How to Save a Pothos Plant with Yellow Leaves

How to save a pothos plant with yellow leaves

Has your once green and healthy pothos turned yellow? Do not worry as this is one of the most common problems I see with pothos, and I can assure you I have lots of tips and tricks to help save your pothos…

I discovered the cause for pothos leaves turning yellow is usually because of overwatering or poor drainage. Pothos plants need the top inch of the soil to dry between watering. If the soil is consistently damp, the pothos develop root rot, preventing the roots from drawing up nutrients and causes the leaves to turn yellow with a dying appearance.

Pothos leaves naturally turn yellow at the base of the plant as it matures and the vines grow longer, which I can assure you is nothing to worry about (although I do have a few tips to help with this).

If someone tells me their pothos leaves have turned yellow and started to curl then, I ask them how much sunlight does it get? Pothos prefer bright indirect light, and the leaves can start to curl and scorch yellow in direct sunlight.

From experience, I have also found that using fertilizer too often or in too high a concentration also turns the leaves yellow.

A classic problem I hear from people is that their pothos leaves have turned yellow after repotting, which I find is usually due to a sudden change in temperature, humidity, light, and airflow or because the pot is retaining too much moisture around the roots.

Pothos leaves turn yellow in Winter in response to fewer hours of sunlight, temperatures cooler than 60°F, and due to low humidity.

Keep reading for how to identify the reason your pothos (Devil’s Ivy) leaves are turning yellow and for my techniques that I learned directly from expert growers on how to save them…

Why are My Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow and Brown?

The first thing I check when I see a pothos with yellow and brown leaves is to see whether the soil is too damp.

Pothos needs the top inch of soil to dry between each watering. If your pothos is in consistently boggy soil, the roots can develop root rot, which prevents them from transporting nutrients to the leaves, causing them to turn yellow and brown.

I find it always helps if we understand how a plant grows in the wild so that we can replicate these conditions indoors…

Pothos plants are climbers that are native to the Solomon Islands, where they grow up trees, in well-draining soil conditions.

If your pothos is in soil that is consistently damp from overwatering, the excess water excludes oxygen from the soil which prevents the roots from respiring and interferes with their ability to draw up moisture and nutrients from the soil.

If the roots uptake moisture and nutrients, this causes your leaves to turn yellow and droop with a dying appearance.

If the soil does not dry out between bouts of watering, the roots can develop fungal diseases such as root rot, which turns the leaves yellow and brown with a dying appearance.

A classic problem that I come across in my day job is that people plant their pothos in potting mediums that retain too much moisture or are too compacted as this has the same effect as overwatering in that they restrict the amount of oxygen available at the roots and promote the conditions for root rot.

How I Saved it…

I save pothos plants with yellow and brown leaves by creating the pothos preferred conditions in their native environment by repotting pothos in well-draining soil, allowing the top inch of the potting soil to dry before watering and cutting back any diseased, rotting roots and stems.

