When looking to buy a houseplant that is easy to care for and looks great in your home, it’s hard to go wrong with either Pothos and Philodendrons. Both are fairly low maintenance and look great cascading from a basket or climbing a trellis. However, is one better than the other? Which is easier to care for?
Both Pothos and Philodendrons are easy to care for and great for beginner houseplant collectors. While they have many similar care requirements, Philodendrons tend to be slightly more tolerant of light and temperature fluctuations while Pothos are usually hardier and more drought tolerant.
Both of these plants have lots of great attributes and make excellent additions to your home regardless of your skill level. Even though you really can’t go wrong with either type, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each genus to help you identify which plant you may want to bring home from the shop.
A Quick Taxonomy Lesson
Before we dive in, I thought it might be helpful to explain the taxonomic differences of Philodendrons and Pothos to give a little background about how these plants are classified.
Philodendron varieties all fall under the genus Philodendron, which consists of roughly 500 different species of plant. The philodendrons that we see as common houseplants are often informally divided into vining and non-climbing varieties. In this article, we’ll generally refer to vining varieties of Philodendrons.
Pothos varieties are part of the genus Epipremnum. There are fewer species that fall under this genus, and all are vining varieties that grow aerial roots to help climb structures and trees in nature.
Pothos and Philodendron both fall under the same plant family, Araceae, the aroid family, that includes other popular houseplants like Monsteras, Dieffenbachia, and Caladiums. So, while they do have some key differences between them, it’s no surprise that similarities between the two exist and they are often mistaken for one another.
Which is Better? Pothos or Philodendron?
They are both great plants! Both types are considered low maintenance and easy to care for. They both have lots of varieties to choose from, some with super cool variegation and hard-to-find varietals that catch the interest of plant nerds all over the globe. They both are excellent for beginners and aren’t super susceptible to pest infestations.
They are seriously great plants for anyone! In order to figure out which type is better for you, the best thing to do is to consider the pros and cons of each plant and decide which one you think will work best in your home. The type of care and environment you can provide these plants will be the determining factors for which one will thrive more in your home.
Pothos plants are what I would consider one of the more common starter plants for beginner plant enthusiasts. They are a staple among plant shops everywhere and people are drawn to them because they are very attractive vining plants. Generally, Pothos varieties are strong growers that thrive with a basic plant care routine in place. They typically only need to be watered about once every 10-14 days and do not require lots of supplemental fertilizer to stay healthy.
Pothos plants have pretty hardy leaves that tend to be thicker than Philodendron leaves and have an almost waxy cuticle protecting them. This tends to help conserve moisture and is an added barrier to pest infestations. They are usually fast growers (maybe even slightly faster than Philodendron varieties) and, once established and healthy, Pothos are very hardy specimens. They are also more drought tolerant, which is a great attribute, especially for beginners who are still learning about proper watering techniques.
Pothos propagate well in water, but can also be rooted out in dirt. These plants are as forgiving in propagation as they are with their care, so you can easily multiply your Pothos collection in a relatively short time. If you do try and propagate Pothos in dirt, just be sure to keep the dirt moist, but not soggy so root rot doesn’t become a problem.
Although a great houseplant for just about anyone, Pothos varieties do have a few attributes that could be considered cons when compared to Philodendrons. Most Pothos plants prefer bright, indirect light, and lots of it. Direct sunlight can burn tender leaves and should be avoided, but you also need to make sure your Pothos is getting enough ambient light to keep its growth rate up. Variegated varieties of Pothos are very susceptible to light levels and you’ll find that the variegation patterns on the leaves will fade to green quickly if your plant isn’t receiving enough light.
Pothos plants also prefer slightly warmer temperatures compared to many of the common houseplant varieties you’d typically have in your home. Keeping their temperature range between 65-85° F is preferable, and you should never expose them to temperatures below 60° F. In fact, Pothos plants are more prone to stress induced by colder temperatures and will quickly decline in health if not protected from extreme temperatures. Even getting watered with frigid water can cause lasting issues with your Pothos, potentially stunting growth and destroying root tissue.
