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Known as the Devil’s Ivy, the pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is grown for its attractive deep green foliage that is oblong shaped and trailing. Since this tropical plant is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11, most people grow pothos indoors as a houseplant. 

Despite its easy-going nature, however, pothos need regular watering whenever the soil starts to feel dry. This ensures the plant thrives for many years. Unfortunately, this means that if you, ahem, forget to do this every now and then, you may be left with a struggling underwatered pothos.

That is, when the pothos isn’t receiving the proper amount of water, it is forced to exert more effort to suck out moisture from the soil. Water is also vital for the health and wellness of the plant’s cells, and a lack of this will cause those cells to shrink. If underwatering continues, the pothos will experience stunted growth and eventually die.

Clearly that isn’t ideal, so if you think you may be dealing with this situation, keep reading to find out what you can do.

underwatered pothos by a window

What does an underwatered pothos look like?

An underwatered pothos is easy to spot, and provides various tell-tale signs that it is not receiving proper hydration. A wilted, brown appearance or dry soil are a few ways to tell if a pothos is overwatered. Another way is to see if its leaves appear dry and crisp.

These are all underwatered pothos signs caused by lack of hydration. That said, there are a bunch of others too as I’ll run through below.

1. Yellowing and Browning Leaves

One of the most common signs of an underwatered pothos is yellowing leaves. In most cases, you will have some leaves that are turning yellow, while others are turning brown. 

If, however, you notice leaves that have both yellow and brown coloring on the same leaf, that is a sign of overwatering and not underwatering.

Learn the telltale signs of an overwatered pothos here.

2. Plant Looks Smaller or Thinner

Dehydration causes the pothos to appear smaller or thinner. Without the proper amount of water, the plant will begin to lose moisture through its leaves, which causes the pothos to look weak, small, and thin.

underwatered pothos in a white pot

3. Crispy and Dry Leaves

Pothos that are not receiving enough water will start to develop crispy and dry leaves. They may also appear brittle and begin to fall apart if you touch them. 

You may also notice the leaves appear droopy and wilted. This is because the roots cannot properly distribute moisture to the leaves due to lack of water in the soil.

4. Leaves with Brown or Black Tips

When the plant doesn’t get regular watering, you’ll notice your formerly green leaves will start to turn to black or you could even develop brown leaf tips on your pothos.

5. Dry Soil

If you notice the plant’s soil is drying out quickly between waterings, then you may have an underwatered pothos on your hands. Along with lack of water, the plant may also be growing in a container that is too small. Most experts recommend repotting the pothos after its first year.

soil in a pot with gardening equipment

6. Soil Pulling Away from the Pot

When soil becomes too dry, it will shrink, become compacted, and begin to pull away from the inside of the pot. When you’re looking at the soil inside the pothos’ pot, look along the inside walls of the pot at soil level. Do you see a space between the soil and the pot? That means the soil is too dry.

7. Water Pooling on the Soil

When you water the plant, you may notice that the water pools on the surface of the soil instead of being absorbed into it. This may last several seconds or even longer. This is a sign that the soil is dry and compacted, and your underwatered pothos desperately need water.

8. Stunted Growth

Stunted growth is a common symptom of various problems that can affect the pothos plant, and underwatering is one of them. When the plant isn’t regularly watered, it cannot provide the necessary energy and nutrients to encourage new and healthy growth.

9. Branches With No Leaves

When pothos have gone without proper hydration for an extended period of time, their leaves begin to fall off the plant. This results in a pothos with bare branches and leaves littering the soil under the plant.

10. Increase in Pest Problems

When a plant is stressed, which occurs when your pothos is underwatered, it opens itself up to attacks from various pests. In its weakened state, the pothos is unable to properly fight off the pests. 

If your plant has suddenly started experiencing an increase in pest problems, it could be caused by underwatering.

11. Curling leaves

If you notice your pothos leaves curling, the usual culprit is overwatering. However, strangely enough, this plant will show the exact same symptoms if you underwater your plant. As such, if you notice any leaf curl, it’s time to examine your watering schedule to see if that may be the problem.

Can I save an underwatered pothos?