  • I scale back the watering (water when the top inch of the soil feels dry). If you are watering pothos more than once a week, then you are most likely overwatering, and this is the probable cause of root rot, which turns the leaves yellow and brown. I always test the soil before watering and only water when the top inch of the potting soil feels dry. This watering cycle replicates the typical cycle of soil moisture in the pothos native environment.
  • Remove the pothos from the soil and check the roots. It is important to inspect the roots for signs of disease. If your roots feel soft, mushy, dark, smell bad, and appear somewhat rotten, then I would snip these roots back to healthy growth (white firm roots are healthy) with a sharp pair of pruners, which can sometimes mean snipping the entire root off back to the base. I advise wiping the blades of the pruners with a cloth soaked in disinfectant between each cut to prevent spreading fungal pathogens (on the blades of the pruners) from diseased roots to otherwise healthy roots.
  • Replace the soil with a well-draining soil mix. It is important to replace the soil as fungal disease from overwatering can stay resident in the soil. I love to use a new mix of around 2/3’s potting soil and 1/3 perlite or pine bark. This type of potting mix helps to create the well-draining soil conditions to which the pothos are adapted. I guarantee you are significantly less likely to encounter problems if your poths is planted in this potting medium.
  • Snip back any stems that appear rotten. Healthy stems should feel firm between your fingers, whereas diseased stems can feel mushy. I snip them back with a pair of pruners and wipe the blades with a cloth soaked in disinfectant between each cut.
  • I always reduce the size of the pothos by trimming individual stems. Prioritize trimming back any stems that have abundant yellow or brown leaves, as these leaves can not function properly. Reducing the size of the pothos means fewer leaves need to be supported, which helps your pothos recover if you have had to snip back large sections of root. Stems can be cut back to 2 inches to stimulate new growth, but try to retain some healthy stems and leaves so the plant can photosynthesize.
  • Repot pothos in a new pot with drainage holes in the base, or you can repot the pothos in its original pot if you wash it out with disinfectant, but ensure the pot has drainage holes to prevent excess water pooling around the roots. Empty saucers and trays of excess water to prevent the conditions that can cause root rot.
  • After repotting, water the pothos and mist the leaves. Watering and misting the leaves is important to prevent the pothos from losing too much moisture and mitigate transplant shock. Pruning back the diseased roots is necessary for the plant to survive but fewer roots can also mean the pothos has difficulty drawing up moisture and nutrients in the short term, hence why watering the pothos after repotting and misting the leaves is important.

Pro tip: If you can’t mist the leaves every day, then I recommend you move your pothos into your bathroom as it can benefit from the naturally higher levels of humidity.

Once you have created more favorable conditions for the pothos and cut back any diseased growth, you can expect recovery and new growth in the Spring and Summer.

However, I must warn you that recovery depends on the extent of root rot, with severely diseased plants often dying back.

In this case, what I do is take cuttings from any healthy remaining cuttings. I recommend that you watch this YouTube video as propagation is quite a visual process:

Can Yellow Pothos Leaves Turn Green Again?

Whether or not the pothos leaves turn green again depends on the cause of the yellowing leaves and the extent of the yellowing.

Most often, yellow pothos leaves do not turn green again once they have turned yellow. Typically, the yellow leaves drop off. However, new growth can emerge once the conditions are more favorable.

If the leaves turn yellow, you can snip the vine back to healthy growth or about 2 inches above the soil to help stimulate the growth of new, healthier vines and green, healthy pothos leaves.

Pothos Leaves Turn Yellow as the Plant Matures

Pothos leaves turn yellow at the base as they mature. I discovered that as the individual vines grow longer, the pothos invest more energy into growing the leaves at the end of the vine and direct less energy to the leaves at the base of the plant, causing them to turn yellow and drop off.

As I stated, pothos are climbers in their native environment, with each vine growing higher into the trees.

The leaves at the end of the vines are more likely to receive light and out-compete other climbing plants in the forest, therefore the pothos prioritize the growth of these leaves.

This means there is less energy for the leaves at the base of the plant, so if the lower leaves on your pothos are turning yellow and dropping off despite the rest of the pothos appearing healthy, do not worry! I can reassure you this is a natural part of the plant’s growth and not a sign of disease!

My Tips for Saving Pothos Plants with Yellow Leaves at the Base

The way I maintain a healthy, lush pothos plant is to trim back any of my long vines to 2 inches above the soil. This stimulates the growth of new vines with healthy green or variegated leaves, and prevents any leaves at the base from turning yellow.

I must caution that you should not prune all the vines back at once as this is too much of a shock to the pothos. Select the vines that have grown leggy with yellowing leaves to cut back.

Generally, what I recommend you do is cut back 2 or 3 vines at a time to rejuvenate the pothos, although this can depend on the size of the plant.

