Brown Spots on Pothos Leaves: Causes and Treatment

Pothos with an entire brown leaf
Pothos with an entire brown leaf (Source: Imgur)

Pothos makes an excellent plant with waxy, green leaves that effectively purify indoor air, making them one of the most popular houseplant choices.

In fact, it is one of the easiest plants for beginners to grow as it is very forgiving, but what if the leaves begin turning brown and unpleasant out of the blue?

Then, you should know that your Pothos is under duress and needs immediate care.

In general, brown spots on Pothos leaves mainly indicates overwatering and extreme temperature stress. Exposure to direct sunlight, overfeeding, wrong humidity level, and sometimes diseases or Pests may also cause browning or patchy leaves.

Brown spot on Pothos leaf
Brown spot on Pothos leaf (Source: Imgur)

Do not stress out because you can quickly salvage your Pothos and revert the problems.

Read on to find out what factors may cause browning leaves in Pothos and how to overcome them.

Can Excess Brown Spots on Leaves Kill Pothos?

Many beginners wonder whether excessive browning of leaves can kill their Pothos plant.

Too much brown spots on foliage indicate that your plant is dying, but it is not the causative factor.

Browning foliage is relatively common, with every houseplant experiencing a change or aging.

In fact, every Pothos will produce brown leaves to tell that old and decayed foliage should go.

Pothos with an entire brown leaf
Pothos with an entire brown leaf (Source: Imgur)

However, excessive browning of foliage is not normal; it indicates a severe problem with lighting, temperature, soil, or overall care.

Once they turn brown, the dead leaves cannot be revived, but you can restore the rest of your plant’s health with a temporary remedial measure.

Without mitigation, the browning will proliferate to other leaves and gradually overtake the entire plant.

It will snatch the energy and nutrients meant for greener leaves, leaving a sick-looking plant.

How to Identify Brown Spots on Pothos?

Keep in mind that it might be perfectly natural for the lower leaves on your plant to turn pale yellow or brown before dropping off.

You would mostly witness this phenomenon in fall and winter when the plant begins to shed old leaves.

The lower leaves will appear dry or curled before exhibiting a brownish tone, usually, browning tips followed by 50% or more browning of the entire leaf.

Brown pothos leaves tip
Brown tips in pothos leaf from sunburn (Source: Unsplash)
  • If the top leaves start browning, especially in the growing season, you should know that improper lighting is the problem.
  • Similarly, low humidity, over-fertilization, and cold stress may invite tip browning and dry-looking leaves.
  • Under or overwatering, the plant will also exhibit wilted and browned leaves.
  • Diseases, especially bacterial blight, may cause tiny brown spots on leaves. Fungal infections and root rot may also cause browning foliage when the problem gets out of hand.
  • Excess fertilization and light saturation are the primary causes of yellowing leaves with brown spots.
  • In most cases, leaf spot disease may cause identifiable yellowing leaves with tiny brown spots.

However, each case may require a thorough diagnosis to determine the exact problems and solution.

Causes and Treatment of Brown Spots on Pothos

The Pothos leaves may begin to turn brown due to different problems.

Therefore, you should determine the exact cause by diagnosing the problem.

Luckily, you can quickly determine the cause if you know what leaf browning looks like for different problems.

Here are a few examples.

Reasons for Pothos Turning BrownSymptoms
Overwatering/Under wateringTips of leaves turning brown. Large brown spots in the center of leaf.
Bright and Direct SunlightLeaves burned, turns brown with continous exposure.
Low HumidityPothos leaves turn brown and make them crisp.
Extreme TemperatureThe leaf color changes evenly to brown.
Excessive Use of FertilizersOver fertilization causes build-up of salts in soil, as a result leaves turn brown.
Pest InfestationTiny Whitish or Brownish egg-like structures on leaves.
DiseasesBrown spots on leaves, mostly yellow halo or yellow ring like structures.
Repotting ShockIt is common with Pothos that are not carefully repotted.

Let us delve into the details.

1. Overwatering and Underwatering

An inappropriate watering schedule, wrong technique, or excess watering is major culprits for most houseplant problems.

An indication of over or under watering is often exhibited by the leaf’s color change, usually from green to yellow and later brownish.

In the case of Pothos, overwatering is more common than Underwatering. Therefore, you can tell that the browning is caused by excess watering.

