Too much or too little water are both problematic for your Devil’s Ivy. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell which problem your plant has. Many of the most noticeable symptoms are the same whether you have an overwatered or underwatered Pothos. This guide will teach you how to tell these issues apart and save your plant.
The simplest way to tell if you have an overwatered or underwatered Pothos is to feel the soil. Damp soil rules out dehydration, while dry soil suggests underwatering. If the soil test is unclear, check the leaves. Underwatering makes foliage dry, crispy, and brittle. Overwatered leaves feel soft and limp.
We’ll get into more detail about these indicators below, along with a few other important diagnostic factors. And we’ll explain how you can treat your plant’s issues and get it healthy once again. Now let’s figure out if your Pothos has too much water or not enough.
What Does an Underwatered Pothos Look Like?
When your Pothos is too thirsty, it wilts. Plant cells rely on internal water pressure to stay fat and rigid. That means they droop when they’re too low on moisture.
This isn’t as obvious with a trailing plant like a Pothos, because the vines already tend to hang straight down. But when underwatered, they’ll be even more dangly than usual, and the leaves will flop down instead of spreading out to catch the sunlight. They’ll also curl downward at the edges.
If you leave your Pothos underwatered for too long, the foliage will turn yellow and brown. This process usually starts at the edges of leaves and moves inward. As the leaves die, they’ll begin to fall off the plant.
Slow growth can also be a sign of chronic underwatering. Letting your Pothos get thirsty puts the brakes on its growth. Doing it over and over again prevents your plant from making any real gains in size. If your Pothos is growing too slowly, you may want to start checking more frequently to see if it’s thirsty.
Key Signs of an Underwatered Pothos
The things we’ve mentioned above – wilting, yellowing, browning, and slow growth – can be signs of either an overwatered or underwatered Pothos. The following symptoms are much clearer signs that your plant is thirsty:
- Parched soil. The drier the potting mix is, the more likely it is that you have an underwatered Pothos. Is the soil packed into a hard, crusty puck that’s peeling away from the inside of the pot? If so, we can pretty much guarantee that your plant is dehydrated.
- Dry leaves. Wilting leaves are equally likely in an overwatered or underwatered Pothos, but the texture is often different. Underwatering tends to make leaves crispy and stiff. If the foliage feels more like potato chips than plants, your Devil’s Ivy is thirsty.
- Brown tips on all the leaves. Dehydrated leaves often turn dark brown at the very tip before anywhere else. In cases of underwatering, these brown tips can show up on both new and old growth.
How to Save an Underwatered Pothos
Are you ready to hear the ultimate secret to rescuing your underwatered Pothos? Here it is: Water it.
Seriously, that’s all that should be necessary. Watering won’t bring any dead leaves back to life, but it will stop the damage. Within a few hours, your Devil’s Ivy should stop wilting and look noticeably healthier. (In fact, the response to a watering is an important clue about whether you have an overwatered or underwatered Pothos.)
For best results, water as thoroughly as possible. Give every part of the soil surface a good long soak. Keep going until there’s a steady trickle of water coming from the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Then pour a little more. You want to make sure the entire root mass gets a drink.
If your potting mix contains a lot of peat moss, it can become oddly water-repellent after it dries out too much. Is the water beading on top of the soil and running down the sides instead of soaking right in? If so, you might want to dunk the entire pot in a bucket of water. Sometimes you’ll have to hold it down until the air bubbles stop escaping. Another option is to place the pot in a tray of water for a few hours while the soil soaks up moisture through the drainage holes.
What Does an Overwatered Pothos Look Like?
When you’ve watered your Devil’s Ivy too much, it looks…a lot like an underwatered plant, actually. Most of the obvious signs are the same: wilting, foliage turning yellow or brown, stunted growth, and dying leaves.
The reason they’re so similar? Overwatering stifles the roots. Plant roots need oxygen as well as moisture, and sopping wet soil has no room for air. When the roots are suffocating, they can’t do their job, and the rest of your Pothos loses access to water. As far as the visible portion of your plant can tell, it’s dying of thirst.
