Poor Pothos Leaf Growth: Reasons For Stunted Leaves On Pothos

Indoor Potted Potho Plant
stunted growth pothos
(Image credit: Gardening Know How, via Nikki Tilley)

Office workers and others who want a plant in low and artificial light situations can't do better than to purchase a Pothos plant. These tropical plants are native to the Solomon Islands and part of the understory forest. Also called Devil's Ivy, problems with Pothos plants are rare but occasionally include distorted leaf growth. Stunted leaves on Pothos may be related to nutrient deficiencies, low light, or insect infestations. It is important to investigate all possible situations to correct the problem and get this easy-to-grow plant back to health.

Pothos Leaf Growth

The Pothos plant is a notoriously hardy specimen that can thrive even when neglected. Like all plants, however, it requires regular water, sun or artificial light, proper nutrition, and air circulation. Stunted Pothos plants can be suffering from a host of issues, both cultural or pest derived. The most common causes are fairly easy to fix and even a novice gardener can save the plant. Pothos plants have heart-shaped, glossy green or variegated, waxy leaves. Young Pothos leaf growth is slightly different than mature leaves. These juvenile leaves are smooth and several inches (8 cm.) long. Mature leaves can get up to 3 feet (91 cm.) in length and develop into oval or heart shapes, often with holes at the midrib. Most indoor plants do not achieve leaves of that size, but leaves still develop similarly. Foliar problems with Pothos plants are indicated by stunted leaf growth, poor color, and are often wilted. Overall health may be affected and the plant will fail to produce new growth. Adequate light and fertilizer will usually enhance foliar production.

Pothos Problems with Water

Too little water is a common cause of stunted Pothos plants. These tropical plants require filtered light, high humidity, and grow best in temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees F. (21-32 C.). All plant growth is diminished in temperatures above or below those listed. Let plants dry out only in the top 2 inches (5 cm.) of soil before irrigating. If the plant dries out to the roots, growth will retard and the overall health of the plant will suffer, which can trigger disease and pest outbreaks. Excess watering is also common in the list of Pothos problems but does not cause stunting. Instead, you are more likely to end up with root rot. It is important to water heavily and allow water to leach through the soil to prevent buildup of fertilizer, which can diminish plant health. Fertilize only during the growing season and just every other month with a diluted formula.

Insects and Stunted Leaves on Pothos

You might not consider insect pests a culprit, but their feeding activity can cause malformed leaves and leaf drop. Mealybugs and scale are the most common insect Pothos problems. Mealybugs look like small balls of cotton while scale are dark colored bumps on stems and leaves. Their feeding activity reduces plant sap and redirects nutrients from leaves. In high infestations, the leaves will become distorted and stunted. Use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to kill the pests. This may seem tedious but if you check the plant weekly, you will likely only find a couple of the insects, making the plant easier to treat. In high infestations, take the plant outdoors or to the bathtub and rinse off the mealybugs. Use a horticultural oil spray to completely kill all the invaders.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.