Bringing home a new plant that is known to be easy-to-care-for and easy-to-grow is a great feeling until you see that it looks as though it is starting to die.
This can be very frustrating for newbie gardeners. “What am I doing wrong?” is the most common question.
Pothos, otherwise known as Devil’s Ivy, is one of these hard-to-kill plants.
It makes a fabulous indoor plant, offering long trailing green vines that can grow up to many feet long.
It looks great in hanging baskets, trailing over driftwood, or along patio trellises. You can also grow it outdoors where it will spread as a creeper or vine.
So when it comes to your Pothos plant, there may be several reasons why it is unhappy and looks as if it is dying.
Let’s look at each of the reasons in depth to see why your Pothos plant may be dying.
Why is my Pothos dying?
There are a few common reasons as to why your Pothos plant’s dying. You may be over or under-watering. Your soil may be too dense. Your Pothos may be getting too little or too much sunlight. Factors like temperature, humidity, and attacks by pests also play a part. Lastly, your Pothos may have outgrown its pot.
1. Overwatering your Pothos
Many plants are not happy when they are overwatered, and Pothos is one of them.
Overwatering causes water to remain in the soil and the roots don’t get a chance to dry out.
This makes them rot, drown and die. Once your roots die, your plant will die.
When watering your Pothos, give it a good drench and then allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
This means that you won’t have a routine watering plan for your Pothos plants. Your soil will dry faster in summer and slower in winter.
After heavy rainfall, you will probably not need to water your outdoor Pothos for a long time.
You will need to do a test on your soil to check whether it is dry enough for the next watering.
A good test is to ensure that the top 1 inch (2.5cm) is totally dry. Then push a stick into the soil and see if it comes out dry or moist.
Creating an environment of well-draining soil is a must for Pothos. You can add peat or perlite to help water drain from your soil.
If you have your Pothos in a container, ensure that it has drainage holes at the bottom. This will allow the excess water to run out of your container.
But be careful, the problem does not stop there!
Make sure that you empty out the saucer under your pot plant. If the water accumulates in the saucer, it can be absorbed back up into the soil.
2. Underwatering your Pothos
If you see that the leaves of your Pothos look droopy and limp, this is probably due to underwatering.
Underwatering is as bad as overwatering. Some plants can tolerate dry soil for long periods of time.
Your Pothos is not one of them. It needs to be watered from time to time when the soil gets dry.
If your plant is sitting in very dry soil, give it a good drench and allow the soil to dry out again before watering.
Don’t do what many beginner gardeners do, and start to overwater in a panic. The plant can only absorb so much water and giving it too much will result in an overwatering situation.
You can also lightly spray the leaves with a mist sprayer to introduce some extra moisture onto the leaves and into the air around the plant.
If you want to go one step further, you can wipe the leaves of your indoor Pothos plant with a damp cloth.
This will freshen up the leaves and also improve the look of your plant.
3. Wrong soil choice
Pothos is fairly fussy about the soil it grows in and prefers a well-draining, high-quality potting mix.
Buy this from your local nursery or farmers’ market.
Look for an organic mix that contains all-natural ingredients. This is not only good for the plant but also prevents bringing unhealthy chemicals into your environment.
You can also make your own soil mix by including peat, perlite, pumice, crushed bark, mulch, sterile garden compost, and organic manure into some garden soil.
Pothos does not enjoy soil that is too loose and sandy, or too dense and clay-like.
If your soil is very dense, mix in some peat to help with aeration and drainage.
If you have clay-type soil, you will probably have to find a new spot for your outdoor Pothos or consider growing it indoors, where you can control the soil it is in.
The PH value of your soil can be a factor if your plant is dying. Although most plants will tolerate varying PH values, some are happier when the value is in a certain range.
When it comes to your Pothos, it prefers a slightly acidic pH value of 6.1 to 6.5.
Neutral soil has a pH value of 7.0. Values above 7.0 are alkaline and values below 6.0 are very acidic.
Get a home pH testing kit and see what your pH reading is.
If it is too acidic you can add pulverized limestone or lime to decrease the acidity.
Pothos is tolerant of values slightly higher or lower, so your range would have to be well-off these boundaries before you can be sure that your pH is a problem.
4. Too much sunlight
Your Pothos prefers bright indirect sunlight. That means it will not be happy in full sun.
If your plant is standing in full sun for 6 to 8 hours per day, it will start to die. You will notice that the leaves become pale and limp.
Indirect sunlight is more easily achieved when growing your Pothos indoors.
Place it on a shelf near to a window but not directly where the sun shines. This is the perfect spot as it will get bright light, but not direct sun.
Pothos can even tolerate conditions of less rather than more sun. An east-facing or west-facing room that gets early morning or late afternoon sun will be perfect.
