You must have noticed it too… Far too often do we see these beautiful trailing plants, with its glossy, often blotchy, lightly cordate leaves lose their often diachronic shades of green and silver, or green and yellow turn to a sad and unhealthy yellow instead.
What I am I talking about? Pothos, of course…
But Why are the leaves of my Pothos turning yellow?
If you notice a lot of yellowing leaves on your Pothos, it could be a sign of overwatering. A too wet substrate induces rotting of the roots, which is irremediable: the plant can no longer feed itself properly, as a result, the leaves of your Pothos to turn yellow, then it dies. Always wait until the substrate is dry on the surface before watering.
Don’t worry, however, if this is the case with your houseplant; there are remedies and this is exactly what we are going to see together.
8 reasons why your pothos is turning yellow
There can be a few reasons why the leaves of your Pothos turn yellow: it could be that the light is too much, overwatering, the feeding is not correct, underwatering, cold or heat, repotting stress, bacterial leaf spot or simply that the leaf is old.
If your Pothos pant is turning yellow, it could be because of one of the following reasons.
Getting to know your pothos
Before we move to look at the yellowing of the plant, it is better if we spend a few words on this common, but little understood houseplant.
What we call “Pothos” is no longer classed as a Pothos by botanists… In fact, its name is now Epipremnum, the most common species being Epipremnum aureum.
While we tend to grow it as a trailing houseplant, in the wild, Epipremnum aureum is actually a climber; it comes from the island of Mo’orea, in French Polynesia, but it has become naturalized all over Australia, South and South East Asia, the West Indies and many islands in the Pacific.
In the wild, this plant has actually caused serious problems, as it propagates fast and clings to the trunks of trees becoming very invasive.
Indoors, we tend to see small plants, but in the wild it can grow to be 4 to even 8 meters tall (13 to 26 feet)!
Toxic to cats and dogs, it is an excellent air purifier, as it can absorb and remove many indoor pollutants like benzene, xylene, toluene and other chemicals.
Still, despite being a strong plant full of vitality, it often happens that its leaves turn yellow. So, let’s see why and what to do about it…
Pothos leaves turning yellow: is it too much light?
When a Pothos plant receives too much light, its natural defense is to reduce the production of chlorophyll and increase that of other pigments, which are natural “sunscreens”.
In fact, chlorophyll does not photosynthesize well with strong UV lights, but other pigments, anthocyanins (which are red to purple) and carotene (which is yellow) do.
So, the plant will favor these, causing the leaves to change color.
These plants like to climb onto the trunks of tall tropical trees in the wild… Now, imagine a tropical forest…
How much light do you get through the canopy?
Very little indeed.
This should give you a clue… Epipremnum aureum does not like too much and especially direct sunlight.
So, if the problem is too much light:
If you notice these symptoms, move the plant to a better, place:
Pothos leaves turning yellow: is it overwatering?
Overwatering is a common cause of yellowing leaves on your Pothos. Too much water in the tissue of the plants causes damage to the cell walls; these can break and die, which will make the tissue turn yellow.
So many people tend to overwater plants; even a tropical plant like Pothos can has a limit though. It is far too easy to cause rotting with overwatering.
Having said this, Pothos is often grown hydroponically (often using simply a jar or vase to grow it).
But there’s a huge difference between wet soil and roots in water. In the first case, the problem is that bacteria and pathogens find the perfect breeding ground… And that causes rotting.
Always wait (with some exceptions, some plants needing very moist soil on the contrary) until the substrate is dry before watering. Do not leave stagnant water in the saucers: most plants do not like having their feet in water!
How can you see if it is excessive watering?
In case this is your problem, you have two courses of action, depending on the gravity of the situation.
If you see that only a few leaves have turned yellow, but most are healthy, and, especially, there is no sign of damage at the base of the stem:
If you notice that most of the plant has been affected, especially at the base, or simply of you are afraid that the plant has caught root rot:
In this case, you can either try to save the plant or propagate it, according to how badly damaged it is.
To save the plant:
If you notice that the roots are damaged beyond repair, then your only chance may be to propagate the plant.
Alternatively, after having prepared your cutting:
Pothos leaves turning yellow: is the feeding wrong?
Of course, the nutrients you give to your plant have an effect on its metabolism.
Excess of some nutrients as well as lack of some can affect its growth rate as well as its chlorophyll production, which, in some cases, results in yellowing. We’ll see which nutrients in detail here.
When is love “too much love”? Maybe it is only so when we act unwisely because we love someone… or something!
Well, a bit like a mother that makes a child obese because she feeds him too much, or makes him sick because she feeds him the wrong food, we can get similar problems with Pothos (and all plants, actually).
Pothos leaves can turn yellow for three reasons when it comes to feeding:
The best way to go about it is to learn how to fertilize your plant. Use an organic and balanced fertilizer to start with.
Now, with Pothos, most people use a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 NPK (nitrogen – phosphorus – potassium) fertilizer, which is the most common with houseplants, though 19-16-12 NPK is better indicated for this plant.
Never feed it more than once a fortnight. Actually, once a month is perfectly fine, and even every three months just from spring to fall will be enough for most plants. This is from April to October. Reduce or suspend feeding in winter.
What happens if the plant suffers from nutrient toxicity?
On top of turning yellow, the leaves will, usually, also burn at the edges.
What can you do about it?
- To start with, reduce feeding.
- Second, check that you are giving it the correct fertilizer.
