For all that tropical pothos can look green and gorgeous when treated properly, there may be a few occasions when you see its leaves turning yellow. You might be an exemplary plant parent, watering and feeding your greenery whenever possible and yet still find your plant turning yellow.
It’s a more common concern than you might think. Below, I’ll share with you some of the most common reasons for yellow leaves in pothos, and how you can fix them in a flash.
What should Devil’s Ivy look like?
Devil’s Ivy plants originate from the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. Thanks to their green and variegated leaves, they have become increasingly popular as houseplants.
However, seeing pothos with yellow leaves is not usual unless there’s an underlying problem. If its leaves are also curling up or wilting, it’s likely you’ll need to take immediate action.
Reasons why your pothos leaves are turning yellow
The good news is Devil’s Ivy can bounce back pretty quickly if you take action to save it as soon as you notice yellowing leaves. Let’s dive into a few of the more common reasons why you’re losing that green look.
You’re overwatering it – or underwatering it.
Devil’s Ivy is a thirsty beast, but it’s easy to give it too much to drink.
Although native rainforest plants (where tropical storms sometimes drench vegetation) Devil’s Ivy grows as a tropical vine with up to several metres of stems and lots of leaves. Transferring water to those lengthy extremities can mean that – in its natural environment, lots of rainwater is used up.
Also, amongst lots of other thirsty trees and plants, Devil’s Ivy has competition! Within the home, your Devils Ivy may be alone in a container – and with no neighboring plants to share the water you supply, your plant can become overwhelmed, and its leaves can start yellowing.
If caught in time, simply remove excess water by teeming away any residual H2O – for example, from a saucer or trough you might hold underneath your pothos’ pot. From here, water less frequently!
What about underwatering?
It’s somewhat rarer to see a pothos suffering from a lack of water. However, if its growth medium feels dry to the touch, a simple fix is to give your plant a good drink. However, be prepared to see the yellow colouring persist even when your plant returns to full health.
As it happens, Devil’s Ivy can tolerate short dry spells. Watering fortnightly is usually enough in winter for indoor plants – and they prefer to have a drier growing medium at upper levels over pre-dampened compost.
I recommend checking the moisture level by using the finger test! Pop a finger into the edge of the container away from roots to a depth of around two inches. If compost is wet higher than that, your plant should not need watering.
Try again in a couple of days and only give a smaller amount of water than you did previously. Check in a week or so, to then find out if the compost is still damp above two inches. The aim is to get to know how much to water your plant before it becomes overwhelmed.
It’s got root rot
Root rot is a nasty consequence of watering your pothos too much. If this occurs, its leaves will fade, droop and may eventually become squishy as they change colour. Root rot can take a long time to show – which means your plants may struggle to cope beneath the pot’s surface.
The first sign of the roots becoming rotten may be too late to save the plant, unless you realise this may be the cause of yellowing leaves.
If caught in time, you can save your plant from root rot. Alternatively, you may find that it’s just pot-bound and needs moving to a new container.
However, the best way to fix root rot (if possible) is to try and repot your pothos completely. You’ll need to gently ease your plant out of its container and examine its roots first. If they’re too far gone, you may need to say goodbye to your Devil’s Ivy full stop. Sorry!
Remove any decaying roots with careful snips, and rinse off any roots you want to keep (i.e., the ones that seem strong and healthy).
Check out our full guide on Devil’s Ivy care for a step-by-step guide on how to pot this plant so it can grow back to full health. Ideally, from here, you should give it a nice drink, and position it somewhere warm without much direct light.
Do give your pothos time to recover – especially if you need to move the plant elsewhere. It could go into shock – which means being extra-vigilant for the next week or so at the least.
It’s getting too much sun
Yes – even though Devil’s Icy is a tropical plant, it’s actually pretty sensitive when it comes to sunlight. Therefore, if yours is sitting by a window and slowly turning yellow, you’ll probably need to move it somewhere a little less intense.
Try and move it somewhere in your home where it can get plenty of indirect light. Consider positioning your pothos on a table or a cabinet, for example, that’s a few feet away from the window. These plants don’t fare well as windowsill projects, but you may find they fare better as a hanging basket display – just not in the glare of the sun.
Remember, of course, that a dark space really won’t do. These plants still need plenty of light, just not shone directly onto their leaves! The pothos can stay green for long periods in the shade, but in my experience, it’s not a healthy choice.
You’re fertilising it too much
Devil’s Ivy is a hungry plant and a thirsty specimen at times, but you should always be careful with how much fertiliser you provide.
This is mainly because pothos is sensitive to salt – an abundance of fertiliser or plant food can bring ample amounts of to a growth medium.
Essentially, too much saline can cause serious root damage, preventing your plant(s) from soaking up water and staying hydrated. Ultimately, that will lead to leaves turning yellow or brown, and they may even crisp up.
It’s wise to remember that this can still be a common factor in root rot cases or that your plant may simply be shocked and need a little reassurance. In any case, knock off the fertiliser a little and check out the roots.