Overwatering the Snake Plant
Overwatering the Snake Plant (Source: tenor)

The Pothos requires well-aerated soil to allow air pockets to form, leading to an airy and well-draining potting mix.

However, when you overwater the plant, these air pockets are chocked with water, leading to low drainage and less oxygen supply to the roots.

It means your Pothos fail to produce food (Chlorophyll) to maintain green leaves.

You would know this by the leaf tips turning brown, followed by the appearance of large brown spots at the center.

Similarly, under-watering, the plant will exhibit yellowing leaves with brown tips.

As the drought proceeds, the leaves will turn crisp and significantly brown.

Solutions

  • Immediately cut back on watering for an overwatered plant and leave it at a warm location to let the water dry out.
  • If the problem does not subside for weeks, slide the plant out and check for root rot.
  • Dispose of the plant with severe root rot; otherwise, prune the infected parts and apply fungicide before repotting in a fresh soil mix.
  • For an under-watered plant, consider deep watering it. Otherwise, submerge the pot in a tub filled with water.
  • Follow a stricter watering schedule. Water once a week in the spring and summer and once every two weeks in fall and winter.
  • About 600-800ml of water for a 5″ pot would suffice. Reduce the amount to less than 600ml in winter.
  • Use a soil moisture meter to assess the soil moisture every week or before watering.
Functions of Soil Moisture Meter
Functions of Soil Moisture Meter (Source: Amazon)
  • Let the top 2-3 inches of soil dry out between watering. A slightly dry soil helps provides support for the root growth.
  • Always use pots with multiple drainage holes to let out excess water. Similarly, throw away water collected in the saucer.

Note: Check the soil condition yearly to determine whether it needs to be replaced. A light-colored soil with poor drainage should go.

2. Too Much Direct Sunlight

Direct sun exposure is one of the primary reasons your Pothos leaves are burning.

A significant indicator of leaf burn is the browning of tips and the appearance of brown spots.

If your plant is too close to the south-facing window or open patio, it will likely exhibit scorched leaves.

Direct sunlight can increase the transpiration rate and water loss, leaving the plant high and dry.

Once the leaves lose significant moisture, they will change color, turning yellow and later brownish.

Pothos naturally does well in medium to bright indirect light.

Solutions

  • Start with removing dark brown leaves as they will take up more energy from the plants.
  • Move it away from the sun and bring it into the shade.
  • Allow ventilation to provide more air and place it in a pebble tray filled with water to boost humidity.
  • Lastly, provide some water and follow the strict watering technique to prevent it from drying.
  • The leaves often turn pale before going yellow or brown. This is time to introduce some shade immediately.
  • Keep them at the south-facing window; keep them 4-5 feet away to avoid direct sunlight.

Related article; Do Pothos like Direct Sunlight?

3. Overfertilizing the Plant

Pothos suffering from excess or intense fertilization may begin to wilt and exhibit brown leaves.

Although fertilization may help attain healthier, large leaves and significant stem growth, too much fertilizer will build up salt content in the soil.

Salt Build up due to Overfertilization
Salt Build due to overfertilization

The chemical salt chokes the roots by compacting the soil quality, especially too much nitrogen.

Unlike fertilizing in the garden, the salts fail to leech out from the pots, resulting in the buildup of salts.

You would notice brown patches on the leaves, typically seen on the ends of the foliage, along with stunted plant growth.

Solutions

  • Immediately run the plant under the tap to wash out all the salts from the soil. Repeat the process couple of times.
  • If the plant fails to revive, consider repotting the plant in a fresh potting mix.
  • Cut back on fertilizing until the plant returns to its normal state, and prevent feeding it in fall and winter.
  • Always use certified organic fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 in moderation by diluting with water to half strength.
  • Alternatively, you can resort to using compost, and homemade fertilizer may reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Read our article about how to Prepare and Apply Pothos Fertilizer

4. Insufficient Humidity

The low relative humidity is one of the primary reasons for occasional brown leaf tips in Pothos.

Pothos require a humidity level of 50%-70% to thrive, and anything under 50% will leave the plant dehydrated.

The average home environments bost relatively low humidity conditions, leading to the transpiration of Pothos leaves.

Moreover, placing the plant near the air conditioner or heater may also remove the required humidity.

