Pothos Leaves Turning Yellow: 10 Causes & How to Fix Them

Pothos enjoys a well-deserved reputation for being a low-maintenance houseplant. It’s easy to grow in any home, it tolerates a bit of neglect, and it’s the best plant to start with as a beginner gardener. But even this hardy plant can suffer if its growing requirements are not met. And the first sign of an unhappy pothos is its leaves turning yellow.

Also known as chlorosis, this condition can be caused by several factors. This article will explain the ten most common reasons why pothos leaves turn yellow and what to do in each case.

Let’s take a closer look.

Overwatering

Overwatering is the number one cause for pothos leaves turning yellow. It’s an easy mistake to make because pothos is a tropical plant, so you would think it needs a lot of water to survive. But too much water, especially when combined with a poor-draining soil mix, will cause yellowing leaves, wilting, and root rot making your plant susceptible to pests.

Tip: Overwatering symptoms will differ between pothos varieties. Golden pothos, Neon, and Marble Queen usually have their leaves turn yellow. In the case of N’Joy, Pearls and Jade, and Manjula, the leaves tend to develop brown spots on the white leaf section, which also indicates root rot. 

How to Fix It

Always use a well-draining soil mix and let the top ¼ of the soil dry out before watering your pothos. If the soil is soaking wet, it’s best to take the plant out of the pot, remove some of the soggy soil, repot using a fresh soil mix, and withhold watering for a few days.

watering pothos properly will help prevent leaves from turning yellow.

Underwatering

Pothos can be very forgiving if you forget to water it for a couple of days. But if the plant goes without water for too long, especially in a bright, dry room, the leaves will gradually turn yellow. This is a common problem, especially if your plant has lived in the same pot for over three years.

How to Fix It

The best way to water pothos is using the soak and drain method. Put the pot in the sink or shower, and pour room-temperature water all over the soil until it starts dripping through the drainage holes. Allow the excess water to drain for 15 – 20 minutes before placing the pot back on its tray or inside its decorative mask.

Root Rot

Root rot is the most common disease for pothos plants. It is caused by several species in the Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia genus.

Common symptoms include soft, brown spots with a yellow outline, brown and blackening leaves, and soft, mushy, black roots.

Pothos cuttings rooting in soil can be very susceptible to root rot, but this disease can also affect established plants.    

It’s a common misconception that root rot is caused by overwatering. Indeed, excess water does play a part, but poor-draining soil and underwatering are also to blame. If your plant is not receiving enough water, some of the roots will die, and when you water it again, the dead roots will begin to rot, which then spreads to the healthy roots. 

How to Fix It

You can save your pothos plant from root rot if you act fast. Take out the plant from the pot and wash off the soil. Check the roots, and use a blade disinfected with isopropyl alcohol to trim roots that are black and mushy. Spray the remaining, healthy roots with a mix of 1-part 3% hydrogen peroxide and 2 parts water, then repot the plant in a fresh, well-draining soil mix.

If the entire root ball is black, mushy, and has an unpleasant smell, your pothos is beyond saving. At this stage, your only option is to cut the remaining healthy leaves and vines and propagate them to start a new pothos plant.

Nutrient Deficiency

Like all potted plants, pothos needs regular feeding throughout the growing season. If the soil is poor in nutrients, its growth will become stunted, and the plant will eventually die. 

Nutrient deficiency symptoms will vary depending on which micronutrients your plant is lacking. Yellow or very pale leaves usually indicate a lack of nitrogen, iron, potassium, and phosphorus. If there’s yellowing between the leaf veins, that indicates a magnesium or manganese deficiency.    

How to Fix It

Use a balanced fertilizer to sustain new leaf growth from early spring until mid-fall. A houseplant fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10 is ideal. Pothos usually enters a period of dormancy during winter. But if the plant receives enough light and warmth during the cooler months, it will continue to grow. In that case, keep feeding it an organic, liquid fertilizer year-round.  

Tip: Avoid giving your pothos any fertilizer if the plant is suffering from being overwatered, underwatered, receiving very little light, or if it’s infested with pests. Fertilizers will stress the plant at this point, making it weaker and less likely to recover from whatever is harming it.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer burn is caused by a buildup of mineral salts in the soil. It’s a common problem if synthetic or low-quality fertilizers are used, but too much organic fertilizer can also lead to a nutrient imbalance.

