The Best Way to Grow a Pothos Ivy Plant

Few plants top the pothos vine (Epipemnum aureum) as a fast-growing, dependable and attractive plant with many different uses. Also called golden pothos because of its variegated, green-and-yellow leaves, it can grow outdoors year-round in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12, but also makes a versatile houseplant. Exceptionally easy to grow, the pothos adapts to different environments, provided it's given some general care and a trim now and then.

Scindapsus aureus Eagler.
credit: Usere6035d91_515/iStock/Getty Images
A close-up of leaves on a climbing pothos vine.

Growing in the Ground

In warm climates, pothos vines make a fast-growing ground cover when they're allowed to trail along the ground, with each vine becoming up to 40 feet long after several years. Pothos stems have grasping aerial roots, so they can also climb trunks and branches when planted close to a tree; this normally doesn't cause tree damage and can be an interesting feature. If you plant pothos in the ground, choose a spot that gets some morning sun but is in partial or full shade in the hot afternoon hours, to prevent scorching of leaves. As a ground cover, space plants 10 to 20 feet apart to fill in the area completely.

Pothos is tolerant of most garden soils, including clay or sand, but it does best in rich, loamy, well-drained soil. It can tolerate occasional wet periods and is also quite tolerant of dryness. But providing extra water during summer drought helps keep a garden-grown pothos healthy and new leaves coming non-stop.

Container Growing

Sometimes called devil's ivy, pothos also makes an attractive container-grown plant, either by itself or combined with other plants. In warm climates, it can stay outdoors year-round, provided it isn't in constant summer sun; in fall and winter, you can move an outdoor container into a spot that gets shifting sun during the day, to promote strong yellow color on new leaves. Whether container-grown or in the ground, pothos can also grow in full shade, which promotes faster growth but results in less colorful leaves.

A potted pothos also makes a good houseplant, either in a standing pot or a hanging basket, which lets vines cascade downward. Grow it in bright, indirect light, such as a foot or two from a lightly curtained, south- or west-facing window. Keep its soil consistently moist except in winter, when letting the soil dry slightly between waterings gives the plant a rest.

Plant Maintenance

Pothos vines don't require fertilization, but you can promote lush growth by feeding monthly with a balanced, 10-10-10 fertilizer, diluted at a rate of 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water, but check your product for further directions. Stop feeding during fall and winter when the plant rests.

Pothos benefits from regular trimming to keep it within bounds and looking tidy. If you grow it outdoors as a ground cover, trim the vines back several times each year, especially along the edges of the patch to prevent unwanted spread. Use sharp shears, wiping the blades with rubbing alcohol between cuts to prevent spread of disease.

For a container-grown plant, regular trimming keeps the plant in good shape and, in a mixed planting, helps prevent it from filling the pot. If a vine becomes long and leggy, trimming it also promotes bushiness by stimulating branching.

Avoiding Problems

Pothos is usually trouble-free and rarely develops serious pest infestations. But an indoor-grown plant might attract mites, especially when grown in dry air. These microscopic pests produce web-like coverings on leaves. Control them by spraying the plant until dripping with insecticidal soap, diluted at a rate of 5 tablespoons per gallon of water; repeat every week or two as needed. Plant diseases are rare, although roots may rot if soil is poorly drained or stays wet for long periods. Never keep a container-grown plant in a water-filled saucer, to help avoid this problem.

All parts of a pothos plant are poisonous, making this a poor choice for an outdoor or indoor spot frequented by children or pets.