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In this post, I’ll explain the reasons for poor growth in pothos plants (and what to do about it). Pothos plants don’t grow when they’re over or under-watered, and when they are exposed to excessive or insufficient light, temperature, and humidity.
The growth of pothos plants also slows or stops when the plants are in their winter dormancy and when they’re affected by pests and disease.
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is an evergreen, tropical plant species is found throughout the Asia-Pacific region. It is widely grown as a houseplant with a sprawling growth habit and produces multiple stems and glossy, heart-shaped leaves that often have yellowish-white variegated streaks.
Pothos plants are fast-growing and require very little maintenance. While pothos plants have a natural dormancy period in winter, several factors that can cause the plants to grow slowly or not at all:
- poor soil structure,
- unfavorable light and environmental conditions,
- nutrient deficiencies or imbalances,
- and pests and disease.
Let’s look more closely at the reasons why your pothos plant isn’t growing and what you can do to help your plant regain its health, vigor, and beauty.
If a pothos is not growing, the first thing to consider is whether the plants might be dormant. In temperate climates, pothos plants naturally go into a dormant state during the cooler winter months.
If you’ve noticed that the growth of your pothos plant has slowed or stopped during the fall or winter, there is probably no cause for concern because it has likely become dormant.
Pothos plants should not receive water when they’re dormant unless the soil dries out completely and the plants show signs of dehydration.
Though it may be tempting, it is not advisable to apply fertilizers to encourage the growth of pothos plants during dormancy. The plants don’t need extra nutrition when they are dormant because they aren’t producing new growth, so adding fertilizer is a waste of time and resources.
Applying fertilizers to dormant pothos plants might cause damage and stress to the plants because they won’t be able to process the nutrients in the fertilizers. The use of water when applying liquid and dry fertilizers also creates the risk of over-watering dormant pothos plants.
Pothos Water Problems
Watering problems are a common cause of slow growth in pothos plants. The plants need soil that is moist but not soaking wet. Pothos plants also prefer the top layer of soil to dry out slightly between each watering.
Maintaining these soil moisture levels for pothos plants can be challenging, and depends on several factors such as:
- soil moisture levels
- time of year
- plant size
- container size
- timing of the last watering
Over-watering is usually more likely to cause growth problems in pothos plants than under-watering. If pothos plants receive too much water too frequently, the soil will become water-logged and harm the plants.
The excessive moisture in the soil starves pothos roots of oxygen and makes them susceptible to fungal diseases.
Conversely, pothos plants won’t grow if they are under-watered. Pothos plants need moist soil because they are adapted to tropical, forested growing environments. The plants also need adequate moisture in the soil to produce and maintain their fleshy stems and leaves.
The signs of an under-watering are similar to those of over-watering. Pothos plants that receive too much or too little water usually have yellow or brown leaves, a loss of turgidity in stems and leaves, and slow or stunted growth.
The easiest way to know if pothos plants are being over-watered or under-watered is to consider the watering factors described. Then check the moisture levels in the top inch or two of the soil.
If the soil looks and feels dry, and the plant hasn’t received water for the last week or more, you know the plant is probably being under-watered. If the soil is moist and has not received water for a week or more, the pothos plant has likely been over-watered.
Inadequate or excessive light is another reason why your pothos plant isn’t growing. Pothos plants are accustomed to growing in low-light environments shaded by forest canopies, so the plants need indirect light to grow well.
Pothos won’t grow well in intense direct sunlight or weak, indirect sunlight.
Pothos prefer light intensity range (measured in foot-candles) of between 75ft-c and 200ft-c.The season, local climate, and weather will influence the intensity of indirect light that pothos plants need to grow well.
While pothos plants grow faster when exposed to increased light levels, if the light is too intense, they start to suffer damage like burned leaves and a reduced growth rate. If your slow-growing pothos is in direct sunlight, it needs to be re-located into indirect light.
In contrast, your pothos might not be growing because it is not receiving sufficient light. Pothos like shade, but without enough light, the plant can’t perform photosynthesis and generate the energy it needs to produce new stems and leaves.
If the pothos plant is in a dark corner of a room far from the nearest window, it should be re-positioned in bright, indirect light closer to a window. Figuring out which location with the ideal amount of indirect light for pothos might require some experimentation.
Light meters used in photography are helpful for accurately measuring light levels in different parts of a room. However, as long as pothos are not being exposed to intense direct sunlight or extremely low levels of indirect light, the plants should grow well.
