A GUIDE TO GROWING POTHOSThe lush foliage of this carefree houseplant adds instant beauty to your home or office
Golden pothos. Photo by: Myimagine / Shutterstock
One of the easiest houseplants to grow, pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is often overlooked in favor of showier plants such as orchids. Though lacking blooms, this tropical vine—similar to philodendron—comes in an array of foliage colors and patterns that appeal to a wide range of tastes and decors. Nearly foolproof even for the beginning houseplant gardener, pothos is forgiving of neglect, virtually pest- and disease-free, and tolerant of low light, making it a good choice for darker rooms and offices.
Native to western Pacific Islands, pothos is known by an array of common names including devil’s vine, Ceylon creeper, taro vine, ivy arum, silver vine, and Solomon Islands ivy. The long stems trail or climb by aerial roots that adhere to surfaces, making this a versatile choice for hanging baskets, plant stands, and bookshelves. Best of all, pothos is one of the top houseplants for improving indoor air quality, making home and office environments cleaner.
Native to tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Western Pacific islands.
USDA Zones 10-12. Plants can be grown outdoors in frost-free regions of Florida and California.
Bright indirect light is ideal, but plants are tolerant of low light and fluorescent lighting. Avoid direct sunlight, which can burn or discolor foliage.
Slow to fast depending on variety. More variegation in the leaves tends to slow growth.
Shiny leaves are 4-12 inches long, heart- or lance-shaped, in colors of green, chartreuse, blue, or variegated patterns.
Small, white, hooded flowers are insignificant, occurring on mature plants in their native habitat. Plants will not flower in the average home environment.
Habit and size:
Vining, trailing habit, 6-10 feet long; can grow as long as 30-50 feet in their native habitat.
All parts of the plant are mildly to moderately poisonous if ingested by pets or children. The active toxic ingredient is calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause mouth irritation and vomiting. Ingestion is rarely fatal. Contact your local poison control center, physician or veterinarian if necessary. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.
Pothos is related to common garden plants in the arum family (Araceae) such as anthurium, caladium, and calla lily. The foliage can look nearly identical to heart-leaf philodendron, also in the arum family. Pothos has thicker, more textural leaves, while those of philodendron tend to be darker, smoother and less likely to be variegated. The leaf stem of pothos has a slight groove, while those of philodendron are smooth. Philodendron foliage is distinctly heart shaped, while pothos leaves can be asymmetrical. Since both enjoy similar growing conditions, misidentification should not compromise plant health.
Where to grow:
Site near a window that receives bright indirect light and avoid cold drafts.
Temperature and humidity:
Plants should be kept at temperatures above 50 degrees F, with ideal temperature range between 60-80 degrees F. Pothos prefers high humidity similar to its native habitat, but is tolerant of average or dry air. Plants will benefit from supplemental air moisture such as misting or a room humidifier during winter when indoor air is drier.
Grow in a high quality, well-draining potting soil. Pothos prefers a slightly acidic pH of 6.1 to 6.5, but is tolerant of values slightly above or below.
Plant in a container 1-2 inches wider than the root ball with adequate drainage holes.
Pothos is easily propagated through stem cuttings. Cut stems 6 inches long just below a leaf node and place in water. Roots will develop over a month or two. Change water every 2-3 weeks. Plant well-rooted cuttings in fresh potting soil. Grow multiple stems in the same pot for the lushest growth. Plants can also be propagated through divisions. Gently cut the root ball into sections and repot in fresh soil, leaving 1-2 inches of space around the root ball.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings; overwatering can cause root rot. Discard excess water from the saucer underneath the pot so that plants are not sitting in water.
Pothos are light feeders. Apply a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer every 1-3 months to keep plants looking healthy.
Plants can be kept more compact or allowed to sprawl. Trim back long runners to keep plants full and bushy. Bare stems can be cut back to soil level to encourage new branches to sprout. For a vining habit, allow plants to grow naturally.
