If you’re having trouble keeping your Golden Pothos healthy, there’s a good chance you have a watering issue. These plants will grow in a wide range of conditions, but improper hydration is one thing they can’t stand. Don’t worry: this article will explain everything you need to know about how to water a Pothos. So, how much should you water your Pothos?
Give your Pothos a drink only when the top 2 inches of soil are dry to the touch. Adding water when the potting mix is already wet will smother the roots and may cause rot. It’s best to water a Pothos thoroughly, soaking the entire soil mass with room-temperature water.
Keeping your Pothos properly watered also has a lot to do with your choice of pot and soil. We’ll explain how to get those factors right, and we’ll answer lots of common questions about watering Pothos plants. By the time we’re done, you’ll have all the info you need to quench your plant’s thirst.
How Much Water Does a Pothos Need?
Epipremnum aureum, the Golden Pothos or Devil’s Ivy, is built for the moist environment of the tropics. Your plant will be happiest if you keep its roots a little bit damp at all times.
Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, you’re not adding moisture directly to the roots. You water a Pothos by watering the potting mix. And that means you have to pay attention to the way that moisture behaves in the soil.
For one thing, the lower parts of the pot take longer to dry out than the upper ones. Exactly how much longer depends on how fine the soil particles are (more on that later). In general, though, you can assume that the area around the roots is quite a bit moister than the soil surface.
Another thing to consider is that the roots of a Pothos need air as well as water. If the soil stays soaking wet for too long, your plant will be deprived of oxygen. The suffocating roots won’t be able to do their job properly, and your Pothos will get dehydrated. When this waterlogged condition persists for too long, root rot may develop. The bacteria and fungi that thrive in wet, airless soil can turn your Pothos into brown mush with terrifying speed.
The potting mix also won’t always dry out at the same rate every day. Here are just a few of the things that can affect how long it stays wet:
- Your plant’s growth rate
- The type of pot you’re using
Test the Soil Before You Water a Pothos
Since you can’t predict how fast your plant’s potting mix will get dry, you’ll have to check on it. The simplest way to do this is to poke your finger about two inches into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water your Pothos.
Check the soil every 2-3 days in the summer, and every 5-6 days in winter. This is much more reliable than trying to come up with a firm schedule for watering. If you add water at the same time every week, you risk dehydrating your Pothos when the weather is hot or overwatering when it’s overcast.
If you don’t like the finger test, you can use a moisture probe to check closer to the roots. It’s safe to water your Devil’s Ivy when the meter shows that the soil is slightly moist. An unglazed wooden chopstick works almost as well. Poke it into the pot, leave it for a minute or so, then pull it out. If the wood is only a tiny bit damp, you can add water.
Once you determine it’s time to water a Pothos, make sure you give it a big drink. Try to get the entire soil mass nice and damp, so that all of the roots are moist and the excess water runs out the drainage hole in the bottom. Don’t worry that this will cause “overwatering” – that has more to do with how long the soil stays wet.
What Kind of Water is Good for Pothos Plants?
In general, you don’t need to worry too much about water quality when growing Devil’s Ivy. Some plants appear to be sensitive to the minerals in tap water. But it probably won’t make much difference to your Pothos unless your area has very “hard” (mineral-heavy) water.
If you’re worried about this, you can flush the soil with a large dose of water every month or two. This helps to prevent mineral buildup. Just pour a steady stream of water into the pot and let it run out the bottom. Keep going until you’ve used at least 5 times the total volume of your plant’s container.
Water temperature matters a bit more. Don’t give your Pothos water that’s too hot or too cold. And definitely don’t use ice cubes, no matter what internet fad articles tell you! Excessive cold or heat can shock your plant and cause it to wilt, yellow, and lose leaves. Room-temperature water is ideal.
Soil Quality Matters
It can be almost impossible to water a Pothos correctly if you’re using the wrong type of soil. Overly dense soil holds too much water and leaves little room for air. This makes it hard to avoid overwatering. On the other hand, if the soil is too coarse, your Devil’s Ivy may get dehydrated quickly.
The key factor is particle size. Soils made up of fine-grained ingredients retain a lot more moisture, while coarser materials allow water to drain away. Pothos plants do well when a little more than half of their potting mix is made up of large particles. This allows most of the liquid to drain out after watering, leaving just enough to keep the roots damp.
