It’s alarming to see your Pothos losing leaves, especially when you have no idea why it’s happening. Why is your plant suddenly developing bald spots, and is there anything you can do about it? We’ll go over the main reasons why a Pothos sheds its foliage and explain how you can help.
Common causes for a Pothos rapidly losing leaves include overwatering, underwatering, or damage from heat or cold. Your plant could also be badly root bound or suffering from a nutrient imbalance. Poor growing conditions like dim lighting or overly dry air can cause more gradual leaf loss.
Remember that it’s normal for your Pothos plant to lose some of its older foliage every so often. Unless lots of leaves are dropping in a short span of time, you don’t need to be too concerned. We’ll help you identify whether your Devil’s Ivy has a serious problem, and if it does, we’ll explain how to fix it. Here are the 11 most likely reasons for your Pothos shedding leaves.
#1: Your Pothos Leaves Are Aging Out
People who love their plants can sometimes be a little overprotective of them. So you may fear the worst when you realize that your Pothos is losing leaves. But you should rule out ordinary leaf aging before you start looking for health problems.
A tropical plant like Pothos doesn’t have a seasonal cycle of shedding foliage. But each individual leaf does have a limited lifespan. It’s normal for the older ones to eventually age out and fall off, letting the plant direct its resources to new growth.
Is your Pothos only losing one or two of the older leaves closer to the base of the plant? If so, you can stop worrying. Your plant will be fine, though you can prune the dying leaves if you don’t like how they look.
#2: Overly Long Pothos Vines
Wild Pothos plants like to grow toward the jungle canopy, where the light is brighter. When their vines trail downward, they start shedding leaves to conserve resources. Eventually, the bare stem will reach the forest floor and start spreading out in search of a tree to climb. It won’t start producing bigger leaves again until it begins heading upward.
So if you grow your Pothos as a trailing plant, the leaves will get smaller as the vine gets longer. The plant will also stop replacing the older leaves when they fall off. Over time, long, dangling Devil’s Ivy stems tend to get quite bare.
The good news: this isn’t a health problem. It’s just the plant following its normal growth strategy. The bad news: if you want a bushier Pothos, your only options are to keep trimming it back or give it something to climb.
#3: You’re Not Watering Your Pothos Enough
The previous two items dealt with slow, gradual foliage loss. But if your Pothos is losing leaves rapidly, the first thing you should check for is dehydration. Lack of water will cause the foliage to wilt, then turn yellow, then brown and papery. Eventually, the withered leaves will start dropping off your Pothos.
Take a look at the potting mix. If it’s hard, dry, and crusty, your plant is definitely dehydrated. Give it a good long drink so that the soil mass gets thoroughly soaked. There should be a decent stream of water flowing from the pot’s drainage holes by the time you’re done.
Keep in mind that the effects of dehydration stress can take a few days to manifest. So your Pothos might still lose a few leaves even after you water it. Keep an eye on it for the next few weeks while watering as normal. If the foliage stops dropping and your plant goes back to normal, you can assume lack of water was the issue.
#4: Overwatering Is Killing Your Pothos Leaves
Does your Pothos look dehydrated even though the soil is wet? Then there’s a good chance it’s actually over-hydrated. When the potting mix stays soggy for too long at a stretch, it blocks the roots from getting enough oxygen. That’s bad enough on its own, but wet soil also allows harmful fungi and bacteria to breed. This leads to root rot, which can kill a Devil’s Ivy plant with shocking speed.
Rapid yellowing of well-established leaves is a common sign of overwatering. Others include squishy stems, brown spotting, fungus gnats, and foul odors coming from the pot.
If you think overwatering might be why your Pothos is losing leaves, check it for root rot immediately. Uproot the plant, rinse the root mass, and inspect it closely. If you find any soft, slimy, brown, or black roots, snip them off with disinfected pruning scissors. Then, swish the roots in a mix of 4 parts water and part hydrogen peroxide. Finally, repot your Pothos in a clean container with all-new potting mix.
