Holes in Pothos Leaves: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) is a beautiful vine that tumbles down over the sides of a hanging basket or climbs up a moss pole with its strong aerial roots. Its glossy, heart-shaped leaves have smooth edges and are often variegated with white, cream, or gold.

Holes in these graceful, decorative leaves ruin the look of this plant and can even kill some of the leaves. What causes these holes, and what can you do to prevent them?

7 Causes & Cures for Holes in Pothos Leaves

There are a number of reasons your Pothos may develop holes in its leaves. There are treatments and fixes for all of them, but good maintenance and prevention is the best way to keep your plant’s leaves intact.

If you suspect either pests or diseases, be sure to isolate your Pothos so the problem does not spread to your other houseplants.

1.) Leaf-mining Flies

One of the leading causes of holes in these leaves is a little pest called the leaf-mining fly, or Liriomyza melanogaster. It lives in the soil by day and comes out at night to do its dirty work.

Adults puncture small holes in the leaves to lay eggs, and when they hatch, the larvae tunnel through the leaves in a squiggly pattern, sucking the plant juices out of the foliage as they go. A little bit of damage will affect its looks, but won’t hurt the plant.

A lot of damage, however, can limit the amount of photosynthesis the leaves can perform. They may make the plant more susceptible to diseases, and the leaves may turn yellow and drop off.

Remove the damaged leaves and treat your plant with insecticidal soap or Neem oil per instructions to eliminate these flies. Changing the soil in your pot and washing off the roots before planting it back is also a good idea.

2.) Other Pests

A host of other insects and critters can chew on your Pothos, too, causing holes. Many are only found outdoors and will attack your plant if you set it outside in the summer.

Mealybugs are a common pest of indoor plants. They suck the plant’s sap and can cause the leaves to turn yellow, wilt, and easily tear and form holes. Pick off as many as possible and treat the plant with Neem oil.

Bush crickets are primarily pests of Pothos kept outdoors in the summer. They feed on the leaves at night, causing irregular holes. The best way to handle them is to repel them with insecticidal soap, a mixture of garlic and chili powder spray, or sprinkle diatomaceous earth lightly over the plant.

Flea beetles are also found outdoors. When they chew, they produce small shot holes in the leaves that can ruin the look of the plant. Use sticky traps to catch them, sprinkle diatomaceous lightly on the plant, or spray a combination of isopropyl alcohol, dish soap, and water to get rid of these pests.

Snails and slugs are common marauders of outdoor plants. They chew in a circular pattern along the leaf margins and leave large holes. You can sprinkle eggshells on the soil around your plant to discourage them from slithering up the stems, or a dish of beer next to the plant will attract and trap them.

Caterpillars are not that common on Pothos, but they will lay eggs and chew the edges of the leaves, making a scalloped pattern. You can pick them off individually, but if you have an infestation, you can use a microbial spray of Bacillus thuringiensis every week until they are gone.

3.) Bacterial or Fungal Diseases

Bacterial and fungal diseases are one of the most common reasons for leaf holes in Pothos. They can infect the leaves, kill the leaf tissue and cause lesions that turn into holes. 

Overwatering and wet conditions can make the plant susceptible to these diseases.

Bacteria or Fungal Leaf Spot

Many leaf spot diseases can infect plants, but luckily, most stay outdoors and don’t bother houseplants.

Your Pothos may fall victim to a leaf spot disease; however, if you have it outside during the summer and the infection spreads from another plant to your Pothos. 

Stagnant, humid air around the plant that keeps the leaves too damp or drops of water on the leaves can also invite disease. Black, reddish, or brown spots can form that kills the plant tissue and cause lesions and holes.

First, remove all infected leaves to limit the spread of the disease. Then use a spray with copper as one of its ingredients that will control both bacterial and fungal diseases. Neem oil will control fungus.

Shot Hole Fungus

Shot hole fungus is a disease that usually infects fruit trees, especially Prunus, caused by a lack of air circulation around the plants. However, it can sometimes infect Pothos if conditions are too humid and water splashes on the leaves. 

