Why are the leaves on my Pothos turning yellow? Experts solve this important part of pothos plant care

If you're wondering why the leaves on your Pothos are turning yellow then these easy fixes will solve the problem

pothos plant in front of a grey wall
(Image credit: Alamy)

The ubiquitous Pothos is a favorite in the homes of millions of houseplant growers worldwide. Loved for its ease of care, heart-shaped leaves, and ability to tolerate low light conditions, we can’t get enough of what is essentially a weed in its native habitat of Hawaii and Sri Lanka. 

You might not immediately recognise this much-loved houseplant - also known as Devil's Ivy - in the wild. There it climbs as high as trees, producing huge, variegated, fenestrated leaves as it vines towards the canopy. It makes me feel a little sad for the juvenile plants imprisoned in our homes, searching for non-existent trees and more light, struggling to grow leaves more significant than the size of a small hand. The mascot of the low light plant crew, the Pothos, has been condemned to a life in the dark. 

Unfortunately, their ability to adapt to most light conditions has given them a reputation for being suited to the darkest corners of our homes. While there is a truth that they can survive in low light - and this does make them the perfect houseplant for beginners -  they would prefer to be much closer to a window. Just because they can adapt does not mean they enjoy receiving the minimal amount of light possible for survival. 

'Pothos are one of our most popular sellers and one of my absolute favorite houseplants because of their beauty, versatility, and hardiness,' says Emily Lawlor, owner of Happy Houseplants. 'It's no surprise we sell an average of 100 plants a week. We also sell varieties ranging from yellow variegation to white and solid green. If you're a lover of variegated Monstera but can't afford the price tag, why not get a variegated pothos and try growing it in bright light to increase the variegation - you may even get the leaves to fenestrate. There are so many ways to grow a pothos; they look great in a hanging planter, trailing from a shelf, or even supported with invisible plant hooks up a wall.

Why are the leaves on my Pothos turning yellow?

pothos plant with leaves turning yellow

(Image credit: Sarah Gerrard-Jones)

Yellow leaves are often associated with overwatering, but it’s not the volume of water alone that causes a plant’s roots to decay: how quickly a plant is utilising water is dependent on how much light it is receiving. An ‘overwatered’ plant is often one that’s not being given enough light. 

For decades, humans have enjoyed decorating with plants indoors, but plants need to be treated as nature, not furniture if they are to thrive. We live in semi-shade in our homes, with even the brightest rooms being considerably darker than the outdoors. Position a plant just a few feet back from a window, and you’re reducing the amount of light by at least 50%, if not more. The further away a plant is from a source of light (window or grow light), the less likely it is to remain healthy and the more likely it is to develop an ailment or be attacked by pests and diseases. 

If your Pothos isn’t getting enough light to use the volume of water it’s being given; the result is water that remains in the soil for a prolonged period of time. Roots need oxygen to survive, so the soil should always be full of air pockets rather than void of oxygen because too much water fills those spaces. The longer water remains in the soil, the longer the roots are starved of oxygen, and the greater the opportunity for bacteria to thrive and attack the roots. Other causes of yellow leaves can be a lack of water (more common in Summer than Winter), nutrient deficiency, or being rootbound. 

How to cure your pothos of yellow leaves

healthy pothos plants grouped on wooden stools

(Image credit: Alamy)

Removing your plant from its pot and exposing the roots is the best way to determine the cause of yellow leaves. If roots are circling the pot, you must repot into a larger pot. If being rootbound isn’t the problem, gently remove the soil so you can see the roots: they should be firm and light cream or beige. 

If there is a distinctive damp smell and some of the roots are brown and mushy, they are rotting and unable to function properly. Using clean scissors, snip away any decayed roots, leaving only firm ones attached to the plant. Repot into fresh soil, place it near a window that receives bright light, and be patient. Hold off on watering for at least a few days, then slowly reintroduce water, continuously checking the soil is dry before watering again. 

If all of the roots are rotten, the plant won’t survive, but you can propagate from a stem cutting and grow a new one. Take a cutting just below a node (the bumpy point where a leaf joins the stem), fill a clean jar with water, and put the cutting in so the node is submerged. Within 3-4 weeks, roots should emerge.

Are pothos plants easy to grow?

Yes, pothos plants are very easy to grow, care for and even propagate.

'Pothos, in my opinion, are wildly underrated; they have so much potential but are rarely given the proper care to achieve it,' says Tea Francis, creative scientist @teasjungle. 'As a scientist, I love to experiment, so I moved my dark green leaved plant to a much brighter position where it produced the most brilliant variegated, dinner-plate-sized leaves. After outgrowing the moss pole, I started taking cuttings and putting them in water. Some cuttings are over two years old and a meter and a half long, still living in a jar of water with the occasional drop of fertiliser. Feeding your plants is essential, so they don’t become nutrient deficient. Yellow leaves with green veins can be a sign of magnesium deficiency, so make sure and feed your plant when it’s actively growing.'

Sarah Gerrard-Jones, author of The Plant Rescuer – The book your houseplants want you to read, and winner of RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal, is a self-taught plant obsessive with a passion for rescuing ailing houseplants. As @theplantrescuer on Instagram, Sarah has helped thousands of people understand how to make their plants happy and what to do if something goes wrong.