How much light does a Pothos plant need? Sunlight is one of the most basic requirements for life, but people frequently misunderstand their houseplants’ lighting needs. They accidentally starve their “low-light plants” or give their tropical beauties terrible sunburns. So how much light does a Pothos need? We’ll tell you how to provide the best light for your Pothos and recognize when it’s getting too much or too little sun.
Pothos plants thrive in bright, indirect light, between 10,000 and 20,000 lux. They can survive with less but may grow slowly, turn leggy, or lose their variegation. The best light for your Pothos will usually be next to an east-facing window, or a few feet back from a window looking south or west.
When your Pothos is losing its vibrant colors or failing to grow, lighting issues are the most likely cause. Our instructions below will help you get your plant back to its former radiant health. We’ll also answer a ton of common questions about Pothos and sunlight. Ready to brighten your plant’s day? Then let’s get started!
But Isn’t a Pothos a Low Light Plant?
Some readers might have been surprised to hear that Pothos like bright light. After all, they pop up on nearly every online list of plants that are good for low-light spaces. Do Pothos like shade or not?
Yes, Pothos appreciate shade – but that just means they don’t want to sit smack in the middle of a sunbeam. They can’t tolerate much direct sunlight. However, they’ll happily drink in any light that reflects off of other objects or gets filtered through a thin barrier. That’s indirect light, and it’s less harsh on the leaves.
Like many of the most common houseplants, the Epipremnum or Pothos plant evolved in tropical jungles. There’s a lot of sunlight in that environment, even if it’s mostly indirect. It passes through a screen of other plants’ branches and leaves, reducing its intensity. That’s the best light for your Pothos – bright but diffused.
However, some plants are better than others at surviving in less-than-ideal conditions, and Pothos definitely qualify. It’s often possible to keep them alive in spaces much dimmer than they’d prefer.
They’ll grow very slowly, though. A Pothos in low light will probably never turn into an Instagram-worthy cascade of vines. If the space is dim enough, it may become sickly and weak.
Can Your Pothos Live on Artificial Light Alone?
What if you’re looking for a plant to brighten up a windowless office? Can a Pothos live from just the fluorescent lighting?
In general, yes. If the light is bright enough that you can see your work clearly, it should be sufficient to keep a Pothos alive. Office fluorescents don’t provide the best light for your Pothos, but they won’t starve it to death either.
The best Pothos for low-light spaces is the Jade Pothos. Its heavy pigmentation helps it get the most out of a smaller dose of illumination. Pothos plants with brighter colors or lots of variegation need more light.
How Much Light Does Your Pothos Need?
If you want your Pothos as happy and healthy as possible, give it between 10,000 and 20,000 lux. That’s the intensity of bright, indirect light, which is best for rainforest plants like Pothos. Measure this with an illuminance meter (sometimes called a lux meter).
You can use the “shadow test” for a less precise but gadget-free method. Place a piece of white paper on the spot where you’re thinking of putting your Pothos. Then hold up your hand between the paper and the nearest window.
Direct light will cast a dark, clear-edged shadow on the paper. Dim light casts hardly any shadow, just a faint, shapeless blob. The best light for your Pothos is somewhere in between. The shadow should be a little blurry at the edges but still have a defined shape.
The light intensity in any spot will change throughout the day, of course. You should take your measurements when it’s brightest, keeping in mind that wider windows will stay bright longer. At least 8 total hours of bright light per day is best for your Pothos. 10-12 hours would be even better.
It’s okay if a little bit of that is direct light. A Pothos won’t immediately fry if it gets hit with direct light. In fact, a little bit of stronger light can enhance their growth. As a general rule, these plants can handle 2-3 hours of direct light in one day.
How to Find the Spot With the Best Light For Your Pothos
The brightness test above will help confirm that your Pothos will thrive in a specific spot. There are a few other factors you should consider, though. Here’s what to look for when choosing a place for a Pothos:
Not all windows get the same kind of light. Those facing south are usually brightest and hottest, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. A southern window lets in direct light from sunup to sundown. Never place your Pothos too close to a southern exposure.
Northern windows are the opposite. They get no direct sunlight at all. You won’t have to worry about your Pothos getting sunburned by a northern exposure. The challenge will be making sure it’s getting enough light to thrive.
East-facing windows are often the best of both worlds. They get a few hours of direct light in the morning. Since that’s the coolest part of the day, it’s less likely to burn a plant. By the time the air heats up, only indirect light is coming through.
Western windows require a little more caution since they let direct light in during the hot afternoon hours. Take some precautions to keep your Pothos from getting scorched if it’s in a west-facing room.
The light intensity gets lower the further from a window you get. Any direct light typically falls within the first 3 feet. Bright, indirect light prevails for another 2-3 feet, followed by 2-3 feet of semi-shade.
That means a spot that’s 5-6 feet from a south-facing window is usually perfect for your Pothos. It should get bright light all day long without getting enough glare to harm it. This varies based on the height of the window, though. Taller openings let light reach deeper into the room.
You can also take the edge off of harsh sunlight by putting up a partially see-through barrier. Sheer curtains are perfect for this. If they’re thin enough, they’ll admit plenty of light while scattering it so it can’t hurt your Pothos. Most sheer curtains are made of lightweight polyester, but other good options include:
- nylon net
Venetian blinds can also work well if you set them at a partially open angle. Or, for an added touch of elegance, you could use a paper folding screen.
