If you are a beginner houseplant parent, pothos is an excellent choice. Also known as devil’s ivy, pothos is an attractive and prolific vining plant. Best of all, pothos plants are difficult – though not impossible – to kill.
With proper care, pothos plants can live up to ten years indoors. But maybe you struggle to keep even the hardiest houseplants alive.
If so, here’s how to care for your dying pothos plant. Follow these tips, and you might be able to bring it back from the brink of death.
10 Reasons For Pothos Dying
There are innumerable reasons why any houseplant might suddenly keel over. Fortunately, diagnosing the issue is pretty straightforward in pothos plants.
Before you can figure out how to care for the dying pothos, you need to identify the warning signs and link them to the underlying causes. Then, following a few simple steps can also help you prevent future near-death experiences for your beloved plant.
1. Root Rot
- Roots appear brown or black.
- Dark lesions have formed on the roots.
- The roots have a slimy, mushy texture.
- Soil smells like decay or rotten eggs.
Many houseplants suffer from root rot, and pothos is no exception. Pothos plants cannot cure themselves of this condition. If you don’t address the root rot, it will likely kill the afflicted plant.
Root rot is fairly easy to recognize. Diagnosing the underlying cause is a little bit trickier. That’s because pothos can develop root rot from two different causes: overwatering or fungal infection.
The next two sections explain these causes in more detail.
In basic terms, overwatering means you have given the plant too much water. A fungal infection comes from an outside attacker (a fungus, parasite, disease, etc.). A fungal infection doesn’t let you off the hook – these infections often develop in waterlogged soil.
Proper care will vary depending on whether the root rot has developed from overwatering or fungal infection. Look at care recommendations under those sections to determine your best action.
Aside from that, remember that the faster you address root rot, the better chance you have of saving your pothos.
- Leaves turn yellow.
- Limp or droopy leaves.
- The saucer the pot stands on is full of water.
- There is excess water in the pot.
- See also the signs of root rot.
You’ll often hear plant owners talk about forgetting to water their plants. Yet overwatering is just as, if not more, harmful.
Plants need water and sunlight to survive. They also need oxygen.
Plants use oxygen to perform respiration, the chemical process through which they produce energy. What does this have to do with watering them? Too much water in the soil reduces the availability of oxygen. So overwatering inhibits a plant’s ability to make energy.
Without enough oxygen, roots accumulate toxins. These toxins can weaken and kill the plant. Too much water in the soil also makes it difficult for the root system to absorb nutrients.
Several factors can impact how quickly a potted plant absorbs water: time of year, light availability, temperature, and humidity levels – all of which will fluctuate.
It can be helpful to develop a watering schedule, but be prepared to make adjustments. Always test the soil moisture before watering any houseplant.
With pothos, the amount of water depends on the light availability. In bright light conditions, water the pothos once the top half of the soil has dried. If your space has less light, let the soil dry out completely between each watering.
There are also a few easy steps to prevent your plant from becoming waterlogged.
Use the correct pot size and make sure that pot has drainage holes. If possible, select a porous clay pot; this material will allow side evaporation. Empty the drainage tray so that the plant is not sitting in water.
3. Fungal Infection
- Foliage turns black or brown.
- Lesions can develop on roots, stems, and leaves.
- See also the signs of root rot.
Overwatering often causes fungal infection, as soil fungi thrive in overly moist or waterlogged soil.
Once one plant develops an infection, the pathogenic spores can spread easily from plant to plant. Hanging plants are particularly vulnerable to this spread. It can be as simple as infectious spores from above plants dropping onto below plants.
You might unknowingly help spread these spores if you use contaminated gardening equipment. Potting mix, water, pruning shears, shovels, pots, and other garden equipment can all host these pathogens.
If you plant your pothos directly into the ground soil, you also increase the risk of exposure to naturally occurring pathogens. (FYI, some U.S. states classify pothos as an invasive species and thus prohibit outdoor planting.)
Phytophthora is a water mold that will spread to the entire plant if left untreated. This mold attacks the root system and then moves above the soil to the stems and leaves. Dark lesions may form on the stems. In addition to wilting and yellowing, leaves may develop brown spots.