Lack Of Nutrients
Slow or stunted growth is often a sign that pothos is lacking nutrients. Pothos plants have low nutrient requirements but won’t grow properly without adequate nutrition.
Pothos plants need access to low amounts of all 17 essential plant nutrients. A deficiency of the primary, secondary, and trace nutrients will compromise the plants’ ability to perform the functions necessary for developing new roots, stems, and lush green leaves.
A lack of nitrogen is often the cause of slow-growing pothos. Pothos plants need nitrogen to produce new stem and leaf growth, so the plants can’t grow properly if they don’t receive enough of this primary essential plant nutrient.
Aside from slow or stunted growth, you can tell your pothos plants have nitrogen deficiency if the old leaves at the bottom of the plant are turning yellow.
It’s usually simple to address nutrient deficiencies in pothos plants to help them regain a vigorous growth rate. Incorporating high-quality compost into the top layer of soil will usually be sufficient to provide pothos plants with the nutrients they need to grow quickly.
Applications of general-purpose dry or liquid fertilizers will also address lackluster growth in pothos plants. Due to the light-feeding nature of pothos plants, it’s wise to apply the fertilizer at 50% of the recommended application rate and wait to observe how the plants respond before re-applying.
Pothos plants tolerate a wide range of temperatures but won’t grow properly if the weather is too hot or cold. The plants prefer warm temperatures, ideally between 65F at night and 75F in the day.
Pothos plants will stop growing if temperatures drop below about 55F or rise above 85F.
Temperature is a critical factor in the growth rate of pothos plants because it influences the rate of photosynthesis and respiration. Photosynthesis is how pothos plants create starches and sugars, while respiration is what enables the plants to transform these nutrients into energy for producing new tissue cells.
If the temperature is too cold, pothos plants won’t be able to perform photosynthesis effectively, so they will be unable to produce the sugars and starches needed to fuel the growth of the plants.
When the temperature around the pothos plant is too hot, this can also cause the growth of the plants to slow down or stop altogether.
When the temperature increases, the respiration rate also increases. Excessive heat can cause growth problems if pothos plants aren’t getting enough light because the plants won’t be able to create enough energy through photosynthesis to compensate for the increased rate of respiration.
Insect pests can cause growth problems for E. aureum, though pothos plants rarely encounter pest issues. Pothos plants might become susceptible to insect infestations if the plants are stressed from exposure to unfavorable temperature, light, or soil conditions.
Pothos plants stop growing and enter survival mode. The plants have to divert energy used for producing new tissue to defend against the insects and the diseases they introduce.
The most common insect pests found on pothos plants are spider mites and mealybugs. Spider mites are tiny red or orange insects that feed on plant sap and are usually visible on the undersides of leaves. In advanced stages, spider mite webbing starts forming on the top of the leaves.
Mealybugs are larger insect pests that are white with fluffy margins. They are much easier to see than spider mites and are usually on the stems of the plants. Mealybugs leave a white powdery residue and a sugary substance (called honeydew) that is a food source for pathogenic black mold.
Ideally, pothos plants should be grown in favorable conditions to maintain their health and ensure they don’t become susceptible to insect attacks.
If an insect infestation has progressed to the point that it’s affecting the growth rate of your pothos plant, immediate action is needed to save the plant.
Remove spider mites from pothos plants with a mild pesticide solution. Remove mealybugs by hand. Wipe off the residues that mealybugs leave on pothos plant stems with some form of plant-friendly disinfectants like water mixed with vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
Stunted Leaves On Pothos
Lack of sunlight is a common cause of stunting in pothos leaves. If pothos plants don’t receive enough sunlight, their photosynthesis rate decreases, resulting in less sugar and starches for the production and maintenance of large leaves.
Pothos plants also develop small or stunted leaves when they don’t have adequate nutrients. If the plants are receiving enough sunlight but not producing large leaves, they are probably suffering from some kind of nutrient deficiency. In most cases, the plants don’t have enough nitrogen to grow big leaves.
It’s easy to address the problem of pothos plants growing stunted or disproportionately small leaves. If the problem seems to be a lack of sunlight, re-position the plants in a location with brighter light.
Nutrient deficiencies can be remedied by applying a low concentration of general-purpose fertilizer that contains nitrogen.
