University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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EASY HOUSEPLANTS—POTHOS

Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), sometimes called Devil’s Ivy, is one of the easiest and lowest maintenance houseplants to grow.  It tolerates a range of conditions, except for very cold or full sun.  It grows in bright indirect light, as well as in low light; in cool and warm; and in dry soils to containers of water.  It thrives in fertile soils, yet still grows in nutrient-starved soils. 

If you have children, cats, or dogs that chew on plants, be aware that pothos can cause sickness if ingested, although it is rarely fatal.  Its sap contains calcium oxalates which case irritation, burning and vomiting—hence not much is usually eaten. 

This vining plant is native to tropical jungles, where it can grow to 40 feet or more.  Its native range includes the south Pacific, China, Japan and India.  Indoors, grown in pots, it usually grows five to 10 feet long.  As it grows, the oldest leaves nearest the pot may yellow and fall off.  If the plant gets too leggy and straggly, you may need to root cuttings to pot and start new plants.  Keeping it pruned as it grows will help it to retain a less-vining habit.

Cuttings are simple—just take six to 12 inches of stem, removing lower leaves, and put stem bases in a jar of water.  In a few weeks you should see roots forming.  When they get an inch or two long you can pot the plants into a houseplant (not garden) soil.  Or, you can leave them in the jar of water, replacing with fresh water every couple of weeks.  Cuttings stuck into a pot of damp soil (or perlite or vermiculite, or a mix of these) should form roots, too.

Since it is vining, it will seek its way across furniture, up and over most any structure indoors but won’t cling to trellises—twining instead.  The plant habit also lends itself to the popular use in hanging baskets.  The pointed, heart-shaped leaves are two to four inches long, and about half that in width.  While the species has green leaves, most the cultivars (cultivated varieties) you’ll see or find for sale have colored leaves.  In low light, however, colored leaves may become mostly green.

The main cultivars include ‘Marble Queen’ with white variegated leaves and slow growth, while ‘Glacier’ has smaller green leaves marbled with white.  ‘Tricolor’ is less common, and has yellow, cream, and pale green leaves.  ‘Golden’ has quite yellowish green leaves and is probably the most common cultivar. 

Perhaps the main problem with this plant is keeping it from taking over, or getting too long and leggy.  You should keep a watch every couple of weeks for white mealybugs. 

If the plant quickly wilts, yet the soil is moist, perhaps it is too wet and root rots are starting.  While the plant will form roots and survive in pure water, the plants don’t like to stay wet when they’re potted.  Make sure containers or pots have holes to drain excess water from the soil, and that pots aren’t sitting in water in saucers. 

Don’t forget when watering and plants are actively growing to add a low dose of fertilizer, according to label directions.  Normally rich green leaves turning lighter may indicate that more fertilizer is needed, especially if the plant is adding lots of new growth.  A sudden pale color to leaves when plants are moved may indicate they’re now getting too much light.

If you’re a busy person, one with a “black thumb”, or who forgets to water plants, consider growing pothos.  They’re great choices for bathrooms, offices (a perfect “file cabinet” plant), or dorm rooms.  Plus, they’re a “clean air plant” that may help purify indoor air of toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde or carbon monoxide.

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