If your pothos plant has contracted the parasite pythium, you will likely notice water-soaked cankers on the roots. Pythium also stunts pothos growth. Fungus gnats often transmit pythium. So it’s especially important to quarantine your pothos if you suspect it has root rot and you notice gnats swarming around it.
If your pothos plant has contracted the parasite Pythium, you will likely notice water-soaked cankers on the roots. In addition to root rot, Pythium also stunts pothos growth. Fungus gnats often transmit Pythium. So it’s especially important to quarantine your pothos if you suspect it has root rot and you notice gnats swarming around it.
The fungus Rhizoctonia first develops in the soil, eventually attacking the roots and spreading above the soil. If Rhizoctonia has attacked your plant, you may notice brown lesions on the stems. Growth overall will slow and the leaves will become wilted and yellow.
If you (or more specifically your pothos) live in a hot, moist environment, the root rot might be a symptom of southern blight.
The first thing you should do with a potentially infected pothos is quarantine it from your other houseplants.
After that, saving the pothos becomes somewhat involved. But with a bit of care, you might be able to save the fungally infected plant.
First, gently remove the pothos from its pot. Be sure to support the stem base as rotted roots are, well, rotted and thus more delicate.
Then, prune away infected roots, stems, and leaves. Remember to sterilize your tools between each snip. This might be a pain, but it will help prevent the fungal spores from spreading.
Remove excess soil from the roots. You can do this by gently shaking the pothos and rinsing the roots. Resist the temptation to reuse this soil as it is likely to host the infection.
You will next need to soak the roots in some kind of disinfecting solution. Warm soapy water will do the trick. But you can also use neem oil, fungicide, or a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide to 16 parts water. If the infection has spread to the stem and leaves, consider wiping down those areas with this disinfectant as well.
Once you have disinfected the pothos, repot it in a sterilized pot using fresh potting soil. Make sure the soil dries out completely before watering.
- Leaves shrivel up and become crunchy.
- Dry, dead leaves fall off the plant.
- Soil dries up and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
Although less common than overwatering, it is certainly possible to underwater your pothos. Pothos plants enjoy moist (but not soggy) soil. If you can’t remember the last time you watered the pothos, chances are you need to give it some water.
As mentioned earlier, the watering needs of a pothos plant vary depending on several environmental conditions. Plants in direct sunlight will need more frequent watering than plants in low-light conditions.
If you realize your pothos is underwatered, there is an easy solution: water it!
First, remove any dead or brown leaves. Pruning allows your plant to spend energy on producing new growth, rather than wasting it on already dead growth.
Then, give the pothos a thorough watering. Lift the bottom set of leaves, so that water hits the base of the stem. Continue watering until water begins to seep from the bottom of the pot. Give the plant another round of water. Make sure the plant has finished draining before placing it back on its saucer.
Going forward, remember to water your pothos! Setting a reminder can help you remember this task. But remember to check the soil before watering each time. You don’t want to overcorrect underwatering by giving your plant too much water.
5. Poor Light Conditions
- Leaf variegation has changed dramatically.
- Vines become “leggy” with leaves appearing at infrequent intervals.
- New leaves are small.
All plants need sunlight to perform photosynthesis, but not all plants need the same amount of light.
Most pothos plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight.
If the leaves of your pothos plant have become dry and crispy, the pothos is probably receiving too much direct light. If the leaves are straining toward any available light, they might need a bit more sunlight.
The leaves of many pothos varieties feature attractive cream or yellow variegation. Sometimes this variegation will change or even disappear altogether. This change is another way to tell if your pothos is in less-than-ideal light conditions.
Pothos plants prefer eight to 10 hours of bright indirect light. As a guide, try placing the pothos next to an east-facing window or deeper in a room with a south- or west-facing window.
6. Incorrect Temperature
- Too hot: leaves begin to curl.
- Too cold: leaves begin to brown.
- Check the thermostat to see how it compares to the ideal pothos temperature range.
It can be difficult to determine if the incorrect temperature is harming your pothos just by looking at the plant. So pay attention to the conditions in the room.
What is the air temperature? Is there a draft? Is the plant near a heater? Does the temperature fluctuate dramatically throughout the day?