Lack of access to water and nutrients is bad enough. However, persistent overwatering can lead to an even more serious problem: root rot. It’s caused by a combination of smothered roots and microbial growth in the swampy soil. Even if you stop overwatering, root rot can continue to spread and kill your plant.
Key Signs of an Overwatered Pothos
Here are the most important indicators that your Pothos is overwatered:
- Soggy soil. Once again, checking the soil should be your first step. If the top 1-2 inches feel damp, your Pothos isn’t underwatered. Actually, you should be concerned about overwatering any time that the pot stays wet for more than 2-3 days.
- Soft leaves. Wilting happens whether you have an overwatered or underwatered Pothos. But those drooping leaves will have a soft texture if you’re overwatering.
- Wilting continues after watering. If you tried watering your Pothos and it stays limp and droopy, there’s a good chance it’s overwatered.
- Brown tips on new growth. Browning at the tips of leaves is usually restricted to newer growth in cases of overwatering. Note that we’re only talking about browning that’s limited to the leaf tip. Brown spots elsewhere on the leaf can definitely be from overwatering.
- Mushy stems. If the lower parts of your Pothos vines are turning squishy, it’s usually due to root rot from overwatering. This means that the decay is spreading up from the roots.
- Brown, mushy spots on leaves. An even more serious indicator of root rot. This generally means the disease has reached the foliage.
- Smelly or moldy soil. We’re lumping two symptoms in one here, but these are closely related issues that both point to root rot.
How to Save an Overwatered Pothos
You may be able to fix your Pothos by letting it dry out for a week or so. That should fix the problem if it’s only slightly overwatered. However, if you think you may have been smothering it for a while, or you notice any of the signs of root rot that we mentioned above, your Pothos needs much more serious help.
We cover this process in detail in this article. However, we’ll give you the condensed version now:
Step 1: Check the Roots For Rot
Take your Devil’s Ivy out of its pot, rinse off all the soil, and inspect the roots. If they’re brown, black, gray, slimy, squishy, or mealy, they’re rotting.
Step 2: Trim Off All Rotting Roots
Disinfect a pair of pruning scissors with rubbing alcohol and clip off all the rotting roots. Cut well above the point where the visible rot ends, and get rid of anything that’s even a little dicey. For this to work, every bit of rot needs to go. Disinfect your scissors between each cut.
Step 3: Rinse With Hydrogen Peroxide
This helps to clear off any lingering fungi or bacteria from the roots. Mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide in 4 parts water, then swish the roots around in the mixture for a minute.
Step 4: Replant Your Pothos
Throw out all of the old soil and thoroughly clean the pot. For good measure, swab down the inside of the container with disinfectant wipes. Then get some fresh potting mix, moisten it lightly, and bury the remaining Pothos roots. Over the next few weeks, don’t give it any fertilizer or direct sunlight. Water sparingly, but keep it humid.
How to Avoid Underwatering or Overwatering Your Pothos
Preventing problems is way less work than curing them. What can you do to keep from getting an overwatered or underwatered Pothos in the future?
Here are our main tips:
- Don’t water on a schedule. Instead, poke your finger an inch or two into the soil every 2-3 days (3-5 in the winter). If it feels dry, water. If it’s still damp, wait a day or two and check again.
- Use the right kind of soil. Chunky, fast-draining potting mix makes it easier to keep your soil moisture at the right level. Don’t use off-the-shelf soil by itself – mix it with a roughly equal amount of perlite or pumice. Or use this recipe: 4 parts perlite, 3 parts coconut coir, 2 parts orchid bark, and 1 part vermicompost.
- Pick a pot with a drainage hole. The water in the soil needs somewhere to go or it will back up and smother the roots. Never put a Devil’s Ivy plant in a container without at least one opening at the bottom.
If you follow this advice, your Pothos should get the right amount of hydration to survive and thrive.
Hopefully, you now have a pretty clear idea of whether you’re dealing with an overwatered or underwatered Pothos. If you’re still uncertain, we recommend checking your plant for root rot just to be safe. It’s much deadlier and harder to fix than underwatering! We wish your Pothos the best of luck on its journey back to perfect health.