When new growth appears, cut back any other leggy vines with yellow leaves as necessary, and the plant should recover its healthy appearance.

Pothos Leaves Can Scorch Yellow due to Too Much Sun

Your pothos leaves turn yellow if they are in direct sunlight. As I said, it is important to remember how our plants grow naturally.

Pothos plants are native to tropical forests, and their sensitive leaves are protected from intense sunlight under the forest canopy. If pothos leaves are in direct sunlight, I find that they scorch yellow and start curling with a dying appearance.

Pothos is native to tropical forests in the Solomon Islands, where its vines attach to trees as they grow upwards, whilst being protected from direct light.

The ability to tolerate shade makes pothos a great house plant but the sensitive leaves often scorch yellow in the sun, particularly in South facing windows.

Therefore, replicating the pothos’s natural environment is important by locating them in bright indirect light rather than in full sun.

How to Save it…

Bright indirect light is the optimal balance of light for pothos plants as this ensures the plant has enough energy to grow its leaves and vines without the danger of the leaves scorching yellow. But how do you achieve this?

Pro tip: I found that the best balance of light for my pothos is in my south-facing room, but I have a sheer curtain that diffuses the direct sunlight, so it is much softer. I have also had a lot of success growing pothos in my bathroom as they love the humidity, and the frosted glass again creates the optimal diffused soft lighting.

Pothos leaves that have been scorched yellow by the sun do not recover their green appearance, but they do not necessarily harm the plant.

Once you have moved your pothos to a location away from direct sunlight, you need to give the plant a good soak, as they are usually drought-stressed from too much sunlight, and trim back any scorched growth with yellow leaves with a sharp pair of pruners.

In my experience, trimming back the damaged yellow leaves helps stimulate the growth of new vines and leaves to help the pothos recover a healthier appearance. Whenever I trim back my pothos, I get lots of lovely green leaves again in the Spring.

Why Are The Leaves Turning Yellow After Repotting?

This is a problem I see come up a lot! The reason I encounter for pothos turning yellow after repotting is usually because of transplant shock and an increase in moisture around the roots.

You see, the problem is that larger pots contain more soil, which dries out slower than the pothos is accustomed to, which can result in root rot and turn the leaves yellow.

Larger pots have the capacity for more soil and, therefore, more moisture, which can drastically change the rate at which the soil dries out after watering. In addition to this, there are other conditions that I see come up after repotting, which can turn the leaves yellow, such as:

  • Pots without drainage holes in the base (causing excess water to pool around the roots).
  • The use of saucers, trays, and outer pots can all trap moisture.
  • A different potting medium that does not drain as efficiently (pothos needs well-draining soil).
  • The soil may have been compacted after potting (reducing the oxygen around the roots).

All of these conditions can create too much moisture around the pothos’ roots or reduce the soil’s oxygen, which can all cause the leaves to turn yellow.

The contrast in sunlight, airflow, temperature, and the fact the roots may be interfered with or damaged during repotting can also contribute to the leaves turning yellow.

How I Save Yellowing Pothos After Repotting

  • I always recommend re-pot pothos in a pot that is one size up from the previous pot. If the pot is only slightly larger than the previous pot, the soil should dry out at a similar rate, reducing the risk of the leaves turning yellow due to root rot.
  • Re-pot pothos in well-draining, aerated potting soil. Pothos is adapted to growing in well-draining soil, friable soil. I replicate these conditions when repotting to avoid the leaves turning yellow. My recommendation when repotting pothos is a potting mix of 2/3’s normal potting soil that is amended with 1/3 perlite or orchid potting mix. I have tested several potting mixes, and I find perlite or pine bark (with normal potting soil) always works best for me. I specifically use this potting mix to emulate the porous structure of the pothos native soil, allowing for drainage and mitigating the risk of root rot.
  • Avoid compacting the soil around your repotted pothos. This is one of the first things I check with recently repotted, yellowing pothos. If you compact the soil, you push out the oxygen necessary for root rot respiration. Pothos prefers a porous soil structure to prevent the leaves from turning yellow.
  • Always empty saucers, trays, and outer pots after watering your pothos. Good drainage is imperative to avoiding root rot and yellowing leaves, so always ensure that you empty anything underneath your pothos pots regularly to prevent water from pooling around the roots.
  • Try maintaining similar environmental conditions if you move your pothos pot after repotting. If you have moved the pot to a different room, it can react by the leaves turning yellow due to a sudden contrast in conditions. Ensure the pothos is in a room with a similar temperature (away from indoor heating) with bright, indirect light, and mist the leaves regularly to help mitigate the transplant shock.

