Fertilizer is one of the easiest care tasks to forget, especially since your Pothos can survive for a while without it. However, if you don’t provide the plant with some nutrients, it will eventually become sickly and die. And you’ll need to fertilize your Pothos regularly if you want it to reach its full growth potential. This article outlines our top tips for getting your Devil’s Ivy the nutrition it needs.
It’s best to fertilize your Pothos every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. A half-strength dose is often enough, especially for plants growing in low light. We recommend a liquid fertilizer with a 3:1:2 NPK ratio, but natural sources of nutrition like compost also work well.
Getting the right dosage sometimes takes practice and experimentation. A plant’s appetite for fertilizer depends on how rapidly it’s growing, and providing too much can cause health problems. However, if you follow the advice below, you should be able to give your Pothos everything it needs to grow full and strong.
Why Your Pothos Needs Fertilizer
Despite the way some brands are marketed, fertilizer isn’t just a way to make a plant flower or give it a burst of growth. It’s an essential requirement for anything you’re growing indoors.
That very much includes the Epipremnum (Pothos) plant. Your plant needs a lot more than just air, water, and sunlight. Its tissues include small amounts of many different minerals, without which it can’t build new leaves, roots, or stems.
Pothos don’t need fertilizer in the wild because they get a steady supply of nutrition from the jungle around them. Some nutrients, like nitrogen, come from the decaying bodies of animals and plants. Others, like phosphorus, come from the rain and the rivers. Potassium and many other minerals trickle into the soil from dissolving rocks.
A Pothos in your home doesn’t have access to rain, groundwater, or rotting corpses. (We hope). You have to supply all the nutrition that it can’t absorb from the air.
What Happens If You Don’t Fertilize Your Pothos?
It may not be immediately obvious that your Pothos is low on nutrients. Unlike a plant deprived of water or sunlight, an under-fertilized Epipremnum won’t show signs of distress right away. Instead, its growth will simply slow down and eventually grind to a halt.
This phase may last a while, especially if the potting mix already has some fertilizer in it. Your Pothos will just keep quietly trucking along, sometimes for months, without visibly suffering. It may even produce new leaves, cannibalizing the nutrients from older ones as they wither away.
However, the plant’s overall size won’t increase much, if at all. It will be slower to send out new growth. And over time, you’ll start to see the leaves getting thinner and paler. Depending on which specific nutrients it’s low on, you may see other symptoms, such as:
- Deformed leaves
- Thin, weak stems
- Brown edges
- Yellow or brown spotting
- Holes in the leaves
- Yellowing between leaf veins
So if you don’t fertilize your Pothos, it will take a long time to actually die. But it will soon stop looking like the healthy, vibrant plant you love.
Choosing a Fertilizer For Your Pothos
There are lots of different ways to fertilize your Pothos. Which one works best? That depends a lot on your individual priorities as an indoor gardener. Here are the main factors to keep in mind:
Synthetic vs. Organic Fertilizer
Many people have strong opinions about whether you should give your plants natural or synthetic nutrients. Your Pothos doesn’t care. The chemicals are identical by the time they reach the roots. There are only two differences: where the nutrients come from and how many changes they have to go through on the way to your plant.
Synthetic fertilizer uses refined chemicals that are mined from rocks, distilled from the air, or derived from petroleum waste products. These industrial processes typically use a lot of fossil fuel. If you’ve ever heard people talking about “petroleum-based fertilizers”, that’s what they mean. It’s not that synthetics are made directly from oil, it’s that a lot of fuel is burned to produce them.
Organic fertilizers, in contrast, are created by breaking down plants, animals, or animal waste. The resulting molecules are more complex than the purified salts in synthetic fertilizer. Natural fertilizers have to be digested by fungi and bacteria in the soil before your Pothos can use them.
This is closer to the way your plant gets its nutrition in the wild. In theory, it’s also more eco-friendly, because these fertilizers are made from the waste products of other industries. (Though their production often uses more energy and added chemicals than you’d expect.)
Advantages of Synthetic Fertilizer for Pothos
- Precision. Chemical fertilizers are produced using very precise formulas, so you can tell exactly how much of each nutrient you’re adding. You can also easily dilute it to the strength you want.
