Pothos has a well-founded reputation for being robust, forgiving houseplants that can tolerate all manner of abuse. There are times, however, when you Pothos will just sit there like a sulky teenager at a family reunion.
You place it in its new position, introduce it to its neighbors, and talk lovingly to it, and still, it won’t grow. It doesn’t appear to be unwell. It simply fails to thrive.
There are many possible reasons for this lackluster performance, but the good news is that they are all almost always easy to rectify.
The most common reason for pothos not growing is lack of sufficient light or nutrients. Pothos need proper growing conditions and bright indirect light to grow at a normal rate. Some common problems like diseases, pests, or humidity stress can also slow down growth.
Study your Pothos to determine why it is not growing, and once you have determined and addressed the cause, getting your plant to flourish should be easy.
Reasons Why Your Pothos Isn’t Growing
Here are the possible reasons why your pothos might not be growing. I will walk you through to identify and solve the issues and make your pothos thrive again.
It is important to understand that there are periods of the year when pothos don’t grow, and this dormancy is perfectly normal. During the cooler winter months, expect your Pothos to put on very little growth, even in an indoor environment.
Lack of Light
This is quite a common one. The Pothos has such a reputation for accepting low light conditions that people expect it to grow when light is insufficient.
The plant will survive in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, but it will not grow much. Ideally, you want to place your plant where it will get bright light but not direct sunlight.
Lack of Nutrients
To perform at their best, all plants need nutrients and the Pothos is no exception. You don’t need to feed your plant every other day, but it does need to be in a fertile soil.
Often, when you purchase a plant, the soil it arrives in is already depleted. Repot your Pothos into a similar-sized, or slightly larger pot and use good quality potting soil with good drainage capacity.
Why Is My Pothos Losing Leaves?
Like all plants, Pothos drop a few leaves from time to time. If that leaf drop becomes extreme, it is a sure sign that your plant is unhappy. This is almost always a result of over or underwatering.
Overwatering is the most common reason for pothos demise. Plant owners see that their plant is starting to look unhappy and their first instinct is to save it by applying more water.
Very often, it was too much water that initiated the unhappiness in the first place. Not only will the pothos start dropping leaves, but they will also stop growing. Normally, before dropping, the leaves will become flaccid and turn yellow.
Of all the problems your pothos will come up against, overwatering is the most dangerous. The risk of root rot increases and root rot will not just stunt growth. It can quickly kill a plant, even one as robust as the Pothos.
The opposite extreme to overwatering is underwatering, and curiously, this issue can produce somewhat similar results. Your pothos will wilt and then leaves will go brown, crisp, and fall off.
Correct Watering Procedure
Both underwatering and overwatering issues can be resolved by adopting the correct watering procedure as soon as you take possession of your pothos. You need to understand that this is a plant that likes to dry out between each watering.
A good way to know when to water is to rely on the low-tech method of poking your finger into the soil and feeling for moisture. When the top two inches or so feel dry, you know that it is time to re-water.
Poking your finger into the soil to around the depth of your second knuckle will give you an accurate enough indication.
When the plant has dried to that depth, stand it in a basin and water the top of the soil until the excess water starts to drain out through the drainage hole in the base of the pot. After that, allow the water to stop draining and place the plant back in its normal position.
There are a couple of don’ts to bear in mind here. Don’t place the pot in its saucer until after all excess water has drained out of the soil or it will fill the saucer and trap water in the potting mix, thus waterlogging the roots.
Also, don’t water to a regime. This is something many indoor gardeners get wrong. Instead of watering only when they feel the top two inches of soil is dry, they water to a schedule without checking to see if the plant actually needs it.
Here’s another common one. Everyone wants their Pothos to grow rapidly and turn into that rampant vine they have seen in the garden magazines.
They try to shortcut natural rates of growth by supplying excess food in the form of fertilizer. This is not going to work.
Natural growth rates are predetermined and all you can do is provide optimal conditions so that your plant grows to its best potential.
