Pothos Has Brown Stems: 7 Causes, How to Prevent & Fixing

Pothos plants, being one of the easiest-to-care-for houseplants on the market, may seem indestructible. But, like all other plants, Pothos can suffer from issues. Even if you have the best intentions for your plant, you may find that it is developing brown stems. 

But not to worry, brown pothos stems are a common problem, and as soon as you know what causes them, you can prevent them easily.

Why Are Your Pothos Stems Turning Brown?

7 Possible Causes


1. Your Pothos Is Overwatered

watering pothos plants by a window.

Your Pothos needs water to survive. Water is essential, as it brings nutrients and moisture into the stems and leaves. However, too much water can cause problems for your houseplants.

When you water your Pothos too often, the excess water will cause the soil to become waterlogged, which means there is little to no airflow. Roots need oxygen. With dense, waterlogged soil, the roots of your Pothos are suffocating, and they won’t be able to bring nutrients to your plant’s foliage. 

Overwatering will quickly result in brown leaves and stems. If this advances, your plant’s roots will start to decay. Ill roots are susceptible to harmful bacteria, which can cause root rot. 

2. Your Pothos Is Underwatered

Similar to overwatering, underwatered pothos can develop brown leaves and stems. Other symptoms of underwatering include curling, yellow leaves, wilting foliage, leaf loss, and in severe cases, dry, crispy leaves. The decline will start at the bottom of the plant, with the oldest leaves. 

Plants need water to deliver nutrients from the soil into the foliage and stem. Without enough water, the plant won’t be able to use essential building blocks, and it can’t keep its leaves and stems hydrated. The result; your Pothos leaves and stems turn brown and die off. 

3. Your Pothos Is Sick

pothos leaves turning yellow and with leaf spot

Pothos are susceptible to many fungal or bacterial diseases, such as bacterial leaf spot, blight, or root rot. These diseases will be more present in plants in bad health due to over- or underwatering or neglect. 

Some symptoms of bacterial infections include brown spots on the leaves or stems, often surrounded by a yellow aura. These spots can grow in size quickly and spread very fast. You must treat infections like these as soon as possible; otherwise, your plant could die!

Start by removing all the infected parts of the plant using sterilized scissors. Always clean your pruners using rub alcohol to kill bacteria and prevent the spreading of the infection. 

Spray down the plant with a fungicide after cutting it. The fungicide ceases the growth of the disease and prevents it from spreading further around your plant collection.

4. The Soil Is Too Acidic

Little girl showing the best soil for pothos plants.

Even though Pothos are not too picky about their soil requirements, they do have a preference. Soils that are too acidic can lead to browning foliage and stems because the soil’s pH level dramatically influences the availability of nutrients. 

Certain nutrients, like phosphorus or calcium, need a more alkaline environment to be well-absorbed. Additionally, highly acidic soil will increase the risk of aluminum or manganese toxicity. Both can lead to browning stems on your Pothos.

5. Temperature Problems

When your Pothos gets exposed to extreme cold, for example, if the plant has been sitting outdoors during a frost, the moisture stored inside the foliage of your Pothos can freeze. Frost damage will result in browning stems and leaves, as the cells inside your plant have died.

Exposure to a long period of frost can cause your plant’s roots to freeze and die off. and will quickly lead to root rot since the roots are dead and are now easily targeted by rot-causing bacteria. This is why plants often develop brown leaves and stem long after exposure to cold. 

Conversely, extreme heat can also cause brown stems on your Pothos. Exposure to extremely high temperatures, such as above 100F, will significantly increase the risk of moisture loss in the leaves, which can cause the plant to dehydrate quickly.

6. Your Pothos Is Overfertilized

Pothos are not heavy feeders. They can grow in most soil conditions and will even grow without additional fertilization for a few years. However, giving your houseplant a helping hand in the form of extra nutrients every once in a while will surely help it to stay healthy, grow fast, and put out vital, large Pothos leaves. 

Too much fertilizer can be harmful. Most liquid houseplant fertilizers are high in salts, which can cause issues if there is excess fertilizer in the soil. The high salt content can draw moisture from the roots, leading to dehydration.

Dead roots often fall prey to bacteria that cause root rot. 

7. Pest Infestation

aphids

Pothos plants can fall prey to various pests. The most common pests are mealybugs, scale, spider mites, or aphids. These bugs all feed on your plant’s sap. As the pest feeds, it is stealing food from the plant. 

Pest infestations can result in deformed leaves, dying leaves, and brown stems. 

Thoroughly scan your plant for bugs. Check stems, undersides of the leaves, and all tight spaces. Insects like to hide in nooks and crannies to protect themselves. You can treat most pests easily.

Start by washing down your Pothos in the shower. Rinse off all the leaves and vines, and remember the undersides of the leaves. Rinsing your plant can flush off many of the bugs and eggs on your plant.

You can remove live bugs from your plant using a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol. Especially pests like mealybugs or scale insects are easy to remove using this method. The alcohol kills the insects on contact. 