Sadly, most potting soils you can buy in stores are much denser than this. While this may help forgetful indoor gardeners avoid underwatering, it leads many others to smother their tropical plants. It’s usually a better idea to make up your own potting mix. Here’s our standard recipe:
- 40% (by volume) #3 perlite
- 30% coconut coir
- 20% orchid bark
- 10% worm castings
The chunky perlite and bark do a good job of creating space for airflow and drainage. Meanwhile, the spongy coconut coir absorbs liquid to sustain your Devil’s Ivy between visits from the Watering Fairy. Worm compost has a similar effect and supplies a little nutrition to help your Pothos grow.
If creating your own soil seems like too much work, you could just combine 50% African Violet mix and 50% perlite. A pricier but easier option is to buy a specialty mix designed for aroids (the plant family that includes Epipremnum).
Should You Water a Pothos From the Bottom?
Some houseplant owners prefer bottom watering. This is an alternate method that involves placing the pot in a flat-bottomed tray of water. Once you set it down, wait for it to soak up through the soil. Once the surface is damp, you can take your Pothos out of the water.
The main advantages are convenience and thoroughness. Bottom watering soaks the soil evenly. And it’s fairly low-effort, especially if you use a “self-watering” pot with a reservoir in the bottom.
This isn’t necessarily better for your Pothos than a thorough top watering, though. It often lets minerals build up faster in the soil, since there’s no water washing them out through the bottom. It’s best to perform an occasional soil flush if you water your Pothos from the bottom. And never leave the pot sitting in water for longer than 3-4 hours at a time.
Watering a Pothos is Easier With Drainage Holes
Another important factor is the pot you use. Most houseplant pots include at least one hole in the base to give the water somewhere to go. We recommend using this type of container for a Pothos. If you choose one with a solid bottom, you’ll have to be much more cautious about avoiding overwatering.
What if you find a pot that’s too beautiful to pass up even though it lacks holes? One option is to use it as a cachepot. Put your Pothos in a slightly smaller pot that does have holes, then slide that pot inside the nicer one. You’ll just need to take the inner pot out when watering so that you don’t end up with standing water inside the cachepot.
How to Tell When a Pothos Needs More Water
We’ve already explained that the soil is your best indicator of when to water a Pothos. It may also be your first warning sign that you’re letting your plant get too thirsty. The potting mix should never get so dry that it clumps up and peels back from the sides of the pot. If this is happening regularly, you need to start checking the soil more often. You’re missing the signs that your Pothos is ready for a drink.
Other indicators of dehydration include slow growth and yellowing or wilting leaves. Severe thirst can make the foliage get brown, dry, and crispy.
These symptoms can also be caused by many other issues, though – including overwatering! So always check the soil if you suspect lack of water is the issue. If the potting mix is dry, give your Pothos a big drink and see if it revives.
Repeatedly letting your Pothos go thirsty will stunt its growth. If your plant is failing to thrive, it’s worth taking another look at your watering habits.
How to Tell When a Pothos is Overwatered
We’ll repeat the advice we gave in the last section: check the soil. If your Pothos looks like it’s dying of thirst, but the potting mix is still damp, you should suspect overwatering. In fact, you should be concerned anytime the soil seems to be staying wet for more than a few days after you water.
Early signs of overwatering often look a lot like dehydration. Your Pothos will slump over and start turning yellow. This color change often begins with the lowest leaves and works its way up. An overwatered Pothos may feel soft and limp rather than crispy and dry, though this isn’t always true.
If you don’t catch the problem quickly enough, more serious warning signs will appear. The soil may begin to smell foul thanks to the decaying roots inside. The stems and leaves may also develop mushy brown spots, which means the rot has spread above the soil.
To check if your Pothos has root rot, you’ll have to take it out of the pot. Rinse any soil off the roots and inspect them closely. Rotten roots may be:
- Brown or black. Pothos roots should have a white or beige color. Discoloration is one of the clearest signs of rot.
- Slick. Harmful microbes often produce a film of slime that makes the roots feel slippery.
- Squishy. Healthy roots feel firm and a little springy when you poke them. A mushy texture indicates rot.
The only cure is to clip off every rotting root with disinfected pruning scissors. Then replant your Pothos in brand-new soil, cleaning and sanitizing the pot if you’re going to reuse it. See here for our detailed guide on battling root rot in Devil’s Ivy.
What About Humidity?
We’ve talked a lot about soil moisture. But how much moisture does your Pothos need in the air?
Like a lot of tropical species, these plants appreciate a decent amount of humidity. The lower it gets, the more quickly the water evaporates from the leaves. In very dry conditions, your plant may lose moisture faster than the roots can take it in. The foliage curls up and dries out, often getting crispy and brown at the tips. Low humidity won’t kill a Pothos, but it can slow and deform its growth.
