How to Revive a Dying Pothos Plant


How to revive a dying pothos plant

Pothos is one of my favorite houseplants as it is incredibly hardy. That being said, I have had to personally revive some of my friend’s pothos plants that were dying.

I have had loads of experience cultivating pothos plants for sale, and I think the key thing to understand is how pothos grows in the wild so we, as plant parents, can emulate these conditions in our homes to not only look after your pothos but save it if it is dying.

In this article, I distill all my knowledge, tips, and tricks to pinpoint why your pothos is dying and how you can save it…

The reason I see most often for a dying pothos plant is usually because of overwatering and poor drainage. Pothos need well-draining potting soil and prefer the top inch of soil to dry between bouts of watering. If the soil is consistently damp, the pothos leaves turn yellow with a drooping, dying appearance due to root rot.

Root rot can also cause your pothos leaves to turn brown, with a curling appearance, and eventually lose the leaves.

My pothos vines grow leggy if they are not pruned regularly or in too much shade.

If the pothos is dying after repotting, then from my experience, this is usually because of root rot due to compacted soils, poor drainage, or because the pot is too large and retains too much moisture.

If the pothos has stopped growing, I can assure you this is usually due to Winter dormancy or a lack of light or nutrients.

I revive my dying pothos by recreating their native conditions of well-draining soil, watering only when the top inch of the soil is dry, and locating the pothos in bright, indirect sunlight.

It may be necessary to snip back any roots suffering from root rot and propagate the pothos from any remaining growth to save the plant.

Keep reading for how you can identify the cause of your dying pothos and my techniques and step-by-step guide on how to save it… (also known as devil ivy or golden pothos Epipremnum pinnatum)…

Why is My Pothos Turning Yellow and Brown with a Drooping and Dying Appearance?

  • Symptoms. Leaves and stems turn yellow, sometimes with brown spots or patches, with a drooping appearance. Leaves also turn yellow and start to curl and eventually drop off.
  • Causes. Overwatering, slow draining, or compacted soils and pots without drainage holes in the base.

Pothos leaves turn yellow, drooping, and die because of overwatering. Your pothos require the top inch of soil to dry between each bout of watering. In consistently damp soil, pothos develop root rot, which turns the leaves yellow with a drooping, dying appearance.

We need to understand how pothos grow naturally in order to save it…

Pothos is native to South Pacific islands where it grows as climbers, up trees with their roots in well-draining aerated, porous soil.

This means that when we grow our pothos, it is important to replicate some of the conditions of their native environment with light, well-draining porous soil and by allowing the top inch of soil to dry between each watering.

From experience, my pothos generally tolerates under watering better then overwatering, hence why overwatering is usually the cause of a dying pothos plant.

If the pothos roots are in consistently damp soil from overwatering or poor drainage, then this promotes the conditions for the fungal disease root rot, which is often the cause of a dying pothos.

If root rot develops, the roots cannot function and transport water and nutrients around the plant which causes the leaves to turn yellow, brown and droop.

I must caution if the soil is particularly slow draining or compacted, then this has the same effect as overwatering, causing root rot and the leaves to turn yellow.

Another common problem I see people have is that their pothos are in pots without drainage holes in the base and saucers and trays underneath pots, which all cause excess water to pool at the bottom of the pot and promote the conditions for root rot and turns the pothos leaves yellow and brown with a drooping, dying appearance.

