If you’re a plant parent, you know how crucial it is to keep your plants healthy and thriving.
One of the most popular houseplants, the snake plant, is known for its resilience and low maintenance. However, even the most robust plants can show signs of distress if not cared for correctly.
In this article, we’ll discuss the signs of a dying snake plant and how to save it.
Recognizing the Signs of a Dying Snake Plant
If you’re a houseplant newbie, you may not realize your snake plant is struggling. But a dying snake plant displays several signs that indicate something is wrong. It’s crucial to recognize these signs early on to save your plant from further damage.
Let’s take a look at common symptoms of a dying snake plant and how to address them.
1. Color Changes to Your Snake Plant’s Leaves
Discolored leaves are often the first indication there’s a problem with your plant. Look for yellowing or browning leaves, white or brown/black spots, or brown and crispy tips. These symptoms can indicate a variety of issues, including pest infestation, disease, overwatering, or underwatering.
2. Altered Texture of the Leaves, Stem, or Roots
Snake plant leaves should be upright and firm. Droopy, mushy leaves, or squishy roots are classic signs of watering issues. On the flip side, curling or crumpled leaves also indicate there’s something going on.
3. Your Snake Plant Isn’t Growing
Snake plants are generally slow growers, depending on the light. Even so, there should still be noticeable growth. No growth, very slow growth, or leggy growth with thin narrow leaves, are all signs of stress.
Cold drafts, extreme temperatures, light, and low humidity can all affect the growth of your snake plant.
4. There Are Signs of Disease
You may notice signs of disease, such as brown or white spots or darkening of leaf edges. The roots may be mushy, browning, or turning black. These can be signs of bacterial or fungal infections.
5. Overwatering and Underwatering Signs
Overwatering and underwatering can both cause your snake plant to become unhealthy. Signs of overwatering include mushy texture, mushy roots, and yellow leaves. Signs of underwatering include dry soil, drooping leaves, and brown tips.
6. You Have a Pest Problem
Pest problems are no fun. Believe me, I know because I’ve seen them first hand!
Mealybugs, spider mites, and fungus gnats are all culprits to watch out for. Signs can include a cottony white substance on the leaves, webbing, or small insects flying around. You want to treat at the first sign of a pest issue.
7. Root Problems
Snake plant roots should be plump, firm, and slightly orange in color. Problem roots are soft, mushy, and dark.
8. Your Snake Plant Has a Generally Unhealthy Look
If your snake plant has an overall unhealthy look, that’s a sign something is going on. It’s important to dig further to see what’s causing its poor condition. Leaving your plant alone and hoping it’ll get better on its own, is never a good idea.
Causes of a Dying Snake Plant
If you’re noticing a decline in your snake plant, there are several possible reasons it’s starting to die. Here are some of the most common causes.
1. Watering Issues
Watering issues are by far the most common reasons a snake plant dies. Both overwatering and underwatering can cause snake plant illness. However, for most people, especially new plant parents, overwatering is the greater issue.
Snake plants are native to West Africa and have adapted to thrive in dry conditions. Too often new plant parents equate water with love. But that’s a no-no with snake plants. Overwatering can lead to serious issues such as root rot. Which can be fatal.
Yellowing leaves, mushy textures, or darkening roots are all indications of too much water. I’ve written an article on signs of an overwatered snake plant. You can find it here.
On the other hand, dry, crumpled leaves can indicate too little water. Snake plants like it on the drier side, but they need some water! Brown tips and crinkly leaves can mean the plant is running out of moisture.
2. Pest Infestation
If you’re noticing patches of white fluff, webbing, or sticky fluid on the leaves, you may have a pest problem.
Some common snake plant pests include:
- Spider Mites: These tiny arachnids can create fine webs and damage the leaves.
- Mealybugs: Small, white, cottony insects that cluster on the plant, especially in leaf joints.
- Scale Insects: They look like small, brown, or black scales attached to the leaves.
- Fungus Gnats: Small, flying insects that lay eggs in the soil, leading to root problems.
- Thrips: Slim, elongated insects that feed on plant tissues, causing discoloration and damage.
One way to test whether or not your plant has bugs is to shake your plant over a piece of white paper and see what falls out.
If you suspect an insect problem, move your plant away from your other plants to keep the infestation from spreading.
And, it’s important you deal with the problem right away, before the bugs get out of hand.
I spotted a few fungus gnats on my plants. I didn’t address the issue quickly enough and before I knew it, those little flying insects were everywhere!
