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6 All Too Common Causes for Pothos Leaves Drooping

6 All Too Common Causes for Pothos Leaves Drooping
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Do you feel like you’ve made your pothos a victim instead of a lush and prominent houseplant? Don’t worry!

Pothos are hardy to such an extent that they seem to thrive on neglect. Droopy pothos leaves are only a sign that something is not right with their growing conditions.

The fixes are easy, but it should be done promptly. That’s because the reason for the leaves on pothos flopping is because they lack nutrients. Don’t delay in identifying the reasons for the drooping leaves.

Why Is My Pothos Droopy?

1 – Adding Too Much or Not Enough Water

There is no set frequency you can use as a watering schedule for pothos plants. It is entirely dependent on the plants growing climate.

Multiple factors affect when pothos should be watered. All of those are covered in our Pothos Watering Guide, which is worth a read if you feel you aren’t quite sure when your pothos ought to be watered.

The general consensus is to water pothos only when the top two-inches of soil or potting mix is dry to the touch. Never water moist soil.

Factors that contribute to the watering frequency of pothos are heat, humidity, sunlight, the type of soil, and any fertilizer that you are adding to the mix. All will impact the amount of water your pothos plant consumes, as will potting a pothos in a container without a drainage hole.

Likewise, even with a drainage hole, a root bound plant will block those holes, causing the soil to take longer to dry out between watering.

The resulting effect of overwatering a pothos is, surprisingly, underwatering, simply because too much water suffocates the roots. When oxygen is depleted in the soil because of compaction, the plant displays symptoms of underwatering.

At that stage, pothos leaves droop because they cannot get the nourishment they need when sitting in compacted soil. The worst part is that the moist soil will contribute to fungal and bacterial infections, which can lead to root rot in plants.

Adequate watering for a pothos plant requires the right potting medium to be used, and that is one that offers optimal drainage.

Pothos plants are hardy to an extent. When they lack water, the leaves droop. Leave them long enough to become severely dehydrated, and you’ll notice your pothos dropping leaves.

When you overwater, the plant takes on a sicklier appearance with yellowing leaves on pothos, possibly browning, and runs the risk of rot development at the roots. The short lesson is that dehydrating a pothos is far less risky than drowning it.

2 – Lacking the Humidity that Tropical Plants Need

If you weren’t aware, pothos plants are tropical and those have specific requirements that regular houseplants rarely require.

One of particular importance is the humidity levels around the plant.

It has been said before that pothos are hardy plants and that is true for the humidity levels they can tolerate. That can be as low as 40% relative humidity. The plant will survive in those conditions, but it will not thrive.

If most of the leaves on your pothos is drooping, it is likely to be related to the relative humidity in the room, rather than watering, which reveals the symptoms of problems on the lower leaves first. Low humidity effects all of the leaves.

Pothos plants do much better indoors when humidity is 60% and higher. It is a challenge, no doubt. Not impossible though.

As tropical houseplants, there are methods you can use to raise the humidity enough, only around the plant, without drastically increasing your room humidity.

When you fix the humidity levels, you can expect the plant to grow faster, and put out bigger leaves. Warm temperatures and high humidity are what’s needed to make pothos leaves bigger. The bigger the leaves, the more self-sufficient the plant becomes because of transpiration.

There are three ways often used to raise humidity for tropical plants. Those are to use a humidity tray beneath the plant pot, group tropical plants together, or use a plant humidifier (not a room humidifier).

There are three types of plant humidifiers: warm mist humidifiers, ultrasonic humidifiers, and evaporative humidifiers. They vaporize water creating a fine mist around plants, rather than raising the humidity of your entire room.

What not to rely on is manual misting. That is, putting water in a spray bottle, and pulling the trigger to mist the plant. All that does is wet the leaves. The humidity needs to be high consistently. Manual misting only raises humidity for minutes at a time.

3 – The Pothos Plant Is Exposed to Full Sun – Diffuse the Light

Light is food for plants. The leaves on pothos plants are like solar panels, soaking up the energy from sunlight to convert through photosynthesis into food, which is how these plants survive.

Light quality for pothos plants requires getting the color spectrum correct. Full sun indoors is equivalent to direct sunlight, and that is bad for a pothos because the natural habitat of these is under the canopy of trees in a tropical rainforest.

To mimic those conditions indoors, dappled or diffused sunlight is what pothos need. And it ought to be from sunlight rather than grow lights because even full spectrum grow lights do not contain the same amounts of invisible light (UV), which is another source of energy for plants.

They need absorbable light that they can use for photosynthesis. Without being able to convert light into molecules to create sugars for nourishment, the leaves will definitely droop, wilt, and become discolored.

To achieve diffused lighting appropriate to a pothos plant’s energy requirements, pothos need to be close to direct sunlight with something between the leaves and the light source to diffuse it.

It cannot be direct sunlight because that will burn the leaves. Tropical houseplants that are sun worshippers can be as close as two to three feet from a sunny window with absolutely nothing diffusing the light between the sunlight and the leaves. Pothos, being medium light plants, need to have something filtering the sunlight.

A sheer curtain, or a window film are ideal for diffusing sunlight on windows. Keep in mind that both are available in different thicknesses. The thinner the barrier, the more sunlight will get through.

