Do Golden Pothos Take Direct or Indirect Sunlight? How Much Sun Do They Need?

Looking to add a Golden Pothos to your indoor or outdoor garden, but want to make sure you get their sunlight needs correct? Proper sunlight is crucial to the growth of every plant. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines if this plant takes direct, or indirect sunlight, and what you can expect.

Golden Pothos in Sunlight


Golden pothos are among the most common and dazzling of all houseplants. Their green and gold heart-shaped foliage vines throughout homes and buildings all over the world.

Also known as Epipremnum aureum, pothos is a tropical evergreen plant that is exceptionally adaptable and easy to grow indoors. It tolerates low-light settings and irregular waterings. Pothos is even nicknamed “Devil’s Ivy” because it can be so hard to kill!

While golden pothos can tolerate low light, it is not totally invincible. Low light does not mean no light! Too little light can weaken the plant and cause “leggy” vine growth without many leaves. Low light can also cause them to lose their beautiful golden variegation. On the flip side, too much light can burn the foliage.

Thankfully, if you want to grow a vibrant pothos plant, it is as easy as placing it in an area with the perfect amount of bright, indirect light.

What are Golden Pothos?

Green Plant in Blue Planter
This is one of the most popular houseplants in existence.

Golden pothos is a variety of popular indoor houseplants called pothos, Devil’s Ivy, or the more scientific name Epipremnum aureum. It is a tropical vine that originated in French Polynesia and Southeast Asia and has since been bred for specific traits like unique coloring.

This cultivar is defined by its attractive variegated leaves that are splashed and speckled with striking golden-yellow on a dark green backdrop. Every golden pothos plant is patterned a little bit different- no two leaves are the same. However, the dazzling coloring of their leaves is highly impacted by the amount of light it receives.

How Much Light Do They Need?

Plant in a Brown Planter
This plant requires bright, indirect sunlight to thrive.

For optimal growth, this plant thrives in bright, but indirect sunlight. Often the best place for them is 5-10 feet away from a south-facing window (closer to the interior of a room), or near a west-facing window. Pothos can grow near any windowsill as long as it isn’t so close that it gets burned, nor so far away that it is desperately reaching for light.

These tropical vines were basically destined to become houseplants because they are so adapted to dappled shade and indirect sunlight. In their native habitat, pothos ramble and wind along the tropical rainforest floor or up the trunks of trees and structures.

This means that they are never in full direct sunlight; they tolerate quite a bit of shade. They can even live long and happy lives in places that don’t get much sun, like on top of your refrigerator. But the pothos is still a plant, which means it needs to photosynthesize by having the green parts of its leaves exposed to the sun to make its own food.

The biggest mistake made by beginner pothos parents is placing the plant in too much shade or near-darkness. The result is often a very sad, slow-growing pothos plant that loses its beautiful color and starts desperately winding toward the light.

Signs of Too Little Sunlight

Plant With Leaf Spots on Table
There are several signs of too little sunlight with this particular houseplant.

Pothos are a very beginner-friendly plant because they clearly communicate what they need. The plant will tell you if it is thirsty, overwatered, or not getting the proper amount of light. Simply paying attention to the signs and symptoms of your pothos plant will help you grow the prettiest houseplant possible.

Weakening Foliage

Wilted Plant
Weakening leaves can be a sign of too little sunlight.

If your pothos isn’t getting enough light, the first symptom will be faded, yellowing, or weakened foliage and slow growth. The leaves may be softer, smaller, and thinner, without that robust growth we all envy in big luscious houseplants.

Loss of Variegation in Leaves

Plant in Sun Near Window
Plants without enough sun will lose their variegated leaves.

Golden pothos in particular will begin losing their gorgeous golden variegation, instead turning mostly green to try to compensate for the low-light conditions. This can be quite a bummer if you bought this plant specifically for its pretty coloring.

Remember, the chloroplasts of plants (where they do most of their photosynthesizing) are located in the green parts of the leaves. If there is not enough light, the plant will literally alter its genetics to stop producing the golden or white portions of the leaves. Plants are smarter than we think! These plants quickly turn to bland green pothos under low light conditions.

Slow Growth

Slow Growing Potted Plant
If you find your plant is growing slow, it could be due to lower light conditions.

If it seems like your pothos is growing agonizingly slow, it may be due to low light conditions. Plants produce their own food using sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, and minerals, so if any one of these factors is missing, the plant will have a difficult time photosynthesizing and growing new foliage.

Pothos quickly become stunted and slow growing when they don’t have enough light to fuel their photosynthetic processes. However, slow growth can also come from issues with watering, soil, or plant nutrition. Check for other symptoms to determine if lighting is the main reason for your pothos’ lagging growth. And when in doubt, just experiment with moving it to a new location.

Leggy Vines

Plant on Window Ledge
Leggy vines are caused by a lack of sunlight.

