Pothos Sunburn – How it Happens and Next Steps
It can be heartbreaking to discover when the leaves of your lovely pothos have become sunburned from exposure to too much light. Can you save pothos leaves that experience sunburn? Will it affect the rest of the plant? How did it happen?
Sunburned leaves are a real threat to pothos plants, and can result from a variety of factors. The most common cause of burnt leaves is prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. There are a range of other variables that can influence the extent of the damage, such as temperature, humidity and available moisture. Even too much fertilizer can result in leaf burn – however this is unrelated to sunlight. You can guard against pothos sunburn by implementing a few key changes, and we’ll discuss these tips in detail later – so stay tuned.
Before we discuss protection strategies to avoid sunburn, we need to first understand how your pothos got burnt in the first place.
Why Did My Pothos Get Sunburned
As we mentioned earlier, there are many factors that may have contributed to your pothos sunburn. Let’s take a closer look at the role each factor contributes to leaf burn.
Just like our skin, a pothos’ leaf can experience sunburn when it is exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time. The intense heat quickly dehydrates the foliage, leaving them brown with a crispy texture.
Sunburn generally occurs by accident.
For example, when aspects of the sun change throughout the year, and you forget to move your plant away from a sunlit window. Or maybe you left a pothos plant outside, like Julia, to soak in some rain. Unfortunately, Julia forgot to bring her golden pothos back inside, and it was exposed to direct sunlight, resulting in some serious pothos sunburn (pictured below).
The general rule of thumb for pothos lighting requirements is plenty of indirect bright light. They may be able to tolerate short periods of direct sunlight. However, this should only ever be dappled with morning or late evening sunlight, when the intensity is low.
Overall Lack of Moisture
One factor that will increase the likelihood of a pothos experiencing sunburn is the lack of moisture in the immediate ambient environment. This includes moisture levels in the soil and air (humidity – explained in the next section).
As we indicated above, sunburn causes a leaf to become severely dehydrated. However, if a leaf has multiple sources of moisture to draw upon, it has a fighting chance to stave off becoming sunburned.
Without these additional water sources, it will be exposed to quickly drying up, resulting in damaged leaves.
Being tropical plants, pothos require humid conditions to thrive. When the humidity levels are lower than the ideal setting for a pothos, they can struggle with the lack of moisture in the air.
The lack of humidity can contribute to the pothos becoming dehydrated, leaving it susceptible to becoming sunburned.
High temperatures will also accelerate the evaporation of water from your pothos and soil. As the water leaves your plant, it will become weak and vulnerable to becoming burnt. This becomes exaggerated when your pothos experiences prolonged heatwaves.
For this reason we recommend you move any potted pothos indoors during periods of extreme temperatures to avoid damage to the plant and leaves.
Toxic Fertilizer Burn
A build up of fertilizer in your soil can also lead to burn marks on your pothos’ leaves. The burns can look similar to sunburned leaves, however these marks are completely unrelated to any lighting issues.
You can tell when your pothos is suffering from fertilizer burn (as opposed to sunburn), because the leaves will also have a distinct yellow color surrounding the burn marks. You may also see a chemical build up on the surface of your soil.
Fertilizer burn is caused by overfeeding your pothos or your soil is old and has accumulated unused chemicals over the years that you have had your pothos.
How to Fix Fertilizer Burn on Your Pothos
If you suspect your pothos has fertilizer burn, you have two options:
- Repotting your pothos into fresh potting mix, or
- you can flush your plants’ soil to get rid of the excess chemicals.
If you have never flushed a houseplant before, check out this useful video tutorial by Marianne from My Wasteless Life
How to Tell if Your Pothos is Sunburned
Pothos plants that have been severely sunburned is easy to identify. The leaves will have brown crispy patches, appear limp and look very sorry for themselves. In bad cases of sunburn, the leaves may even show degradation and develop holes where it was exposed to direct sunlight.
