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How Much Light Does Pothos Need? (Solved!)

Pothos is a tough plant that grabs attention no matter where you nestle it in your home. You have probably heard all the talk about its low light tolerance. But the amount of light that your pothos gets can make a huge difference in how well it thrives.

Pothos plants prefer to grow in bright, indirect light for 12-14 hours per day, so they are best placed in east-facing windows or doors. You should limit exposure to direct sunlight to 3-4 hours per day. Bleached out and sunburned leaves indicate excessive light.

Too little and too much light can quickly stress your pothos; ideal light will yield the lushest and most elegant foliage. Poor light makes your pothos look scruffy, stunted, or scraggly. On the flip side, too much light will scorch your plant, causing the leaves to bleach out and sunburn. 

So, how many hours of light are ideal for your pothos? What are the telltale signs your pothos is getting inadequate or too much light? How should you ensure optimum light for your pothos?

In this post, you’ll find out all you need to know about giving your pothos proper light conditions. I’ll explain to you exactly how much light your pothos need. Plus, how to identify and fix light issues for your pothos to thrive.

How to Check How Much Light My Pothos Is Getting

Pothos plant near window

You can easily estimate the amount of sunlight in your outdoor garden. However, light in your home is usually subtle, so you cannot rely on your eyes alone.

For more reliable results, use the following two common methods to determine the amount of light falling on your pothos:

The Hand Shadow Test

If you’re looking for a low-tech option that won’t cost you a dime, look no further. Note that you can use a pronged stick or any other sensible object in place of your hand.

  • Step #1. Prep the spot: Set up the spot where your pothos sits by laying a sheet of white paper on it.
  • Step #2. Position your hand: Simply hold your hand about 1 ft. (12 inches or 30 cm) directly above the paper. For the most accurate test, do this around noon.
  • Step #3. Spread your fingers: Ensure they’re spread wide and evenly.
  • Step #4. Check the shadow cast by your hand onto the paper. What do you see?

Generally, the more defined the shadow cast by your hand, the more intense the light.

  • Bright light: If you see a clear, well-defined shadow on the sheet, then the spot gets bright light. If it’s indirect light, your pothos will feel happiest here. Direct bright light conditions may be excessive for your pothos; so relocate it.
  • Medium-light: a spot that gets medium light will cast a shadow that’s fuzzy or blurred yet still recognizable as a hand.
  • Low light: You can see a faintly recognizable shadow or no shadow at all. You don’t want to park your pothos on this very dim spot.

Using a Lux Meter

Use a lux meter for razor-precise measurement of light brightness. You should be able to score a mid-priced lux meter without breaking the bank. It’s a perfect solution if you often struggle to provide good lighting for your plant.

If you’re like me, you probably have several houseplants to care for. For that matter, I bought a multi-purpose lux meter to get more bang for my money. Think of a meter that can measure light, as well as temperature, humidity, air pressure … quite a workhorse!

Lux, which is presented in lumens per square meter, is the scientific measure of the intensity or brightness of light landing on a surface. 

  • Your pothos should receive 5,000- 21,500 lux of light for 12-14 hours daily. This falls under medium-light conditions, so east-facing windows would be perfect. Alternatively, you can park it a few feet from a west- or south-facing window.
  • However, pothos stock plants will thrive at around 53,800 lux (5,000 foot-candles). They can tolerate 3-4 hours of direct sunlight, but you should avoid this to prevent sunburns.
  • As for the lower end of the light spectrum, pothos can tolerate much lower light, well below 3,200 lux. The vining stems, however, will become long, sickly, and spindly. 

For the best growth, I often look for an indoor area where my pothos will receive bright, indirect light of around 8,000-16,000 lux. This is my go-to strategy for both the spring and summer months.

How Many Hours of Light Do Pothos Need?

Your pothos should get between 12 and 14 hours of medium-light every day. They can tolerate 3-4 hours of direct sunlight. However, you’ll have to deal with discoloration, wilting, and sunburns.

If you’re using artificial lighting, make sure light intensity is consistently above 5,000 lux for at least 12 hours.

Signs That Your Pothos Isn’t Getting Enough Light

Extended Internodes or Leggy Growth

Elongated stems, extended internodes, and leggy growth are surefire signs of too little light. When your pothos isn’t getting enough light, it will extend its foliage and stems as if it’s “reaching” for sunlight.

