Why are there Brown Spots on Pothos Leaves?

Last Updated: November 1, 2023

Pothos Plant

Pothos Plant

Brown spots is a common issue for Pothos plants and there are quite a few reasons that might be causing it. In this guide we will go through the possible causes, as well as how to treat the issue and prevent it in future as well.

Just as humans exhibit signs and symptoms when unwell, plants too communicate their distress in their unique way. Brown spots are one of these signs from your Pothos.

Understanding the cause, be it overwatering, underwatering, sunburn, nutrient deficiencies, or pest attacks, is the key to bringing your plant back to full health.

The Main Causes of Brown Spots on Pothos Leaves

Overwatering: The Common Cause

Overwatering, a common issue faced by many indoor plant enthusiasts, often manifests in the form of brown spots on Pothos leaves.

Understanding the Impact

Pothos plants are native to tropical environments, where they have adapted to handle high levels of moisture. However, these adaptable plants have also learned to survive periods of less rainfall, meaning they’re fairly drought-resistant.

When we overwater, we disrupt this balance, leading to some visible distress signals – the most noticeable being the dreaded brown spots.

When you overwater your Pothos, the plant’s roots become suffocated from a lack of oxygen. This results in root rot, a serious condition that can damage your plant’s vital nutrient-absorbing roots.

As the root rot spreads, the plant struggles to transport nutrients and water to its leaves, hence the eventual appearance of brown spots.

  • Early Signs: Look closely – do you notice a slightly yellowing of the leaves’ edges, progressing towards a brownish hue? This is often a significant early warning sign of overwatering.
  • Advanced Stage: As the situation worsens, entire leaves may turn yellow then brown, and the spots often become darker and larger. The leaves and stems may also appear to be soft or even mushy to the touch, indicating a serious condition of root rot caused by overwatering.

Addressing the Issue

The first step is to reduce watering. Allow the plant’s soil to dry out completely before the next watering session. If your plant is suffering from severe root rot, it may be necessary to re-pot your plant intro fresh plants and trim any rotten roots.

Sunburn Can Cause Brown Spots

Pothos plants are popular for their low light tolerance. These tropic natives know how to thrive even in sun-deprived conditions.

So when you expose the pothos to direct sunlight, it’s can cause brown spots to develop on those leaves.

So how does a sunburn look on your pothos? Sunburn usually manifests as pale, bleached areas that gradually turn into crispy brown spots, typically on the leaves directly exposed to the harsh light.

Depending on the intensity of light exposure, these tan spots could be small, scattered across the leaf surface, or combine to form large blotches.

While the current brown spots are irreversible, to protect your Pothos from developing any more brown spots make sure you’re doing the following:

  • Keep your pothos away from direct sunlight. These plants thrive beautifully in low to medium light. While some amount of morning sun is great, intense afternoon sun can be brutal on your plant.
  • Use curtains or blinds as a barrier between your pothos and direct light. Alternatively, you could place your pothos in a spot where it gets filtered or diffused light. Think spots near north or east-facing windows.
  • If you’ve placed your pothos outside, ensure it gets plenty of shade and isn’t baking in the sun. Look for spots that get several hours of indirect light.
  • Keep examining the leaves frequently. Changes in color or texture are the first signs that usually indicate a problem.

Nutrient Deficiencies Can Cause Brown Spots on a Pothos

A lack of certain nutrients, especially Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Magnesium (Mg), and Potassium (K), can cause your Pothos to develop brown spots.

Each of these nutrients plays a different role for your Pothos.

  1. Nitrogen (N): Nitrogen aids in the overall growth and color of Pothos. If the leaves of your Pothos plant are turning yellow, while the veins remain darker, your plant might be giving you a sign of Nitrogen deficiency.
  2. Phosphorus (P): Phosphorus is essential for energy transfer and storage in Pothos. A deficiency might cause brown spots, usually surrounded by a somewhat dark color.
  3. Potassium (K): Potassium is necessary for the opening and closing of pores (responsible for water regulation). If your Pothos is showing brown spots on the edges and tips of the leaves, it might be indicative of a Potassium deficiency.
  4. Magnesium (Mg): Needed for photosynthesis, a lack of Magnesium would first show up as yellowing between leaf veins, which would later turn brown.

By meeting these deficiencies through appropriate fertilization and care, you can easily prevent your Pothos from developing any more brown spots.

Brown Spots Could Mean Pests

Brown spots across your plant can mean that your pothos is under attack from common pests and diseases.

Spider Mites: These tiny arachnids can be hard to spot but they can cause significant damage to your pothos. Spider mites feed off the liquids in the plant cells, often leading to tiny brown or yellow spots. In severe infestations, you might notice a fine webbing on the underside of the leaves.

Mealybugs: Another common pest, mealybugs look like small white cottony masses on the underside of pothos leaves. They feed on the sap of your plant, leading to wilted, yellowing, and dying leaves with brown spots.

