Pothos are a common houseplant grown for their stunning foliage, and their trailing stems make them an ideal choice in hanging baskets.
As with any other plant, however, pothos are not immune to issues that can leave the plant looking worse for wear. One of the first signs that something is wrong with the plant is that the pothos leaves look eaten.
While insects can cause this appearance, so can various other issues. In fact, there are several different things that can cause holes in pothos leaves. The good news is that, if caught early enough, your pothos plant should make a full recovery.
So if you’ve noticed that you’ve got a pothos with holes, keep reading to find out just what you can do to get your plant back to its happy, thriving self.
Why are there holes in my pothos leaves?
There are several reasons why your pothos leaves have holes in them, including pests, diseases, and improper care. The most common reason, however, for holes in pothos leaves is that the soil is infested with the leaf mining flies known as Liriomyza melanogaster. These bugs create holes and damage by tunneling into the leaf’s tissue.
We’ll run through each of the options in more detail below, to help you figure out just who the culprit is in your case.
1. Leaf mining flies
Leaf mining flies are the most common cause of holes in pothos leaves, and these nasty little creatures can attack even the healthiest of plants. If you’ve noticed that your pothos leaves look eaten, it’s probably these irritating critters.
Their feeding results in an abundance of holes in the pothos leaves, and can even cause the plant to go into stress and cause your pothos not to grow. What’s even worse is that these annoying insects can be difficult to get rid of and quickly spread.
2. Other insects
While not as common as leaf mining files, there are other insects that can create brown holes in pothos leaves. These pests include:
- Snails and Slugs
- Bush Crickets
- Flea Beetles
With the exception of mealybugs, the other pests listed above are not as common for indoor houseplants. That’s not to say they cannot make their way inside your home and feast on your pothos.
Rule of thumb: More often than not, if the leaf holes are caused by an insect, the finger can be pointed squarely at liriomyza melanogaster, the leaf mining fly.
Bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases can cause damage to your pothos plant, leaving unsightly holes in its foliage. Generally, leaf spot disease and shot hole diseases are the two main culprits when it comes to diseases resulting in leaf holes.
Bacterial leaf spot disease in your pothos starts out as smaller holes that will get progressively bigger. Shot hole disease, however, first appears as purple or reddish spots that become more prominent to create a gunshot-looking appearance in the leaves.
4. Accidental damage
Sometimes, the caregiver of the plant is the cause of leaf holes – yep, it could be your fault. Constantly moving the plant, or changing decor around the pothos can result in leaf damage and holes.
Similarly, letting little hands and paws touch or bother the plant, or placing the plant in a high traffic area can lead to your pothos having damaged leaves. This damage is usually caused while the plant leaves are still tender, young, and rolled up.
5. Too much fertilizer
Feeding all plants, not just pothos, is important to help keep them strong. However, giving them too much fertilizer can result in rapid growth, which will cause the plant’s leaves to unroll too quickly, resulting in cracks and even small holes.
In fact, you may be surprised to hear that over fertilization is more of a common problem than under fertilization. This is because the excess salt in the fertilizer pulls moisture away from the roots.
Check out our pick for the best pothos fertilizer so your plant thrives!
6. Exposure to direct sunlight
Direct sunlight is a big no-no for pothos. This plant needs partially shaded or indirect sunlight to avoid your pothos having sunburned leaves.
Excessive exposure to direct sunlight can create brown spots that turn into brown holes in pothos leaves. This can particularly be a problem for anyone who wants to let their pothos live outside so, if that’s you, make sure your plant is protected and the light diffused by something like a tree or patio roof.
7. Improper care
Even though pothos are not difficult to take care of, not providing them with the proper lighting, temperature, humidity, soil, water, and feeding can result in poor growth, increase the chance of pests and diseases, and even create holes in their leaves.
The two main culprits associated with holes in pothos leaves caused by improper care are lack of humidity and over-fertilization. As such, if you’ve eliminated the other options on this list, maybe review your own plant maintenance schedule to see if something is amiss.
Find out exactly what your pothos’ humidity needs are here!
How do you treat holes in pothos leaves?
The treatment option for dealing with holes in pothos leaves varies depending on the cause. For insect issues, neem oil or insecticidal soap can help control the bugs. Diseases, however, can have a range of treatment options and you will need to first identify the disease before the proper treatment can be applied.