The low humidity level is indicated by browning tips which may invite crispy and decayed leaves.

Philodendron Leaf Edges Turning Brown
Leaf Edges Turning Brown

Therefore, you should look to boost the humidity level artificially.

Solutions

  • Move your plant to a pebble tray filled with water to boost the humidity in the air.
  • Mist the plant leaves using a mister every day until the leaves turn greener. (Ensure the foliage is not dripping wet as it can lead to bacterial and fungal infection.)
  • Add a room humidifier to boost the humidity level immediately.
  • Huddle your plants together in a place to exchange humidity.
  • If you do not have a room humidifier, place a small bowl with water beside your Pothos.
  • Find a humid location around your house, such as a bathroom or kitchen.

5. Extreme Temperature

Pothos plants may tolerate temperatures between 70-90°F; hence, they can thrive well in relatively warm conditions.

Anything above 90°F will significantly reduce humidity in the air, leading to retard growth and browning foliage.

The first sign of dehydrated Pothos is browning tips with curled-up leaves due to excess transpiration.

Solutions

  • Start with removing spent foliage to prevent it from taking up nutrients.
  • Mist the plant leaves and increase the watering frequency from once to twice a week.
  • Otherwise, introduce a slow watering technique to keep the moisture optimal.
  • Maintain the temperature between 70-90°F (21-32°C).
  • Avoid placing the plant close to a direct light source or south-facing window.

6. Pest Infestation

Although rare, some pest infestation may lead to brown spots on Pothos leaves.

Scale insect and mealybug infestation are sap-sucking bugs that will suck the juice from Pothos leaves, leaving it depleted in nutrition.

Leaf spot from pests
Leaf spot from pests (Source: Planet Natural)

Here are a few pests commonly found in the Pothos plant.

Pests Symptoms of Infestation
MealybugsCotton wool or white powder
Spider MitesTiny white/yellow spots on the top of leaves
ThripsSilvery grey marking on the leaves

The compromised immune system of the plant and lack of nutrition will lead to browning spots on the leaves.

Inspect the leaves and stems carefully. If your Pothos occasionally has a few brown leaves or brown spots, it may indicate a pest infestation.

Solutions

  • Start quarantining the plant to prevent the pest from spreading to other plants.
  • Dab a cotton ball in neem oil or horticultural oil and apply it to the infected parts to kill pests and eggs effectively.
  • Otherwise, you can apply some rubbing alcohol and water to the plant to treat pests.
  • Washing the plant with soapy water solution regularly or rubbing alcohol in the growing season will help ward off pests.
  • As a preventive measure, wash your plant with neem oil or soapy water solution every month in the growing season.
  • A yellow sticky trap may also help capture pests before they overtake the plant.

7. Fungal and Bacterial Disease

Fungal and bacterial infestation can make your Pothos severely sick.

Bacterial wilt and fungal root rot are more familiar with Pothos which may suck the plant nutrients, leading to brown spots on leaves.

Check out for tell-tale signs of brown and yellowish spots, wilted leaves, and black veins.

The brown spots on your Pothos leaf with a yellow halo or a yellow ring-like structure may indicate bacterial infection.

Brown spots in leaf due to bacterial infection
Brown spots in the leaf due to bacterial infection. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, the fungal disease can cause root rot, stem decay, and wilted brown foliage.

Here are some fungal and bacterial diseases that may cause brown spots on Pothos.

Common DiseasesCausative AgentSymptoms
Root rot diseasePhytophthora and PythiumPlant wilt even when soil is well soaked.

Roots become mushy and soft.

Leaf have brown or black lesions.
Damping offRhizoctonia solaniYoung stem becomes water soaked and are unable to support weight of plant.
Bacterial WiltRalstonia solanacearumWilted Leaves and Discolored or Black Veins

Bacterial ooze can be seen on recently cut stems.
Southern BlightSclerotium rolfsiiWhite fungal strands can be seen on soil surface and plant stem.

Brown or back rot near the soil line that begins as water-soaked lesions, wilting, girdled stems, sudden collapse.
Bacterial Leaf SpotPseudomonas cichoriiAppear as black, tan, or dark brown small spots that may have a yellow halo
Fungal Leaf SpotAlternaria and CercosporaOblong, round, or oval black, dark brown spots or necrotic areas, some of which have a yellow halo.