Next, spray the plant with an organic, high-quality insecticidal soap or pesticide. Spray the plant down thoroughly and repeat this step every few days until all signs of the pest are gone. 

6 Ways to Prevent Brown Pothos Stems


1. Properly Water Your Pothos

pothos plant with water and sunlight to help it grow faster.

Pothos plants like moist soil. Keep your plant healthy and well-hydrated by allowing the top of the soil to dry out between watering. Ensuring the soil remains slightly moist is best done by checking the soil with your finger every few days.

Pothos won’t need water often, but the frequency will depend on environmental factors like temperature, light exposure, and humidity. 

Only water if the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, and make sure to use a pot with drainage holes in the bottom. These holes allow excess water to escape from the pot, preventing the soil from getting too wet over time. 

2. Prevent Illness

Most fungal or bacterial diseases spread from plant to plant by irrigation or unsanitized garden tools. This is why avoiding wet leaves and thoroughly cleaning any pruners or tools you use for your plants is essential—water directly in the soil and under the leaves rather than overhead. 

Reducing humidity and airflow, as well as improving light conditions, can aid in the prevention of illness. Fungi and bacteria thrive in dark, moist, and poorly aerated environments.

Never place your plants directly in the humidifier’s mist; this causes the leaves to be constantly wet and invite bacteria.

Avoid overcrowding your plants and ensure to keep your plants in a well-ventilated room with plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. 

Using a fungicide spray preventatively will also help to protect your Pothos from disease. Most infections occur during the transition from winter to spring, so it is best to spray your plant with an organic, high-quality fungicide in late winter or early spring yearly.

3. Use The Right Soil Mixture

repotting a houseplant

These plants will grow best in a slightly acidic soil medium (pH 6.0 – 6.5). The best way to ensure your Pothos is living in a proper pH range is by purchasing a soil tester to measure the pH of your soil.

Most houseplant potting mixes will sit between 6.0 and 7.0 pH, where most nutrients are easily absorbed. However, soil acidity is affected by various environmental factors.

You can lower the soil acidity by using a sulfate, such as elemental sulfur or sulfuric acid, to the soil mix. Using a soil tester, you can quickly tell if your soil is within the proper pH range and make adjustments as needed.

Additionally, your plant must be living in a well-draining potting mix. Using the best Pothos soil mix will also help prevent overwatering and bacterial issues.

Soils that hold onto too much moisture will remain wet for too long, causing problems. Adding amendments like perlite, orchid bark, or gravel to your potting soil will help add drainage and aeration, which is crucial for your Pothos’ health. 

4. Keep Your Pothos In The Right Environment

pothos plants growing outside

Both heat and cold can cause problems for your Pothos. The ideal temperature range for Pothos is between 70F and 90F, and any extremes below or above this range can cause issues with growth and the aesthetics of your plant.

Make sure to keep your plant indoors during the winter and protect it from extreme warmth and direct sunlight during the summer! Protect it from temperatures below 50F (10C), as this is where your plant will start to decline.

5. Avoid Overfertilization

You will want to fertilize your Pothos once in Spring and Summer. Never fertilize during winter because the plant is not actively growing! Dilute the solution to at least half the recommended strength, so no excess salt is available in the soil.

Water your Pothos thoroughly before applying fertilizers; this helps to prevent root burn. 

If you have overfertilized your Pothos, you can fix the issue by flushing the soil using plain water. Simply water thoroughly until it runs from the drainage holes freely. Flushing rinses out the buildup in the soil.

Having your Pothos in a pot with drainage holes in the bottom is essential because it helps prevent overwatering and allows excess fertilizers and salts to exit the pot. Without drainage holes, the fertilizer simply builds up in the bottom of the pot, which will quickly draw all the moisture from the roots. 

6. Prevent Pests

pesticide for houseplants

A great way to prevent pest infestations is using a neem oil spray. Neem oil distorts the hormones inside the bugs, making it nearly impossible for them to breed and eat, killing them over time.

Every month, spray down your plant using a neem oil solution (one gallon of water, one teaspoon of dish soap, and one tablespoon of neem oil) to prevent pests from attacking your houseplants.

Make sure to regularly check your plant for signs of pests and quarantine, and treat your plants as soon as you see something.

Too Late? What To Do About Pothos Brown Stems

Stems that have turned brown will sadly not return to green. If you don’t like to look at brown stems on your Pothos, do not hesitate to cut off the brown patches on your plant. It may seem scary to cut parts of your plant, but don’t worry!

Pruning encourages the Pothos to put out new growth. A few weeks after being cut, you will see new leaves growing from where you cut them! 

In some cases, removing the brown stems can be essential. When your plant is infected with a bacterial disease, removing the infected parts is essential to prevent the spread of the illness.

Removing rotten parts of the plant from overwatering or cold damage will also help prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. Again, don’t worry about cutting back your plant. It will grow back before you know it. 

Make sure to use clean, sterilized pruning scissors for your plant to prevent the spreading of bacteria and disease through tools.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.