The internet is awash with perfectly-filtered snapshots of beautiful living spaces: bright living plans with handmade pottery, a conveniently placed coffee cup, and the swiss cheese leaves of a Monstera deliciosa hanging over the couch.
It’s tempting to rush out to the nearest nursery or home improvement store and buy up all of the fiddle leaf figs they have in stock—but if you’ve never had much luck with houseplants, what’s the point?
But, what if there is a houseplant that’s equally as gorgeous with none of the tricky care and maintenance?
For all of you novice gardeners (or notorious plant murderers), there’s a plant that might work for you: the pothos.
What is a pothos plant?
If you’re unsure about whether you know this plant, you might know it by one of its many other names, like the golden pothos, money plant, devil’s ivy, or hunter’s rove.
The neon pothos, or Epipremnum aureum Neon, is one of many different types of pothos plants.
The plant also has a number of different scientific names (all of which are accepted), like:
- Epipremnum aureum
- Epipremnum mooreense
- Pothos aureus
- Rhaphidophora aurea
The pothos plant is native to southeastern Asia, particularly in the parts of Malaysia that are prone to monsoons. A variety of the plant, Epipremnum pinnatum, can also be found in Southeastern Asia as well as New Guinea and northern Queensland in Australia.
There’s speculation that the plant family Aureum may have originated in the Solomon Islands, but there isn’t any record of the plant found growing wild on the islands.
This perennial is a hardy vine that can also be used as ground cover when planted outside and left to roam on its own. If you’re thinking about growing your plant outside, check what zone you live in first. These grow best in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 11, and can be planted year round.
You’re not out of luck if you live outside of these zones! This is also a great indoor plant that can adjust to whatever space it’s in—backyard, hallway, you name it.
So, what does it look like?
Pothos plants don’t just go by many names, but there are also lots of different varieties. They can vary in color (from neon yellow to a white and green blend), but are all a trailing vine that can grow up to 40 feet long. Well, 40 feet long in its natural habitat.
When looking for a pothos, you’ll want to be careful with confusing it with the philodendron plant, which is a common mistake. They look almost indistinguishable, so they can be hard to tell apart.
This is because they’re both in the same family, Araceae, but are under different genera within the family. Philodendron plants are usually under the Scindapsus genus, while pothos are under Epipremnum, Pothos, or Rhaphidophora. There tends to be a lot of overlap with all of these genera, but this is where you’ll typically find these plants organized.
An easy way to tell these two apart is by their vines. Pothos plants have thicker vines, while philodendron vines are thinner.
Philodendron plants are also famous for their heart-shaped leaves, while pothos plants tend to have leaves that are more narrow.
The philodendron’s leaves also tend to be wider and more symmetrical, as you can see here.
Another way to tell the difference between these plants is by their growth habit, or the way new leaves grow on their vines. A new philodendron leaf will grow out of a cataphyll, or a small sheath. A new pothos leaf will simply start unfurling from the vine without a sheath.
But back to pothos! Under the Epipremnum family alone, the plant takes on a number of different looks. Some of these include:
Why does a pothos make for a good houseplant?
As mentioned earlier, this plant is my personal favorite for beginners who are trying to add some green to their homes.
This plant is incredibly hardy; I can go for weeks (whoops) without watering my pothos, but it’s still waiting patiently for me to give it a drink so it can start bouncing back. No previous experience is needed here.
They’ll also adjust to your space, so you won’t have to pass on these plants because of your living situation. Since they’re a vine, they’ll grow however big or small, long or short you’d like as long as you prune them to your liking.
You can also choose to keep them in smaller containers over bigger ones if your apartment is lacking in space, without the risk of killing your plant.
As an added bonus, these don’t just look beautiful in your home, but they’re also well-known for cleaning the air in whatever space they’re in. Since they remove some common pollutants that can be found indoors, like formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene, they’re my ideal addition to any space that my family and I spend lots of time in.
I like to home my plants in spaces where I could use some crisper, cleaner air. Your home office or desk is a great spot for these perennials to clear the air. “Pots on the wall” by normanack / CC BY 2.0
It’s important to note that the plant is poisonous to ingest due to the calcium oxalates it contains, so keep this in mind when it comes to your younger kids and pets. As long as they’re out of reach to both, there shouldn’t be any issues.
How to care for your Pothos
Before you start taking care of your new plant baby, you should get to know some of its likes and dislikes first. While these perennials aren’t too picky, you’ll still want to know what it needs to live a long and healthy life. For your plant, it’s important to know about:
The good news is that it’s all pretty easy.
The pothos plant prefers bright but indirect light, meaning that you should put the plant in a room that gets a lot of light. Try to avoid placing it directly in front of a window that gets direct exposure from the sun, as this could start burning your plant’s leaves. (You’ll know if this is happening if your leaves start turning brown and crispy.)
Even though this is the lighting the plant does best in, it will also do fine in low light or more dimly-lit areas.
If you decide to put your plant in a darker part of your home, the colors may be affected. With the variegated varieties of the plant in particular, like the golden pothos, the lack of light will cause it to lose the complexity of their variegation. The color for the solid types won’t be as bright either.