For extremely thin window coverings, you may still need to put a further distance between the window and the leaves. Particularly if your window is southern-facing.

Do a Shadow Test to Know the Light Intensity Your Plant Is Getting

The shadow test is a method used to identify whether a light source is low, medium, or bright for houseplants.

At around midday when the sun is at its brightest, place a sheet of paper on the spot where your plant will be placed. Hold your hand about 1-foot above the paper. The shade of the shadow indicates the light intensity.

The darker the shadow, the more direct sunlight is coming through. A medium light should be a gray shade of shadow. You will still be able to see your fingers in the shadow when you move them. In low light conditions, the shadow of your fingers look smudged together.

For a medium light source, aim to get a gray shadow of your hand, 1-foot above a sheet of paper, and still be able to recognize the shape of your fingers when spaced apart.

Failing that, you can lean on technology. Light intensity meters take the guesswork out of the equation. A cheaper alternative would be to install a light meter app on your smartphone to give a generalization of the light intensity your plant receives.

4 – Thermal Stress

Thermal stress is more common on any tropical plant (not just pothos) when temperatures drop below 50oF (10oC). In cold temperatures, moisture absorption in the soil slows resulting in the soil being too moist for too long.

In the winter, when pothos are exposed to cold temperatures, the leaves droop because the soil is moist, not because of a cold snap.

Indoors, it is highly unlikely your houseplants will be exposed to cold temperatures so drastic they’d lead to frostbite. That happens on outdoor plants. Indoors, the main risk of thermal stress comes from hot and cold drafts caused by improper pot placement.

Common Sources of Cold Drafts Include:

  • Near an outside doorway, be it front, back, porch, or worse, a frequently used patio door
  • A drafty window
  • Vents
  • Close to an AC unit

On the other end of the draft problem are hot drafts. Blasts of cold or hot drafts are not good for pothos because they need their growing conditions to be stable, consistently.

Common Sources of Hot Drafts Include:

  • Near a fire
  • Heater / radiator
  • Electrical appliances

Thermal stress is more common with pothos in the winter months, so if your pothos leaves are suddenly drooping in the winter, consider sources of cold drafts that could be hindering its chances of survival.

Consistency is key with pothos!

5 – A Root Bound / Pot Bound Pothos Will Lack Nutrients

There will come a point in every pothos lifespan when it outgrows its container.

Just like kids outgrow their clothes, little baby plants outgrow their pots. When that happens, they can no longer grow. They need a bigger container.

Until the plant is transplanted in a container large enough to cater to its nourishment needs, the roots will lack the nutrients the plant needs. As a result, the plant looks limp, sad, and lifeless. It’ll eventually look as if it’s at death’s door.

Without proper nourishment, pothos leaves droop because the soil cannot hold the amount of water and nutrients that a pothos plant necessitates.

Provided your pothos is receiving the right care, these plants generally need to be repotted every two to three years. That is not a hard and fast rule though because pothos growth rate differs by species.

Pothos Ivy (Devils Ivy) is one of the more common varieties that can grow as much as 10 feet long. Never will you reach that length without repotting your pothos plant.

Considering some pothos can grow as much as foot in a month, what you have to consider (as a compassionate plant parent), is that there’s also growth happening all the time beneath the soil line.

To ensure there is always room for roots to grow in the container, it is ideal to keep the root ball planted in a pot that has at least 2-inches of leeway from the sides of the pot.

Depending on the variety of pothos you have, repotting may need to be as frequent as annually, rather than every two to three years.

If all else looks fine on the plant, look beneath the soil to see the state of the roots. When they are root bound, they encircle the pot. You’ll uncover a tangled mess. That’s when it’s time to tidy and repot in a suitably sized container.

The size of container pothos are grown in is frequently overlooked. Instead of searching for the steps to repot a pothos, people look up instructions for how to make a pothos fuller without considering if it even can be done within the pot the plant’s currently in.

Pothos can’t become fuller without the roots becoming bigger, and they can’t do that when space is restricted. Two birds, one stone. Repot for a fuller plant, and it’ll look much healthier too. Because it will be!


6 – Repotting Does Stress Pothos Plants

It is common knowledge that pothos thrive on neglect. What is not common knowledge is the delicacy of the roots.

The less frequently these plants are repotted, the more the roots encircle the pot, and they get used to that.

What happens when repotting these is the roots are rinsed, some trimmed to clean it up, but then when it is repotted, the smaller roots are expected to support the same plant mass. Damage is to be expected.

Some leaves will droop, some wilt, some curl, while other leaves on pothos turn yellow or brown even, which are a symptom of both over and under watering. Without acknowledging the possibility of transplant shock, watering more or less are both errors in judgment that can kill a pothos.

When repotting, root damage is to be expected. All you can do is minimize it. The worst you can do is over care for it after repotting.

After repotting, expect your pothos to look sickly for a small period of time. Once the roots begin to settle in the new growing conditions (bigger space), it bounces back.

If there’s ever a good time to neglect a pothos, it is right after repotting. Leave it be. Only water to keep the soil barely moist after you repot it in a bigger container.