Misting the leaves is always important after repotting your pothos whilst the roots are established in the differing conditions. If you cannot mist your pothos, you can group your humidity loving houseplants together and even use a humidifier.

I like to use a humidifier (you can probably guess!) because I have a lot of houseplants, and the humidifier saves me from misting all my plants, which would be time-consuming.

Water your pothos as normal (let the top inch of the soil dry between each bout of watering) and the pothos you should see your pothos recover in the following weeks.

If the pothos leaves continue to turn yellow, then it could be root rot, in which case I would check the roots and follow the instructions, then follow my advice at the top of the article on pothos leaves turning yellow and brown due to overwatering.

Yellow Leaves due to Too Much Fertilizer

Pothos leaves turn yellow if the plant has had fertilizer applied in too high a concentration or too frequently. From my botany studies at university, I can tell you that salts build up in the soil from fertilizer use, which creates negative osmotic potential in the soil, prevents the roots from drawing up moisture, and causes the leaves to turn yellow.

Pothos is admired for its lush foliage, and fertilizer is often recommended to help encourage growth and keep the plant healthy.

However from my personal experiments I can tell you that pothos is relatively sensitive to fertilizer and I think it should only be applied in a half strength concentration, once a month during Spring and Summer.

Residual salts from fertilizer accumulate in the soil if the fertilizer is applied too often or in too high a concentration, which interferes with the pothos root’s ability to draw up moisture and nutrients.

If the roots cannot uptake moisture or nutrients to transport to the leaves, the pothos leaves react by turning yellow as a sign of stress.

How I Save Pothos with Yellow Leaves Due to Fertilizer

I have saved pothos with yellow leaves by watering the pothos thoroughly to dissolve excess salts in the soil, scaling back the use of fertilizer, and replacing the soil. Cut back any yellow leaves to stimulate new growth.

  • I would water the pothos under a running faucet (tap) for at least 10 minutes. Running the water through the soil thoroughly helps flush out the excess salts in the soil to restore osmotic potential so that the roots can draw up moisture and nutrients properly. I find it is worth repeating this 2 or 3 more times to ensure as much of the accumulated salts are dissolved in the water. Allow the pot to drain well after each thorough watering to ensure the water has flushed out all the salts.
  • Of course, you should scale back any use of fertilizer. Whilst the pothos recovers, I would not use any additional fertilizer. Fertilizer should only be used at half strength and only applied once a month during Spring and Summer. Some of my pothos plants grow quite well without fertilizer, so scaling back the use of fertilizer does not harm the pothos.
  • Wait to see if any of the leaves recover. Once you have flushed the potting soil of excess salts caused by the fertilizer, then the roots can start to uptake water again properly to support the leaves. If it has been a mild case of too much fertilizer, then I have seen pothos recover after a few weeks. If the leaves remain yellow and do not show any sign of recovery after 3 or 4 weeks, then cut the vines back to healthy growth or to 2 inches above the soil. This should help to stimulate new healthy growth with green, lush leaves.

Why Are My Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow In Winter?

My pothos leaves have turned yellow in Winter before which I discovered, was because of cold temperatures, low humidity, and fewer hours of sunlight. Pothos plants tolerate a temperature range of 60°F to 90°F and need bright indirect light.