One of my younger plants, a golden pothos, sits in some overcast light from a nearby window. You can see some of the variegation in the leaves, which this plant is famous for.
Still unsure if your plant is getting too little or too much light? Here’s a hint: if the colors on the leaves are paler, this means your plant is getting too much light. If it loses its variegation, the plant is getting too little light.
If you’re living in a warmer area that tends to skip over the winter season, you can also grow your plant outside in shade to partial shade.
You can let your plant grow in a container outdoors even if you are further up north, but make sure to maintain its size so it doesn’t get too overgrown since you’ll have to bring it indoors for the colder season. Moving the plant inside when the temperature drops may give your plant a bit of shock at first, but it should adjust after some time and do fine.
When it comes to watering your plant, I find that less is more. Don’t be afraid to let your pothos dry out in between waterings. This is typically what I do for most, if not all, of my plants, and my pothos babies have been fluffy and thriving!
This neon pothos is ripe—it’s time to propagate some of the longer vines!
In my experience, testing out what your plant actually wants works best, instead of sticking to a one-size-fits-all watering schedule that could end up being overkill.
To follow this method, you’ll want to test the feel of the soil before deciding whether to water it. This is pretty easy to do: just stick your finger into the soil. You want to make sure that you’re getting at least one full digit into the dirt so that you’re reaching past the surface.
If the soil feels moist, or there is some soil sticking to your finger, then you don’t need to water your plant.
If it’s been about a week or so since you’ve watered the plant, you should keep checking on the plant for the next few days to make sure that you’re not letting too much time pass between waterings. If it’s still significantly moist—the soil is dark, wet, and sticking to your finger—then you might want to check out whether the pot has good drainage. This is essential, as pothos plants without good drainage are susceptible to root rot.
But, if your soil feels dry and there is no soil sticking to your finger, it’s time to water!
If you aren’t the get-your-hands-dirty type, you can also eyeball the plant to figure out when you need to water it. Once the leaves start to droop a little, your plant is telling you it’s thirsty. This is your cue to start watering.
Just make sure that you aren’t waiting too long after the leaves get a little droopy, or you may reach the point of no return and end up hurting your plant if it does stay alive.
Now, the amount of water you give your plant depends on the size of your pothos. For a smaller plant, meaning that each vine has just a few leaves on it or less, I tend to give about a 1/2-3/4 cup of water. For my larger and older pothos children, I typically do about 1 1/2-2 cups of water, depending on how long it’s been since I’ve watered them.
A trick here is to make sure that the plant is draining once or twice through. This means that water is saturating all of the soil and dripping out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the container. I do this at least twice.
Once you’ve finished watering, keep the plant elevated for at least a few minutes so that it’s not sitting in water. This way, you’ll avoid root rot.
It can be a little unnerving to get used to watering your plants at first, especially if you’re just getting started. If you’re unsure if the water you’re giving your plant is right, there are some warning signs to look out for:
- Black spots on the leaves of your plant: this could mean that you’re watering too much or too frequently. It could also mean that your plant is sitting in water, which could be due to poor drainage. Black spots are usually a sign of root rot, so you’ll want to address this quickly.
- Dry, brown edges on the leaves: this could be happening because the plant is not being watered enough or is being left in between waterings for too long.
The pothos can withstand a few different types of soil, including slightly alkaline or acidic soil, clay, sand, and even loam.
Because it’s so hardy, any well-draining potting soil you can get from the store should be perfectly fine.
When it comes to fertilizer, the plant doesn’t need to be fed too often. I haven’t used any fertilizer with my plants, and they’ve all grown well (and beyond).
If you would like to use fertilizer for your plants, any generic houseplant fertilizer should work. You should feed your plant once or twice a month for best results.
Since the plant is very resistant, it can do well in very warm and even hot areas. As we talked about earlier, it originally comes from the Southeast Asia region, so it actually thrives in humidity. This means that this is not a plant that needs to avoid the bathroom; if anything, it would love to hang out in a basket near your shower!
However, this plant does have some requests when you’re choosing a spot for it. You do want to keep the plant away from the colder corners of your home, like near any vents, as it tends to dislike a draft.
If you live in a colder climate, you’ll want to either keep your plant as an indoor baby or grow it in a container that can be brought indoors during the winter seasons.
Regardless of where you decide to place your pothos plants, you want to keep it somewhere that is at least 60°F.
Depending on how big (or long) you want your plant to grow, pruning your plant is something that can help maintain its size and length as well as its overall health.
If there’s a particular vine that has grown bare, cut the stem as close to its origin as you can without cutting any other stem or root. This will help to make sure that your plant isn’t spending energy on an empty vine when it could be focusing on growing elsewhere.
You’ll also want to inspect your plant regularly for dead or yellowing leaves, so that the plant isn’t wasting energy on keeping these leaves around. Whenever you spot one of these, go ahead and pluck it off.
I like to create a dedicated space in my home for plant care—that way, the mess doesn’t spread around the house. It’s also a nice way to spend some one-on-one time with your greener friends! “Gardening” by Sergio Santos / CC BY 2.0
Since the plant’s ecosystem is different when indoors, placing your dead leaves back into the soil won’t really fertilize your pothos or compost. If anything, it could attract pests, so it’s best to just toss the leaves to the side.