If you give too much fertilizer or the wrong type of fertilizer, you risk poisoning the plant slowly.
Think of it like giving your child half a dozen extra slices of birthday cake in the hope that he will get taller more quickly.
Pothos only needs to be fed every couple of months during the spring and summer and even less during the cooler months.
You are best off using a balanced liquid houseplant food. This can be either chemical or organic, and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
The Pothos will tolerate a wide range of temperature variations, but if your plant is not growing then it is possible that you are not keeping it within its ideal range.
Unless you really go to extremes, the plant won’t struggle but it will fail to grow to the full potential that you are looking for.
Ideal temperatures lie between 70 and 90°F (21–32°C). To find out if you are achieving this or not, the best thing to do is to purchase a household thermometer.
They are not expensive and it is the most accurate way of knowing just what the temperature is in the vicinity of your plant.
Root Bound Pothos Not Growing
Obviously, a plant will not perform at its best if it has become root-bound. What is more, if the roots are too tightly packed, it is almost inevitable that the potting medium will have become devoid of nutrients.
The Pothos is a plant that likes to slightly root bound so don’t rush into repotting until you are sure that the plant is ready to move into a larger container.
What I do is change the pot when it starts to become difficult to poke my finger into the soil to check the moisture level.
Another sure sign that it is time to pot on is if roots start to appear through the drainage holes in the base of the pot.
I always plant into a pot that is only slightly larger than the one the plant is just coming out of. An extra inch or two in the diameter of the new pot is usually perfect.
This means the plant receives a fresh growing medium but is not surrounded by a thick layer of soil that will retain moisture and expose the plant to the risk of root rot.
Even if you get all of the above factors right, there is another threat that could be hampering the growth of your Pothos. Like all houseplants, in fact, plants in general, there are always pests lurking on the sidelines and they are capable of stunting plant growth.
Most houseplant pests are sap suckers and they suck the nutrients from your plant that would otherwise be used for growth.
Obviously, this will slow down plant growth and it will also expose your plant to the risk of other health issues. In the case of the Pothos, there are three main culprits to look out for.
All of them rely on concealment as their primary means of defense and so you are going to need to use close observation as your primary means of attack.
Here are your three primary enemies and the methods to deal with them.
Thes little sap suckers hideout beneath a hard carapace which protects them as they slowly suck the juices out of your plant. They look like small brown scabs and they love to hide on stems and in leaf nodes.
Once they have established their little armored fortresses, they never move again and they simply devote their lives to sucking up the sap your Pothos produces.
They are easily removed by simply scraping them away with a fingernail or the back of the blade of a knife.
Though not actually members of the spider family, these little guys feed on the underside of the leaves, usually in the lower regions of the plant. They are so small that you will need to actually be looking for them if you are to see them.
Often, the first sign you will have as to their presence is when you start to see brown, see-through parts of the leaf where the chlorophyll has been sucked away. You may also notice web-like material at the base of the leaves.
Spider mites thrive in dry conditions and to get rid of them, simply take your plant outside and blast them away with a squirt of water.
These little bugs wear a fluffy white protective coat that gives them the appearance of small balls of fluff. They too are sap suckers and they like to hide out under leaves and in the crevices of the leaf nodes.
These are fragile creatures who can easily be wiped away with insecticidal soap or that gardener’s favorite, Neem oil.
There are a few other pests that might occasionally be tempted to attack your Pothos. I am not someone who likes to use pesticides, especially in my home.
Fortunately, all of the pests you are likely to encounter with your Pothos are easily dealt with without having to resort to toxic chemicals.
I am a firm believer that close attention is the main weapon against pest invasion. Pests can drain your plants of nutrients, but they can also introduce other diseases.
What I like to do is wipe down the leaf with vegetable soap on a weekly basis. This keeps the leaves clean and shiny, but at the same time, it forces me to examine the plant and stay ahead of any threats posed.
Pests on the Pothos are easily dealt with providing they are not allowed to get established in large numbers.
