Why is my golden pothos turning yellow? Experts get to the root of the problem

Find out why your golden pothos is turning yellow and what you can do to fix this common plant problem

A golden pothos plant with blinds
(Image credit: Ali Majdfar / Getty)

If your golden pothos is turning yellow, you'll want to fix the problem quickly so you can get your plant back to looking its best. 

Golden pothos is a popular plant right now, and with good reason. Its pretty variegated leaves and attractive trailing nature make it look great when suspended from ceilings and bookshelves. It also photographs beautifully, which those of us with plant-related Instagram accounts appreciate.

Another thing that makes golden pothos so popular is its incredibly low-maintenance nature. Pothos thrives in most indoor conditions, even in relatively low light. However, if yours has multiple leaves that are turning yellow, you need to figure out what's stressing the plant. Like any other plant, pothos will eventually succumb if you don't fix the issue. Plant experts advise about the causes of a yellowing pothos and what you can do to help it. 

A healthy golden pothos plant

A healthy golden pothos plant

(Image credit: Nanniie_iiuu / Getty)

Why is my golden pothos turning yellow?

Don't confuse the normal leaf pattern for disease: a golden pothos leaf has a variegated nature, which means it is multi-colored. Typically, golden pothos has gold-toned streaks throughout its green leaves. This is the normal coloring for this plant and the reason for its visual appeal.

However, if the entire leaf has turned yellow, it's dead. One or two yellow leaves once in a while aren't cause for concern, but if multiple leaves on your plant are turning yellow and falling off, you need to investigate why your indoor plant is suffering. 

Here are the key reasons for the problem:

1. Over or underwatering

This is the easiest problem to diagnose and the most likely culprit for your pothos turning yellow. 'If the plant is kept too moist, the leaves will turn yellow and drop off. If the plant is kept too dry, the leaves will also turn yellow and drop off,' explains Brody Hall, Certified Horticulturist at The Indoor Nursery. 'The best way to fix this problem is to water the plant when the soil is dry down to about a half an inch below the surface.'

A Golden Pothos plant with yellowing leaves

Yellowing leaves on a golden pothos

(Image credit: Firn / Getty)

2. Insufficient humidity

As a tropical plant, the golden pothos prefers humid conditions, so they can make good bathroom plants. 'If the air is too dry, the leaves will turn yellow and drop off,' says Brody Hall. 

The best way to fix this problem? You can try misting the leaves regularly or, 'in particularly dry climates, use a humidifier for plants [available from Amazon] to raise humidity levels.' 

Our recommendation is generally to go straight to the humidifier option as misting alone is unlikely to make much of a difference to a dry environment. 

misting a goldne pothos plant

Golden pothos prefer a humid environment

(Image credit: EyeEm/Alamy Stock Photo)

3. Inadequate lighting levels

As is the case with most tropical plants, golden pothos aren't considered to be low light indoor plants. They like bright, indirect light. 

'If the plant is kept in too much shade, the leaves will turn yellow,' says Brody Hall. 'However, if the plant is kept in too much direct sun, the leaves will turn, yellow and then brown. The best way to fix this problem is to move the plant to a brighter or shadier location.'

4. Pest infestation

Although golden pothos are generally low maintenance indoor plants, they can be prone to pest infestations, especially by aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects. These pests feed on the plant’s tissue and will cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop off. 

The best way to fix this problem is to manually remove the pests using a q-tip soaked in isopropyl alcohol. 'Although if the infestation is particularly bad, an organic or commercial insecticide may be a grower’s only choice', says Brody Hall.

Ayelet Faerman, COO of Verdant Lyfe, also recommends regularly checking the underside of your golden pothos leaves for pests regularly and using a plant pest prophylactic [available from Amazon] if you can. 

golden pothos on a table near a window

Do regular checks for pest infestations to stop leaves yellowing and dropping off

(Image credit: FeelPic/Getty Images)

5. Poor soil

Anthony Selvaganam, a certified horticulturist and founder of Plantials, says one cause of pothos leaves yellowing 'that is often overlooked by gardeners is the lack of enough nutrients in the soil.' 

'When it comes to nutrient deficiency, lack of nitrogen is the number one cause of golden pothos leaves turning yellow,' he says. 'Nitrogen deficiency in plants triggers a condition called chlorosis which is nothing but loss of chlorophyll, the pigment that is responsible for the green color in leaves.'

The best strategy to treat golden pothos plant nutritional deficiencies 'is to add a slow-release houseplant fertilizer [try Amazon] to the soil, which will provide the plants with an ongoing supply of nutrients over time.'

Anna writes about interior design and gardening. Her work has appeared in Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, and many other publications. She is an experienced outdoor and indoor gardener and has a passion for growing roses and Japanese maples in her outside space.