In the future, you should test the soil moisture level every 2-3 days. A moisture probe helps with this, but you can also just poke the potting mix with your finger. When the top 1-2 inches feel dry, or the soil near the roots registers as very faintly damp on the
#5: Your Pothos Isn’t Getting Enough Light
This problem catches many growers off guard because Pothos has a reputation as a good low-light plant. However, there are limits to how dim things can get before your Devil’s Ivy suffers. Ideally, it should get at least a few hours per day of bright, indirect light.
With too little illumination, your Pothos will become etiolated. That means the spaces between the leaves will get longer and longer, while the leaves themselves get thinner and paler. In time, they may start dropping off.
The solution is straightforward: move your plant into a spot with more light. You can find some suggestions and tips in this article. Just don’t make the transition all at once. Let your Pothos acclimate to the brighter location by spending a little more time there each day.
#6: The Leaves Are Getting Sunburned
While bright light is good for a Pothos, almost all of it should be indirect. That means the sunbeams shouldn’t be hitting the leaves straight on. More than 2-3 hours of direct sunlight in a day can overheat your Pothos. When this happens, the leaves lose water faster than the roots can replenish it, causing the foliage to dry up and die off.
If sun scorch is the reason your Pothos is losing leaves, it’s usually pretty obvious. The foliage will have ugly brown blotches, clustered on the side of the plant facing the nearest window. The most desiccated leaves will be the first to drop.
The only treatment is to get your Pothos out of the sun. Move it a few feet back from the window, hang some sheer curtains, or find a less intense exposure. For example, east-facing and north-facing windows are usually gentler than those facing south or west. The dead portions of the leaves will stay dead, so you can trim them off if you want. Try not to take off healthy green tissue if you can avoid it.
#7: The Air is Too Dry For Your Pothos Leaves
Another reason your Pothos leaves might dry out is that the humidity is too low. These plants evolved in moist rainforests, and they thrive best when the relative humidity is above 50%. Dry air also worsens the effects of harsh sunlight – these two issues act as a one-two punch for your Pothos leaves.
It’s rare for the humidity to get low enough to completely kill a Pothos leaf. However, it can happen, especially if you live in a dry area or you blast the central heat during winter. Brown, crispy leaf borders are usually the first warning sign. If you don’t correct the problem, the leaves may dry up enough to start falling off the plant.
A humidifier is the easiest and most effective way to compensate for dry air. Other methods, like keeping your Pothos in a steamy bathroom or near other plants, can provide a little relief. But if the problem is bad enough that your plant is losing foliage, we recommend getting a humidifier.
#8: Your Plant Is Suffering From Cold Shock
Low enough temperatures put a major strain on your Pothos. Anything below 55 degrees can damage it, causing large portions of the plant to simply die off. If your Pothos is losing leaves, wilting, and turning yellow during the fall or winter, cold shock is a prime suspect.
Check whether your plant is near a drafty window or a door to the outside that gets used a lot. If so, move it someplace cozier. Don’t try to warm it up rapidly, though – setting it by the fireplace or blasting it with a hair dryer will only stress it out more.
Test the leaves and stems to see if any of them feel mushy. Squishy spots are dead and decaying, and you should cut them off before the rot spreads. Make sure to sanitize your trimmers before and after each cut. After a few weeks at a more comfortable temperature, your Pothos should start producing healthy leaves again.
#9: You Have a Root Bound Pothos
Pothos plants grow pretty fast, and you should generally move yours to a bigger pot every 1-2 years. If you don’t, the roots will eventually run out of living space. As they cram more and more tightly in the pot, they start to cut each other off from water and nutrients. They’ll also push out or absorb most of the organic material in the potting mix. This prevents the soil from retaining much moisture.