The onset of bacteria is more likely when you overhead water your plant and leave the plant in a waterlogged problem. The excess moist condition may also invite leaf spots.

Both cases are prevalent, with Pothos kept in high humidity conditions with poor ventilation and excess moisture.

Treatment Measures

  • Start with quarantining the plant and disposing of the one with severe infestation.
  • Apply fungicide containing copper or benomyl to treat fungus effectively.
  • Spraying the plant with a light baking soda solution may help reduce leaf spots.
  • Apply chemical pesticides like Agri-Mycin if the fungus infestation seems severe.
Spray fungicide to prevent diseases
Spray fungicide to prevent diseases (Source: Amazon)
  • Plants with bacteria wilt are less likely to recover. Consider pruning the infected parts and waiting for them to recover.
  • Avoid heavy misting or keeping it in a humid or low-light condition.
  • As a preventive measure, avoid overhead watering or overwatering the plant and strictly avoid misting late at noon.
  • Keep the plant in a warm location with ample indirect sunlight and avoid moist conditions.

DIY Remedy: Mix a teaspoon of Mineral Oil and Baking Soda diluted in water and spray the affected plant’s areas using a spray bottle or mister.

8. Repotting Shock

Pothos that is recently repotted may witness some stunted growth and change in leaf color, but there is nothing to worry about it.

A Pothos should be repotted every 12-18 months; however, the repotting process must be carefully completed to prevent damage to the roots.

Excess pruning of roots, fungal disease, cold temperature, or damaged root system may cause repotting shock.

The first indication of repotting shock is droopy and yellow leaves followed by browning and stunted growth.

repotting plant
Repotting Plant (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Solutions

  • Place the plant in the same spot as before to ensure it gets the same temperature and lighting.
  • Wait a few months before you give the plant a mild dose of water-soluble, all-purpose plant food to boost root growth.
  • Maintain the watering schedule and avoid overly dry or excess humid conditions.

Check whether the plant revives in a few weeks; otherwise, consider checking for root rot problems.

It is normal to witness some natural browning in fall and winter, which can be treated by pruning the old and decayed leaves. 

Here is a masterclass to guide you prune your Pothos carefully.

How to Prevent Brown Spots on Pothos?

Here are some proven tips to avoid brown leaf spots in your Pothos plant.

  • Always check your light levels. Houseplants like Pothos prefer a light range from 380nm to 430nm provided by dappled sunlight or LED grow light.
  • Ensure the temperature stays between 70°F (21°C) and 90°F (32°C) range. Otherwise, consider growing your plant under LED grow light.
A hanging Manjula pothos
A hanging Manjula pothos (Source: Unsplash)
  • Keep your Pothos clean by regularly cleaning them with clean water, soapy water solution, or Neem oil.
  • Prioritize drainage by using appropriate Pothos potting mix and changing the soil once every year.
  • Prune away brown, old, decayed leaves and leggy stem growth in the growing season to redirect the energy towards healthy new growth.
  • Always love your Pothos like a close family member; mist the plants weekly and fertilize them monthly with the diluted solution.

Should I Cut Off Brown Spots on Pothos?

You can regularly prune your Pothos in spring and summer to remove old, decayed, and disease-infested leaves.

However, always sterilize the pruning shear before and after the use to avoid the onset of fungal infestation.

  • You can neatly remove all the completely browned leaves but let go of a slightly brown leaf to let it naturally recover.
  • If you witness stem browning, consider pruning the dying stem to help revive your Pothos.
  • Cut through the stem above the node (a point that gives out new growth) about 1/4 inch to ensure regrowth.
  • Remove the pruned plant residue from the pot afterward.
  • Water the plant until the soil feels moist after pruning to prevent drought stress. It will help the plant recover from pruning.
Image represents pruning of yellow and dead leaves from potted plant
Pruning Damaged Leaf (Source: apartmenttherapy.com)

Conclusion

Pothos do not live forever; hence it is usual to find browning and decayed leaves when it reaches stasis (end of the maturity).

Aa homegrown Pothos will live five to ten years without any problem.

However, you should know that your plant is under duress if you notice brown spots on the foliage. It would indicate that your Pothos is experiencing a bad growing condition.

Follow this guide to diagnose the problem before the problem becomes severe.

Find out more about some of the favorite Pothos houseplants

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