Plants are more vulnerable to direct sunlight if the air is dry. Part of the problem with intense light is that it quickly dehydrates the tissues of Pothos leaves. Having some extra moisture in the air gives you a bit of a buffer.
Try to keep the relative humidity around your Pothos above 50%. You may want it closer to 60-65% if the plant is in a very hot, bright space. A humidifier is the most precise and effective way to maintain the right levels.
Placing your Pothos near a lot of other tropical plants can help too. So can a pebble tray – a dish of water and rocks under your Pothos’s pot. The water raises the humidity a tiny bit as it evaporates. Meanwhile, the rocks keep the pot above the water line to prevent root rot. This only offers a small boost, so don’t rely on a pebble tray alone if you have serious humidity concerns.
Is Your Pothos Getting Too Much Light?
How can you tell if your Pothos is in an overly bright space? Rule #1 is to pay attention to the foliage. When your plant is over-lit, it will start to wilt and droop. The leaves may curl away from the nearest source of light.
This can also indicate overheating or underwatering, which often go hand in hand with too much light. Your plant uses water more quickly when it’s getting lots of sun, because photosynthesis requires moisture. On the other hand, if the soil is damp, excess light probably isn’t the problem. If your Pothos is wilting but the top 1-2 inches of its potting mix are damp, you’ve probably overwatered it.
Severe cases of over-lighting can cause sun scorch. This creates dingy-looking patches of bleached yellow and brown on the leaves. The damage will be worst on the leaves closest to the window. The upper leaves may look burned while the ones in the shade seem fine. And the majority of the dead spots will be on the side facing the window.
What to Do When Your Pothos Gets Too Much Light
The only real fix for a Pothos with sun scorch is…drumroll, please…getting it out of the sun. Once your plant is no longer taking sun damage, it should return to its usual good health. Don’t place it in the dark – just avoid letting it get any direct sunlight for the next 2-4 weeks. You can also help it recover by keeping the humidity high during this period.
Any sunburned leaves on your Pothos are going to stay burned. You can snip them off if they’re completely dead. But partially healthy leaves can still photosynthesize, so there’s no need to remove them.
If you choose to get rid of the damaged leaves for aesthetic reasons, that’s fine, but don’t go overboard. Removing more than ⅓ of your plant’s foliage at once can cause major stress. Avoid it unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Is Your Pothos Getting Enough Light?
A Pothos that’s not receiving enough sun will produce little to no new growth. Any leaves that do show up will be smaller and paler than normal. The vines may also develop a stretched-out, sparse appearance. Meanwhile, the spaces between leaves will get unusually long as your Pothos tries to stretch out and find more light. We call this an etiolated or “leggy” appearance.
Your Pothos may also start to look lopsided when it’s not getting its best light. The growth clusters toward the nearest window and the leaves tilt toward the sun
If you have a variegated Pothos, it will usually revert to plain green when it’s under-lit. Those brilliant multicolored splashes aren’t as efficient for photosynthesis, so a light-starved plant will stop producing them. It’s important to provide the best light for your Pothos if you want the best variegation.
One other worrying sign of low light is the soil staying wet. A plant that’s producing healthy growth should use up a decent amount of moisture. If the top inch or two of potting mix hasn’t dried out after 5 or 6 days, and it’s planted properly in the right size container with a drainage hole, your Pothos probably needs more sun. Remember, damp soil causes root rot, so take this symptom seriously.
What to Do When Your Pothos Gets Too Little Light
Once again, the cure is to move your Pothos into a better-lit space. You shouldn’t make the transition too quickly, though. Plants adapt to their light conditions over time. If your Pothos has been sitting in the dark for a while, it will be more light-sensitive than usual. Moving suddenly into a much brighter area could stress it out.
So take baby steps. Start by placing your Pothos in a brighter area for an hour or two per day to help it acclimate. Then increase its exposure time by an hour or two each day. After a week or so, it should be ready for its new space.
Using Grow Lamps to Get the Best Light For Your Pothos
Sometimes it’s hard to find an indoor location where your Pothos can get enough light. Maybe you live in a garden apartment or your home is in the shade of taller buildings. Or maybe you just have so many plants that all the sunny spots are already taken.
In that case, grow lights can help. Full-spectrum lamps made for raising plants are very different from a typical home or office bulb. They put out several different wavelengths of light, mimicking the illumination your Pothos would normally get from the sun.
Our favorite grow lights use LED bulbs. They’re energy-efficient and they don’t give off much heat, meaning they’re unlikely to burn your Pothos. The Sansi 15W LED bulb is a good option for a single potted plant.
You’ll need to set it up about a foot above your Pothos to get the 10,000 lux your plant needs. If you want to hang the light higher up, you’ll need a stronger bulb. Use this helpful calculator to figure out the right combination of height and power.
You should set up an outlet timer to ensure that your Pothos gets the right dose. If the LED bulb is your plant’s only light source, keep the lamp on at least 12 hours per day. You can increase that number if you want to spur fast, thick growth. Just make sure your Pothos gets at least 8 hours of darkness in each 24-hour cycle.
Finding the best light for your Pothos is crucial for maintaining healthy growth. These plants can limp along in dim spaces, but they’re at their best with lots of bright, indirect light. Use the tips above to light up your Pothos the way it deserves!