Many houseplants perform just fine within a range of ambient humidity without the need for additional inputs of moisture. However, if you really want your Pothos to thrive, humidity between 50-75% is ideal, a range that isn’t usually sustainable in many parts of the world without the help of a humidifier. Don’t worry, your Pothos will do fine even if you can’t get your room’s humidity to 75%, but just know that they prefer this type of environment and may not reach their full growth potential at lower humidity levels.
Lastly, Pothos plants are considered to be mildly toxic to animals and humans. They contain a crystalline compound called calcium oxalate in their sap that can be irritating to the skin and soft tissues (mouth, eyes, nose) when touched. If ingested, it can cause gastric upset, burning sensations, nausea, and vomiting. Generally, if you have any curious animals or small humans in the home, you want to be mindful of where you place these plants.
Just like Pothos, Philodendron varieties are also excellent plants. They, too, have very similar care requirements, are fast growers, and tend to remain pest free.
Also similar to Pothos, Philodendrons need lots of bright, indirect light, but they can actually handle low-light situations better than Pothos. Because their tolerance range is a bit wider, you have more options of where to place them in your home without sacrificing growth. Variegated varieties of Philodendron also tend to hold their patterns better in low-light situations compared to Pothos.
In regards to propagation, Philodendron cuttings do very well when propagated in water. And, because of the way the plant grows, there tends to be more offshoots that you can take cuttings from. This typically increases your yield and the frequency at which you can propagate Philodendrons.
Just like with their light requirements, Philodendrons tend to have a wider tolerance for humidity and temperature than Pothos. In fact, most varieties tend not to sweat changes to their environment inputs at all, allowing you to move them from room to room, or even from inside to outside when the weather is warm enough.
Despite being a solid houseplant choice, there are some attributes of Philodendrons that level the playing field when compared to Pothos. In regards to sunlight exposure, you do have to be a bit more careful when your Philodendron receives a lot of light.
Pothos plants can handle about as much indirect light as you can give them, but if you have your Philodendron in too sunny of a spot, they are much more prone to sunburn. While this usually isn’t a huge issue if you’ve got your placement right, if your plant is accidentally exposed to direct sunlight, a Pothos would probably deal with it better than a Philodendron.
Also, even though Philodendrons are more tolerant of lower temperatures and humidity levels, you will find that colder temperatures can take a toll on your plant’s growth rate. Your Philodendron probably won’t exhibit a stress response like a Pothos would, but you can expect its growth to slow severely or even stop completely until the temperature returns to a reasonable level.
Just like Pothos, Philodendrons also contain the same calcium oxalate compound in their sap, making them mildly toxic to animals and humans. You should take the same precautions regarding pets, children, and plant placement if you plan to bring home either type of plant.
And, the Winner Is…
As you can see, both Pothos and Philodendron varieties are well-matched and, despite their potential downsides, make excellent plants to add to your collection. A true “winning” plant is going to be whichever one will thrive in the unique environment of your home.
So, I would suggest the following…
If you want a low-maintenance, vining plant and you have lots of bright, indirect light, and you prefer to keep your thermostat set above 70°, but you are still nervous about how green your thumb actually is…start with a hardy, drought tolerant Pothos.
If you want a low-maintenance, vining plant, and you prefer a more tender plant that propagates easily, and you tend to move your plants around frequently, but you wish you had more windows in your home…start with a fast-growing, versatile Philodendron.
Pothos and Philodendrons are pretty much cut from the same cloth. When we talk about their differences, or their pros and cons, that is really only in the context of one another, and the truth is both types of plants are great for anyone, from beginners to full-on plant nerds. Hopefully, by reading through the slight differences between these two plant varieties, you have decided on which one is right for you.
If you still haven’t made a decision, I would strongly suggest you pick up one of each! I bet you’ll find neither is hard to care for and they’ll both make great additions to your home for years to come.