Can You Grow Pothos Plants Outdoors? Will They Survive?
Pothos plants are an indoor plant favorite amongst many amateur gardeners. But what about growing them outside? Is that a good or bad idea and will they actually live outside in your climate or hardiness zone? Organic gardening expert Logan Hailey explores what you can expect if you attempt to grow these popular plants outside.
Pothos plants are among the most popular houseplants in the world. These resilient verdant vines can grow in low-light conditions with dappled sun from a window or even the fluorescent lights of an office building. They are popular houseplants due to their hardiness and low maintenance watering needs.
But no plant species in history has been confined to indoor life. This tropical native with many different cultivars is eager to reach its fullest potential outside amongst ornamental gardens. It can even reach up to 60 feet long outdoors! But does that mean you should actually grow your pothos plant outdoors? The answer is, “it depends.”
While we know these plants will flourish indoors, there’s some specific criteria you’ll need to think through before committing to grow a pothos plant outdoors. Let’s dig into whether or not you can grow pothos outdoors in your climate or hardiness zone.
Can You Grow Pothos Plants Outdoors?
Pothos plants are subtropical or tropical vines that are only truly hardy in USDA growing zones 10-12. This means that they can grow as perennial evergreen vines outdoors just like they do in their native habitat. However, in cooler temperate climates, pothos can be grown as an outdoor annual, greenhouse plant, or as a potted plant that is moved inside during cold weather.
To really understand why this plant thrives in certain climates and not others, you have to consider what pothos plants really are and where they come from.
While most of us know them as a common houseplant, this species (Epipremnum aureum) is an evergreen perennial vine native to French Polynesia, Australia, and Southeast Asia. In its wild habitat, their vines can vine over 60 feet long with leaves over 30” in width! Its shiny heart-shaped leaves and elegant dangling vines are easily recognized in indoor settings. However, when they reach their full maturity, the leaves transition to giant pinnate leaves with indented holes along the middle stem.
As a member of the Arum or Araceae family, E. aureum is closely related to Monstera, Philodendron, and taro. These warm weather plants have absolutely no tolerance for frost and thrive in tropical habitats. Many of them are also naturally understory plants, meaning they don’t require full sunlight.
Pothos’ love of warm moderate weather and tolerance of shade are what have made it the perfect houseplant for temperate regions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow these luscious vines outdoors!
There are several parts of the United States where pothos can thrive outdoors in the ground as an ornamental plant. It can also be grown as a garden annual or as a potted plant that gets moved indoors during the winter.
If you want to grow pothos outdoors, you have quite a few options. Epipremnum aureum is remarkably fast-growing and resilient. It can be grown as a perennial in subtropical zones or as an annual or potted plant in temperate zones.
In its wild native habitat, pothos is a luscious evergreen that vines through tropical jungles and up the sides of buildings. In the United States, they are typically hardy in USDA growing zones 10 through 12. This includes parts of southern and coastal California, southern Arizona, south Texas, and south Florida.
To grow pothos as an outdoor perennial, first be sure you are in the proper zone to do so. Check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find out the growing zone of your region. Zones 10 and warmer are able to grow pothos as a hardy outdoor plant. It will stay alive year after year (as long as no “once a decade” frosts hit the area).
If you aren’t lucky enough to live in these warm, sunny climates, don’t worry! We’ll dig into a few ways you can still grow them outdoors in cooler temperate regions.
In the subtropics, you can plant them as an understory vine throughout your ornamental gardens. You can also provide it with a trellis or let it climb up the sides of a pergola or patio.
Choose a partially shaded spot where the plant will be protected from harsh direct sunlight. The sunlight should be dappled and gentle.
The best locations are beneath other ornamental shrubs, near the margins of a patio or structure, or at the base mature trees. Make sure that they have plenty of room to vine and ramble along the ground or up a trunk. If you don’t want it to take over as ground cover, you need to provide it with a trellis.
Transplant them into the ground in the spring, ensuring that the soil is very well-drained and preferably sandy. Once they are established, outdoor plants in the subtropics typically don’t need extra irrigation. They can get by on the rainfall and groundwater as long as there are no prolonged droughts. If you expect cold weather below 45°F, consider protecting the pothos vines with a frost blanket (row cover) if possible.