Root-Bound Pothos Not Growing
Pothos plants won’t grow properly if they’re in containers that are too small and become root-bound. The plants can’t produce new stems and leaves if their roots haven’t got space to grow.
Root-bound pothos also stops growing because the roots become stressed, unhealthy, and susceptible to disease.
The easiest way to tell if a pothos plant is root-bound is if the roots are growing out of the drainage holes of the container. If you can see the roots poking out the bottom of the container, it’s time to transplant the pothos plant into a larger container.
To tell if your pothos plant is not growing because it is root-bound, observe the overall size and shape of the plant compared to the size of the container.
If the slow-growing pothos plant looks too top-heavy (more double or triple the height and width of the container), then it probably needs to be re-potted.
If possible, remove the pothos plant from its container to observe the roots. It is easy to confirm if the plants are root bound if the roots appear brown and withered, and when the roots are circling the container as if they’re looking for somewhere to go.
To restore vigorous growth in a root-bound pothos plant, prune the roots before re-potting the plant in the same container.
Alternatively, the plants can be re-potted into a larger container, which will provide more growing media to support the plant and give its roots space to grow.
When re-potting a root-bound pothos plant, ensure to disinfect the new container. To avoid over-watering problems, do not re-pot the plant into a container that is much larger than the original container. Containers should be one or two inches wider than the previous container.
What To Do If Your Pothos Is Not Growing
If your pothos plant is growing slowly there is no reason to panic. Pothos plants are resilient and respond well to appropriate interventions. Here is a quick overview of what to do if the growth of your pothos is slow or stunted.
Identify The Cause Of The Problem
The first step is to determine why your pothos plant is not growing. Check the time of year to rule out the possibility that the plants are in their dormant state. If it is the middle of the summer growing season, you need to consider other possible causes for the poor growth of your pothos plant.
If your pothos plant isn’t dormant, it might not be producing new growth because of the environmental and soil conditions that the plant is exposed to. The following factors should be considered:
- soil moisture levels,
- nutrient levels,
- light exposure,
- presence of insect pests
- container size.
Take Appropriate Action
When the soil is overly dry or moist from incorrect watering practices, reduce or increase the frequency of watering accordingly. Observe the results to see if the plant starts growing with more vigor.
If the plant has a deficiency of nutrients, amend the soil with compost, or add a small amount of dry or liquid fertilizer. Re-potting the plant with amended soil will also replenish your pothos’ nutrient supply. Wait to see how the plant responds before re-applying fertilizer.
If the plants are getting too much or too little light, reposition them in a location with optimal light levels. Observe whether the plant starts growing well again after a few weeks, and re-locate it if necessary.
If the container is too small for your pothos plant and it’s becoming root bound, re-pot it into a larger container following the guidance provided earlier.
If the temperature is excessively hot or cold, reposition the plant in a location that is between 65F and 75F. In extreme cases, artificial heating or cooling (or containers filled with hot or cold water) might be necessary to help the pothos plant to maintain a healthy growth rate.
If you confirm the presence of insect pests on your pothos plant, remove them by hand if possible, or with a mild organic pesticide. Make sure to remove the insect eggs, larvae, and other residues.
Monitor your pothos plant for the next week to ensure the insects are successfully eradicated.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pothos
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about growing pothos plants.
How Do You Propagate Pothos?
Pothos plants are easy to propagate from stem cuttings. The cuttings can be dipped in a rooting solution and placed directly into the soil.
Alternatively, you can put the cuttings in water until roots start developing and plant them in the soil.
How Do You Make Pothos Leaves Bigger?
Pothos plants produce small leaves when they don’t receive enough sunlight, so you can encourage the plants to grow larger leaves by placing them in a location that receives brighter light.
Pothos also grow small leaves when they don’t have enough nutrients. If your pothos plant appears to be nutrient-deficient, add compost or a general-purpose fertilizer to the plant. Your pothos plant should start producing larger leaves within the next few weeks.
Is Pothos Toxic?
Pothos is mildly toxic to humans and pets when consumed. The sap of pothos plants contains calcium oxalate which can irritate the esophagus and stomach. Calcium oxalate also causes skin rashes when touched.
However, this compound is only in the sap so you can handle the pothos plants safely.
Though pothos is typically grown for ornamental purposes and is mildly toxic, the plants have a surprising number of medical benefits and have been used as a traditional medicine in Indonesia for treating conditions such as rheumatism and dysentery.