Pothos, some people call it “Devil’s Ivy”, is the quintessential houseplant. My aunt was the gardener of our family and filled our houses with plants. I remember her taking cuttings from her pothos and growing new plants in vases of water – roots snaking around the bottoms in a tangle, green variegated leaves spilling down the lip of the vase. I remember having pothos growing in a vase in my college rental house – a gift from her when she knew full well I was likely to neglect it. The Pothos I have today was originally a plant she gave me and had tried to train on her version of a trellis – an upside down wire hanger stuck into the pot.
I didn’t always care for my houseplants the way I do now. Despite the neglect I gave this plant in the past, it has survived – a testament to its hardiness. If you have a black thumb or are new to houseplants and want an easy win, a pothos is a great choice.
With a little (very little) effort my pothos has gone beyond surviving to thriving and I’ve even propagated cuttings and started new pothos plants. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to help this house plant live its best life.
Basically, if you manage to get some light on it, some water in it, and it’s sitting in water or dirt, your pothos is probably going to live! But here are some ways to make your pothos happy.
Soil requirements – is soil a requirement?
Like my aunt did so long ago, you too can grow pothos in water or soil. If you do grow your pothos in soil, any well-draining variety will do. Picking up a bag of potting soil from the local hardware store or ordering it on online would be fine. No need for a special trip here.
If you’re growing a pothos in water you will want to change the water every few weeks. I, personally don’t like the look of the roots in a clear vase so I would prefer a colored vase for this. The water can discolor, and the vase can grow algae, so you may also need to remove the plant on occasion to clean out the vase.
Whether in soil or water, I fertilize my Pothos every few months with a houseplant fertilizer.
My pothos likes to dry out between waterings. I know it’s ready for another watering if I stick my finger in the soil up to my first knuckle the soil feels dry. Maybe you’re fancy and you got yourself a water meter, but for my purposes, I just water when the soil feels dry and sometimes even a few days after it feels dry. I never let it sit in water and empty out the saucer it sits in if water has collected. My pothos will tell me when it’s thirsty – the plant will look droopy and sad. Overwatering can lead to root rot like any other plant.
Pothos can tolerate all kinds of lighting situations! I had mine in a rather dark corner of our house for years and it did just fine. I recently moved it across the room to a brighter spot and it has gone from doing fine to killing it. Thriving, even. I’ve read that you just want to avoid too much direct sunlight on a pothos because it could cause scorch on the leaves.
Also if you have your pothos in a darker area of your house and it has variegated leaves, the leaves could start to go all-green. This happened to mine and once I moved it, some of the leaves now have variegation coming back.
Pothos are also happy in artificial light, making it a nice choice for an office plant.
A note on toxicity – Pothos are poisonous to humans and pets. We are lucky that neither our children or our dog have ever tried to ingest our pothos. Keep this in mind if you have more a precocious pet in your home that may try to eat the leaves.
It’s got legs: pruning and vines
Have you seen the pothos plant trailing vines draped across a wall, hanging off of a tall book case, or trained on a trellis? Some people like to decorate with Pothos in this way. Their vines will trail for many feet if left alone.
I find that letting your pothos do this can leave the rest of the plant sparse and straggly, however. Pruning your pothos or pinching it back allows for new grown to emerge. This can get you a bushier plant in the pot. You can also clip long vines and propagate clippings in water. Then plant them back into the same pot to fill it out.
Pothos Problems – Is it supposed to turn yellow?
A pothos plant’s leaves may turn yellow for a few reasons. I’ve had a few leaves turn yellow and the rest of the plant was healthy. This was probably just an older leaf dying off. This is a natural occurrence for a pothos. If a lot of the leaves are turning yellow it is probably a sign of a watering issue. Water too much and you get root rot – this is where the roots turn brown and literally rot from too much water. Yellow leaves though could also be a sign of under watering. More leaves die off when there’s not enough water to go around. Confusing right? You probably know if you’ve been regularly watering the plant and letting it dry out between waterings or if you’ve gotten a little too overzealous and watered too often. If you’re really curious you can take the plant out of the pot and look at the roots. You may find that the roots are brown and rotten.
Propagating the Pothos
Want to turn that houseplant you got for free into more free plants? Pothos is so easy to proagate! Clip off a healthy section of vine – i’ve had luck with the parts that have a nodule on them – and stick it in water. Put the cutting in a bright spot and change the water every few days. Before long, roots will start to develop on the cutting.
In my experience if you plan to pot the cutting in soil it is good to first make a slurry of dirt and water and dip the new roots in the slurry before you plant it in the soil. This may be more superstitious than scientific, but it has worked for me.
I have not had luck directly propagating pothos into soil, though I’ve read it is possible. When I’ve done this, the cutting rooted into the soil, but the leaves on the cutting drooped and never recovered.
I like to root a few clippings at a time so that when I replant them there’s a few to fill up the pot. One pothos in a pot is kind of lonely looking.