You may notice that vining stems grow further apart. As such, your pothos will look sluggish, scraggly, and straggly. The leaves will be sparse and lack that healthy, lush look.

Internode is essentially the distance between two consecutive leaves. If your pothos suffers from insufficient lighting, you’ll see that the internodes are extended, which creates an unsightly appearance.

Leaning towards Light Sources

If you keep your pothos plant in extremely low light conditions, it will generally lean towards a door, window, bulb, or any other main light source. In most cases, only the leaves will face the source of brighter light to trap as much light as possible

In some cases, the entire plant will shift sideways to lean towards the light source. Meanwhile, the light-facing side will have more vibrancy and foliage. If this continues, the side facing away from the light source will look lifeless without much foliage or greenery.

This growth phenomenon is a primary plant instinct. And it should prompt you to move your pothos to a well-lit spot. To temporarily correct the lean, you should turn your pothos by a 180-degree rotation to expose the “other side.”

Producing Small Leaves

If your pothos is producing small, underwhelming new leaves; low light is highly likely the culprit. Light is vital to your plant’s health and growth. It is required for photosynthesis and transpiration, which is how your plant makes food and energy.

Without enough light, your pothos won’t have enough energy and resources to produce full-sized foliage, hence the small leaves. You will notice both small leaves and extended internodes.

No New Growth

I will reiterate that pothos plants do tolerate very low light. But thriving is a whole different story. For days, weeks, or even months, you may notice little to no growth if your pothos isn’t getting enough light.

The reason behind the stunted growth is that your pothos doesn’t get adequate light to produce energy for growing. In colder winter months, pothos often becomes inactive, with some going fully dormant.

However, if these wintry days are over and you’re not seeing any signs of growth, it’s a clear wake-up call to provide more light. Light is indispensable for photosynthesis, which in turn, is important for growth.

Abnormal Leaf Color

Low light will affect the precious showy foliage of your pothos. The leaves may become discolored. Or lose their glossy variegations of white, gold, or pink, depending on the variety.

Most pothos yellow when exposed to extreme light changes. These yellow spots may become watery and turn into brown blotches.

One of the most obvious signs of low light in pothos is when they lose their variegation. In the vast majority of cases, the foliage reverts to its original green color. In other words, they lose that gorgeous pop of color.

It all boils down to photosynthesis, too. When light conditions aren’t conducive, your pothos will spread the chlorophyll (the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis) to variegated areas. 

Browning Leaves & Tips

When affected by too little light, most plants, including pothos, show signs of browning leaf tips and leaves. You may also see yellow halos around brown patches.

Multiple reasons may cause browning leaves on pothos. This may include sunburns, humidity, temperature stress, transplant shock, overwatering, underwatering, and salt buildup, just to mention a few. So ensure that you have ruled them out first.

Leaves Dropping

Pothos has a habit of yellowing and dropping leaves when they feel stressed, perhaps from low light. It does that as a way of reducing the “load”, so it can “feed” less of a plant.

If low light is the main suspect, you may notice that the soil remains wet for long. The leaves will droop and fall over, eventually dropping.

Don’t be too quick to make up your mind, though. Other potential causes of leave dropping may include overwatering, cold draft, or diseases. Because overwatering is common in pothos, check for dying leaf tips, brown/yellowing spots on leaves, and, of course, soggy soil.

Soil Not Drying Out for Weeks

You’d be forgiven for thinking soil dry out because of evaporation. While that’s partly true, most soil moisture content is absorbed by the pothos from the potting mix.

You must realize that water is a key component of photosynthesis. Pothos use light to combine CO2 from air and water to make energy. When your pothos doesn’t receive enough light, photosynthesis comes to a screeching halt.

That means less use of water, so less moisture is absorbed from the soil. In turn, the soil stays wet for weeks on end. This usually leads to more problems, mostly in the form of root rot.

How to Provide More Light

Put Them Closer to a Window or Door

To provide more light, you can simply relocate your pothos closer to a source of light. This often means parking it on or closer to a sunny door, window, or skylights.

