Before the Insta-Famous Fiddle-Leaf Fig, We Had the Pothos
Here’s how to win at plant parenting.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:38 AM
Before the Insta-famous fiddle-leaf fig and the photogenic monstera, we had the humble pothos. A staple in ’90s suburban kitchens, the pothos could be considered one of the original houseplants—it looks right at home nestled in a macramé planter or cascading down a CD storage rack.
“Oh, pothos, how we love them,” says Christan Summers, a self-taught horticulturist and cofounder of Tula House, a truck-turned-store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “Not only are they one of the easiest plants to care for, they are also incredibly versatile—you can hang them, drape them, vine them, climb them, or let them sway in your open window.”
The tropical pothos is native to the rain forest underbeds of Southeast Asia, which explains their vine-like tendrils. “Epipremnum aureum [the pothos’s species name] grows under the canopy of tropical trees,” explains Summers. “They’ve adapted to low-light conditions, making them perfect for city apartments.” If you’re the proud owner of one of these jungle dwellers, heed Summers’s expert pothos plant-care instructions, below.
Invest in a Pot With Good Drainage
True to form, the pothos isn’t picky—this rain forest botanical is perfectly happy when planted in a basic pot with plenty of drain holes. As for soil, Summers recommends a moisture-retentive mixture with a healthy balance of grittiness to prevent waterlogging. “The pothos is a vine, so it can catch moisture from its aerial roots,” she explains. “This means it doesn’t need very heavy, rich soil.”
Let It Dry Out Between Waterings
The pothos only craves H2O after it’s dried out a bit. “Press your fingers down into the root ball. If the soil feels dry two to three inches down, then water,” Summers instructs. She also swears by the weight test: Pick up the plant and determine whether it’s heavy with water weight or light and airy. “Waiting until your pothos feels light is a surefire way to avoid overwatering,” she notes. “It’s much easier to bring a plant back to health if it’s under-watered than [the opposite].”
When It Comes to Lighting, Imitate a Rain Forest
The pothos prefers low light, with moments of direct sun peppered in—just like a rain forest. “Imagine that you’re standing under a tree, with pockets of sunshine streaming through the canopy above,” implores Summers. “This is exactly what the pothos wants.”
Treat Your Pothos to a Nice Shower
If its natural habitat is any indication, the pothos loves a good downpour. “Showering is one of the best care tips we can give for indoor plants,” says Summers. “If you can imitate rainfall and flush the soil while keeping the leaves clean, your plants will thank you!”
Yellow Leaves Are a Sign of Poor Health
If your pothos’s leaves are yellow, you have a watering issue. “It’s easy to distinguish,” notes Summer. Yellow leaves near the base of the plant are a sign of too much moisture, while leaves that look wilted and dry could use a good drink.