Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow? (Causes & What to Do About It)

Of all the colors a pothos could display throughout its lush foliage, yellow is not one you want to see. Understanding why the leaves on a pothos plant turn yellow is the first step to remediating the issue.

What is causing the plant yellowing? Why are my pothos leaves turning yellow? Pothos leaves turn yellow for the following reasons:

  • Too few nutrients 
  • Pest infestations
  • Underwatering
  • Overwatering
  • Too little light
  • Too little humidity

In this article, I’ll go through each of the above 6 causes of pothos leaf yellowing and explain their solutions in detail. Whether you’re making one of these mistakes or several, fixing the issue is usually easier than you thought, so keep reading!

6 Issues That Cause Leaf Yellowing and How to Fix Them

Issue #1: Lack of Nutrients

I’m sure you’re familiar with nutrient deficiencies, right? That’s why you take calcium or iron supplements, so your body has enough of these nutrients and minerals.

Plant fertilizer is sort of like the vitamins that are part of your daily routine, only for plants. Fertilizer is full of three plant macronutrients especially: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

Each of the three macronutrients plays a different role in a plant’s health.

Nitrogen fuels growth. Potassium activates enzymes that produce adenosine triphosphate or ATP, which controls how often your pothos will photosynthesize. Phosphorus sends nutrients throughout the plant.

When a plant is deficient in any macronutrients, but especially nitrogen, it may start exhibiting symptoms of poor health. Your pothos’ roots may be shorter than usual.

All plant parts–including roots, buds, and foliage–could stop growing. 

The leaves of your pothos will also be affected. They can become brown or yellow, and the newer leaves will droop. 

Solution: Work on Your Pothos’ Fertilization Schedule

Some indoor gardeners don’t know when or if to fertilize, especially if they’re new to a particular plant.

The pothos requires fertilizer during its most active growing season, which can go through the fall and into December in some cases. 

Apply fertilizer at least every month (four weeks) or once per six weeks.

The fertilizer you’ll want to choose for a pothos should have a balanced mix of macronutrients, so the fertilizer package will read 10-10-10, or 15-15-15, as an example.  

Issue #2: Pests 

Pests are a problem with many houseplants, the pothos is no exception. Of all the bugs that could come crawling in from the outdoors, the two that like pothos the most are scale and mealybugs. 

Scale is one of the oldest insect species, as they’ve existed since Triassic times over 50 million years ago. Their diet has evolved with the times, and now scale bugs prefer sucking on plant juices directly from the tissue of plants. 

There are 8,000 scale species yet detecting any of them is not easy. They secrete a white, waxy coating, sometimes referred to as “honeydew.”

When scale accumulates, you might be able to see them, but many plant owners miss a few scales on their pothos until the problem becomes a full-blown infestation.

Mealybugs are equally as unappealing. They prefer warm, moist environments and love to snack on houseplants.

Like scale, mealybugs produce wax, and it’s also white. When females lay their eggs, they can do so 100 at a time, which sets the stage for infestation. 

As these pests suck the sap out of your pothos, the plant’s leaves can become discolored and droopy. What’s worse is that mealybugs are disease vectors.

A plant disease can easily spread to the rest of your indoor garden, taking down other plants. 

Solution: Have a Plant Pest Prevention Plan

You’ll never be able to prevent 100 percent of pests, as great as that would be. However, you can significantly reduce your rate of scale and mealybugs with a few steps. 

First, before you ever bring home a plant, give it a once-over. Do you see white waxy secretions on the leaves?

Is the plant exhibiting discoloration when it’s otherwise young and healthy? Don’t buy that plant, as it might already be infested. 

Wipe down your pothos’ new pot–even if it’s just with warm water–before you put the plant inside. If you’re using leftover potting soil, check that for bugs too. 

Should a few bugs get through, you need to know how to remove them. To dump scale from your pothos’ leaves, grab a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol.

Dip the swab in the rubbing alcohol and dab it on your pothos’ leaves where the bugs are. The alcohol won’t damage your plant, but it will kill scale.

For mealybugs, combine water (a quart) with dish soap (a couple of drops as you see fit) and transfer the liquid to a spray bottle. Mist the affected leaves to rid them of mealybugs.

Then spray the rest of the plant so any mealybugs in hiding don’t feel inclined to relocate. 

Issue #3: Underwatering

How often are you watering your pothos? Once its water supply runs out, the pothos will tell you that it’s being underwatered.

Its leaves will droop and turn yellow with brown edges. If you touched your plant, you’d notice that its leaves feel very dry and crispy.

Plants need water as well as oxygen for survival, and a pothos plant with dry or crispy leaves is practically crying out for more water. 

Solution: Water Your Pothos When the Top Two Inches of Soil Are Dry

An underwatered pothos is very easy to fix, so don’t stress too much if this is your issue.

I recommend that going forward, you use the fingertip test to determine when it’s time to water the pothos.

The fingertip test requires a clean finger or two.

