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How To Revive a Dying Pothos Plant

How To Revive a Dying Pothos Plant

Pothos plants are well-loved in the plant hobby for their ease of care and their ability to bounce back from what seems like certain death. These vining plants do great indoors in a variety of lighting and can be trained to grow on walls and moss poles or left to trail in hanging baskets.

While pothos plants are relatively easy, they will let you know when they aren’t happy, and an unhappy plant usually looks like a dying one. In this article, we will show you how to revive your dying pothos and get it back to the bright green plant you fell in love with. 

How to Revive a Dying Pothos Plant

In this section, we will go over the symptoms your plant may be displaying and remedies to treat them. 

Wilting leaves

Most often, wilting leaves are a sign of not enough water or not enough fertilizer. To know which your plant is suffering from, start by checking your plant’s soil. If it is bone dry your issue is likely underwatering, if it is damp, you can assume it is lacking nutrition in the soil. 

Underwatering

If the soil in your pothos is bone dry it could also be hydrophobic. Hydrophobic soil is characterized by an inability to absorb water. Once your soil reaches this point, normal watering won’t work to revive it as the water will usually pour off the soil and go immediately out of the drainage holes. 

Don’t worry, though there is an easy solution to fixing hydrophobic soil. Simply water your plant from the bottom. Find a bucket or a bowl that will fit your plant pot, fill it halfway with water, and then place your plant inside. The soil will slowly absorb water through the drainage holes and rehydrate itself. Once this is done, you can go back to watering on a regular schedule. 

Two pothos plants outside on a table

Pothos are a water-loving species, so you want to have a good watering schedule to keep them healthy. From spring to summer, this usually looks like every 3-4 days with my pothos plants, and about once a week in the winter.

This is a good place to start when creating a watering schedule for your plant, but always be sure to check the soil before watering. If it’s still wet from your last watering, you will want to give it another day or two. Ideally, you want the top 1-2 inches to be relatively dry before you water. 

Other symptoms of underwatering are yellowing leaves, brown leaves, and dropping leaves. 

Not Enough Fertilizer

Most pothos are fast-growing plants when given the right care. Exceptions to this are N’joy and Pearls and Jade which tend to grow a bit slower. Like most fast-growing plants, they can use up the nutrients in their soil pretty quickly and need regular fertilizing to thrive.

I usually fertilize my pothos twice a month in the spring and summer with a balanced fertilizer at half strength. You will also ideally repot your pothos every 1-2 years to get fresh soil into the pot. Even the perfect fertilization schedule can’t replace regular repotting, so don’t neglect this aspect of plant care. 

Other symptoms of fertilizer deficiency are yellow leaves and stunted growth. 

Yellow Leaves

The main causes of yellow leaves are overwatering, root rot, underwatering, light deficiency, and fertilizer deficiency. For tips on underwatering and fertilizer deficiency, see the section for wilting leaves above. 

Overwatering

While pothos are water-loving plants, they are also prone to root rot and don’t thrive when overwatered. To see if your plant is suffering from overwatering, start by checking your soil. If it is soggy and wet you are likely overwatering.

Overwatering is one of the most common causes of plant death. As plant parents, we want to give our plants the very best care possible, which can often lead to us killing our plants with kindness. 

When creating a watering schedule, you will want to take lighting into account. A plant that isn’t getting much sun will absorb water slower than one that is getting plenty of indirect light, so adjust accordingly and your plant should thrive. 

A hand holding a pothos in a white pot

Root rot

If your soil is saturated when you go to check it there is a chance your plant is suffering from root rot. To check for root rot you will want to remove your plant from the pot and gently rinse away the soil.

Healthy roots will be firm and white, while rotten roots will be dark brown or black and mushy. Remove any rotten roots with sanitized shears and then place your plant back in its pot with fresh soil. If there are any healthy roots left on your plant, it should make a full recovery. 

Light deficiency 

While pothos can thrive in low light settings, they do need some light to live and a decent amount of indirect light to thrive. If you are trying to keep your plant in a room without windows, like a bathroom, you will need to provide supplemental light with grow bulbs.

These can be purchased relatively inexpensively at most stores that sell light bulbs and you can place them in your standard light fixtures, or a lamp dedicated to your plants. 

Pothos plants that aren’t getting enough light can have trouble absorbing water and can have very slow or stunted growth. If you aren’t able to get grow bulbs, another option is to move your plant to a brighter room in your house. 

Brown leaf tips

The main cause of brown leaf tips is low humidity. Pothos plants are native to tropical rainforests and need a good amount of humidity to thrive. While they can usually adjust to the humidity in your home, you may need to supplement if you notice the tips of the leaves are drying out. 

There are a few easy ways you can supplement your plant’s humidity. While I usually recommend pebbly trays, they aren’t ideal for pothos whose leaves can be relatively far away from the plant. 

The best way to raise humidity for your photos is to add a humidifier to your space, but if this isn’t feasible, you can also mist it a few times a week. Be careful when misting that you don’t soak your furniture or drywall as this can lead to mold or water damage. You can also take your plant into the bathroom with you when you shower. 

Burnt or brown leaves

If the leaves of your plant are brown or look burnt, this could be due to over-fertilization or too much direct light. 

Over fertilization

While regular fertilizing is great for your plant, there can be too much of a good thing. Too much fertilizer can burn the roots of your plant and lead to root rot. If you think you may have over fertilized your plant, check for root rot and repot your plant in fresh soil immediately. Getting an over-fertilized pothos into fresh soil is usually enough to save it and they generally bounce back rather quickly. 

Too much light

While not enough light can kill your plants, too much light can as well. In their native habitat, pothos thrives in the understory of the forest. This means that they are usually only exposed to filtered sunlight.

That is what makes them such great houseplants, but it also means that direct sunlight can be harmful for them. If you have your plant in direct sunlight, especially direct afternoon light, it can cause the leaves of your plants to burn. Try moving your plant further from the window and trim any brown leaves off of your plant. 

Poor or stunted growth

If your plant has stunted growth, it could be due to under fertilization or not enough light. A sure sign the issue is poor lighting is if your plant’s growth is spindly and in the direction of its light source.

Plants will do their best to fix their issues themselves and this can usually give you clues to what you can do to help them. Reaching growth is one of those clues. To fix the issue, try moving your plant closer to the light source, or adding supplemental light from a grow bulb. 

Pests

The bane of every plant keeper is pests. The best defense against these irritating insects is a good offense. Always quarantine new plants separately from your current plant collection and treat with neem oil twice a week for 2 weeks.

If at the end of two weeks there is no sign of pests on your plant, you should be good to bring them inside and place them in their new space. 

If you have quarantined and still end up with pests don’t worry, there are lots of ways these sneaky bugs can make their way indoors and even the most diligent plant keeper can have issues with pests from time to time. Pothos are most prone to mealy bugs, spider mites, and aphids.

When my plants get pests, I usually just place them outside and let nature do its thing. If you live in a region where that isn’t feasible, or you live in an apartment that doesn’t have an outdoor area, you can also treat your plants with neem oil as described above, or with insecticidal soap.

Be careful when using these things around pets as they can be irritating at best and toxic if ingested.