The direction which your window faces will determine the amount of light hitting your pothos

  • North-facing windows – Windows (or doors) facing north don’t receive a lot of light. You can hang your pothos on or very close to these windows without the risk of sunburns.
  • East-facing windows – The most ideal spot for your pothos is closest to an east-facing window. Your plant will get direct sunlight in the morning, which is usually gentle. This will ensure your pothos will get bright, indirect sunlight most of the day.
  • South-facing windows – These south-facing windows deliver consistent sunlight. If you park your pothos very close to the window, the direct sunlight will do more harm than good. Alternatively, you can park your plant a couple of feet from the window for consistently bright, indirect light.
  • West-facing windows – These windows receive the strongest sun rays in the afternoon. As such, they’re not ideal for your pothos. You can of course park your pothos a bit away from west-facing windows.

If you’re like me, you don’t have time to move your plant throughout the day. For this reason, you should place your pothos either close to an east-facing window or a few feet from a south-facing window. This will make sure your pothos will get plenty of light.

– Get a Grow Light & Put Plants Wherever You Like!    

You may not provide your pothos with an optimal 10-12 hours of light unless it is summer. That’s where grow lights come into play. Worrying about the sunlight direction, intensity, and whatnot will become a thing of the past.

  • Be ready to illuminate your pothos 12-14 or more hours with grow lights. You can use a timer to ensure precise timing.
  • Pothos transplants thrive best when you use grow lights 24/7
  • Increase exposure time to 16-18 when you want to spur your pothos to bloom or flower
  • Make sure grow lights are closer to your pothos, preferably around 6-12 inches above your plant
  • LEDs are better than fluorescent bulbs – LEDs don’t shatter, last 5x longer, and use half of the amount of electricity required by fluorescent bulbs.

Signs That Your Pothos Is Getting Too Much Light

Wilting During the Hottest Hours of the Day

If your pothos is exposed to excessive light, the first victims almost always are leaves. They will start to wilt and appear feeble. This is particularly noticeable during the hottest hours of the day, which usually fall between noon and 4 pm.

Upon closer inspection, you may realize that leaves also become limp, droopy, and may start to develop dry brown spots. Be that as it may, you should first rule out other causes of wilting. These often include underwatering, root rot, aging, and fertilizer burn.

Pothos Leaves Curling

When the lighting conditions are just right, your pothos leaves are flat and usually face the direction of the source of light. But if the leaves reach out or curl away from the source of light, this is a telltale sign of excessive light.

Pothos prefers ideal temperatures in the range of 65ºF (18°C) – 85 ° F (29°C). When exposed to too much light, well above 90 ºF (32°C), your pothos will experience temperature stress. This is usually manifested in the form of leaf curling, wrinkling, or drooping.

Brown Leaf Edges or Tips

When it comes to pothos troubles, too much light is one of the leading causes of brown leaf tips and edges. However, don’t rule out other causes yet. Root rot, salt buildup, low temp, dry soil, and over-fertilization can cause leaf tips and edges to turn brown.

Brown Spots

Prolonged exposure to too much light can lead to brown spots on the leaves of your pothos. These spots usually start small as tan, pale, or translucent spots before turning into large, brown blotches.

However, brown spots are a common malaise on pothos. And they may be caused by a variety of problems. Overwatering, underwatering, too much fertilizer, salt buildup, chemical toxicity, hot air, low humidity, and even transplant shock may also be responsible.

Yellowing and Thickening of New Growth

Yellowing often accompanies wilting, drooping, or brown leaf spots. You can see them when the source is too hot that it burns or scorches the leaves. The new growth may thicken while leaves may also become bleached out.

Excessively Compact and Stunted Growth

Sunburned pothos can be too shocked to photosynthesize hence compact and stunted growth.

How to Ensure Optimum Light for Pothos

Light Duration

Provide your pothos with 12-14 hours of bright, indirect light every day for optimal growth. If they are parked outdoors, limit exposure to direct sunlight to 3-4 hours per day.

Light Intensity

To ensure optimal light, use grow-lights to provide 8,000-16,000 lux for 14 hours daily.

Last Words

You should provide your pothos with medium-light conditions of 5,000- 21,500 lux for 12-14 hours daily. For this reason, it is best to use LED grow lights or park your plant on an east-facing window. You should be wary of too much light when leaves get sunburned or bleached out.

Too little light causes your pothos to become spindly with extended internodes, legged growth or leaning towards the light source.

(Source: University of Florida, IFAS)

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