Why Are My Pothos Leaves So Small? (And Solutions)


This image is showing the small leaves of Pothos.

Pothos plant is popular for its easy care as well as its lush green foliage. The bright green, glossy and sometimes variegated leaves of Pothos create a spectacular display and can grow up to 3 feet in mature varieties, but sometimes the new leaves are very small in comparison with old leaves. 

Lack of appropriate light, fertilizer rich in nutrients, and inadequate watering are three prime causes for pothos to develop smaller leaves. Addressing these key issues along with regular pruning helps pothos maintain their foliage and produce bigger healthy leaves. 

Let’s dive in deeper to understand the reasons for smaller leaf size in pothos and the science behind its adapting abilities. 

Light

We all remember learning how light is essential for plants to make food in elementary school right? 

And that the process that handles producing plant food for it to survive is Photosynthesis. Moreover, the food making business happens in the leaves because it contains chlorophyll. 

So it is only natural for the leaves to take a toll if, for any reason, the plant is unable to carry out the process of photosynthesis. 

Popular as trailing plants, when pothos does not get adequate light, the trailing stems get thinner and grow in the direction of the light source. 

As a result, the new leaf growth is sparse, smaller in size, and paler in comparison to older mature leaves. The variegated varieties like marble queen pothos may also lose their variegation.

How to Ensure Proper Lighting

Pothos is often marketed as a low maintenance plant for its no-fuss, adapting attitude. It grows in low light but for its best health and big bright leaves, it requires a bright but indirect light. 

The Royal Horticultural Society of UK suggests a west or south-facing window for an ideal sunlight source of pothos.

Keep in mind, pothos thrive in shade to part shade thus too much direct sunlight is also harmful for them- it can burn the leaves. 

Sometimes, all you need to do is move your pothos to a brighter spot where it gets more light.

Since pothos feature climbing vines, they make for eye-catching displays above cupboards, kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, and in hanging baskets. 

But the light conditions at these spots may not be enough for pothos if there is not a window close by. Pothos is not only a house planters’ delight. They have been consistently a part of plant displays at other places as well.

I bet you have noticed them in offices, hallways of office buildings, restaurants, and reception areas of hospitals and educational institutes. The majority of these places are air-conditioned with windows and blinds shut.

In areas like these or in windowless spaces, grow lights or fluorescent lamps make great choices to fulfill the light requirements of this tropical plant. 

Fertilizer

Pothos, like any other houseplant, requires small but frequent doses of nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Liquid fertilizers and slow-release types are preferable to maintain the rich color, waxy texture along with the size and shape of its leaves. 

The Central Florida Research and Education Center at the University of Florida suggests that apart from fertilizer and the potting mix, micronutrients such as copper, iron, manganese, and zinc in small amounts are as important. (Source: University of Florida, IFASOpens in a new tab.)

So it is very important to choose the right kind of fertilizer for the type of plant you have and the potting medium you plan to grow it into. 

How to Fix the Fertilizer Problem

Fertilizers are a mixture of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) in varying ratios. That is why it is important to check the N-P-K ratio on the fertilizer bag before you buy it. (Source: University of Delaware)Opens in a new tab.

A general-purpose fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 20-20-20, for instance, consists of equal quantities of the three nutrients. Pothos, being an easy plant, does well in a general-purpose fertilizer.

But if the new growth on your pothos appears to be smaller in size then you should opt for a fertilizer higher in Nitrogen. 

This is because Nitrogen is present in chlorophyll and is crucial for plant growth and reproduction. 

Therefore, use a fertilizer with the ratio 19-16-12 for your pothos in the growing season. This should maintain the overall health of pothos and prevent its leaves from shrinking in size. 

When applying fertilizers to houseplants, it is equally important to remember that they need fertilizer in small amounts in comparison to plants outdoors. 

Sometimes too much fertilizer can also stunt plant growth and result in leaves developing brown tips. The recommended frequency of fertilizer application is 3 weeks to a month from spring to fall. 

Watering Issues

As we know, light is crucial for photosynthesis to occur in the leaves of the plants, but water is equally an important requirement for that to happen. 

While pothos like to dry out between watering, watering it thoroughly every 1- 2 weeks ensures that the bright glossy foliage maintains its sheen. 

In absence of appropriate watering on a consistent basis, pothos produces smaller leaves. With time, you will see that the plant adjusts to survive and this is noticeable as a shrink in leaf size. 

How to Water Pothos

How often your pothos needs a drink depends on how much sunlight it receives a day.

Typically, if your pothos receive bright indirect sunlight for 4-6 hours a day, then it will need more water in comparison to a pothos that gets very little or no indirect sunlight. 

Some plant owners tend to overwater their houseplants. Since pothos likes to be on the drier side, overwatering can only cause a number of problems. 

One of them is smaller leaves which are either yellow and shriveled or diseased with brown spots. 

To avoid overwatering, let the plant soak up the water through its roots by placing it in a tub filled with water for at least 30 minutes.

Doing this once a month can perk up your pothos and provide with the hydration it needs. 