They are also far less likely to attack a plant that is in good health and has a nice thick outer cuticle protecting its leaves.
What to do If Your Pothos is Not Growing
You now have some knowledge about the most likely reasons that your Pothos is lingering but not thriving.
The first thing you will need to do is to identify what is the cause of the plant’s general unhappiness is. It may be a combination of more than one of the factors above.
Often, when a plant is not in ideal conditions, it becomes susceptible to a variety of problems. All of the problems are easily addressed once you have pinpointed what they are.
Pothos are long-lived houseplants and if you get its conditions right, you can confidently expect this plant to have a life span of at least ten years, and there are reports of plants that have lived far longer.
Your Pothos is capable of gaining as much as twelve inches of growth a month during the growing season once you get the conditions right. This ability to create an indoor jungle effect quickly is one reason this plant is so popular.
Pruning Your Pothos
Assuming you have overcome your plant’s sluggish attitude, you are soon going to find yourself in a position where you may need to consider pruning to keep the plant under control.
Pothos is very tolerant of being pruned but, like all plants, the timing is important and pruning is best done during the growing season, and especially in the spring when growth is most rapid.
These plants are very tolerant of being pruned and it is also very easy. All you need to do is cut them back to below a node using a clean pair of scissors or secateurs. Quite how you prune them depends on what you are trying to achieve.
- Pruning for shape: I grow my pothos long and trailing but not everyone likes this or has the room. You can keep your plant cut back and grow it in a bushier style. The stems can be cut back to just a few inches above the soil and this will encourage the production of new stems.
- To Prevent Leginess: Sometimes, the long trailing stems start to become a bit leggy as leaves fall. New leaves do not grow back easily and I find it better to cut back bare stems and lead new growth through to replace them. New leaves start off small, but they quickly catch up with others provided ideal conditions are being achieved.
- To Stop Disease and Pest Spread: Another reason that I prune is to cut out diseased or pest-infected leaves. Sometimes, these issues can make the plant unsightly and it is easier to just snip off any leaves that are not attractive or which are detracting from the overall appearance of the plant.
Some gardeners shy away from pruning but if it is done correctly and at the right time it is something that can invigorate a plant and give it a whole new lease on life.
Making More Plants
Don’t waste those stems you cut off during the pruning operation. Providing you have some healthy stems with nodes on them, you have the resource needed for growing new plants and Pothos doesn’t disappoint in this regard.
You can stand your cutting in a glass of water and after a few weeks, you will be able to see the new roots beginning to form. Change the water every few days so that there is some oxygen in the water.
Once you have a substantial number of roots, the new plantlet can be popped into some potting soil, and soon you will have a new plant. I often skip the water start and simply pop my cuttings into some damp potting soil.
Other growers place their cuttings into zip lock bags along with some damp sphagnum moss. Once roots are established, they pot up and grow their plants on.
Reviving a Dying Pothos
It is uncommon for a plant to get into such a poor state of health that it dies. Almost invariably, if the plant gets into such a dire situation, it will be the result of a watering problem.
If the plant becomes too dry it will succumb, but the biggest killer is overwatering which induces root rot.
If the plant is too dry you will soon know by feeling the soil and because the leaves have become dry and desiccated. Give it a good soaking and hopefully, it will slowly recover.
If the plant is too wet then tip it out of its pot and examine the roots. You will be able to spot root rot as the infected roots will be brown and soft. Healthy roots are white and firm.
Cutaway any rotting roots as they are serving no real purpose other than possibly sustaining pathogens. Allow the root ball to dry out by standing the plant on some dry newspaper.
After that, repot into new, clean potting soil. The potting soil should already be slightly damp so don’t water for a while and allow the plant to start its slow recovery. Once it starts to dry out, follow the watering system that you have read about above.
So, you need to be vigilant if your pothos is not getting everything it needs to maintain the normal growth rate. Identifying why your pothos not growing is the most important stage of fixing the problem. Follow the above-mentioned real-life experience and you can make your pothos thrive again.