If the pothos experiences temperatures cooler than 60°F and the pothos is in too much shade then leaves turn yellow as a sign of stress.

In the Pothos native range in the Solomon Islands, the hours of sunlight are relatively consistent throughout the year.

If you live in a nornthernly lattidue (like I do in New York) the fewer daylight hours in Winter can cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop off. This is the pothos way of conserving resources in adverse environmental conditions.

I live in an apartment in New York, and I quickly found out that the Low humidity due to indoor heating in Winter also can contribute to the yellowing of leaves as pothos plants originate from a climate of higher humidity.

Pothos also have a lower demand for watering in Winter due to a slower rate of growth and cooler temperatures and usually only require reduced watering of the pothos plant in Winter to every 2 or 3 weeks in Winter.

Watering the pothos too often in Winter when the plant is not growing can increase the risk of the leaves turning yellow due to root rot.

Ensure the pothos is in a room between 60°F and 90°F to avoid the pothos leaves turning yellow and dying.

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

How I Saved it…

  • I encourage you to place the pothos in the brightest room. More light in Winter means more energy for the pothos and reduces the risk of more leaves turning yellow and dropping off.
  • Ensure that the pothos is in a room that is at least 60°F. I would consider that the temperature on a window sill may be considerably cooler than the rest of the room and the glass itself can be much colder still. Therefore I always ensure that there are not any leaves in contact with the glass to prevent them from turning yellow.
  • I reduce the watering in Winter to once every 2 or 3 weeks. Root rot due to damp soil is one of the biggest causes of yellow leaves. In Winter, the soil can dry out much quicker, and the pothos have a reduced demand for water. Water the pothos thoroughly, but let at least the top inch of the soil dry out between bouts of each watering.
  • Mist the leaves more often in Winter to counteract dry air from indoor heating. Pothos is a tropical plant that prefers humidity, so I mist the leaves every few days to create a humid microclimate that emulates the pothos’ native environment.

Pro tip: My apartment can get very few hours of sunlight due to the angle of my window, so I solved the problem by using a grow light to supplement the natural light. Ever since I use the grow light, all my leaves have looked great during winter, and I haven’t had any more problems! I really recommend it!

If the leaves have turned yellow in the Winter, they may drop off. The pothos should start to grow new leaves when the temperature is in the preferred range, the humidity increases, and there are more hours of daylight.

(Read my article, how to revive a dying pothos plant).

Key Takeaways:

  • Pothos leaves turn yellow because there is too much moisture around the roots due to overwatering or poor drainage. Pothos requires the top inch of the soil to dry between each watering. If the soil is consistently damp from overwatering, the pothos develop root rot, which turns the leaves yellow and brown with a dying appearance.
  • Pothos leaves can turn yellow as the plant matures. As the vines grow longer, the pothos prioritize directing its energy to the leaves further up the vine, and the leaves closer to the base of the pothos turn yellow and drop off.
  • Pothos leaves turn yellow after repotting if they are re-potted to a much larger pot as larger pots contain more soil and retain more moisture. This causes the soil to dry out much slower, which can result in the pothos leaves turning yellow due to root rot.
  • Pothos leaves turn yellow if they are in too much direct sunlight. Pothos plants grow under the shade of a forest canopy in their native environment therefore the leaves are very sensitive to sunlight. If the leaves are in direct sunlight, they turn yellow and curl at the edge with a dying appearance.
  • Pothos leaves turn yellow due to fertilizer being used too often or in high concentration. Fertilizer causes excess salts to accumulate in the soil, which prevents the pothos roots from uptaking moisture, which causes the leaves to turn yellow and start curling.
  • Pothos leaves turn yellow in Winter due to cold temperatures, fewer hours of daylight, and low humidity. If the temperature is lower than 60°F and the pothos is in too much shade, the leaves turn yellow and drop off.

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