Pothos, also known as the devil’s ivy, is a popular houseplant grown by backyard gardeners worldwide. A rare but concerning condition you might run into when growing this plant is the leaves turning translucent. What causes this, and what can you do about it?
Your pothos leaves can turn translucent due to the following reasons:
- Too much sunlight can bleach chlorophyll.
- Overwatering is the main culprit behind root damage.
- Fungal infections make things worse.
- Nutrient deficiencies can decrease chlorophyll production.
- Extreme pH levels reduce nutrient acquisition.
- Compacted soil leads to oxygen starvation.
In this article, I’ll go over each of these causes in more detail and discuss what you can do to prevent further damage and aid your pothos on their path to recovery. Stay tuned to find out more.
Excessive Sunlight Is a Problem
One more common reason pothos leaves turn translucent is overexposure to sunlight. The devil’s ivy comes in a handful of varieties, but something most of them have in common is that they prefer shadier conditions.
Too Much Sunlight Can Bleach Chlorophyll
The ideal sun exposure for your pothos is bright but indirect light. This makes them perfect for indoor growing on window sills or bright areas.
The plant is very flexible and hardy, though, as it can tolerate low light conditions without much of a problem. Light from fluorescent lamps and bulbs, for example, is enough to keep it going.
The problem arises when it is exposed to intense sunlight. Things get even worse if temperatures are at a year-round high, further lowering the plant’s already low innate resilience against the sun.
The most common effects of sun damage are, admittedly, browning and burnt patches. However, you may also end up with translucent leaves if the sunlight happens to be mild enough to not burn a hole through your pothos’ leaves but intense enough to bleach the chlorophyll within.
Chlorophyll is the pigment in plants that gives them their green color. Its presence is essential for the occurrence of photosynthesis, which is why plant leaves tend to have so much of it.
Intense sunlight can bleach it very efficiently, which results in the exposed areas losing their green color. What you end up with is a colorless or translucent patch of matter.
Interestingly, too much sunlight can also cause a progressive whitening of your pothos leaves if you have a variegated variety. The plant turns green to white (by eliminating chlorophyll) of its own accord to better cope with the increased sunlight.
The reverse is also true: lower sunlight causes some of the white stripes to turn green. In fact, that’s the most common way variegated plants lose their variegation.
Controlling and Reversing Sun Damage
If you suspect damage due to excessive sunlight, the good news is that this damage is easily reversible. All you have to do is reposition your pothos to a less sunny location or provide partial shade from the sun, ideally during the afternoon, when the sun is at its highest.
Your pothos will recover on their own shortly.
Too Much Water Content in the Plant
Overwatering can lead to your pothos taking in too much water at a time, leading to translucent leaves. Although this may seem harmless, too much water also leads to root damage.
Root damage is nothing to scoff at. It’s a severely debilitating condition that can cause even the most resilient plants to die because of starvation.
Overwatering Is the Main Culprit Behind Root Damage
What causes root damage? The answer is almost always overwatering.
Overwatering results in waterlogged soils. These saturated soils, in turn, reduce the amount of oxygen available to the roots of your pothos.
The afflicted roots start decaying and slowly die off. Of course, without a functioning root system, a plant has no way of supplying itself with the nutrients it needs to live.
Among other signs, such as wilting leaves, a droopy plant, and poor overall health, you may see translucent leaves, especially in the earlier stages of water damage.
Besides depriving the root system of the life-preserving oxygen it needs, overwatering can also indirectly cause the plant’s roots to die off.
Fungal Infections Make Things Worse
Unfortunately, there are a variety of dormant fungi in the soil. These fungi need moist conditions to become active. And the first thing they do upon becoming active is feed on the roots of your precious plant.
Fungal growth in the roots is less common of a problem relative to the others we’ve mentioned in this article, but it is still very much a reality if you frequently overwater your pothos’ and don’t allow the soil to dry between waterings.
The Ideal Watering Routine
How can you tell that your pothos are suffering from overwatered soil? A very accurate way to do so is by doing a little bit of digging and taking a look at the roots. Root rot due to overwatering is a very visible condition, as the roots turn black and mushy.
You may be wondering what the ideal watering routine is—one that ensures your plant is never too thirsty and that it doesn’t get its roots hurt by too much water.