But this may only be enough if the plant has minor damage. If it is serious, you will need to take more drastic steps:
In fact, if the soil is now too rich in nutrients, just changing your feeding routine will not be enough, as the plant will still absorb an excessive amount of minerals from those stored in the soil.
But how about mineral deficiency? What happens if the plant is, for lack of a beret word, “starving”?
Now, the lack of different nutrients will give different symptoms. These are often accompanied by other symptoms, like leaf deformity for example.
How can you solve these problems? In case you are growing Pothos professionally, you may wish to add compost that is rich in the lacking element, but for most people, the solution will be much simpler:
Pothos leaves turning yellow: is it underwatering?
Chlorophyll needs water to function properly; when it is scarce, the plant will reduce the photosynthetic process (usually in localized areas), thus turning part of its tissue yellow.
This may be a much more common cause of yellowing than most people think.
Why? We tend to put Epipremnum aureum on top of cupboards and then leave them there, draping their branches over our book case or family photographs…
Then, we forget about them and even forget to water them regularly.
If the problem is underwatering, you will find it easy to find it out:
In this case, your only solution is to start watering again… However…
Pothos leaves turning yellow: is the temperature too hot or too cold?
Excessive heat and cold can damage the tissue of your Pothos plants; this happens either through excessive evaporation of water or because the cells within leaves and stem die. This too often results in yellowing of the plant.
These are plants that come from warm but sheltered places, remember? This makes them very susceptible to sudden changes of temperature.
They prefer temperatures between 65 and 85oF, which is 18 to 30o on the more rational Celsius Scale.
Anything below this temperature starts being a gray area; depending on the plant, it may manage it or start suffering, in any case, never expose it to temperatures under 60oF (16oC) and be sure that under 55oF (13oC) your plant will be damaged.
Similarly, if the temperature goes above 90oF (or 32oC), the leaves may start yellowing due to the heat.
Even cold air can damage your plant; so, keep it far from draughts and windy places.
How can you tell if the cause is a change of temperature?
Apart from your knowledge and memory of changes of temperature, if it is too cold or too hot, the leaves will tend to turn into a whitish-yellow shade.
Of course, there are a few things to do to avoid or remedy this:
Pothos leaves turning yellow: have you just repotted it?
To understand the reason why plants may turn yellow (again often starting as a localized phenomenon) when you repot them, you need to understand both the metabolism of plants and their psychology.
Plants often do not like changes; they are designed to live in once place. A change of place can mean that they need to adapt to a totally new environment, and this can cause them stress.
What is more, when a plant finds new soil, it tends to take time before its roots start actually “liking it”.
These two processes often force the plant to retain energy and diminish its metabolic functions, thus reducing photosynthesis and energy production.
Thus, they will sacrifice some leaves to preserve others, and the ones they cannot sustain will stop the production of chlorophyll, which will make them turn yellow.
This plant does not like to change home. On the whole, Pothos likes to be left in peace.
This makes it an ideal and low maintenance houseplant, but it also means that it may respond negatively to repotting, often with stunted growth and sometimes even yellowing.
To avoid any shocks when repotting your Epipremnum aureum:
Pothos leaves turning yellow: is it bacterial leaf spot?
Some bacteria can literally ruin the tissue of plants, killing some of the cells within the leaves) sometimes even in the stems), which of course, will then turn yellow or brown.
How about if the reason of the yellowing is so small that you can’t see it with the naked eye? Well, don’t worry, because you will still be able to notice the symptoms, even if it is what we call bacterial leaf spot, that is, of course, a disease caused by bacterial infection:
What should you do if this is your case?
This will cure the plant from the infection, but it will not prevent it or solve the root causes.
In fact, Pseudomonas species (this is the name of the genus of bacteria that cause the spots) like moist and cool conditions in the ground, but warm temperatures to spread fast (between 77 and 86oF or 25 to 30oC).
Basically they find a good “corridor” in moist organic matter (your compost) and then reproduce like rabbits (actually faster) when it is hot.
So, careful with watering and, in case you are worried: Repot the plant in new soil and in a new pot. This will eliminate the infection from the soil.
Pothos leaves turning yellow: are the leaves just old?
Maybe you have worried for no reason at all… In the end, leaves turn yellow and then brown when they are old…
This of course, will happen to the old leaves on your plant and not the young ones, and this should tell you that it may just be the normal process of aging…
In fact, plants stop photosynthesis and withdraw all energy from old leaves before they die; this leaves, at first other pigments in the leaves to bring the leaf slowly to its death.
Depending on the plant, these will be yellow or along the red scale (or both).
It is a sad, but fully natural ageing process, and, on the positive side, it gives us that explosion of colors we see every fall in temperate climates.
Fifty shades of yellow
As you can see, there are many reasons why your Pothos may be turning yellow, form over watering to underwatering, from too much heat to too much cold, from bacteria to incorrect feeding, from sunlight to repotting and even, in many cases, just because your plant is shedding its oldest leaves.
All however, are treatable, and, especially of you find out the cause of the problem, early on, you can solve these problems without hassle and successfully.
The point is that you need to understand how the coloring happens, when, where and which type of yellow it is first…
There are enough “shades” to this problem that you could even write a whole novel about it, or, with an image I would prefer, even paint a radiant masterpiece as Van Gogh did with his favorite color.
Updated on by Amber Noyes
Amber Noyes born and raised in a suburb Nebraska town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from University of California as well as an BS in Biology City College of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers markets, and potted plants she understand what makes plants thrive and how can we better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially Indoor gardening, houseplants and Growing plants in a small space.