Pothos are tropical plants that grow best in temperatures ranging from 60-85 F.
When in doubt, keep pothos in a warmer room rather than a cooler room. You especially need to keep an eye on the temperature as the seasons change. Sudden temperature changes can shock your pothos plant.
Also, move the pothos away from any heating or cooling units. If the room gets a draft, move the pothos away from this cold air.
7. Low Humidity
- Foliage will develop brown tips.
- Leaves become dull, losing their glossy sheen.
Again remember that pothos plants come from the tropics. Even as houseplants, pothos prefer high humidity levels. They will tolerate environments with low humidity. But for best results, keep the area around the pothos to about 60% humidity.
Adjusting humidity may sound complicated, but there are a few simple ways to keep your pothos happy.
You can use a humidifier. If you don’t have one to hand, you can gently mist the pothos with a spray bottle. Or, place a pebble tray near the plant.
8. Pest Infestation
- Leaves begin to fall off.
- Leaf discoloration.
- There are visible bugs on the plant.
Pothos plants don’t usually suffer from pest infestations. When pests do attack, there are a few usual suspects: spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, and whiteflies. You’ll usually find these bugs on the underside of pothos leaves.
All of these bugs love moisture. Indeed, pest infestations are yet another downside to overwatered pothos.
Addressing a pest infestation early offers your best chance at fixing the issue. In most cases, simply removing the bugs will do the job. If you catch the infestation early, you can remove the leaf or leaves currently hosting the bugs.
But if the infestation is more widespread, you might consider wiping the leaves with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Insecticidal soap will help address the issue. But neem oil will also prevent future pest infestations. Apply either liquid to a cotton swab and gently rub the infested areas.
If you don’t have either of these materials to hand, you can also use rubbing alcohol. Just be sure to dilute it and then don’t get it near the roots as it can burn roots.
9. Improper Pot Size
- Soil has separated from the sides of the pot.
- Roots are coming out of the drainage holes.
If you’re lucky, your pothos plant will grow! This growth means that eventually, you will have to transplant the pothos into a larger pot. Otherwise, your pothos can become rootbound. This condition is not necessarily fatal, but it will halt the plant’s growth.
Repotting is stressful to pothos, so don’t do it unless necessary. Typically every 18 months is sufficient. Increase pot size slowly: by 1-2” diameter for small pots, by 2-4” diameter for larger floor pots.
10. Poor Soil Quality
- Leaves yellow and curl.
- Soil doesn’t drain properly.
- Growth slows or stops.
Soil quality refers to water drainage and nutrient availability.
Potted houseplants can only access the nutrients available in their pot. So fertilizer can benefit pothos, but it can harm or kill them in excess.
If the soil does not drain properly, the risk of root rot increases.
If you think you have slightly overfertilized your pothos, simply pause your fertilizer routine and give the pothos a few weeks to recover. If you have majorly overfertilized your pothos, you might need to replace the soil with fresh soil. (In severe cases, replicate the steps of the fungal rinse.)
If the soil isn’t draining properly (despite adequate draining holes), it might be time to change it. Select a well-draining potting mix. Add perlite, vermiculite, or sand if necessary to aid drainage.
Not Sure If You Can Revive Your Dying Pothos? When in Doubt, Propagate To Save Your Plant
When all hope seems lost, there is one final way to give your pothos a second chance at life: propagation. In the case of rescuing your pothos, propagation refers to breeding a new plant from a clipping of the parent plant.
Before you get your hopes up, note that propagation requires at least a few healthy leaves. If no part of your pothos resembles the color green anymore, propagation might not be possible.
If you can, identify a length of stem that contains about four healthy leaves. Locate the node on the back of the stem. (The node is the small bump where the leaf meets the larger stem.) Sterilize a pair of sharp scissors, then cut a few inches below this node at a 45-degree angle.
Place this cutting in a small glass or jar. For best results, use filtered water free from chlorine. Make sure the leaves rest above the water.
Then, position the container somewhere that receives moderate sunlight. Change the water every couple of days to maintain the oxygen levels necessary for the plant’s growth.
Roots will begin to form over about 20 days. Once several roots have reached several inches in length, transplant the pothos from water to soil.
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.