It takes a while for a Pothos to get so root bound that its health suffers. When it does, the symptoms look very similar to signs of dehydration. The main difference is that even if you water it, the plant will only perk up for a day or two before going limp again. That’s because there’s no longer enough moisture-retentive material in the pot to keep the roots damp. For the same reason, any water you pour into the pot will drain out almost instantly instead of slowly soaking into the mix.
To fix a root bound Pothos, move it to a pot that’s 2-3 inches bigger than the current one. Before placing the plant in its new home, try to massage the roots apart slightly. This encourages them to grow outward instead of wrapping even tighter.
If the roots are really overgrown, you might also want to cut off the bottom ⅓ with a garden knife. This won’t cause lasting harm to your plant and will give it a bit more breathing room. For more information on dealing with a root bound plant, refer to this article.
#10: Your Plant Has a Nutrient Imbalance
An overabundance of fertilizer in the soil can mimic the symptoms of underwatering or crowded roots. Your plant relies on mineral salts for nutrition, but those same compounds can be harmful at high concentrations. If you give your Pothos more fertilizer than it can use, the excess may build up in the potting mix and get in the way of your plant’s moisture uptake.
If your Pothos is losing leaves immediately after a large dose of fertilizer, the connection will probably be obvious. It’s trickier to diagnose if the salts have been building up gradually in the pot. But you should suspect over-fertilization if the plant looks dehydrated and you’ve ruled out underwatering, overwatering, low humidity, and a cramped pot.
Try giving your Pothos a soil flush and see if its condition improves. To perform a soil flush, pour a large volume of water slowly into the container, which should dissolve most of the mineral salts and wash them out of the potting mix. For maximum effectiveness, you should use 4 or 5 times the total volume of the pot. If the leaves stop dying after this treatment, take it as an indicator that you should lower the fertilizer dosage in the future.
#11: Pests Are Attacking Your Pothos Leaves
A few annoying species of insects and mites can damage and even kill your plant’s foliage. Pest infestations tend to hit newer growth hardest, so if the youngest leaves on your Pothos are shriveling up and dropping off, you should inspect the plant for bugs.
Here are a few major warning signs:
- Scarring on the leaves. Insect bites often leave behind irregular patches of tiny brown or yellow dots.
- Sticky fluid. Mealybugs, aphids, and scale insects produce a gooey fluid called honeydew. This may also harbor mold, creating charcoal-gray patches on the leaves.
- Webbing. When spider mites get a foothold on your plant, they’ll fill the foliage with wispy cobwebs.
- White flecks or blobs. Aphid exoskeletons look like tiny dust flakes, while mealybugs resemble bits of cottony fluff.
- Bumps on the stems. Scale insects look like small brown discs growing on the stems, while aphids form clusters of tiny bubbles. They can range in color from green to orange to black.
Getting rid of Pothos pests usually requires combining several treatments and repeating them several times. We’d suggest picking 2 or 3 of the following and alternating between them:
- Wiping the leaves with rubbing alcohol
- Rinsing the plant with insecticidal soap
- Submerging your Pothos underwater for 15-20 minutes (better if combined with a little bit of mild dish soap)
- Spraying the leaves with neem oil
This will take patience and perseverance, but enough repetition will often get the job done.
Will Your Pothos Regrow Its Lost Leaves?
Sadly, whatever leaves your Pothos has lost aren’t coming back. The dead foliage will eventually be replaced by healthy growth, but the bare spots will remain.
This happens because Pothos plants have strong apical dominance, meaning new growth only appears at the ends of the vines. The only way to get rid of bare spots is to prune them off. Your Pothos starts growing again from the next node down. As long as you maintain the right growing conditions, it should produce fuller, healthier foliage going forward.
Hopefully, you now know why your Pothos is losing leaves. Once you remove whatever is stressing it out, it should get back to growing like leafy green wildfire. Remember to always rule out the natural process of a leaf aging out before jumping to any conclusions. Devil’s Ivy is a survivor, and even a nasty shock usually can’t keep it down for long.