Pothos plant care: watering, pruning & tips for yellow leaves


I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

Even though pothos is very low maintenance, it does need a little care now and then. Everything you need to know about watering, pruning and fertilising devil’s ivy can be found here.

Pothos plant next to window
A semi-shady location is perfect for devil’s ivy [Photo: Grumpy Cow Studios/ Shutterstock.com]

Pothos (Epipremnum) is one of the most popular houseplants for homes and offices. It is considered indestructible and extremely easy to care for. But it does still need some attention. In the following article we will tell you everything you need to know about caring for your devil’s ivy.

Many people are familiar with the climbing, evergreen plant, but don’t know what it’s actually called. We are talking about devil’s ivy, also known as pothos. It belongs to the arum family (Araceae) which includes many other popular houseplants, such as the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera) or the peace lily (Spathiphyllum).

Fact: Devil’s ivy only shares its name and the characteristic of climbing with common ivy (Hedera helix). The two plants are not actually related.

How to water devil’s ivy

As pothos requires hardly any care, it is ideal for beginners and gardeners with little time. It can easily survive short periods without water. When watering pothos, the rule of thumb is that you should allow the surface of the soil to dry out between watering, but not the entire root ball. You can test whether the soil has dried out enough with a simple finger test. If the top two centimetres feel dry, water again. Also, if you spot paler and half-dried leaves on the plant, the plant is too dry and it is time to water again. Ideally, use lime-free water, such as rainwater.

Devil’s ivy plant in hanging pot
Pothos plants are ideal for hanging pots and baskets [Photo: Nguyen Vinh/ Shutterstock.com]

If you notice a foul, rotten smell coming from the pot, the roots of the devil’s ivy are probably waterlogged due to overwatering. Sweating is also a sign of overwatering. This “sweat”, known as guttation, is when water drips off the leaves to release excess water. To avoid this, always remove the excess water from the pot about 15 minutes after watering. Another good option is to water the devil’s ivy via its saucer. To water the pothos this way, pour water directly onto the saucer (and not from above onto the soil) and let the plant soak up all the water. Repeat until water remains in the saucer, then remove the excess water.

Pothos plant leaf covered in drops of water
If overwatered, pothos releases excess water through its leaves [Photo: Nicha11/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary: watering devil’s ivy

  • Allow top layer of soil to dry out (finger test)
  • Use lime-free water
  • Alternatively, pour water into a saucer
  • Remove excess water from the saucer
  • Pale, withered leaves indicate dryness

Tip: Devil’s ivy plants love humidity! So spray your plant regularly with lukewarm, lime-free water.

How to prune pothos

Even though it is not necessary to cut off devil’s ivy shoots, the tropical plant is very tolerant of pruning. Remove dead and wilted leaves regularly. If you want to curb the growth of the devil’s ivy a little, you can always reach for the secateurs. The best time to trim your pothos is in spring, after which the plant can grow back healthily. As a rule, prune back the shoots by two thirds. The cut-off shoots can also be used to propagate pothos.

wiping dust from shiny pothos leaves
Dusted leaves shine more beautifully and photosynthesise more effectively [Photo: Emily frost/ Shutterstock.com]

Unfortunately, it is not very easy to get the pothos to produce dense branching. Pruning directly at the leaf nodes can help the plant to form more bushy foliage. However, the easiest way to get the desired bushy shape is simply to grow several pothos plants in one pot.

Summary: pruning devil’s ivy

  • Regularly remove wilted and dead leaves
  • Prune in the spring
  • To do this, prune back the shoots by a maximum of two-thirds
  • Cut frequently at the leaf nodes for bushy growth
  • Use a sharp knife or secateurs

Tip: Since devil’s ivy is poisonous, always wear gloves when working with the plant – especially when pruning and repotting.