If your pothos is exhibiting these symptoms, jump straight over to the next section on how to fix a sunburned pothos.
In minor cases of pothos sunburn, the leaves won’t necessarily look as sickly, however you will notice some coloration changes. Leaves that are in the beginning stages of sunburn will have patches of white or light green where the chlorophyll has started to breakdown within the leaf cells. These light patches will progress to the brown spots if it continues to be exposed to direct sunlight.
Bear in mind, if you observe yellow coloration around these patches, your pothos may be suffering from too much fertilizer. For solutions, refer to our previous section on over-fertilized pothos plants.
How to Fix Pothos Sunburn?
The good news is, if you follow the steps in this guide, your pothos should survive this ordeal.
But we recommend haste! Your pothos will already be weakened from the sunburn experience, so we need to revitalize it quickly.
Step – Give it Some Shade
If you haven’t already, move your pothos into a position that isn’t exposed to direct sunlight.
We don’t mean putting it in a box in complete darkness – or even in low-light conditions. The dramatic change in lighting could send your pothos over the edge into shock.
Rather, try to keep it in the same room in some medium light or moderate light – just keep it out of the bright sunlight.
Step – Remove Any Damaged Leaves
Now for the bad news – any leaves that were sunburned will need to be removed. Unfortunately they will not recover. The burnt leaves will use up precious nutrients that your pothos could redirect to new growth or retain to remain strong.
Remember to use sterilized instruments when cutting any plants to avoid any infections or contaminations.
Step – Rehydrate Your Pothos
We mentioned earlier that sunburn often results after your plant has used up all its water reserves. This means it may be completely dehydrated, and you need to top it up with some much-needed water.
We recommend bottom watering your pothos. Begin by placing your pothos in a bucket filled with distilled water to allow the soil and roots to absorb as much water through the drainage holes as it requires.
You may find after 20-30 minutes you will need to top up the distilled water in the container as your plant rehydrates – it will be very thirsty.
Keep topping it up until your pothos stops absorbing the water and the water level ceases to drop.
STEP – After Care for Your Sunburned Pothos
Make sure the new position for your pothos is well ventilated with medium humidity levels. The additional moisture in the air will allow your pothos to settle in and recover from the ordeal.
If you don’t have enough humidity in your home, try placing your pothos on a pebble tray to give it a localized boost of humidity.
The most important thing you need to keep on top of are the moisture levels. Your pothos will be looking to replace all the lost water reserves as quickly as possible. And the best thing you can do is to make sure it has the necessary water for it to use.
What is the Ideal Light for Pothos Plants?
Now let’s turn our attention to how to prevent future pothos sunburn.
Pothos thrive in positions that receive an abundance of indirect sunlight for 6-8 hours of the day.
As you have learned from your experience, they cannot tolerate direct sunlight.
But we understand some pothos owners may be restricted in space – especially those that live in apartments. This can drastically reduce the number of options in which you have to move your pothos.
In cases like these, we recommend installing sheer curtains over the window to shield from the sunlight.
Even though it is only a thin piece of see-through material, it is sometimes enough to filter the direct sunlight, and decrease the intensity of the light and heat.
Pothos Sunburn – Common Questions
What do you do with burnt pothos leaves?
Unfortunately burnt pothos leaves will need to be removed from the plant. Even if they survive the ordeal, they will not regenerate to produce a full leaf again. The leaf will also use up precious nutrients and energy from the main plant, which could have potentially been directed towards new growth.
Use sterilized garden scissors to cut the leaf off close to the node and compost the burnt leaf.
What happens if pothos gets too much sun?
Pothos plants require indirect bright light in order to grow and thrive. When your pothos plant is exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time, it will dehydrate, with the risk of sunburns on the exposed leaves.
The sunburn will shock your plant, and it will become weak from the ordeal. This can leave it susceptible to diseases and pests. Without intervention, it is likely your pothos will succumb to the damage and die.