This is why it’s important to take the time to go through the list above and narrow down who or what the culprit may be. That way, you’ll know exactly which treatment options you should be focusing on.
1. Neem oil or insecticidal soap
Neem oil or insecticidal soap are two safer options to treat pothos infected with leaf mining flies, as well as some other insects. Spray the tops and underside of the leaves with the spray, making sure to follow the usage directions on the bottle. If you have other plants, make sure to spray those as well.
My pick for the best neem oil that’s worked for me is this one:
2. Remove your pothos’ damaged leaves
Any of your pothos’ damaged leaves should be removed by clipping them off with a pair of clean pruning shears. Keep in mind, however, that you should never remove more than 25-percent of the plant’s leaves at one time.
You should also consider repotting your pothos in fresh soil, especially if the damage appears to be caused by leaf mining flies, since the soil is where the flies live.
3. Horticultural oil
Most other insects that attack pothos plants can be controlled with horticultural oil, although I’d recommend trying insecticidal soap first. These pesticides are liberally sprayed onto the tops and undersides of the plant’s leaves.
Some gardeners have found that creating a solution of apple cider vinegar and water works well as an alternative to keep insects and diseases at bay. This will require mixing 1 part apple cider vinegar with 5 parts water in a spray bottle, and thoroughly spraying the plant once a month with the mixture.
No matter what treatment option you choose, you will also need to treat any other plants you are growing indoors, since the chance of pests infecting them as well is high.
4. Copper or sulfur fungicide
Fungal diseases are treated using either a copper or sulfur fungicide, which is sprayed directly onto the plant (I’ve had success with this copper fungicide in the past). Another option is to create your own homemade fungicide by mixing ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, which is also known as baking soda, with one gallon of water.
Mix until completely dissolved and then transfer to a spray bottle. Liberally mist the leaves, both the tops and the underside, with the solution.
Repeat the process once a day for 7 days to kill the fungal disease.
5. Avoid physical damage
If the leaf damage is caused by it being moved too much, decor getting caught on the leaves, or children and pets bothering the plant, then the treatment is simple: avoid bothering the pothos.
While you may need to move the plant to keep it out of the way, make that the last time you move the plant for some time as this can stress the plant and result in damage, including the holes in the pothos leaves you’ve already noticed. Try to also keep items away from its leaves and stems.
Furthermore, pothos should be kept out of reach of children and pets – not only to protect the plant, but also because pothos are toxic to dogs, cats, other pets and humans. Even though they are typically not deadly, pothos do contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals in their stems and leaves. These crystals are like glass shards and can tear and rip skin.
How do you prevent holes in pothos leaves?
The best way to prevent holes in pothos leaves is to provide the plant with proper care to ensure it’s healthy with strong growth. If you do spot a potential issue, take immediate action and don’t wait until the potential issue becomes a full blown problem.
Some other steps you should take include the following.
1. Increase the humidity level
To increase the humidity level, consider either purchasing a humidifier or placing the pothos’ pot on a pebble tray. Pebble trays are shallow trays filled with pebbles.
When the excess water runs out of the pot’s drainage holes, it fills the tray, and the water will evaporate, increasing the humidity level around the plant.
2. Grow pothos in the correct temperature
Temperature also plays a big role in how healthy the plant is. For best results, keep the pothos in a room with an average temperature of between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The plant should also be kept away from any area where there are extreme temperature fluctuations, such as near a heating vent or an exterior door.
3. Avoid overwatering
Fungal infections are typically caused by overwatering the plant. The best defense against this problem is to ensure you are not keeping the pothos’ soil soggy.
To know how often to water pothos, each time before watering the plant, insert your finger into the top 2 inches of the soil. If it feels moist, wait a day or two and then check the soil again. Only water the plant when the first 2 inches of soil starts to feel dry.
When you do water, make sure to water deeply to promote good root growth.
Find out the signs that you may have an overwatered pothos – as well as how to fix it ASAP.
4. Grow pothos in the right soil
The soil that the plant is growing in is essentially its lifeline. Pothos are pretty fast-growing but without the right type of soil, plants can quickly wither away – starting with the holes in your pothos’ leaves you’ve already noticed.