If you want to keep your pothos short and fluffy, you can do this by cutting the vines back to your desired length. Keep doing this if you don’t want your plant getting too long.
If you prefer a longer vine, simply let your plant do its thing! You can guide the vine by propping it around the furniture you’d like for it to grow around, or using hooks on the wall to lace the vines around entryways (or whatever else you’d like for it to frame!).
In my experience, this is not a plant that needs to be repotted often. The plant seems to take the shape of whatever container it’s in, so death won’t typically knock on the door even if you decide to keep it in the same pot for a year or two.
But, this will stunt its growth. You’ll need to decide whether you want a bigger plant or a smaller plant before you choose the right pot or container for your pothos.
Once you’ve made your choice, the process of repotting is pretty simple. Just (carefully!) take the plant out of its current pot, attempting to keep the root system intact.
From there, transfer the plant to a pot that is at least two sizes bigger than its current container. You can either have an inch or two of potting soil already in the pot before transferring, or pour it in once the plant is already in. Either way, you want to make sure that the roots are covered entirely by soil.
Water accordingly, and you’ve just successfully repotted your pothos baby. Or rather, your teen.
How to propagate your Pothos
Once you have an overgrown pothos, meaning your vines are tangling around each other and have a good amount of length to them, you can turn your plant into more plants!
You can propagate it one of two ways: in water, or in soil.
First though, you’ll have to start with cuttings. You need to look for a small brown bump on the vine of your plant, which is called a node. The nodes are where the roots will grow, so make sure the part of the vine that you’re cutting includes nodes, or the plants won’t propagate.
The brown bumps along the vine that you see here are called the nodes. You’ll want to make sure that any cutting you’re trying to propagate includes nodes.
From a main vine on your plant, choose a section that is at least 4 inches along and has at least 4 leaves with nodes along each corresponding leaf. Using scissors or a small blade, cut about a 1/2 inch above the first leaf/node on the vine you’re propagating at a 45 degree angle.
Next, you’ll cut at least a 1/2 inch on either side of each leaf on the vine at a 45 degree angle, creating individual cuttings for each leaf. Make sure that each cutting contains a node and a leaf.
Now you’re ready to grow your cuttings.
To propagate in water, you’ll first need a container of some sort where your clippings can live while their roots grow. This can be a jar, cup, whatever! I would recommend using a jar or glass with a smaller rim so that the clippings don’t fall entirely into the water.
When you’ve chosen an appropriate container for your cuttings, simply fill it with water. You’ll want enough water in the jar to have at least 1-2 nodes on the vines submerged, but don’t fill your container to the brim as this can cause mold to grow on your cuttings. The goal is just to have the nodes submerged, not the entire clipping.
To hold my clippings while they grow, I’ve used a glass tea infuser that I had collecting dust in my cupboard. The opening of the jar is small, so my cuttings don’t fall into the water.
Place your container in a bright spot of your home where they get indirect sun, and wait! The time it takes to root varies, but you can expect at least one month or so before you start to see any real progress in their growth.
Keep an eye on your cuttings throughout the process. You’ll want to change the water at least once a week so that the water doesn’t get mossy.
Once the roots are sturdy and can hold their own against some less careful handling, you’re ready to transfer the plant out of water and into some soil. If you’re more of a numbers person, this is typically when the roots are around 4 inches in length.
Transfer the plant to a pot with well-draining potting soil whenever you’re ready. Cover the roots fully with soil, but avoid packing the soil too tightly around them.
If you’d like, you can also opt to keep your plant in water. Be warned, though: the longer you keep your plant in water, the more difficult it will be for the plant to adjust to soil.
If you’d rather propagate your plant in soil, the process is just as simple.
Fill a pot with well-draining potting soil, or a combination of peat moss and perlite. Then dip the ends of your cuttings into rooting hormone, making sure that you’re covering the nodes.
Place the cutting into the pot and cover with soil. Again, you’ll want to make sure you’re not patting the soil too tightly around the roots.
Terracotta planters, like the one seen above, are my personal favorite for pothos plants. The pots are porous, which lets for air and water to circulate freely. This helps to keep your plants free from root rot. “A Family in the Making” by Julie Jordan Scott / CC BY 2.0
The rules here are all the same. Place the container in bright, indirect light, and try to keep the soil moist without soaking or overwatering.
It’ll take roughly one month for new roots to start growing. But, you could have a late bloomer! The time varies, so don’t worry if a month has passed without much change.
Pothos plants are my plant of choice for thumbs that aren’t very green and more experienced enthusiasts alike. They’re easy to care for, are air purifiers, and can look beautiful trailing down your bookcase.
If you’re thinking about bringing a pothos baby home, you’re more than ready for it! Especially now that you know:
- What a pothos plant is, where it comes from, and its different variations
- Why they’re such house-friendly plants
- How to care for a pothos, including how to water the plant, its preferred lighting and temperature, and other maintenance tips and tricks
- How to propagate your plant in both water and soil
What easy houseplants are your favorite?