Low light will also cause “leggy” vines. As the plant reaches for the sun, it lengthens the space between each leaf. Leaves get smaller and the stems get more frail and lanky. This causes a spindly appearance that is not nearly as attractive as lush, healthy pothos. Thankfully, pruning and moving to a brighter area can quickly resolve this issue to create more bushy growth.

If you really want a pothos to grow in an ultra low-light area like a bathroom with a small window, consider purchasing a Jade Pothos (the pure green kind) for the best results. They simply can’t handle areas of the home without enough sunshine through the window.

Signs of Too Much Sunlight

Brown and Dry Leaf
There are several signs of your plant getting too much sunlight.

Did you know that plants can get sunburn? This is especially a risk for for this plant because of the lightened regions of the plant. These areas don’t have as much chlorophyll to protect them from bright, direct sunlight.

Like we discussed above, pothos is naturally a shade or under-canopy plant when it grows wild in the tropics. Too much light can burn the leaves, wash out the lighter leaves, cause yellowing or browning, and even kill the plant.

Sunburnt Yellow or Brown Leaves

Dried Out Plant Leaves
Sunburned or browning leaves can be a result of too much sunlight.

If you place your plant in a window with harsh, direct sunlight, the leaves will definitely get burned. This plant did not evolve to grow in full sun the way that tomatoes or zucchini do.

Yes, pothos needs bright light, but it needs to be indirect. This means the plant should be closer to the interior of the room or able to capture that bright natural sunlight without being directly under the rays.

Sunburn looks like brown or crispy lesions in the leaves. It can also cause yellowing near the veins that eventually leads to parts of the leaf dying off altogether. An overall lightening of the foliage is another sure sign of too much light. As opposed to the paler green effect from low light conditions, sunburn leads to a washed-out light yellow effect that looks unhealthy and unhappy.

Washed Out Variegation

Plant with Too Much Sun
Too much sun can also wash out your plant’s variegation.

When this plant gets too much direct sunlight, the variegated portions of the leaves start to look “washed out”. They turn an unattractive shade of pale yellow or white and lose the elegant striping or speckling that you see on healthy plants. The variegation loses contrast and vibrancy.

But don’t worry, the plant can quickly restore its attractive coloring once you move it to a medium light condition that isn’t quite so bright.

Where to Place Pothos in Your Home

Plant Near Windowsill
This plant should always be placed near a window with plenty of natural light.

Pothos grow best in an area with lots of natural light. Bright and indirect are the keywords here.

Choose rooms with large windows, but avoid placing the pothos plant right next to the window. Golden pothos loves to sit on bookshelves, hang from the center of the room, or vine along the periphery where it can capture sunlight without being directly under its harsh rays.

If you have a south-facing window, place pothos 5-10 feet toward the interior of the room to avoid burning.

For an east or west-facing window, they can grow closer to the window in a hanging basket or pot. However, you should still avoid placing the plant right next to the windowsill.

If you have a north-facing window or a window that is partially shaded by trees or structures, you can place the pothos on the window sill. This way it can harvest enough sunlight for vigorous growth, but not so much that it will be burned.

If your house gets very little to no sunlight through the windows, pothos may enjoy supplemental LED lighting that is placed far up in the ceiling or to the side of the plant. Sometimes it can get by on artificial lighting alone, but this isn’t ideal for lush growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can they survive in low light?

Golden pothos will tolerate low light, but it won’t thrive. Ideally, these plants prefer bright indirect light. Low light conditions may result in less vibrant coloration in the leaves and lanky, spindly vine growth. They prefer being near a large window, but not so close that they will get sunburned.

Can they grow in the shade?

They can be grown in some shade, but it still needs plenty of indirect sunlight to produce the lush, vibrant leaves it is famous for. In tropical regions, pothos will gladly vine outdoors under the canopy of shrubs and trees. As a houseplant, pothos prefers bright indirect light.

How do I know when my pothos needs more sun?

The main signs that pothos need more sunlight are slow growth, leggy vines, yellow or pale leaves, and a loss of variegation or contrast in the leaf colors. Move pothos toward bright, indirect light to see if it improves within a few weeks.

Can they get too much sun?

Due to the gold variegations in its leaves, golden pothos can easily get sunburned if it is exposed to too much sunlight. Avoid placing these tropical plants in harsh, direct light or they may turn yellow, brown, or whitish in color. Plants can even become crispy and begin to die back from sunburn. This plant prefers dappled indirect light.

Final Thoughts

Golden pothos are a joy to grow because they are so resilient and easy to please. This beginner friendly plant will gladly vine throughout your home even if its conditions are less-than-ideal. But if you really want to impress your friends with a dazzling houseplant jungle, be sure to give pothos the bright, indirect light that it craves. Happy growing!

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