This is why you should always grow pothos in well-draining light potting soil that is rich in nutrients and has a pH level of 6.1 to 6.5. You can create your own pothos soil mixture by combining equal parts vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, sand, compost, shredded bark, and coco coir.
Find out more about the best soil for your pothos here.
5. Use pots with drainage holes
Pothos need well drained soil, but it won’t make a difference what type of soil the plant is growing in if the pot doesn’t have drainage holes. These holes allow for the excess water to run out of the pot, and help to prevent water-logged and soggy soil.
Related: Do Pothos Need Drainage?
6. Don’t forget to feed the pothos
Fertilizer is another good tool that every gardener should use, even for houseplants. Fertilizer helps to provide the pothos with vital nutrients to keep them happy and healthy. An all-purpose liquid fertilizer works well for pothos, and should be applied once a month as a general rule.
That said, double check to make sure that you follow the usage rate found on the back of the fertilizer bottle. Keep in mind, in particular, that providing too much fertilizer can also cause issues. That is why it is important to never use more than the recommended amount.
7. Keep the soil below the plant clean
Pests love when plant debris, such as leaves, blooms, and stems, collect on the surface of the soil surrounding the plant. This gives them a place to hide and can even entice pests to come on over to the pothos and set up shop.
Keeping the soil around the pothos tidy by regularly removing any fallen plant debris will go a long way to help prevent future pest problems. It can also help reduce the chance of mildew forming on the top of the soil, and prevent the spread of diseases.
8. Give the plant good air circulation
Poor air circulation can cause a slew of problems for the pothos plant, including insect and disease issues. You can ensure the plant has good air circulation by not crowding it around with other plants and pruning the plant when needed.
Pruning helps to get air flowing to the leaves that may be hidden near the center of the plant. Not only does air flow help to promote health, but it can also go a long way to preventing disease and pest issues that result in holes in pothos leaves.
9. Keep pothos out of direct sunlight
There is such a thing as too much sunlight, especially if that sunlight is direct and not filtered. In terms of what light your pothos needs, they prefer bright, indirect light, but can also grow in low or moderate lighting.
Placing the plant in direct sunlight is one of the fastest ways to burn the plant, causing holes in its leaves. Simply moving the plant out of direct sunlight will go a long way to preventing holes in pothos leaves.
10. Avoid overhead watering
Refrain from watering the plant from above and instead, water near the base of the plant. Watering overhead causes the leaves to become wet, which can result in fungal diseases.
Instead, always water at the soil level of the plant. This ensures the plant doesn’t have water just sitting on the surface of the leaf. If the plant’s leaves become dusty, gently wipe the leaves with a damp cloth, and avoid spraying the leaves with water.
Should I cut off leaves with holes?
Leaves infected with leaf spot disease will need to be removed as soon as possible to help prevent the disease from spreading. The brown holes in pothos leaves will start out small and unassuming, but can actually kill the plant if the infection is not treated.
What should I use to cut off the leaves?
When removing the leaves, make sure to use a clean and sharp pair of pruning shears. Cut the entire leaf off the plant, down to the stem, as soon as possible to help prevent the spread of the infection.
What should I do with the leaves once they are removed?
Once you have removed the diseased leaves, place them in the trash or burn them. Do not let them stay on the soil of your plant, and never add them to a compost pile. All diseased leaves will need to be destroyed to prevent the disease from spreading to other plants.
Furthermore, ensure you thoroughly sanitize the pruning shears immediately after using them to remove the diseased leaves. Not sanitizing the shears after each use only increases the chance of spreading the disease.
What if the holes are caused by pests?
If the holes in pothos leaves were made by an insect, removing them isn’t as dire as if the holes are a result of a disease. With that said, however, you should still remove any leaves with holes that are brown.
Green leaves can, however, stay on the plant. You should never remove more than 25-percent of the plant’s leaves at one time if the culprit is an insect. This can put unnecessary stress on the plant.
Final thoughts on preventing holes in your pothos leaves
Pothos is often referred to as the Devil’s Ivy because this plant is extremely adaptable and hard to kill. No matter how tough this plant is, however, not providing it with the proper care will quickly cause the pothos to succumb to diseases, pests, and poor management.
That is why it is vital for the life of the plant to not only give it the ideal environment to grow in, but also to quickly treat issues that may arise. Doing so will keep pests and diseases at bay, while ensuring your pothos plant thrives for many years.