3. Light Issues
Snake plants require bright, indirect light to thrive. A snake plant can live in a lower light area, but it won’t grow as quickly, or as nicely.
Snake plants that don’t receive enough light, become weak and leggy and start to stretch toward the light source.
On the other hand, if your snake plant is exposed to too much direct sunlight for too long, the leaves can become scorched and damaged.
4. Poor Drainage and Soil
Snake plants need well-draining soil to prevent root rot. If the soil is too compacted or does not drain well, the roots may become waterlogged and start to rot. This, coupled with overwatering your plant, will eventually kill the plant.
But it’s not just the soil that needs to drain, the pot your plant’s living in also needs a way for water to escape.
With snake plants, it’s best to use a pot with drainage holes and soil meant for arid plants, such as succulent and cactus soil. If succulent soil isn’t handy or available, African violet soil will also do the trick.
5. Root Rot and Disease
A common cause of snake plant death is root rot. Root rot is a potentially fatal disease that occurs when a snake plant’s soil becomes waterlogged. Soggy soil encourages bacteria and fungi and deprives the roots of oxygen. Poor oxygen leads to weak roots, which leaves them defenseless against the excess bacteria and fungi.
Yellowing, mushy leaves can be a sign of root rot. Unfortunately, by the time this rot affects the plant’s above-ground parts, the disease has already spread. If you see yellowing, mushy leaves, or stems, you’ll need to remove the plant from its pot and check the roots.
6. Environmental Causes
Snake plants are hardy and can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, but they do have limits. If your snake plant is not doing well, it could be due to extreme temperatures or poor humidity.
Snake plants like it on the warmer side, and don’t do well in temperatures below 55℉. If you notice white spots on the underside of the leaves, this could mean exposure to the cold or an abrupt temperature change.
Keep your snake plant in a warmer environment with moderate humidity and away from cold drafts. And if your plant goes outside in the summer, bring it in on those cold nights.
7. Nutrients and Fertilization
A houseplant can eventually use up the nutrients in its soil if,
- it’s a heavy feeder
- you’re not replenishing the soil
- or, the plant has outgrown its pot
Snake plants require very little fertilizer, but in these scenarios, your plant may not be receiving enough nutrients and it’s declining as a result. If this is the case, giving your plant a little fertilizer and fresh soil will help.
The key, though, is a little. Overfertilizing a snake plant can cause the leaves to turn brown and die. Opt for a fertilizer with an even ratio, such as a 10-10-10, and fertilize sparingly during the growing season.
Snake plants don’t need repotting often. Anywhere from 3 – 10 years, depending on the light. But, if you’re noticing the plant’s roots are starting to escape from the bottom or top of the pot, that’s a sign it has outgrown its pot.
How to Save a Dying Snake Plant
Now that you know some common causes of a snake plant’s demise, it’s time to find out how to fix these problems.
Don’t worry. If you notice that your snake plant is dying, there are a few things you can do to save it. These guys are resilient and can take a lot of abuse.
Saving your dying snake plant starts with identifying the problem, and then treating it immediately. Let’s look at how.
1. Overwatering and Underwatering
Watering issues are by far the most common reasons a snake plant dies, especially overwatering.
First, identify if you’ve overwatered or underwatered your plant. Yellowing or mushy leaves indicate too much water. Crinkled, browning dry leaves signal too little.
If you’ve overwatered your snake plant the first step is to allow the soil to dry completely. You can test the soil by placing your finger or probe into the soil to see how moist it is down below. If the probe comes away with soil sticking to it, the soil is still wet. Don’t water!
To be on the safe side, use a moisture meter. This instrument measures the moisture in the soil.
Another way to gauge soil moisture is by testing the heaviness of the pot – the heavier the pot, the more moister the soil. Or, feel the soil around the drainage holes for moisture.
If you have any doubt, don’t water. Your snake plant can survive drought better than it can too much water.
On the other hand, if your snake plant is showing signs of being underwatered, give it a drink.
How to Water Your Snake Plant
The best way to water a snake plant is to give it a thorough soaking. Bring it to a sink, and water the plant until the water runs out of the drainage holes. Then, repeat the process.
You can place it back on its saucer once the plant has drained completely the second time. What you want to avoid is having water accumulate in the saucer. That’s why it’s best to do this in a sink where the water can drain away.
Once watered, don’t water your snake plant again until the soil is completely dry. This can be anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks, depending on its environment. I usually water my snake plants every 4 – 6 weeks.