- Speed. When you fertilize your Pothos with synthetics, the nutrients are already in a form that the plant can digest. So if your plant is badly malnourished, you can give it immediate relief with artificial fertilizer.
- Strength. Synthetic fertilizers typically have higher concentrations of nutrients than organic options. They can supply all the ingredients your plant needs with a relatively small dose.
Advantages of Organic Fertilizer for Pothos
- Safety. Natural fertilizers release their nutrients in a slow trickle rather than a big burst. That means they take longer to reach your Pothos, but they’re also less likely to damage the roots with an overdose.
- Soil structure. Technically, organic fertilizers feed the microbes in the soil, which then pass the nutrients on to your Pothos. This creates a richer, more diverse soil ecosystem, which helps to aerate the potting mix.
NPK Ratio For Pothos Fertilizer
The nutrient balance in fertilizer usually boils down to three critical ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Those elements are abbreviated as “NPK”, based on their symbols in the Periodic Table.
An NPK ratio of 10:10:10, for example, means that each of those nutrients makes up 10% of the total volume. For most fertilizers, the ratio matters more than the exact amounts. You’ll usually be diluting it before giving it to your Pothos anyway.
But which NPK ratio should you use to fertilize your Pothos? A high-nitrogen “foliage booster”? Or a phosphorus-heavy “flowering formula”? Or maybe something with high phosphorus and potassium to promote strong roots?
Trick question! The huge variety of formulas is mostly a marketing trick. The idea is to convince you that you need to buy three different fertilizers when one will do. Unless your Pothos is dangerously low on one particular nutrient, changing the NPK ratio won’t make a difference. And any store-bought fertilizer should contain more than enough nutrition for every part of your plant.
The vast majority of plants, including Epipremnum, use the “big three” nutrients in the same proportions – 3:1:2. Any fertilizer using a multiple of that ratio will work perfectly. You could also simply get a balanced formula like 20:20:20. Your Pothos won’t notice much difference. (Scroll down for our specific recommendations.)
What about other nutrients like magnesium and iron? A typical houseplant fertilizer will contain plenty of those, and there’s no need to worry about the exact amounts. You can confirm this by checking the label – it should say the fertilizer contains all necessary macro and micronutrients.
Fast or Slow Release
Does your Pothos need a fast-acting fertilizer? Or will it prefer one that breaks down little by little in the soil?
Fast is better if your plant needs nutrition urgently. Slow is good if you’re worried you might fertilize your Pothos too much and accidentally harm it. When the nutrients leak into the soil little by little, they’re much less likely to reach dangerous concentrations. Slow-acting fertilizers also appeal to our laziness – *cough cough* uh, I mean, our desire for efficiency. You only need to apply them once or twice per year.
Most organic fertilizers work slowly compared to synthetic ones. However, you can buy slow-release artificial fertilizers in the form of pellets or spikes that dissolve gradually in the pot.
Can You Fertilize Your Pothos With Compost?
Compost is a special type of organic fertilizer. It’s created by the natural decomposition of plant matter, usually sourced from waste products of some kind.
Compost is arguably the most eco-friendly way to fertilize your Pothos, especially if you make it at home. It requires no energy or chemical inputs besides air, sunlight, and sometimes rainwater. And it turns trash into a juicy nutrient source for your Devil’s Ivy. Compost is also great at promoting healthy soil structure since it’s teeming with helpful microorganisms.
The main drawback is that compost contains very low concentrations of nutrients compared to store-bought organic or synthetic fertilizers. It’s also impossible to know the exact breakdown of NPK and other nutrients.
However, this doesn’t matter too much in practice. Pothos plants don’t need huge fertilizer inputs, and they’ll usually be content with compost. If you find that this isn’t enough, you can always supplement it with a little bit of liquid nutrition. Compost should serve you well as a slow-acting, low-dose natural fertilizer for your Devil’s Ivy.
What’s the Best Fertilizer For Your Pothos?