The quality of water is crucial for plant success but it is often ignored. Normal tap water consists of chlorine, sodium, and fluorine in large proportion. 

This causes the salt build up in the soil or sometimes spoils the foliage with white watermarks.

When using tap water, let the water stand for at least 24 hours before using it for pothos.

This is important for the chlorine and fluorine to dissipate from the water. Other watering options for pothos are rainwater, distilled water, or filtered water. 

Other Causes of Small Leaves on Pothos

To understand the causes behind the shrink in leaf size of pothos plants, you should view it as a cycle. Less light means reduced water requirements. 

When two components essential for photosynthesis are not actively present, pothos being the plant with adapting personality compromises on leaf size to survive. Hence, what you see is leaf size shrinking. 

But what if your pothos receives adequate light, appropriate fertilizer, and good quality water yet the leaf size it produces is small? Then it is time to look inspect other areas. 

Extreme Temperature

Pothos usually thrive in temperatures ranging between 70°F (21°C) and 90°F (32°C). Anything beyond this range can potentially stunt the growth. You will notice that vines will have sparse growth of small leaves.

Small Container Size 

While vining plants like pothos can stay in the same pot for years, it is advisable to check the root ball at least once a year. 

Pothos can stay pot bound for a longer period of time but if you see more roots and barely any soil upon inspection, then you must immediately transfer the plant into a one-size bigger pot. For instance, you can repot your 6inch pothos vines into an 8inch pot.

Pot bound state of the plant can majorly alter the growth in pothos. It can shoot up new growth for survival but that new growth would be small and weak because of the lack of nutrients in the soil. 

You May Also Enjoy: Why Are My Satin Pothos Leaves Curling?

Low Humidity

Pothos are tropical plants. They vine around the trunks of bigger trees to reach for light. But essentially, they live in humid conditions. 

Therefore, misting the leaves often or keeping a misted pebble tray closeby are all good ways to increase humidity for pothos. This could promote good leaf health and size. 

Pest Infestation

Pest infestations are uncommon in pothos. However, mealybugs or spider mites occasionally infest the plant and attack the tissues of the leaves. 

This results in damaged leaves and if it is not addressed timely, then with time new leaves appear smaller in size and relatively weaker as compared to mature leaves.

How to Get Rid of Pests

To get rid of pest infestations, wipe the leaves with some alcohol. That should rid the plant from sneaky pests.

Wiping leaves with a moist paper towel once a week will keep the leaves cleans and prevent them altogether.

Leaf Spot Diseases

Leaf spot disease refers to yellow halos on the underside of the leaves. Sometimes the leaves will become yellow before getting brown and mushy. 

Depending on whether bacterial leaf spot disease is bacterial or fungal in nature, it can severely stunt the growth of pothos. 

The roots do not only suffer below the soil, but the plant suffers which is apparent by a close look at the leaves. Many times, the new growth is small, brown and mushy in appearance.

Cutting the diseased part of the plant and removing the rotted part of the root ball may help the pothos survive. 

It will take the plant some time to heal but being a tolerant plant, it has the potential to spring back in action. 

How to Make Pothos Leaves Grow Bigger 

Pruning

Pruning refers to the cuts you make on a plant to stimulate growth. For pothos, pruning is extremely beneficial because it promotes growth in the form of new vines and bigger leaves.

The more you prune, the more thick and fuller your pothos will be. To prune your pothos, first locate the nodes on the vines. They look like small blackish green scars.

Always makes a cut above the node. This will trigger growth from the nodes. Remember each node is a potential growth point of the plant. 

You can prune a pothos plant at any time of the year and it can tolerate excessive pruning. The best part about pruning is that you get to enjoy two things: 

1. Your current pothos experiences new growth; 

2. You can toss the cuttings you have in a jar of water or stick it in soil to get new plants. 

Positioning It Upright

Pothos make for a striking trailing plant but those beautiful vines can also climb around a moss stick. 

This is a great way to display your pothos if you plan to cherish it as a floor plant. In practice, pothos produce larger leaves when it is climbing upwards on a moss pole. 

Given the background of its native habitat, that only makes sense. In tropical rainforests, pothos form ground cover and vine around larger plants and grow upwards.

So, adding a moss stick and pinning the vines into it provides the support it needs to grow upright just as the larger plants stalks in the forests would. 

Opt for Mature Plant

If you are specifically looking for your pothos to have bigger leaves, then you should invest in a mature pothos plant. Pothos that have been growing for 3+ years have relatively bigger leaves than younger plants. 

The pothos you see for sale at grocery stores or small plant shops are usually younger plants – cuttings of mature plant- stuck in soil, roots of which might not have fully developed yet. 

You should visit a nursery or a farm to buy a full size, mature pothos plant which  features heart shaped leaves as big as your hands

Final Words 

Bigger sized leaves are a stylish trait of pothos for which you should 

  • Provide enough bright indirect sunlight. 
  • Use a suitable fertilizer in an appropriate manner.
  • Prune on a regular basis. 

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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