2. Pest Infestation
Pest infestations can be trickier to deal with. If you see signs of a pest infestation, such as webbing or tiny insects, treat your plant immediately.
The first step is to move your plant away from any other plants.
For mealybugs, mix a solution of water and mild dish soap and apply it directly to the mealybugs with a soft brush or cloth. Alternatively, use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to target individual bugs. After treatment, rinse the plant with water to remove the soap or alcohol residue. Repeat this process as needed until the mealybugs are completely gone.
Spider mites are more difficult to deal with. You’ll often see suggestions to use insecticidal soaps, but this won’t take care of the problem. If caught early, spray your plant with a miticide – it’ll be labeled as such on the bottle. Unfortunately, if you’re already seeing spider mite damage on the plant, it may be too late. You may need to discard the plant.
Fungus gnats can be treated with sticky sticks and a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water, or by using a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) product. I’ve written a whole article on fungus gnats and snake plants. It dives into detail on treating this problem.
For other pest problems, consider using insecticides or insecticidal soaps, or releasing predatory insects, such as green lacewings. These beneficial pests feed on problem bugs but don’t damage you or your home.
3. Light Issues
Snake plants will tolerate low-light settings, but they won’t do as well. If you’re noticing your plant thinning or stretching, move him to a brighter location. Snake plants like bright, indirect light. Keep him away from areas with lots of direct sunlight.
4. Improving Drainage
It’s imperative your snake plant has good drainage to prevent waterlogged soil. Use a pot with drainage holes and well-draining potting soil. I always like to add a little perlite to my soil to increase airiness and drainage.
For pots that don’t have drainage holes, use these as cache pots. Cache pots are decorative, non-draining pots used to hold a plainer pot, usually a grower’s pot.
When I use cache pots, I usually like to turn a small saucer upside down and place it on the bottom of the cache pot. This lets the draining pot sit up a little higher and prevents your plant from sitting in a pool of water.
5. Root Rot
To address root rot in a snake plant, start by removing the plant from its pot and carefully trimming away affected, mushy roots with clean shears. Let the roots air dry. Then repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil.
Regularly monitor your snake plant’s condition, ensuring the soil remains dry for the roots to recover and grow healthy again.
6. Environmental Changes
Taking care of environmental issues is usually easy. Move your plant away from cold drafts, and spots with too low light or too much direct light. Also, keep it away from heat vents, or any other areas with temperature fluctuations. If the humidity is too low, consider getting a small humidifier.
7. Nutrient Deficiencies
Snake plants require very little fertilizer, but if nutrient-depleted, you’ll need to replenish those nutrients.
First, add fresh soil to your plant’s pot. Then fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer, or one specific to succulents and cacti. Fertilizer sparingly.
Opt for a fertilizer with an even ratio, such as a 10-10-10. Always follow the directions on the package. Never go above the recommended amount. In fact, I recommend using ½ the suggested dosage. Only fertilize once or twice during the growing season.
Myself, I add a little fresh soil to my snake plants every spring. Then I’ll fertilize once in the spring, and then again mid-growing season. To learn more about fertilizing houseplants, take a look at this article from Savvy Gardening.
If you have hard water, this can also throw your plant off balance. In hard water areas, use distilled or spring water. Never use tap water if you have a water-softening system.
What if You Can’t Save Your Snake Plant?
If you’ve tried everything and your snake plant is still dying, it may be time to propagate a new baby and let the mother plant go. Now, if you have a heavy pest infestation such as spider mites, dispose of the whole plant.
Propagating Your Snake Plant
Propagating your snake plant involves removing healthy leaves and planting them in fresh soil. Luckily, snake plants are easy to propagate.
Choose a healthy leaf that’s at least 3-4 inches long. Using a clean knife or scissors, cut the leaf off at the base. You can also further cut that lower end into a “V” shape. This increases the amount of surface area where new roots can form.
Once cut, let the leaf dry out for a day or two to allow the cut to callus over. Then plant the new leaf, cut side down, into fresh soil with added perlite. Bury it about 1 inch deep.
Keep the pot in in a bright, warm location with some humidity, but no direct sunlight. In several weeks the cutting will take root.
- A dying snake plant can display several signs, including yellow or brown leaves, soft or drooping leaves, and root rot.
- Overwatering, underwatering, pests, and diseases can cause a snake plant to die.
- To save a dying snake plant, you need to identify the root cause of the problem and take appropriate action, such as adjusting watering, removing pests, or treating the disease.
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