Scale: Recognizable by their scaly brown shells, scale insects have a similar mode of attack as mealybugs. Brown spots on leaves are often a sign of their activity on your pothos.

Treating Brown Spots on Pothos Leaves

Luckily, there’s a host of treatments for you to choose from to help your pothos bounce back to health.

Firstly, modifying the watering routine is essential. If your Pothos has been overwatered, you should let the soil dry out before watering again and in severe situations replace the entire potting mix to prevent any further damage.

Secondly, consider adjusting the light intensity. If the plant suffers from excessive light exposure, you might want to move it to a location with indirect sunlight.

Replenishing nutrients is key. A nutrient-rich environment is crucial to the overall health of your Pothos. Regular feeding with a balanced houseplant fertilizer, typically once a month, should do the trick.

A pest or disease attack can in fact be a major cause of the brown spots on Pothos leaves. As such, applying appropriate insecticides or fungicides, should be considered.

However, remember, it’s essential to first identify the exact pest or disease before you treat it. The wrong application of chemicals might do more harm than good.

Removing the Brown Leaves on your Pothos

Once a leaf has developed brown spots or patches, these are irreversible. The cells in the leaf are dead and there is no getting them back to luscious green.

If a large part of the leaf is now brain, it can be drain on the plant’s resources. As the Pothos strives to save the brown leaf, nutrients and energy that could be channeled to healthy leaves are diverted. Ultimately, this negatively affects overall plant growth.

We always recommend removing a leaf that is more than 50% brown. If there are just a few brown spots on the leaf (and the issue isn’t pests) then this can still be valuable in terms of photosynthesis as long as the issue has been dealt with.

Let’s talk about how to remove brown Pothos leaves properly:

  1. Prepare Your Tools: Ensure that your gardening shears or scissors are clean and sharp. Using a blunt or dirty cutting instrument could cause injury to the plant and could introduce harmful microbes.
  2. Locate the Leaf: Find the leaf stem that connects the brown leaf to the main vine. You’ll want to make a clean and smooth cut here.
  3. Cut Cleanly: Cut the leaf stem as close to the vine as possible, but be sure not to harm the vine itself. Remember, sharp shears make the best cuts.
  4. Discard the Leaf: Throw the leaf away as soon as you’ve cut it off. Leaving it around might invite pests or diseases.

Preventing Brown Spots: Best Practices for Pothos Owners

Overwatering or underwatering can trigger brown spots on Pothos. Hence, ensure that the top one inch of soil is dry before watering. Remember, it’s better to lean towards slight underwatering than overwatering simply because Pothos can cope better with the former.

Next, let’s chat about placement. Pothos plants flourish in bright, indirect light so avoid placing your Pothos next to a south-facing window, as the intense sunlight can scorch the leaves, causing those dreaded brown spots.

The temperature and humidity are other factors to consider. Pothos are tropical plants and prefer warmer temperatures, ideally between 65-85°F (18-29°C). They’re also suckers for a humid environment so mist the leaves lightly every few days or consider placing a humidifier nearby in dry climates.

Moving on to the menace of pests and diseases. Regularly check your plant, particularly beneath the leaves, for pests like aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. If you find them, nipping the problem in the bud is crucial. A soft cloth with soapy water generally does the trick for minor infestations.

Lastly, always remember that nutrition plays a vital role. Treat your Pothos to a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every two months during the growing season. This will help keep it healthy and less susceptible to brown spots.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are brown spots on Pothos leaves harmful to the plant?

In many cases, brown spots are indeed harmful and indicative of a problem the plant is experiencing, such as overwatering, sunburn, or pest infestation. However, they’re not a death sentence for your Pothos if you address the issue early! Tailoring your care approach based on the probable cause can help revive your plant.

Can brown spots on Pothos leaves be cured?

First, you need to identify the cause of the brown spots, and quickly as the issue becomes harder to treat if it’s progressed quite far.

Once you know the cause – be it overwatering, sunburn, nutrient deficits, or pests – you can apply targeted care strategies to treat the problem.

It’s worth mentioning here that even once the issue is solved, the brown spots will remain brown. The cells in the leaves have died in these areas and there isn’t a way to get them to turn back to green again unfortunately.

Will the brown spots spread to other leaves on the plant?

Sadly, if left unchecked, the issue causing brown spots can indeed spread to other leaves. It’s essential to identify and address the issue as soon as possible to prevent further harm to your beautiful Pothos.

Can I save a severely brown-spotted Pothos?

Absolutely! In severe cases, you might have to be more aggressive with your treatment, including removing the severely affected leaves and changing your care routine. Remember, patience and persistence are key when rehabilitating a plant.

If the issue is quite severe then we do always recommend taking a cutting from the healthiest section of your Pothos and propagating it. It will just act as a backup if the issue is too severe to save the mother plant.

At least this way you still have a part of the plant to grow and nurture.

Fiddle and Thorn is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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