If you don’t have a lot of experience with plant nutrition, the information above might be a little overwhelming. So we won’t be offended if you skipped straight to the recommendations. Here are our favorite fertilizers for Pothos plants:
- Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro. This is a no-nonsense fertilizer with every nutrient your houseplant needs. It has a 9:3:6 NPK ratio – the same proportions an Epipremnum would use in the wild, though slightly more concentrated. We like liquid fertilizers because they give you the most control over how much nutrition you’re adding to the pot. You can adjust your dosage on the fly and experiment to figure out the feeding schedule your Pothos likes best.
- Jack’s Classic All-Purpose. Jack’s uses a 20:20:20 formula, meaning it packs a lot of nutrition into a small amount of powder. You’ll dilute it significantly before dosing your Pothos, meaning a single package may last you for years.
- VermisTerra Standard Earthworm Castings. Worm castings, also known as vermicompost, are our favorite variety of compost. They’re light, fluffy, rich in nutrition, and fantastic for aerating the soil on a microscopic level. Of course, the most earth-friendly compost is the kind you make from your own kitchen scraps. Take a look at this article for detailed instructions on home composting!
When and How to Fertilize Your Pothos
Your fertilizing schedule will depend on what product you’re using. We’ll start with the simplest options and move to the more complex ones.
To fertilize your Pothos with compost:
Mix it in when you repot your plant, with the compost forming 10-15% of the total soil volume. More than that could make the potting mix hold too much water, risking root rot. If you’re not repotting your Pothos this year, you can spread a 1-2 inch layer of compost over the top of the pot.
Either way, add compost to your Pothos pot in the early spring, when the growing season is getting underway. As you water, the nutrients will seep into the potting mix.
To fertilize your Pothos with slow-release nutrients:
Slow-acting fertilizer should also be applied at the beginning of the growing season. If you’re using pellets, sprinkle them over the top of the potting mix. Nutrient spikes get poked into the soil and left in place.
The packaging should have some guidelines about how much fertilizer to add each season. We’d suggest going a little lighter than the recommended amount at first. You don’t want to fertilize your Pothos too much, and it’s easier to add more minerals than it is to get them out of the soil.
To fertilize your Pothos with liquid fertilizer:
The fastest-acting fertilizers are liquids or powders that you dissolve in your plant’s water. Synthetic fertilizers are the fastest, but some organic liquids quicker than others. In particular, bone meal and fish emulsion work fairly fast.
You can generally give your Pothos liquid fertilizer every 4-6 weeks while it’s actively growing. Yes, that means you should avoid fertilizing during the winter. You may also need to ease up on the fertilizer if your Pothos is growing slowly. A Devil’s Ivy plant in a dim office won’t need as much nutrition as one in a greenhouse.
Again, it’s best to use less than the packaging suggests at first. A ½-strength dose is a good place to start. You could go as low as ¼ if your Pothos is in low-light conditions. Keep that up for a couple of months, and you may find that it’s plenty for your plant. Otherwise, raise the dosage slowly and carefully, paying close attention to how your Pothos reacts.
You can measure out the right amounts of water and fertilizer and stir them together right in the watering can. Then water your Pothos as normal. Or, if you prefer, you can prepare one big batch in a separate jug and parcel it out a little bit at a time.
Did You Over-Fertilize Your Pothos?
If you give your Pothos more fertilizer than it can consume, the remaining nutrients will linger in the potting mix. At high enough concentrations, those mineral salts go from a blessing to a burden. They can leach water away from your plant’s roots and leave you with a dehydrated Pothos.
When this happens, the leaves on your Devil’s Ivy will turn yellow, then crunchy and brown. It’s not always easy to tell this apart from underwatering, though fertilizer burn often scorches the leaf tips first. But if the leaves begin to wilt shortly after you fertilize your Pothos, a nutrient overdose is the most likely explanation.
You can alleviate fertilizer burn by giving your Pothos a huge drink of water to flush the minerals out. Use distilled water if possible – enough to fill the pot 4-6 times over. Put your plant in the sink or the tub and slowly pour water over the soil. It’s important to give it time to soak into the potting mix, dissolve the minerals, and drain out the bottom. So add the water in a gentle, continuous stream instead of dumping it all in at once. A soil flush won’t undo any damage done, but it can prevent further harm to your plant.