Dense foliage of several devil’s ivy plants in one pot
For a bushy growth, it is best to plant several devil’s ivy plants in one pot [Photo: Myimagine/ Shutterstock.com]

How to fertilise pothos plants

Between March and October, when the pothos is growing vigorously, you should occasionally fertilise the plant. A liquid fertiliser works best for this: simply add some to the water and water as normal. For foliage plants like devil’s ivy, we recommend using a liquid plant food such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food. Its nutrients support the healthy development of roots and leaves. Fertilise roughly every two to three weeks during the summer months. In winter, there is no need to fertilise pothos as the plant’s growth is reduced.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
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  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
  • Liquid fertiliser for robust plants & healthy growth
  • Quick & easy application - child & pet friendly

Summary: fertilising pothos

  • Fertilise from March to October
  • Add fertiliser to the water every two to three weeks
  • Fertilise according to dosage instructions

How and when to repot pothos

As low maintenance as pothos may be, it does need to be repotted occasionally. The time to repot is when the plant’s root system completely fills the pot. However, make sure to repot your pothos every at least two to three years.

First you need to prepare the new pot for your houseplant. Choose a new home for the pothos that is slightly larger than the old pot with a drainage hole in the bottom and place it on a saucer. Then create good drainage for the plant by putting a layer of expanded clay or clay shards in the bottom of the pot. This allows water to drain away easily and prevents waterlogging. We recommend replanting the pothos into a high-quality potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. This peat-free compost is made from sustainable materials and contains all the nutrients for a successful start to growth.

layer of expanded clay in bottom of pothos pot before replanting
A drainage layer, such as expanded clay, ensures good drainage [Photo: Valerii Kolomiiets/ Shutterstock.com]

Now take your pothos out of its old pot and remove the soil from its roots. This can be done by shaking or washing it off. Now you have a good view of the root system and can cut off any rotten or dried out root parts. If the root ball is very large, you can also shorten the healthy roots a little. Then place the root ball in the centre of the new pot and cover with soil. Finally, water the plant well.

Summary: repotting pothos

  • Choose new pot slightly larger than the old one with drainage hole
  • Create a drainage layer
  • Fill one third of the pot with soil
  • Remove pothos from old pot
  • Carefully shake or rinse off the soil
  • Prune the roots if necessary
  • Place the pothos in the centre of the pot
  • Fill with soil and water well
Devil’s ivy withdamaged yellow and brown foliage
Urgent action is needed for such leaf damage! [Photo: Parawee21/ Shutterstock.com]

Yellow leaves on pothos: causes and remedies

There are several reasons why your devil’s ivy leaves turn yellow. Here are some of the possible causes and remedies.

Reasons for yellow leaves on pothos:

  • Intense light exposure – one reason for yellow leaves can be too much light. Pothos comes from the semi-shady rainforests and does not like to be in the glaring sun. So, place your devil’s ivy in a semi-shady location for a speedy recovery.
  • Soil too wet – soil that is too wet can also lead to yellowing. Remove excess water from the pot and aerate the root ball or replant the ivy in fresh soil and remove the rotten roots.
  • Soil too dry – if the plant dries out, its leaves turn yellow. To remedy this, place the entire root ball in a bucket of room-temperature rainwater.
  • Air too dry – especially in winter when the heating is on, the air indoors quickly becomes very dry. Devil’s ivy does not like this at all and reacts with yellow leaves. Ensure higher humidity by spraying the pothos with lukewarm rainwater. You can also place a bowl of water next to the houseplant.
  • Nutrient deficiency – an acute nutrient deficiency can also lead to yellow leaves. The only thing that helps here is a quick application of liquid fertiliser.
Brown spot on devil’s ivy leaf
Brown spots on the leaves can occur for several reasons [Photo: ukmng/ Shutterstock.com]

Is your pothos not growing? Several care mistakes could be the cause. Repotting the pothos plant often helps in such a case. It will then have enough space, fresh nutrients and a moist, but not wet soil. Brown spots on devil’s ivy’s leaves are usually caused by too much or too little water or nutrients. Although pothos hardly ever suffers from diseases, it can still be attacked by spider mites if the air is too dry.

Tip: Too much lime in the water can also lead to chlorosis (yellow leaves). So, it is best to water with lime-free water.

Large pothos plants draped across shelves
With the right care, ivy can grow to impressive sizes [Photo: Farhad Ibrahimzade/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary: pothos plant care

  • Water only when the soil surface has dried out
  • Remove withered and dead leaves
  • To prune shoots, cut back by two thirds
  • Prune at leaf nodes for bushier growth
  • Fertilise every two to three weeks between March and October.

Read our in depth article on devil’s ivy to discover everything about pothos plants.

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