My Tips For Reviving Yellow and Brown Drooping Leaves

  • Scale back the watering to emulate the typical moisture cycle in the pothos plant’s native environment. The correct method for watering pothos is to water generously so that excess water trickles from the pot’s base; then, I let the top inch of the soil dry out before watering again. From my experimenting, I have found that this watering cycle ensures the pothos have the correct balance of moisture for the plant to grow and avoid root rot.
  • Take the pothos out of the pot and look at the roots. Inspect the roots for signs of root rot. If the roots feel soft, mushy, look dark, and have a bad smell, then I advise snipping these roots all the way back to healthy growth (healthy roots are white and firm in texture) with a sharp pair of pruners. I must caution you that you must wipe the pruners’ blades with a cloth soaked in disinfectant (I use hand gel) between each cut to prevent potentially spreading fungal pathogens from the diseased roots to otherwise healthy ones.
  • Replant the pothos in new, aerated, well-draining potting soil. It is important to replant the pothos in new soil as the old soil can harbor fungal pathogens that cause the roots to rot and the leaves to turn yellow. My favorite potting mix for pothos is a mix of 2/3’s normal potting soil and 1/3 perlite, as this potting mix replicates the typical aerated, porous soil conditions of the pothos plant’s native environment. I have tested using other potting mixes (such as pine bark), but my pothos plants always look better, which I think is because of the superior drainage characteristics.
  • Prune back any unhealthy stems that are turning yellow and appear rotten. Healthy stems should feel firm when you pinch them, whereas a dying stem feels soft and mushy with a bad smell. Snip back any individual stems that appear diseased, back to healthy growth, or back to the base of the plant. Wipe the pruner blades with a cloth soaked in disinfectant between each cut.
  • Trim back any long trailing stems. If you reduce the size of the pothos plant by trimming the stems with yellow leaves, then there are fewer leaves for the roots to support, which helps the pothos recover. I usually cut stems back to around 2 inches from the base of the plant, which helps to stimulate new growth, or cut so the pothos forms a more compact, bushy shape, which I think looks better.
  • Re-pot the pothos in a pot with drainage holes in the base. You can also re-pot the pothos in their original pot, which is what I do when I’m short of pots! (as long as it is washed with disinfectant), but it is important to ensure that excess water can drain efficiently from the pot to avoid root rot. Empty saucers and trays of any excess water regularly to prevent root rot.
  • Mist the pothos regularly after repotting. Misting the leaves helps recreate the humid conditions of the pothos plant’s native environment and reduces water loss through the leaves, which helps to mitigate transplant shock. While pruning back diseased stems and roots is necessary for the pothos plant’s survival, interference with the roots can cause difficulty for the plant to draw up enough water and nutrients in the short term, so misting can help alleviate stress from water loss. I sometimes use a humidifier instead if I can’t mist it every day.
  • Give the pothos a good soak after repotting, but remember to let the top inch of the soil dry out before watering again, as this replicates the typical cycle of moisture in the pothos plant’s native environment.

Pro Tip: Whenever I am trying to revive a pthos, I place it in my bathroom so it can benefit from the higher levels of humidity and brighter light.

It can be difficult to revive dying pothos if it has severe root rot, as there are often not enough healthy roots to draw up the moisture and nutrients required to support the plant.

In this case, I highly recommend propagating pothos from any healthy stems that remain, as pothos are easy to propagate, and it may be the only way to save the dying plant.

Propagating pothos is easy and cost-effective. Watch this helpful YouTube video for how to successfully propagate pothos plants:

For a full list of reasons for pothos leaves turning yellow and how to save it, please read my article, how to save a pothos plant with yellow leaves.

Why is My Pothos Losing Leaves and Growing Leggy?

  • Symptoms. Pothos stems grow leggy and lose leaves, particularly at the base of the plant. The leaves turn yellow before falling off.
  • Causes. There is insufficient light, and the pothos stems are not often pruned.

Your is pothos losing leaves and growing leggy because pothos is a climbing vine that directs its energy into growing long vines with new leaf growth. The leaves at the base of the pothos turn yellow and drop off as the plant matures.

Pothos plants are native to the tropical Solomon Islands, growing as a climbing plant often under a dense forest canopy.

To attain enough light to grow and thrive, the pothos plant’s strategy is to prioritize growing its vines longer up into the tree canopy to an advantageous spot where they have enough light, space, and resources to grow. (Pretty smart strategy, don’t you think?)

Therefore, their vines can grow quite quickly as a houseplant, which results in a leggy appearance and causes the lower leaves, nearer the base, to turn yellow and drop off as the plant redirects its resources to supporting and growing leaves further up the vines.

A lack of light can also contribute to the leggy appearance of a pothos and create the conditions for leaves to drop off.

Pothos grows under a forest canopy in its native environment, so it can scorch in too much direct light; however, if it is in too much shade, the vines grow leggy as the pothos search for more light. It’s all about finding that balance!

My friend had placed their pothos in too much shade, which caused the leaves to drop off as the pothos did not have the resources to support as many leaves and try to conserve energy.

Pothos leaves also fall off as the plant matures, especially if the vines are not regularly pruned; if you want long vines, then I can assure you that the odd leaf falling off is nothing to worry about.

Pothos plants are very hardy and resilient, and you can easily revive a leggy pothos that is dropping its leaves, as I have done many times.