In spite of their reputation as flowy houseplants, these plants are surprisingly rugged, tough plants. Before you plant them as an outdoor plant in a subtropical or tropical region, check local regulations to be sure that you aren’t accidentally introducing an invasive species.
Do not plant pothos outdoors if your local extension service has named it a category I or II invasive exotic plant! Make sure to keep them confined to a pot or container to protect native plants.
Pothos is native to Southeast Asia and French Polynesia and has been introduced to North America. While it has been widely grown as a houseplant in the United States, it can escape cultivation when planted outside and potentially displace native species.
You don’t want to accidentally plant a vine that will overtake your gardens or neighboring wild areas! Because of its aggressive growth in natural areas, many parts of Florida recommend that they are only grown in a pot.
Growing as an Outdoor Annual
If you live in a cooler climate, you can plant them as a fast-growing annual in the garden. The pothos will die in the fall when temperatures get too cold. However, you can enjoy lots of lush foliage all summer long. The main drawback to growing annually outdoors in the ground is that you have to restart the plant every year.
Growing outdoor annual pothos in USDA zones 4-9 is a lot like growing annual ornamental flowers. Though they aren’t edible, medicinal, or insectary plants, they add beauty and diversity to the garden for a short period of time. They also make a great “filler” plant in shady undergrowth areas where you cannot grow vegetables, herbs, or other ornamentals.
Some gardeners prefer to plant them in a sheltered “microclimate” location of the garden where it may last later into the fall thanks to the warm protection of structures or other plants. You can also plant it in a greenhouse in a pot or in the ground.
Whichever you choose, it’s not recommended to plant them in your vegetable gardens. It requires a moderate amount of shade and could potentially outcompete your precious vegetables. If ingested, pothos plants are mildly toxic to humans and animals.
Moving Potted Plants Outdoors
There’s nothing more beautiful than overflowing hanging baskets on a summer patio. Potted pothos can be grown in containers or baskets and moved outdoors during the warm months. In subtropical regions, they can simply live outdoors in the pot except for a few nights a year where it might get too cold.
This is the best choice for people who still want to grow big lush plants, but live in a cooler climate. Rather than planting them in the ground and losing it once a frost comes, you can simply grow the plant in a large pot. That pot then gets moved outside during the summertime and moved back to your home during the winter.
The advantage to this is you can maximize their growth during the warm summer months. You’ll still be able to enjoy all that gorgeous foliage when cool temperatures arrive. Rather than putting energy into growing another annual plant (that isn’t edible or medicinal), you can grow a lush potted plant that will add greenery to your garden in the summer and brighten up your indoor living space in the winter.
Moving potted pothos plants is fairly easy as long as the vines do not cling to other objects. Either place a trellis stick in the pot itself or keep it pruned so that it dangles from a hanging basket without grasping onto other structures. Worst case scenario, you can always unwind the vines or prune them off before moving indoors.
Temperature Range Requirements
In an ideal world, outdoor pothos plants enjoy temperatures between 70° and 90°F. They can tolerate down to 45-50°F for short time periods (or a little bit colder in some instances). But, prolonged cool temperatures can severely stunt or damage the plant. To keep it happy and lush, this heat-loving tropical vine needs to be protected from anything below 50°F.
In hot and dry zones, or zones with a colder climate, you’ll notice the plant start to change in the winter and summer. Their leaves will yellow when it’s hot and dry, and the plant itself will start to die in colder weather.
If you want to grow pothos as part of your outdoor landscape, be sure that you live in a subtropical growing zone (10-12). They cannot handle cold temperatures and prefers to stay above 50°F. If you have a well-insulated greenhouse, pothos can be grown as an indoor perennial in warmer temperate regions.
You can also grow them as an ornamental annual ground cover that dies back in the winter and needs to be replanted in the spring. But the best choice for most American gardeners is to grow pothos in a pot or hanging basket that can be moved outside during the warmer months and protected indoors when it gets cold.