The exact answer depends upon your location and specific conditions (such as temperature, humidity, rainfall, and sunlight), but you can start by watering once per week and check how long it takes for the soil to dry up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) deep. You’ll need to make significant adjustments during the winter.
The key is to let the soil dry briefly before rewatering. When you do water, be generous, but make sure you don’t go overboard. It also helps to have well-draining soil that doesn’t retain water.
Thankfully, the pothos plant is resilient against low water conditions, so you have some room for error. It’s overwatering that will severely affect your plant.
How to Deal With Damage
If all you’re seeing are translucent leaves and the pothos appear to be otherwise healthy, the plant may just have absorbed too much water from the soil. However, this indicates that the current water levels in the soil are beyond what’s healthy.
At this point, you must reevaluate your watering routine and develop something more adequate. You may also need to improve your soil’s drainage capacity by working some compost or perlite into the mix.
Alternatively, you can repot your plant in a fresh potting mix with better drainage and a more breathable pot with enough drainage holes.
Unfortunately, once root rot sets in, there’s not much you can do to reverse the damage already done, which makes prevention the best approach.
Issues in the Soil Also Need Your Attention
Some issues with the soil can lead to translucent leaves, including:
Nutrient Deficiencies Can Decrease Chlorophyll Production
As we mentioned earlier, chlorophyll is what gives plant leaves their green color. Since it’s essential to their continued thriving, plants are continually making more of it. However, they do need resources to do so—in the form of nutrients.
Nutrient deficiencies can cause a sharp decrease in the amount of chlorophyll a pothos plant can produce and, consequently, result in translucent leaves.
The most important nutrients to watch out for are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, also commonly abbreviated as NPK. However, manganese, iron, and magnesium also warrant some attention because these nutrients are responsible for chlorophyll formation.
You can test your soil’s nutrient composition by using a soil testing kit or sending a sample to your local agriculture center. Fortunately, nutrient deficiencies can be remedied with ease with the use of fertilizers.
Extreme pH Levels Reduce Nutrient Acquisition
Extreme pH levels in the soil—whether acidic or alkaline—make it harder for the roots to absorb nutrients from the earth, leading to the same problem we just discussed: limited chlorophyll production due to a lack of nutrients.
The ideal pH range for pothos plants is 6.1 to 6.8 (slightly acidic). While you should be fine as long as you’re within this range, acquiring nutrients is more comfortable for pothos plants at the lower end of this bracket, making slightly acidic conditions more favorable.
Soil pH levels can be tested using a testing kit and remedied by using acidic or basic agents, which often happen to be fertilizers.
Compacted Soil Leads to Oxygen Starvation
Compacted soil, as you might guess from the name, is highly dense and compact soil with little to no air pockets within. These air pockets are essential for healthy roots, as roots need oxygen to survive.
Besides oxygen starvation, compact soil also heavily limits the degree to which roots can expand and grow for apparent reasons. Shallow roots have limited access to nutrients and water, which leaves the plant more vulnerable to starvation and dehydration during bad times.
Compacted soil is less of an issue for backyard gardeners and indoor growers, but you may run into it occasionally. Using a lighter potting mix and limiting foot trespass near your outdoor garden is how you prevent soil from compacting.
To treat compacted soil, work in some organic matter, such as compost. As it decays, air bubbles will form within the soil and help to aerate it. This is somewhat of a long-term process, though.
For indoor pothos, it’s best to avoid using garden soil, as it can be too dense. You can use soilless potting mixes with equal parts compost, coco coir, perlite, and orchid bark.
What to Do With Translucent Leaves
When it comes to leaves that have already gone translucent, you have two options.
- Leave them be and address the underlying issue: With any luck, they’ll regain their natural color and fully recover, given that initial conditions weren’t too bad.
- Remove these leaves from the plant: This encourages new growth and is better done sooner than later if the initial damage is severe and chances of recovery appear slim.
The second option isn’t as bad as it sounds because pothos grow exceptionally fast. With proper care, you’ll have vigorous new growth in mere weeks.
Pothos leaves turning translucent is a condition seldom seen in the plant, but it is a cause for concern and can indicate adverse circumstances.
The most common cause is too much water in the soil leading to excessive water content in the leaves; however, excessive sunlight and nutrient deficiencies are also likely culprits.
You can either deadhead the translucent leaves or leave them be. Either way, once you address the underlying issue, your pothos will grow back to its full glory.