How I Save Leggy Pothos that are Losing Leaves

  • I trim around half of the long, leggy vines back to 2 inches above the soil line. Pothos is a hardy plant that can tolerate hard pruning.
  • I only cut around half of the long, leggy vines back at any one time because I have discovered if you cut back all the vines at once, this can sometimes be too much of a shock to the pothos. Pruning back helps to stimulate new growth.
  • Once new growth has emerged from the vines that have been pruned, you can safely prune back any remaining leggy vines. I have transformed many a leggy pothos plant with few leaves by giving it a good prune!
  • I recommend pruning back any leggy growth in the Spring, as this is when Pothos is in active growth. The pothos are more resilient during active growth rather than during Winter dormancy.
  • I apply a general houseplant fertilizer at half strength once every month during Spring and Summer to help rejuvenate the pothos. As pruning helps to stimulate new growth, the pothos’ demand for nutrients increases, so fertilizer can help fuel the new growth and restore the plant’s appearance. Pothos is somewhat sensitive to too much fertilizer, so I recommend using half the recommended concentration.
  • Keep the pothos vines pruned to your desired size to encourage more growing leaves. Pruning your pothos when necessary helps to maintain its size, prevents a leggy appearance, and promotes the growth of more leaves.
  • Move the pothos to an area of bright, indirect light. Pothos can tolerate shadier rooms, but they tend to grow leggy, so they have to be pruned more regularly and do not grow as well. A bright room is best for growing pothos as long as it is not on the window sill in direct sunlight. Bright light encourages more leaves to grow and prevents the pothos from becoming as leggy as quickly, although it should still require pruning to maintain its size.

Pro tip: I place my pothos in a south-facing room with a sheer curtain that diffuses the light and creates the optimal bright, indirect light for my pothos to thrive!

Pruning can be done at any time of the year, but it is best to prune during active growth, particularly in the Spring, as this stimulates new growth, and the pothos can recover its appearance with lots of lush, green foliage.

Why are My Pothos Leaves Curling?

  • Symptoms. Leaves can turn yellow and curl in damp soil or curl due to dry conditions.
  • Causes. Underwatering, overwatering, too much sun, low humidity, compacted soil, and a sudden fluctuation in temperature.

The most common reason for pothos leaves curling is because the soil is too damp from overwatering and poor drainage. If the pothos plant’s leaves turn yellow and curl, this indicates the roots are dying due to root rot because of saturated potting soil.

As I stated, the top inch of soil must dry out between each bout of watering to stay healthy and prevent the leaves from turning yellow and curling. The pothos potting soil can be too damp for several reasons:

  • Watering the pothos too often (let the soil dry before watering).
  • The potting soil is too compacted (pothos need porous soil).
  • The pot does not have drainage holes in the base.
  • Saucers or trays underneath the pot have prevented water from draining effectively.

All of these factors cause the potting soil to remain damp for too long, promoting the conditions for root rot and resulting in curling leaves that turn yellow and eventually drop off.

However, pothos leaves can also start to curl due to overly dry conditions caused by:

  • Too much direct sunlight.
  • Not watering often enough or watering too lightly.
  • High temperatures due to indoor heating.
  • Low humidity.

Another thing you need to consider is that pothos plants require bright, indirect light and can dry out too quickly due to too much sun.

This causes the pothos leaves to curl to reduce the leaf’s surface area, which reduces the amount of water loss from the leaf in an attempt to conserve moisture.

Remember when we discussed that Pothos is also native to a topical, humid climate?

The humidity indoors is usually around 10%, whereas the humidity in its native environment is typically above 30%.

The low humidity can sap too much moisture from the pothos leaves, which causes them to curl.

This has happened to me when I lived in my flat in New York. My indoor heating was used to dry the air in winter, and the air con sapped moisture from the leaves in summer!

The optimal temperature range for pothos is between 55°F and 80°F (12°C to 27°C).

It should be noted that pothos require thorough watering so that excess moisture trickles from the pot’s base.

If the pothos is watered too lightly, then only the top inch or so of soil becomes moist, and the water does not reach the roots where it is required.

My Tips for Fixing Curling Leaves

Suppose the leaves are turning yellow and curling despite regular watering. In that case, the cause is most likely root rot, in which case, follow the instructions above under the first subtitle of this article as the same procedure applies.