Common symptoms include yellowing or browning leaves, curled, scorched-looking leaves, stunted growth, and a plant suddenly shedding its foliage.  

How to Fix It

Always check the label for the manufacturer’s specifications on fertilizer dosage and application rate.

If you accidentally gave your pothos too much fertilizer, take the plant in the shower and run lukewarm water through the soil for at least 10 minutes to flush out the excess fertilizer. Also, avoid pouring undiluted fertilizer on dry soil, which will burn the roots. 

Pothos Needs Repotting

repotting a pothos plant to keep it healthy

Pothos is a fast-growing plant that can easily grow 3 feet in size per year. But if the roots don’t have enough space to develop, its growth will become stunted, and the bottom leaves will begin to turn yellow or brown.

You can also tell whether your pothos is rootbound if you can see rots come out through the pot drainage holes or if the roots are showing above the soil.

How to Fix It

Gently remove the pothos from its old pot. Find a container that’s one size bigger or 2 inches wider, and fill it with well-draining, fresh potting soil. If the bottom roots are badly wrapped in the shape of the pot, carefully untangle them before repotting.

Give your repotted plant a good soak, and monitor it for the next two weeks to make sure it’s become established.   

Not Enough Light

One of the reasons pothos is such a popular houseplant is because it tolerates low light conditions. But, like all plants, pothos needs light for photosynthesis. If your plant is sitting in a dark corner, the leaves will begin to turn yellow, and the plant will grow bare, leggy stems.  

How to Fix It

Keep your pothos in a room with bright indirect sunlight. Although this plant can survive in low light, it will not thrive. For healthy growth, a room facing east or west is ideal, but avoid exposing it to direct sunlight, which will scorch the leaves.  

Pests

Pothos can be susceptible to two of the most common houseplant pests: spider mites and mealybugs.

Spider mites form web-covered colonies underneath the leaves, usually close to the stem.

Mealybugs form white, cotton-like clusters on the leaves and stems. Both pests feed on sap, causing yellowing leaves and stunted growth. 

How to Fix It

The cheapest, fastest, and most effective way to get rid of spider mites and mealybugs is using an isopropyl alcohol solution.

Mix 4 parts water and 1-part 70% isopropyl alcohol, and use the solution to wipe the top and bottom of the leaves. If the leaves are badly damaged, it’s better to cut them off.

Use the water and alcohol solution to spray the plant once every 5 to 7 days. Repeat the treatment for a month.

A Note on Neem Oil

Neem oil doesn’t kill pests. You can use a neem oil solution as a pest repellent, by spraying your houseplants with it once every 2 to 3 weeks. But if your plants are infested with pests, the best way to get rid of them is using a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution, a systemic pesticide, or even predatory mites.   

Bacterial Leaf Spot

Your pothos can be susceptible to bacterial leaf spot if it’s kept in very humid conditions or if you use misting to increase humidity. The most common symptom is brown spots with a yellow halo on the leaves, followed by wilting.

How to Fix It

There is no cure for bacterial leaf spot. You can try to prevent this disease by avoiding overhead watering and misting. Pruning infected leaves with a sterilized blade can also minimize the risk of it spreading to your other houseplants. But if your pothos is badly infected, the only thing you can do is discard the entire plant.  

The Leaves Are Getting Old

Yellowing leaves aren’t always a cause for concern. Each leaf has a limited lifespan, and as the plant grows, it will gradually “decommission” older leaves and use the nutrients for newer leaves.

So if you notice pothos leaves turning yellow near the base but the plant is otherwise healthy, you don’t need to worry. Allow the leaves to dry completely, and when the plant is done with them, simply pluck them off.

Will My Yellow Pothos Leaves Turn Green Again?

Unfortunately, no. Once chlorosis sets in, the yellow pothos leaves will not turn green again. The plant will spend its energy on either fighting off pests and diseases, or fueling new leaf growth. In the process, it will abandon the yellow leaf, which will wilt, dry, and eventually fall off.

Final Thoughts

Pothos is a remarkably hardy plant that very rarely suffers from any problems. If you notice yellowing of leaves, this is usually the result of incorrect or inconsistent watering, poor-draining soil mix, and pests.

Most of these problems, however, are easily avoided by providing your pothos plant with bright indirect light, a nutrient-rich, well-draining potting soil, and a proper watering schedule. 

Videos

This video highlights a Golden pothos that has improper sunlight and has yellow leaves: