Prevent Your Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow

Pothos epipremnum aureum, is a popular first plant for people just starting on their horticultural journey. Whilst they are fairly easy to look after, there is a false belief that they are self-sufficient when it comes to needing care. 

In terms of symptoms, yellow leaves are a clear sign that something is wrong with your Pothos and your plant care regime may be a little off. Chances are when discoloured leaves do arise, you’re going to want to do something to remedy the potentially ugly sight. 

Thankfully, there are ways to turn the situation around and in this article, I’ll be detailing all of the factors that can lead to pothos leaves turning yellow, how to treat the problem and what you can do to prevent the same thing from reoccurring.

Causes of Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellow leaves are a result of a plant being unable to effectively produce chlorophyll. All plants need chlorophyll, not only to enable them to photosynthesize but also because it is the pigment that provides the unmistakable green colour of leaves. 

Where chlorophyll is lacking (known as chlorosis), leaves will lose their distinctive green colour and fade to yellow. 

Chlorosis is an indicator that your plant does not have access to everything it needs to be able to produce chlorophyll. For Pothos plants chlorosis can be a result of too much or too little water, poor soil or drainage, incorrect light conditions or a problem with pests.

Fortunately, these problems are fixable provided they are identified quickly and treated appropriately. Your job is to determine what the problem is so that it can be corrected and hopefully, prevented from happening again.

There are several potential reasons for yellow Pothos leaves. Under and over-watering is the first one and I always recommend watering only when the soil is almost completely dry. 

Another reason for yellowing leaves on your Pothos is that it has outgrown its pot and the roots are crammed too tight. In addition to leaf discolouration, you will see the roots attempting to spread out through drainage holes. 

In left undetected, pathogens and pests are yet another cause of yellow leaves. They tend to get into the smallest crevices of your Pothos and require immediate removal before leaf discolouration takes hold. 

Satin Pothos leaves turning yellow
Overwatered pothos

Under Watering

Your Pothos will let you know if it is dehydrated because the leaves will turn yellow and in some cases brown. Look out for yellowing, especially around the edges and tips. In addition, the leaves of your Pothos will begin to wilt although this can be difficult to detect as the leaves already hang downwards. 

Over Watering

Over-watering is far more likely to be the cause of yellow leaves than under-watering and the effects tend to be more pronounced too. 

When soil becomes logged with water the roots of your pothos will not be able to process the oxygen it needs, which will lead to yellow leaves. 

When diagnosing over watering as the cause of yellow leaves on your Pothos, consider how often you water, and what your soil substrate is made up of (ideally you want a mix of good quality potting mix plus gravel or perlite to help with drainage), and make sure the pot or container has well-sized drainage holes. 

I also recommend that you never allow water to collect in the catch tray as this may get absorbed by roots after they have been watered and this is unnecessary.

The position of your Pothos should be considered too. A location that provides plenty of bright light and is warm for a good proportion of the day will help water to dry out quicker.  

Root Rot

If lots of the leaves are turning yellow, your plant may be experiencing root rot because of over-watering or poor soil drainage. This is detailed further by Susan Mahr in this article for the University of Wisconsin

Pathogens such as pythium and fusarium love waterlogged soil and will flourish if unchecked, causing the leaves of your Pothos to yellow and generally wilt. 

If pathogens spread, the entire plant can decay so always make sure you use a quality soil mix that allows for good drainage. 

However, if your soil mix is contaminated, it won’t matter how carefully you monitor the water. The damage will have already occurred. 

Symptoms to look out for are yellow, brown, or even black leaves, or similarly-coloured spots on leaf surfaces, soft, breakable stems, fungus gnats, and a dank stench emitting from the plant.

If the leaves seem to be yellow, dried out and dehydrated and yet the soil is wet to the touch, this is a strong indicator of root rot. 

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are an extremely common houseplant pest and frequently go unrecognized due to their innocent appearance and likeness to a piece of cotton or lint. 

These tiny wingless insects must be caught early on in their reproductive cycle so that the plant can survive undamaged. 

As these little bugs are not particularly active, you can often spot them appearing to lie dormant on new and soft areas of the plant, on the underside of leaves and at leaf/node junctions. 

These ‘delightful’ pests spend their time feeding on the juices of the plant, causing detrimental damage if allowed to go unchecked. 

The damaging effects of Mealybugs on your Pothos include leaves turning yellow, stunted growth, dieback or death as these pests suck out vital nutrients in the sap which leaves nothing for your plant. 

Incorrect light

If your Pothos does not have access to enough sunlight, photosynthesis cannot take place and the plant will not produce enough of the sugars it needs to sustain itself. This will result in yellowing leaves as they cannot produce food without light. 

Conversely, Pothos is one of the best plants to conform to limited lighting options, such as an office space, and therefore direct, hot sun will burn the leaves. 

Pothos is a jungle plant, but in its natural habitat, other foliage and canopies provide the diffused light it needs to thrive without being scorched. 

How to Fix Yellow Leaves On Your Pothos Plant

Once you have identified the reason for your Pothos leaves turning yellow, you then need to put an action plan together on how to fix it. This will help you avoid making the same mistake again.

Reviving an Underwatered Pothos

With yellowing and browning around the edges of the leaves, drooping foliage, and dry soil separating to the edge of your pot, you are dealing with drought-stricken pothos.

To revive an underwatered Pothos, simply place it over a sink and give it a good watering. Allow the excess water to run freely through the drainage holes before you return to it the decorative container.

Gently prune yellow leaves and dead stems to enhance the appearance of your Pothos and give them a new lease of life. This allows your plant to focus the energy on healthy stem root and shoot development.  

If your Pothos continues to look wilted and frazzled, you could help to restore the plant’s moisture levels with a gentle misting a couple of times per week.   

Try to get in the habit of checking the moisture of the soil at the same time each week. Pothos can tolerate some degree of water deprivation but can’t function without any. 

I also recommend that you check that your Pothos is in the right-sized pot. Too large and the water may not be penetrating the soil sufficiently, but too small and the roots will not be able to stretch. 

Poking holes in the soil with a skewer help to aerate it, allowing oxygen and water to freely move around the roots.

How To Rescue An Overwatered Pothos Plant

No matter what type of pathos you are growing, it will need sufficient drainage. You can do this by checking the bottom of the container and if necessary, making holes yourself using a sharp implement. 

If you didn’t plant the Pothos yourself and are unsure about the quality of the potting soil, it’s a good idea to report it at this point.

Not only will you be able to ensure your plant is surrounded by fresh, well-draining potting soil, but this is also a good opportunity to check the roots of your Pothos. See below for details on how to inspect the roots and check for signs of disease.

Once you have taken care of these basics, you are going to need to regularly check the soil’s dryness by touch before watering again. 

Do this by poking a finger deep into the soil (at least 2-3 inches) if the soil underneath the surface is dry, then it’s time to water. If only the top inch is dry, refrain from watering and check back again in a few days.

Treatment for Root Rot

Root rot is frequently a result of overwatering, which causes the roots to suffocate and fungus to spread. Yellow leaves near the base of the plant are a good indicator that root rot is the cause.

If you suspect root rot, remove the plant from its pot to examine the roots. Infected roots will appear soft, mushy, brown or black and will have a dank odour. 

Any sections of the root system that are anything other than creamy, white and firm will need to be carefully removed using sanitized scissors or a knife. Re-sanitize your cutting tools after every snip to avoid reinfection.

Once all traces of the diseased roots have been removed, lay the plant down on paper towels to dry the roots. 

If pathogens are the cause, you can drench the roots in a fungicide soil spray at this point. But, I don’t recommend doing this unless you are unable to identify the exact cause. This is only usually achieved if you send samples off to a lab. 

Once the roots have dried, you can thoroughly clean the old pot (or use a new one) and re-pot using new, well-draining potting soil. 

Once treated, the pothos will either improve or deteriorate. I recommend salvaging any healthy-looking sections providing the stem and roots are intact. 

Alternatively, snip off a piece to cultivate in some water and begin a new plant. 

Treating Yellow Leaves Caused by Lighting Issues

Leaves that have turned yellow or yellow and brown and have become crisp to the touch are unlikely to recover and will need to be removed. This will not only improve the look of your plant but will also allow your plant to focus energy on generating new shoots.

Avoid placing your Pothos on a west or south-west-facing window ledge as this will provide too much direct sun causing scorching and yellowing of leaves. 

A bright spot is ideal, and they can even tolerate low levels of light. I have mine on an east-facing window that provides the benefit of some warm morning sun that can then be retained for the remainder of the day. 

Treating Pests on Pothos

Where you have identified that pests are the cause of the yellow leaves on your plant, you will need:

  1. Remove as much of the infestation as you can by hand.
  2. Wash leaves and stems with a soapy water solution. Use a soft cloth or sponge to carefully wipe down all affected areas including the undersides of leaves, leaf junctions and nodes. 
  3. Repeat weekly until all traces of the infestation have cleared.
  4. Spray a mixture of neem oil and essential oils such as lavender and lemongrass onto leaves and stems once every couple of weeks. This helps to keep your plant clean, prevent infestations but also treat infections too.

You can minimize the risk of pest infestations by quarantining newly purchased plants for 2-4 weeks before placing them near your existing houseplants as well as avoiding re-using old potting soil.

References

Wisconsin Horticulture – Pothos, Epipremmum aureum

The University of Florida – Pothos Diseases

fc0f28385ebd56da36c2bbe134f43736?s=150&d=mp&r=g
 | Website

Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.