To avoid pothos leaves turning yellow and curling, it is important to…

  • Wait until the top inch of the potting soil has dried before watering. Pothos does not tolerate consistently damp soil, so check the soil moisture with your finger to determine whether the top inch of the soil has dried. If the soil feels moist, then watering should be delayed. If the soil feels somewhat dry, this is the perfect time to water your pothos.
  • Plant pothos in well-draining potting soil. If the soil has been compacted,, water cannot drain efficiently, which promotes the conditions for root rot. Re-pot pothos with 2/3’s regular potting soil and 1/3 pine bark-based orchid potting mix to increase the drainage and emulate the porous, aerated soil conditions of the pothos’s native environment
  • Plant pothos in pots with drainage holes in the base, empty saucers, and trays of water regularly. This ensures that water can drain effectively from the bottom of the pot so that the soil can dry somewhat between each bout of watering to replicate the typical cycle of soil moisture in the pothos plant’s native environment.

If the pothos leaves are curling but not necessarily turning yellow or exhibiting any other symptoms of root rot, then dry are conditions are usually the course, in which case…

  • I always water pothos thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the pot’s base. This ensures that the moisture has reached the roots where it is required. Always wait until the top inch of the soil has dried before watering again to ensure the optimal balance of moisture.
  • If the soil is really dry, it may repel water from the surface rather than infiltrate the soil to reach the roots. In this case, what I do is submerge the root ball in a basin of water for 10 minutes to allow the water to absorb properly. I find this is often necessary if you have not watered your pothos for a long while.
  • Increase the humidity by misting the pothos leaves once every few days. Misting the leaves helps to create a humid micro-climate that mimics the conditions of the Pothos’s humid tropical environment. Increased humidity slows that rate of water loss, which alleviates the drought stress that causes the leaves to curl. I had to mist every day when I had the heating on in the Winter.
  • Move the pothos so that it is not directly next to a source of heat. Pothos can easily tolerate the temperature range of a typical house, but indoor heating can increase the rate at which the soil dries and cause the leaves to curl, so move the pothos to a location away from the source of heat.
  • Locate the pothos in an area of bright, indirect light rather than full sunlight. Too much direct sunlight scorches the leaves and dries out the plant, which can cause the leaves to curl. Too much shade can cause the growth to be too leggy, so the optimal balance is bright, indirect light to help promote healthy growth.

In my experience, pothos recover much better from drought stress than from overwatering, so if your leaves are curling due to drought stress, then the pothos should easily make a recovery once the conditions are adjusted to be more favorable.

My pothos typically perks back up after 3 cycles of watering and regular misting, which usually takes 3 weeks.

Why is My Pothos Dying After Repotting?

  • Symptoms. Pothos plants often droop or perhaps turn yellow with a dying appearance after repotting.
  • Causes. Potting soil does not drain efficiently, the pot does not have drainage holes in the base, or the pot is too large and retains too much moisture, resulting in root rot.

Most often, I encounter pothos dying after repotting because the potting soil retains moisture for too long. Pothos requires well-draining soil and does not tolerate consistently damp soil. If the soil is too damp after repotting the pothos, the leaves turn yellow with a drooping, dying appearance due to root rot.

As we have discussed, pothos grow naturally in well-draining, porous soil that retains some moisture yet allows excess water to drain away from the roots efficiently.

I have seen that the potting soil can remain too damp for the pothos plant to tolerate for several reasons.

  • The soil has been firmed in around the pothos roots with too much force. This pushes air out of the soil, resulting in less porous soil that can stay damp for too long.
  • The new pot is significantly larger than the old pot. Larger pots have a greater capacity for more soil and, therefore, a greater capacity for retaining moisture. This means the new larger pot retains too much moisture for too long, which can result in root rot and turn the leaves yellow.
  • The new potting soil may retain moisture for much longer than the previous potting mix, promoting the conditions for root rot.
  • The new pot may not have drainage holes in the base, which can cause water to pool around the roots and cause root rot.

My Tips for Reviving Dying Pothos Plant After Repotting

  • I always re-pot my pothos plants to a pot that is one size larger than the previous pot. This ensures that the potting soil dries at a similar rate to the previous pot and mitigates the risk of root rot.
  • Re-pot pothos plants in a well-draining potting mix that replicates the soil conditions of the pothos plant’s native environment. Typically, I recommend 2/3’s ordinary potting soil mixed with 1/3 perlite, which helps to replicate the preferred well-draining soil conditions to mitigate the risk of root rot and the pothos dying after repotting.
  • Ensure that the new pot has drainage holes in the base, and empty any saucers and trays that are underneath the pot regularly. This ensures that excess water is not pooling around the roots of the pothos plant to avoid root rot after repotting.