After the soil flush, you can prune away the dead leaves, disinfecting your clippers first with isopropyl alcohol. Try not to trim off healthy tissue where you can avoid it. The green parts of the plant are still photosynthesizing.
Water, Soil, and Pothos Fertilizer
Your watering habits and the soil composition also affect how your Pothos responds to fertilizer. Thick, spongy soil traps mineral salts more easily than a crunchy potting mix with good drainage. You should fertilize less often if you’re using highly moisture-retentive soil.
A coarser, faster-draining blend is generally better for a Pothos anyway. The instructions above assume that you’re using a reasonably chunky potting mix. See our post on Pothos root health for our ideal soil recipe.
Watering from the top gives your plant a mild soil flush every time you hydrate it. You lose out on this effect when you let your Pothos soak up moisture from the base of the pot. You might want to fertilize less frequently if you water your Devil’s Ivy from the bottom. Another option is to provide a preemptive soil flush 2-3 times per growing season.
Homemade Fertilizers For Your Pothos
Some people love the idea of getting thrifty and fertilizing their plants with scraps of food waste. Unfortunately, this is usually less effective than the internet would have you believe. Most kinds of household waste will just make a mess in the pot.
The best homemade fertilizer for a Pothos is, of course, compost. Let your food scraps break down in a bin, tumbler, or worm habitat. The result makes a perfect nutrient source for your plant. (Just make sure the compost is finished decomposing before you add it to the pot).
But what about other kinds of homemade fertilizers? We’ll look at some of the more popular options:
Can You Fertilize Your Pothos With Coffee Grounds?
Lots of online guides recommend coffee grounds as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for houseplants. They also point out that coffee is acidic, and Pothos plants like slightly acidic soil.
However, spent coffee grounds don’t actually do much to affect the pH of your potting mix. And they don’t have much nutrition relative to their volume. Coffee grounds also retain a lot of water, which is bad for your soil’s drainage.
Still, it’s okay to occasionally pour the last remnants of your coffee pot into your Pothos pot. It won’t hurt, and it will add a small amount of nitrogen. But do this sparingly, and never use coffee with any cream or sugar in it. This will often attract pests.
Never dump your entire coffee filter into your Pothos pot. This will turn into a soggy mulch and make your plant vulnerable to overwatering. Toss those grounds into a compost bin instead.
Can You Fertilize Your Pothos With Eggshells?
Eggshells contain lots of calcium, which is a fairly important plant nutrient. The problem is that they decompose extremely slowly. You’ll need to repot your Pothos long before any eggshells you add release enough nutrients to matter.
You can make the shells decay a bit faster by drying them out and grinding them into a fine powder. That’s a fair amount of work, though, and it still may not speed decomposition up enough to make a difference.
Guess what will work better? That’s right, composting! Specifically, worm composting. The grit of an eggshell helps worms break down their food faster. If you have chickens in your backyard, you can also feed them the discarded eggshells. It sounds weird, but it won’t bother your hens, and they need lots of calcium to make more eggs.
Can You Fertilize Your Pothos With Epsom Salts?
The idea of giving a plant anything with “salt” in the name sounds like a bad idea. However, your Pothos gets most of its nutrients in the form of mineral salts anyway. Epsom salts are a combination of magnesium and sulfur, both of which plants need to grow.
Still, if you’re using ordinary houseplant fertilizer, your Pothos is already getting all the magnesium and sulfur it needs. If not, there are lots of other nutrients you’d need to add. Epsom salts are a pretty inefficient way to fertilize your Pothos unless you’ve somehow determined that it’s low on magnesium.
As long as you fertilize your Pothos regularly with a well-balanced formula, it should get all the nutrition it needs. Remember to keep an eye on its growth rate and adjust your fertilizer schedule accordingly. An occasional mild dose should be enough to help your Devil’s Ivy grow to its heart’s content.
It’s always better to under-fertilize your plant than overdo it. Too many nutrients can burn your plant’s roots and leaves. When you start your fertilizing routine, start with 1/4 or 1/2 of the recommended dose. You can always add more fertilizer later but removing nutrients from the soil is a real challenge.