clinical Signs: Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.”

- ASPCA.org

It is recommended to keep pothos out of reach from cats and dogs. Cats are especially difficult to keep away from the plant as they are usually expert climbers and naturally curious. Depending on the amount, ingestion may not prove to be fatal but can cause severe illness and should be treated by a vet immediately, as it can also worsen any preexisting conditions.

Likewise, people should not ingest any part of this plant and small children should be kept away from it to prevent any mishaps.

  1. Summer Rayne Oakes, Top 10 Plants for an Indoor Vertical Garden, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/top-10-plants-for-an-indo_b_3525020
  2. org, Golden Pothos, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/golden-pothos
About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.


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