Accidently underwatering your pothos doesn’t mean the plant will die. In fact, if caught early enough, an underwatered pothos can make a complete recovery and go on to live a healthy life. However, you will need to take quick action to ensure you don’t continue to underwater the pothos. 

If you notice the plant has already started wilting, then saving it becomes much harder.

watering can next to underwatered pothos

The most important thing you can do to save an underwatered pothos is to make sure you water it. Sounds simple enough. But the truth is, ensuring it has the right amount of water can be a difficult task. 

The plant needs to be watered deeply and regularly whenever its soil starts to dry. But take care not to over water it, as this can threaten the life of the plant as well.

How long does it take for an underwatered pothos to recover?

The amount of time it takes for an underwatered pothos to recover will depend on how long it has gone without proper watering. For plants that have just started to experience lack of hydration, they typically begin to recover within a few hours. For severe dehydration, it could take days for the pothos to fully recover from the experience.

The best thing you can do for your underwatered pothos is to immediately provide them with water. Even if you think it is a lost cause, you would be surprised to know how many of these resistant plants have been brought back from the break of dehydration in only a few short days.

How do you fix an underwatered pothos?

The good news is that if your pothos has been underwatered, you can fix the problem and get your plant back on the road to recovery. Once you have the plant healthy and happy again, take the necessary precautions to ensure it doesn’t become underwatered again.

1. Water Deeply

Fill a bucket or container full of water, and set the pothos (container and all) into the water. The container should be fully submerged. Let the pot sit in the water for 30 minutes. Remove the pothos from the bucket and let the water drain out the bottom of its pot.

Keep in mind, however, that overwatering is not a solution for an underwatered pothos. Great care should be taken to ensure you do not provide too much water, since this will only lead to more problems. 

2. Place Out Of Sunlight

Excessive sunlight can put stress on the plant, which is not a good thing since the plant is already stressed from underwatering so adding sunburn to your pothos isn’t recommended. In addition, it can cause moisture to evaporate from the leaves and the soil. 

That is why it is important to place the pothos in an area out of sunlight during the recovery process. Once the plant has started to recover, you can move it to an area where it will receive indirect but bright sunlight, which is just the type of light your pothos needs.

underwatered pothos on a coffee table getting light from a nearby window

3. Uproot the Plant

If the plant hasn’t started showing signs of recovery, you may need to carefully remove it from its container and let its roots soak in water. The water will need to be changed every few days to help prevent it from becoming stagnant. 

Once the plant starts to show signs of recovery, repot it with light, airy, and well-drained soil (you can see our top pick for the best pothos soil here).

4. Learn to Recognize a Healthy Pothos

One of the best ways to ensure your pothos doesn’t become unhealthy again is to learn what a healthy plant looks like. When the pothos is healthy and thriving, it will have green leaves that are glossy and perky. 

This information will help you determine whether your plant is on the right track in future with a quick visual inspection.

Related: 14 Proven Tips to Make a Pothos Fuller and Bushier

5. Continue to Water Regularly

Once the pothos has recovered, your job isn’t done. The plant will need regular watering, but you will also have to make sure you’re not watering too much. 

When it comes to how often to water pothos, a good general rule of thumb is to wait a few days between watering, and then test the soil dryness by inserting your finger a few inches into the soil. If the soil feels dry, water the plant like normal. If the soil still feels damp, wait a day or two and then test the dryness again.

6. Follow Proper Maintenance

Just because your plant is no longer on the brink of death caused by underwatering doesn’t mean you can let down your guard. You will still need to provide proper maintenance of the pothos to help keep them healthy. 

This includes removing and discarding any fallen leaves, fertilizing your pothos, and providing it with humidity.

Overwatered vs underwatered pothos?

The main difference between an overwatered and an underwatered pothos is that, when a plant is underwatered, the soil will feel extremely dry and possibly even crumbly. Also, if the leaves have both yellow and brown forming, the plant is probably overwatered.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two though, especially if the main signs just mentioned aren’t super clear. In those cases, it can help to give your plant a small amount of water.

If you’re dealing with an overwatered pothos, it should perk up pretty quickly. If your pothos is overwatered, this won’t be good for it and it won’t recover immediately – and is exactly why you shouldn’t use too much water when testing this.