Wipe leaves with a damp cloth every few weeks to keep foliage looking fresh.
If plants become droopy no matter how much they’re watered, this can be a sign of being rootbound. Remove the plant from its container; if roots appear crowded and are circling tightly, then it’s time to repot. Place in a new container 1-2 inches wider in fresh potting soil.
Pothos have few insect or disease problems. Here are some things to look for:
- If older leaves are brown or yellow while new growth looks fine, this can be an indication of underwatering. Trim back affected stems to the base of the plant to encourage new growth and increase watering.
- Loss of foliage color is likely due to low light. Move to a brighter location.
- Pale or brown leaves may be a sign that plants are getting too much light. Move to a location with less light.
- Blackened leaves or stems, or sudden plant collapse can be a sign of overwatering and root rot. Cut off affected branches. Allow soil to completely dry out and new roots to develop. In severe cases, plants may not recover.
- Shriveled, yellow, wilted or brown edges on leaves can be a sign of underwatering. Increase watering as needed.
- Blackened leaves and little or no growth can result from cold temperatures. Move plants to a warmer location and trim off affected growth. The roots should be fine and push out new growth.
- Pests can include mealy bugs or scale. Wipe affected areas with a swab or cotton ball dipped in 70% rubbing alcohol, or apply insecticidal soap. If soil stays too wet over a period of time, it may attract fungus gnats. Allow soil to dry out between waterings to deter gnats.
Size: Trails 5 to 10 feet, up to 2 feet wide
Color: Foliage is medium-dark green with irregular creamy gold splotches.
The most common variety and easiest to grow, the heart-shaped leaves closely resemble philodendron. Place in medium indirect light to retain best color. May be somewhat invasive if grown outdoors in warmer regions such as southern Florida.
Size: Trails 3 to 10 feet, up to 2 feet wide
Color: Foliage is white with irregular yellow-green and blue-green splotches
This beautifully variegated form is slower growing due to a lack of chlorophyll because of the mostly-white coloring. Place in brighter light to encourage more vigorous growth. Leaves are highly variable, depending on the branch taken from the mother plant.
Size: Trails 6 to 10 feet, can grow longer
Color: Foliage is chartreuse
Named for the brightly colored leaves which are distinctly heart-shaped, ‘Neon’ can be used to brighten a dark space. Leaf color is best in medium indirect light. If the light source is too dim, foliage will fade to green. New growth tends to be brighter.
Size: Trails 6 to 10 feet, can grow longer
Color: Foliage is white with splotches of cream, silver, yellow-green and blue-green
A cross between ‘Marble Queen’ and ‘N’Joy’, the heart-shaped leaves are wider than other varieties, with wavy edges that won’t lay flat. Leaves are highly variable. Because there is less chlorophyll in the leaves due to the mostly-white coloring, growth is slower. Place in brighter light to increase growth rate.
- Pothos can be kept compact and bushy, or allowed to develop a trailing habit. How best to display your pothos depends on how it is trained.
- Grow a trailing plant in a hanging basket and allow the foliage to cascade for an elegant display. Place in a bedroom, living room or office to enjoy the benefits of air purification.
- Train a vining form up a vertical support such as driftwood, bark, a small trellis or pole for a natural rain forest effect.
- Allow a vining form to sprawl horizontally along a table top, mantelpiece or bookshelf for a softening, living touch.
- Long runners can be trained along a wall or window frame, the branches secured with small cup hooks. This can give the appearance of integrating the indoors with nature.
- Feature a bushy type in a decorative pot as a living accent on a coffee table, end table, office desk or plant stand. Use a slower growing variegated form to reduce the need for pruning.
- Place a trailing or bushy form on a shelf or hanger in a bathroom where it will thrive on the increased humidity and warmth from showers and baths.
- Display a green or slightly variegated form that needs less light on your office desk to lift your mood during the work day.
- Plant a green variety that tolerates low light in a brightly colored decorative pot. Place in a dull, drab corner of the house to liven up the space.