If the leaves are turning progressively yellow and the vines are drooping with a dying appearance, follow the steps outlined under the first subtitle of this article to address root rot and save the pothos.

(Read my article, How to Care for a Pothos Indoors).

Revive Pothos Plant That is Not Growing

The reason for a pothos plant not growing is usually because the pothos is dormant in Winter, which reduces its growth rate, or due to a combination of unfavorable cold temperatures, lack of sun, not enough water, and not enough nutrients in the soil to support growth.

Pothos usually slows down its growth in response to fewer hours of light, lower light intensity, and cooler temperatures during Winter. Sometimes, the leaves can start to fall off in response to lower levels of light, which is quite normal, and I would not worry about this.

During its period of Winter dormancy, I recommend you reduce how often you water the pothos as the demand for water decreases in correlation with fewer hours of sunlight.

The pothos roots draws up less moisture when the plant is not actively growing so the potting soil typically dries out at a slower rate compared to Spring, Summer and Fall.

The. way. I establish my watering cycle in Winter is to always ensure that the top inch of the soil is dry before you water by feeling the top inch with my finger and judging when it feels dry. If it still feels moist, I delay watering for a few more days as there is a greater risk of harming your pothos with overwatering rather than underwatering.

It is also important to avoid applying fertilizer during Winter dormancy as this can harm the plant.

In the Spring, with more hours of light, the pothos start actively growing again, at which point you can apply fertilizer to promote growth.

If the pothos is not growing in the Spring or Summer, then move the pothos to a bright area with more light (avoid direct sunlight as this can scorch the leaves).

What I do is lift the pothos out of the pot to check whether the roots are pot-bound.

If they are pot-bound, the roots do not have enough access to nutrients, so the pothos plant is not growing.

Repot the pothos in a pot one size larger than the previous pot and repot with new, well-draining potting soil, as the old potting soil is probably exhausted of nutrients.

I always apply a general houseplant fertilizer at half strength for my pothos plants once a month to promote growth in the Spring and Summer.

Always water the pothos with a good soak to ensure the soil is evenly moist, as drought stress can reduce the rate of growth and water consistently as soon as the top inch of the soil has dried out.

Pothos thrive in the temperature range of most houses but avoid locating the pothos too near a source of heat as this can sap moisture too quickly or on a window sill that is too cold and draughty as this can also contribute to the rate of growth, slowing.

Once you have adjusted the conditions, the pothos should start to actively grow again in the Spring and Summer. My pothos vines typically grow around 5 inches each growing season (Spring and summer).

Key Takeaways:

  • Usually, the reason for dying pothos is because the soil is too damp from overwatering or poor drainage. Pothos plants need well-draining soil, with the top inch drying between each watering. If the soil is damp, the pothos leaves turn yellow and drooping with a dying appearance due to root rot.
  • Pothos leaves grow leggy because the pothos plant’s vines are not pruned back often enough or due to a lack of light. Pothos are climbing plants that naturally grow leggy vines. Prune the vines regularly to keep the plant compact and to avoid a leggy appearance.
  • The reason for pothos leaves curling is usually because of overwatering or dry conditions. Overwatering can cause dying roots, which results in the curling leaves turning yellow. If the pothos are in dry conditions with lower humidity, the leaves curl to reduce their surface area to limit water loss.
  • The reason for pothos plants dying after repotting is usually root rot due to compacted soil, pot size being too large, or poor drainage. Pothos requires the top inch of the soil to dry out between each watering. If the potting soil is consistently damp after repotting due to poor drainage, the pothos leaves turn yellow with a dying appearance.
  • Usually, pothos are not growing because the plant is dormant during winter in response to fewer daylight hours and lower light intensity. The pothos should start actively growing again in the spring. Nutrient-poor soil, cold temperatures, and insufficient water can also prevent a pothos plant from growing.
  • To revive a dying pothos, recreate the conditions of its natural environment by misting the leaves to increase humidity, allowing the top inch of soil to dry before watering again, and locating the pothos in bright, indirect light. Snip back any diseased roots and vines back to healthy green growth and help the pothos revive.

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