Stick your fingers into the soil to feel for moisture. For the pothos, when the first two inches of its soil are dry, then it’s time to water.

If you can still feel any moisture in the soil, then hold off on watering your pothos. When you get used to checking the soil this way, it becomes easier to tell when the next watering should happen.

Yes, it’s really that easy. Yet what many new indoor gardeners do is follow a watering schedule, such as watering their plant every seven days. The issue with a schedule is that plants don’t need the same amount of water all the time.

For instance, if you live in a warm climate, then your pothos might require more water than what it gets once a week. Even though you think you’re watering your plant just right, it starts becoming yellow and crispy anyway. 

The fingertip test will always be accurate whether it’s the middle of a scorching day in summer or the start of a frigid winter. Then you can water your pothos accordingly. 

Issue #4: Overwatering

One of the biggest care mistakes you can make with the pothos is drowning the plant in water. This plant species is sensitive to water and doesn’t like too much in its soil at any one time. 

That said, lots of indoor gardeners accidentally overwater their plants. They can take the leaf discoloration to mean that their pothos is underwatered even though the opposite is true.

Yes, your pothos will turn yellow when it’s overwatered, but that’s not all. Leaf browning can occur, growth will stop, and the plant will wilt.

Algae and even mold can develop on the soil in serious cases, turning the soil a mix of green and white.

Deep down in your plant’s pot where the root system is, the roots could be dying if they’re afflicted with root rot. As that name tells you, this plant disease kills your plant’s roots and eventually your whole pothos. 

As I said before, plants need oxygen and water to live. When they get too much of one–water, in this case–and not enough of the other, root death transpires.

The roots that were once firm, white, and healthy now turn soft, black, and sickly. They give off a terrible odor too.

By the time you see symptoms of root rot in your pothos, including leaf yellowing, its condition has progressed quite far. 

Solution: Treat Root Rot ASAP

Root rot can kill your plant, and I can’t stress that enough.

Taking a proactive approach could save your ailing pothos, which is why I always recommend trying to help it. It may or may not work, but at least you know that you’ve done what you could.

When your pothos is afflicted with root rot, you need to remove it from its pot immediately. I’d suggest having another person help you with this.

You’d hold the base of the pothos, and they’d hold the plant. Then you’d pull until the pothos is free. 

Lay your pothos on your counter or even on the kitchen floor. Maybe place a few towels around the pothos, as your plant and its surrounding soil are going to be wet. Then look at the pothos’ root system with a careful eye. 

If you still see some healthy, white roots, then your plant is likely savable. Disinfect a set of pruning shears with isopropyl alcohol or ethanol, either of which should have 70 percent alcohol.

Then trim away all the black root parts and disinfect your shears again.

Replace the pothos’ soil, as putting it back in soaking soil will exacerbate the issue. Begin watering your plant only when its top two inches of soil have dried out, no more often than that!

Issue #5: Lack of Light

The thing about pothos is this: if you put it in almost any lighting, it’s going to survive. That doesn’t mean those conditions are the most optimal for this plant, though. Dim to dark conditions aren’t bright enough. 

Some shade is okay for the pothos, such as on an overcast day, but this plant should not spend all day in a dark environment. If it does, then its green hue will look dull, its stems will grow leggy, and its leaves will become yellow.

Well, the leaves that are still attached to your plant, that is, as leaf drop is common too.

Is your pothos variegated? Its once-gorgeous patterning and coloring will vanish if the plant sits in dim conditions for too long, which is heartbreaking. 

Solution: Move your Pothos to a Brighter Spot

If your pothos is yellow with long, leggy stems, then that’s a clear sign it’s deprived of light. As an FYI, leggy stems look unnaturally long.

The reason your plant grows here but not elsewhere is that those stems are desperately seeking out the light and stretching towards it faster than they’re able to produce leaves. 

From here on out, provide bright, indirect light for the pothos. This kind of light comes from a window with a curtain affixed that blocks the direct path of the sun.

Direct light can scorch the pothos’ leaves, creating another headache, so avoid it. 

You can even grow your pothos exclusively with artificial lighting, but the plant will need at least 12 hours of light exposure per day, ideally around 14 hours. This is something to consider in the winter! 

Issue #6: Lack of Humidity

The pothos is a French Polynesian native, so unsurprisingly, this houseplant likes some humidity in its environment.

Turning up the thermostat is not enough, but while we’re on that subject, pothos prefers temps between 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the air in its environment is too dry, your pothos will begin to dry out in kind, becoming yellowed with brown leaf tips. Its leaves will droop as well. 

Solution: Induce Humidity at Home  

I’m not going to tell you to mist your pothos, because that’s practically a full-time job in and of itself. Instead, you can move your plant to the bathroom.

Each time you or your fellow family members take a steamy shower, you’ll increase the humidity for the pothos.

If you don’t have space in your bathroom, then I’d suggest purchasing a humidifier and plugging it in near your pothos. Leave it on for a few hours per day and the plant’s yellow hue should fade.

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