To keep your plant in the best shape possible, maintain humidity between 50 and 70 percent. The most reliable way to do this is with a humidifier. Here are a few other tricks you can use:
- Group it with other plants. When tropical plants are close together, the moisture their leaves release raises the local humidity. Your Pothos will be much happier near other plants with the same moisture requirements. Just leave enough space between their leaves for airflow.
- Place it on a pebble tray. You can put your Pothos on top of a shallow tray of water and pebbles. Make sure the rocks are big enough to keep the pot above the water to avoid root rot. As the water evaporates from the tray, it elevates the local humidity a little bit.
- Keep it in a humid room. Certain rooms tend to have more moisture than the rest of the house. Kitchens and bathrooms are prime examples. If you have one that’s bright enough, your Pothos will likely thrive there.
None of these tricks are as effective as a humidifier. However, they can help if your Pothos only needs a small amount of extra moisture to stay healthy.
Should You Mist a Pothos?
Some people recommend spritzing plant leaves with a spray bottle as a way to improve humidity. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. The tiny jolt of moisture evaporates way too quickly. You’d need to mist your Pothos 20-30 times a day to see any real difference in the average humidity!
The one benefit of misting is that it can discourage spider mites from moving in. These tiny but voracious pests hate moisture. If the weather is especially dry, misting your Pothos every morning could help keep them away. This works best if you mist from the bottom up – spider mites like to live on the underside of the leaves.
Can a Pothos Live In Just Water?
There’s another way to make sure your Pothos gets the right amount of hydration: keep it in nothing but water. This is also called hydroponic growth. When its roots are constantly submerged, a Pothos will absorb as much or as little as they need.
This might sound like a weird suggestion after all the warnings we gave earlier about overwatering. But the fungi and bacteria that cause root rot don’t grow in pure water. And your Pothos can grow a special type of roots that let it extract oxygen from the water. Plants can’t do this when growing in soil, which is why they can suffocate if you give them too much to drink.
A Pothos should be able to grow almost as well in water as it would in soil. This is somewhat unusual – many other species will survive in an aquatic environment, but won’t thrive. Here’s how to keep your hydroponic Pothos happy:
- Change the water roughly every 2 weeks. This should keep it oxygenated and clean. Make sure most of the root mass is under the water line.
- Avoid algae buildup. If you notice green slime on the roots, take the plant out and rinse or gently scrub it off. Wash the jar, too.
- Provide a small amount of hydroponic fertilizer every 3-4 weeks. Water doesn’t have any of the nutrients your Pothos needs to thrive, so you have to add them.
Just about any kind of jar, vase, or cup will work for this, as long as it’s large enough. Clear glass or plastic lets more light into the water, making algae growth more likely. However, a transparent container also makes it easier to spot any slime or other root problems.
You’ll probably also want to pick a vessel with a wide mouth. This lets you remove your Pothos more easily when you need to clean it, with less stress to the roots.
Transferring a Pothos to Water
If you do want to grow your Pothos in a jar, how do you get it there? One option is to uproot an existing plant and move the whole thing into the water. This is very stressful for your Pothos, though. The soil roots can’t breathe in water, and it will take a while for your plant to replace them with water roots.
If you do choose this option, rinse all the soil off the roots before placing putting your plant in its jar. You’ll also want to remove most of the foliage, keeping only a few leaves. The strained root system won’t be able to supply enough water and nutrients to keep a lot of leaves alive. Note that even if everything goes perfectly, your Devil’s Ivy will probably look very unhappy for a week or so. It may wilt and shed some leaves, but it should stabilize eventually.
For an easier and less damaging approach, you can grow a new Pothos in water from stem cuttings. They’ll develop water roots from the start, making them better adapted to the aquatic way of life. Lots of people use this as the first step in Pothos propagation, but you don’t have to move the cuttings into soil. You can leave your Pothos clones in water for as long as you want.
If you’re using this method, remember the cuttings need nodes. Those are the small bulges that appear every so often along the vine where new leaves and roots can grow. Make sure that at least one or two nodes are under the water line. More is better, because this offers more places for roots to sprout. You’re also better off taking stem sections that already have one or two leaves.
We do recommend placing a few cuttings in the same jar. This gives you better odds of success in case one or two fail to take root. Besides, using more vines will create a fuller-looking Pothos. You can add a small amount of rooting hormone to the water to encourage growth, but it’s not necessary. You can just pop the stems into the water and wait!
Paying attention to the soil is the best way to make sure you water a Pothos correctly. Give your plant a potting mix with good drainage and check every few days to see if it’s dry. And watch out for indicators of root rot. As long as you give your Pothos the attention it deserves, you should have no problem keeping it hydrated and happy.