If you suspect you have too much salt in the soil, flush it away by drenching the soil and pot. Then, your plant should start to look sprightly again in no time.
If not, rinse down your roots. You’ll rarely have to throw away a plant in cases like this, but there are some occasions when you may just have to give up the ghost.
It’s pot-bound or root-bound
A pothos can become pot-bound if it’s starting to grow bigger than its container. It’s a common reason these plants grow yellow leaves over time.
Left to persist, this can mean that roots start compacting and growing around the inside of the pot. That will make getting nutrition and drinking water pretty difficult for your Devil’s Ivy.
You may even see that roots are coming out of the pot! It’s easy enough to see a pot-bound pothos when you carefully remove your plant from its container. If the roots are starting to coil around the soil in strange directions, you will need to take action.
If your plant shows signs of healthy roots (i.e., they’re white, firm, and don’t smell foul), you may be able to simply repot your Devil’s Ivy in a different container. Do also make sure your new container or pot has clear holes for drainage.
If this is the case, always make sure to aerate a fresh batch of growth medium, and to carefully compact the soil around your plant. Keep it housed in the same spot to avoid causing too much stress. You should also give your pothos a nice, long drink so it can reacclimatise easier.
However, as with root rot problems, you may find that you cannot save your plant. Tragic but true, a pot-bound plant is hard to salvage if it has flimsy, brown or smelly roots. Try your best in any case!
It has bacterial leaf spot
Unfortunately, the pothos is subject to various diseases and conditions just like any other plant. One of the most persistent blights is the highly irritating bacterial leaf spot – which starts appearing on leaves in the shape of small yellow rings.
This condition is caused by bacteria that propagates when a pothos gets too much water or does not receive enough light. You may even find this bacteria spreads even further if you accidentally splash the plant’s leaves too much. Ultimately, all kinds of plant stress can make bacteria come out to play and cause nasty conditions.
This condition is normally easy to spot thanks to how it gradually yellows leaves. Sadly, you won’t be able to reverse this condition – and you’ll ideally need to keep it away from other neighbouring plants to stop it from spreading any further.
To prevent leaf spot from affecting your Devil’s Ivy in the first place, try and use a potting mix or growth medium that’s super-porous. Try and change the mix every year or so, or when you see roots popping through drain holes at the bottom of your container.
You should only ever house Devil’s Ivy in completely clean pots and containers, and never reuse those from other plants unless you’ve thoroughly cleaned them out. Use warm water and washing up liquid before towelling off.
The best way to avoid bacterial infections arising is simply to make sure there’s lots of opportunity for the soil or medium to drain and that your plant isn’t going to sit in moisture.
It’s getting old
Sadly, plants age just as all living things might – and it can be that a Devil’s Ivy plant developing yellow leaves is simply edging closer to the end of its life.
That said, in some cases, leaf yellowing may be exclusive to one or two sprouts. In which case, it’s easy enough to snip off so that other leaves can benefit from the added nutrients and water.
There’s a good chance you just have mature leaves that are trying to retire peacefully – however, the longer you leave them to persist, the more nutrients and hydration they’ll sap away from growing leaves that really need it.
Just make sure to prune carefully if this appears to be the case. It’s a sad fact of being a plant parent – that, sometimes, you need to say goodbye to parts of your green beauties if not the whole specimens completely.
Of course, if you clip away mature leaves and still find others are turning yellow, it’s likely to be one of the alternative problems discussed above. Alternatively, this may be the last port of call for you if you’ve tried everything else!
Are yellow leaves always bad?
As mentioned, there are some species of pothos out there that do actually carry yellow as a colour in their variegated leaves. Therefore, providing your plants are otherwise healthy and seem strong enough to stand up, you may not even have a problem!
For example, it may be that you’re hosting a Golden Devil’s Ivy, or Epipremnum Aureum. This species’ leaves are naturally yellow-golden as its name suggests, and believe it or not, it’s something of a collector’s fancy!
Do also look out for the bright and beautiful neon pothos – a really vibrant plan that has electric, lime green leaves with touches of yellow to its leaves. It’s easy enough to mistake the natural shades of this plant for problems that don’t actually exist!
Therefore, unless your plant is otherwise wilting or crisping up suddenly, there may not be a need for you to do too much surgery. That said, it pays to know about different symptoms and what to do next.
I personally love Devil’s Ivy plants – it’s a stunning focal point that’s easy to hang from a basket or wind around a pole. However, like many tropical beauties, it’s also susceptible to some pretty serious problems.
Thankfully, as you can see, many issues are easy to spot thanks to leaf yellowing. It should also be reasonably easy for you to take care of these problems without having to give up your pothos altogether. Take a deep breath and give your plant a new lease of life – it may just be that you need to cut down on watering!
Take heart in knowing that I’ve been there, too – it takes time and practice to perfect plant parenting, especially with pothos!