For outdoor Pothos plants, grow where it will get sun only for part of the day. Ensure that it is sheltered during the heat of the afternoon.
Too much direct sun can cause your Pothos to die.
5. Too little sunlight
Although your Pothos can tolerate low-light conditions, they will not be happy in a dark spot for extended periods of time and may even die.
It does prefer bright, indirect light.
If you notice that the leaves are losing their variegation and their color, you should check how much light your plant is getting.
Move it to a brighter spot if possible.
Dark and dingy conditions can cause your Pothos plant to die.
6. Incorrect temperature
Pothos grows best in temperatures that equate to its native environment. These are above 50°F (10°C), with ideal temperatures ranging between 60°F to 80°F (15°C to 26°C).
Pothos is not a desert plant like a cactus, and won’t be happy in extremely hot temperatures. On the flip side, it won’t tolerate extremely cold temperatures either.
If you notice that the leaves start to turn black, or that your plant is not growing, this could be due to cold temperatures.
An average home temperature should be fine for your plant. Be aware of air conditioners, though!
Blowing freezing air or very hot air into your room may make you feel better, but is not great for your plant.
If your plant is directly in front of the air conditioner, it will equate to growing in a very hot or freezing environment.
Make sure that the air conditioner is not blowing directly onto your plants.
The same concerns apply to fans that set up a draught.
Draughty rooms do not make any plant happy. They can become stressed and eventually die.
7. Incorrect humidity
Your Pothos prefers a slightly higher humidity. If the air is too dry it may start to wilt and eventually die.
Your normal room temperature in summer will probably be fine. In winter, you will need to take care as the air becomes much drier.
Using a small plant humidifier can help to increase the humidity in the air. You can also spray your Pothos from time to time to keep the leaves moist.
A room misting device is also good for humans and plants and helps to prevent the air from drying out.
If your humidity is too low for long periods of time, your Pothos may die.
8. Your indoor container is too small
Despite watering correctly and having the perfect soil, your indoor Pothos plant may still look sad and droopy.
This could be a sign of your Pothos being rootbound.
This may sound drastic to new gardeners, but it can be resolved with some care and time.
Rootbound plants have outgrown the size of the pot that they are growing in.
You won’t have this problem if your plant is growing outdoors, as it will probably have loads of space for the roots to spread in the soil.
When a plant grows too big for its container, the roots tend to twist and wrap around one another. This forms a thick, dense web of roots that fill up the entire container.
You can easily see if your plant is rootbound by lifting it carefully up from the base of the stem.
By looking at the top few inches of the roots, you will soon see if it is rootbound. Very often, the entire plant will come out of the pot in one mass.
When your plant is rootbound, there is no space for the soil to retain moisture or essential nutrients. This will cause the roots to die and eventually the whole plant will die too.
So, what do you do with a rootbound plant?
Firstly you need to prepare a larger container with the correct soil.
Remove your plant and place it on a flat surface covered with paper that you can throw away.
You are going to get messy as you’re going to shake off any excess or loose soil.
Now you have a few options.
You can replant it directly into a larger container. You can also divide the plant and replant it into the original container and a new container.
You can also do something that sounds extreme but will do the trick.
Using a sharp knife, cut through the rootball in a few spots around the plant. You can also cut off a section at the base.
Cutting into the rootball will allow the plant to send out new feeder roots to get nutrients and moisture from the soil.
After repotting, water well and allow to dry out before watering again.
A Pothos that is suffering from very compacted rootbound will eventually die, as it cannot absorb water or nutrients from the soil.
Although Pothos can tolerate some pests, a large infestation will eventually cause the plant to die.
Pothos can be attacked by scale.
Scale are tiny insects that you can identify when you see brown spots on the foliage. They have a hard shell and attach to the plant, and then start sucking on the sap.
Scale can be removed by rubbing the plant with a facial-type soft exfoliator sponge.
You can also spray your Pothos with a solution of rubbing alcohol. This will kill the scale but not remove them and you will still have to rub them off.
Your Pothos plant can also be attacked by mealybugs.
Mealybugs feed on your plant and secret a sticky substance that encourages the growth of mold. The mold prevents the leaves from getting sun exposure and your plant may eventually die.
Spraying or rubbing with rubbing alcohol will help to get rid of the infestation.
Another horrid sounding disease that can affect your Pothos is botrytis.
If your plant has botrytis you will see gray mushy spots on the leaves and stems. This mostly occurs in damp, cooler weather.
The best way to remove this is to prune off the affected parts of the plant.
Remember to burn or bin these pieces of plant – do not use them as part of your home-making compost kit.
If you do, you will spread the disease onto all your plants, which is certainly not what you want!
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.