The damage resembles red spots that turn brown, dry out, and eventually form holes.

Remove the infected leaves and spray with copper fungicide or Neem oil per instructions.

4.) Exposure to Direct Sunlight

pothos plant with sunburn damage

In their native habitat of the French Polynesian jungles, Pothos are understory vines that crawl along the ground or climb up trees with their aerial roots. They are not exposed to direct, bright sunshine. Instead, the sun they receive is dappled light filtered through the trees.

So even as a houseplant, your Pothos will not tolerate direct sun. It does best in bright indirect light like in its native habitat. If it is exposed to direct sunlight for a length of time, its leaves could sunburn, making brown, dry spots that eventually form holes.

Keep your Pothos in a bright area but out of direct sunlight. If your plant is outdoors in the summer, it must be in bright shade, such as on a porch, deck, or under a tree.

5.) Lack of Humidity

Pothos plants need some humidity, just like in their tropical forest homeland. 

If the humidity is too low in your house, or your plant is near a hot air vent that continuously blows dry air, it can dry the leaves. New leaves will stick together and cause tearing and holes as they unfurl.

The proper humidity is a balancing act. Your Pothos will need some humidity, especially in the winter when the heat is on, but not enough to cause fungal infections.

If your home is dry, use a humidifier to set your plant on a pebble tray with water. Ensure plenty of air circulation around the plant, and only water it when the soil is dry an inch or two down from the top.

6.) Too Much Fertilizer

little girl repotting pothos plants

If your Pothos is rooted in a good potting mix, it won’t need a lot of fertilizer

Overfertilization, especially with a high nitrogen blend, can cause its leaves to get damaged by growing too fast and unfurling too quickly.

But if you feel the need to boost its growth, use half the strength of a complete N – P – K fertilizer only three or four times during the growing season.

If you suspect you are overfertilizing your Pothos, flush the soil with water several times to reduce the amount of fertilizer salt in the soil, or even change the soil in your pot.

7.) Physical Damage

All of us are clumsy sometimes, and dropping the Pothos or knocking against it can tear the leaves. Kids or pets playing with the plant will often result in damage, too!

In addition to keeping the plant safe from any disturbance and little fingers and paws, Pothos must be out of the way because it is toxic to humans and pets such as cats and dogs. It is an excellent plant for a hanging basket or in a standing pot up on a shelf.

Prevention: Best Practices to Avoid a Pothos Plant With Holes in Leaves & Remain Healthy

golden pothos plant care for a thriving plant.

When your plant is healthy, it will not be as susceptible to pests and diseases that can cause holes in the pothos leaves. Here are some care tips to follow:

Light: Set your plant in bright, indirect light and never in direct sunshine.

Temperature: Pothos is happy indoors at 65 to 75 degrees F and outdoors at up to 90 degrees, but never below 50.

Humidity: They will tolerate household humidity down to 30% but are happier in higher humidity. Pebble trays and humidifiers are a good idea, but ensure plenty of space and air circulation around your plant to prevent disease.

Soil: A loose, well-draining potting mix with perlite, cocoa coir, sand, or peat moss added will be the best soil for Pothos. Make sure your pot is a good size for your plant- not too big- and has at least one drainage hole.

Water: Don’t overwater! Only water your plant when the soil is dry and an inch or two down from the top, and try to avoid getting water on the leaves themselves.

Fertilizer: Add a small amount of granular, slow-release fertilizer to the soil in the spring or a half-strength liquid fertilizer three or four times during the growing season. You won’t need to fertilize in winter when the plant is not actively growing.

Pruning: Keep your plant at a reasonable length by pruning the long stems between the nodes and removing damaged leaves.

Prevention sprays: To be safe, it’s a good idea to spray the plant lightly every two or three weeks with Neem oil, horticultural oil, or apple cider vinegar to keep a pest infestation or disease at bay.

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.