What Your Pothos Is Trying To Tell You With Its Yellow Leaves

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
4 Reasons Your Pothos Leaves Are Turning Yellow & What To Do

pothos

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Pothos are forgiving houseplants that aren't finicky about water or sunlight, making them a great option for beginning gardeners. But low maintenance doesn't mean invincible! Pothos can get stressed when their growing conditions aren't quite right, and they usually express their frustration via yellow leaves. The next time you spot some amber foliage on your plant, here are four things it could mean and what to do about each one:

1. It's not getting enough light.

"Because pothos can be labeled as 'low-light' plants, people often think this means they can place them where there is actually no light," explains Alexi Coffey, the co-founder of Steward, a new phone app that helps take the guesswork out of plant care. "When this happens, a pothos will slowly whither or get overwatered due to the lack of light supporting the plant's water uptake."

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What it looks like:

When pothos plants aren't getting enough light, some of their green leaves will start to turn yellow. There won't be much rhyme or reason to which leaves change color; foliage on the top and bottom of the plant might take on the new shade.

Plants that are receiving too much light may also grow yellow leaves, which makes diagnosing a lighting issue a little tricky. A general rule of thumb: Pothos leaves that are getting too much sun will start to droop slightly and look a little crispy, explains Coffey, while ones that aren't getting enough light will look more plump.

What to do about it:

Though your pothos can't tolerate hours on end of direct sun, it can handle more light than you may think. If yours is sitting in a dark corner, try moving it closer to a window. After a week or two in this new location, you should start to notice less new yellowing.

2. It's getting too much water.

If your pothos isn't getting enough light, chances are it's getting too much water. When a plant doesn't take in enough energy from the sun, it has trouble absorbing the water we give it. And once excess water begins to pool at the bottom of a plant's pot, its roots are in danger of drowning—which will show in its leaves.

"When plants receive too much water, the roots don't receive enough air and start to drown and rot," explains Joyce Mast, longtime florist and the designated Plant Mom at direct-to-consumer plant company Bloomscape. "Roots need air just like we do!"

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What it looks like:

"If you are overwatering your plant, you will notice right away because the leaves will start turning yellow," says Mast. Like a plant that isn't getting enough light, one that's being overwatered will fashion yellow leaves that are more plump than crispy-wilty. If the pothos' saucer pools or overflows with liquid during each watering, this is also a giveaway that you're overwatering.

What to do about it:

First things first: Make sure your pothos's pot has a drainage hole. This will give the water a place to escape so it's not constantly drowning your plant's roots and soil. "A plant in a pot without drainage is much more susceptible to root rot and damage or death from overwatering," explains Mast.

If it's already in the proper pot but still shows signs of overwatering, scale back your watering routine. Only water your pothos when the top few inches of its soil feel completely dry to the touch. Moving your plant closer to a window can also help with this problem. (Remember: More sunlight means more energy for processing water.)

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3. It's not getting enough water.

Thirsty pothos can also have yellow leaves on occasion. "Some plants are quite sensitive to dry conditions, so they will start to crisp and shrivel without enough water and humidity," Mast says.

What it looks like:

"Although pretty subtle, pothos will let you know that it is thirsty by drooping its leaves a bit," explains Mast. "They may also curl inward a bit and feel limp to the touch."

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What to do about it:

If it's been a while since your last watering, give your pothos a good soak and its leaves should perk right up. You also might want to get in the habit of thoroughly watering the bottom of your plant's soil, not just the top. Mast does so every month using the following routine:

  1. Fill a sink with 2 to 4 inches of water, depending on the size of your plant.
  2. Let your plant sit in the water, allowing it to soak the liquid from the bottom for at least 30 minutes. Lift the plant and feel if its pot is heavier. (It should be!)
  3. Drain the sink and let the plant rest, allowing excess water to trickle out from its drainage hole.
  4. Place the plant back on its saucer. If the saucer immediately feels with water, allow your plant to drain for a little longer so it's not in danger of root rot.

4. It's not getting the right nutrients.

Yellow leaves can also be a sign of a nutrient imbalance. Mast explains that tap water that is high in fluoride, salts, or chlorine can cause nutrient buildup on a plant's leaves over time. Conversely, a pothos that isn't getting enough essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, and potassium can also develop yellow spotting.

What it looks like:

The pattern of your plant's yellowing can hint at the type of mineral deficiency it has. For example, leaves that are yellowing at the edges but green in the middle could be low in magnesium. If a leaf's veins and stems still look green but the rest of it has turned yellow, it could signal iron, zinc, or manganese deficiencies. If the leaves at the bottom of your plant are turning yellow, it points to a nitrogen deficiency, but if its top leaves are turning yellow, too little sulfur may be to blame.

On the other side of the coin, leaves that have mineral overload will usually appear scorched, with yellow and brown "burns" throughout.

What to do about it:

If your plant is scorched, Mast recommends adding an extra step to your watering routine: "Fill a pitcher or jug with water to sit uncovered overnight allowing the minerals to evaporate." Another option is to use distilled water to water your plants, or collect rainwater for your indoor greenery.

If a nutrient deficiency is to blame, it's time to give your pothos some fertilizer. (Use this plant food guide to find the right one for your plant pal.) "Most plants will benefit from fertilizing a couple of times a year in the spring and summer months," Mast says. For pothos, she likes to use fertilizers that contain iron and supplement with Epsom salts to add a hint of magnesium to the mix.

Are yellowing leaves always a cause for concern?

"Some yellowing leaves are inevitable," explains Coffey. "When one leaf yellows, it can leave the opportunity for new growth somewhere else." So if one of your plant's older leaves (located on the bottom of its canopy) yellow and fall off every once in a while, it's no big deal and is simply a sign of aging. That being said, yellow leaves won't miraculously become green again, so you're better off pruning them when you see them.

Keep in mind that some types of pothos—like the marble queen pothos—have yellow speckled details in their leaves. This is completely normal and part of what makes that variety unique.

The bottom line.

Though pothos plants tend to be relatively low maintenance, they still have water, sun, and nutrient needs. Yellow leaves can be a sign that your pothos is stressed and it's time to adjust your care routine slightly. Most often, you'll need to place it closer to a window, adjust your watering schedule, add some nutrients to its soil, or filter the water you're giving it.

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