A note on names: In scientific circles, Snake Plants are now considered part of the Dracaena genus, and the name Sansevieria has been retired. However, many people still know these plants by their former name, so we’ll sometimes refer to them as Sansevierias. We have an article on the subject here.
Snake Plants have a subtle yet beautiful color scheme. At their best, they show off intense, jagged stripes of light and dark green. Many cultivars also sport bright yellow edges. But certain kinds of stress can make these colors fade. We’ll help you understand why your Snake Plant’s color is disappearing and how you can bring it back.
Problems with your Snake Plant’s coloration usually start with its lighting. Lack of light can cause its leaves to lose their variegation, while too much direct sunlight can bleach them. Poor nutrition can also reduce the intensity of a Sansevieria’s color. And damage from pests can scuff up its lovely patterns.
Most of these issues are fixable as long as you understand what’s causing them. The affected leaves won’t recover their vivid colors, but they’ll be replaced in time by bold and beautiful new ones. Ready to start diagnosing your plant’s problem? Then read on for our list of 6 reasons why Snake Plants lose their colors.
#1: Lack of Sunlight
Sunlight fuels everything that a plant does, including pigment production. Your Sansevieria won’t be colorful unless you light it up! Snake Plants can survive in dimmer conditions than some flowering plants. But this leads many people to overestimate their shade tolerance and keep them in the dark.
When your Snake Plant’s environment is too dim, it won’t produce as much chlorophyll. This makes its leaves look dull and pale. They’ll also tend to grow longer and thinner than normal, causing them to sag under their own weight.
Scientists call this condition etiolation (commonly this is referred to as being “leggy). It’s a common problem for houseplants; even the most cheerful home has less light than the outdoors. Desert-dwelling succulents like Snake Plants are especially easy to under-light.
Try placing your faded Snake Plant in a sunnier environment. We have a full article on the sunlight needs of Sansevierias, but here are a few tips to get you started:
- Rooms with southern views are brightest, followed by east and west.
- Moving a plant even a few feet closer to a window will significantly boost its light exposure.
- During the brightest part of the day, the shadows should be dark and clear. If they’re faint and blurry, the light may not be bright enough.
- You can test light levels with an illuminance meter. Optimal Snake Plant lighting is at least 1,000 foot-candles.
When you settle on a brighter space for your Snake Plant, start out by moving it there for an hour or two per day. Then increase its exposure a little at a time until it’s there around the clock. A sudden transition from a dark corner to a bright sun porch can shock your plant’s system.
Lots of sunbathers get burned while trying to catch the perfect tan. And lots of houseplant owners burn their plants while trying to give them a healthy dose of light.
Snake Plants appreciate around 5-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. More than that can backfire and scorch their leaves. Their tolerance also varies depending on the heat. A Snake Plant will burn more quickly on a south-facing window sill that gets blazing hot in the afternoon. So will one that’s lived in a dim office for years before you plunk it down on your balcony.
Mild leaf scorch on a Snake Plant will cause its patterns to fade like a T-shirt left out in the sun. More severe sunburn creates blotches of white or pale brown. It’s often easy to identify the cause because the burned tissue is all on the side of the plant that faces the light.
When you notice this happening, move your Snake Plant to a spot that gets only indirect light. That doesn’t mean someplace dark, just someplace where no sunbeams fall right on the foliage.
Dehydration usually goes along with sun scorch, so check your plant’s soil. If it’s dry, give it a thorough soak. Leave your plant in this milder location for around a month to let it recuperate.
Your plant should start growing colorful foliage again soon, but the burned leaves will stay burned. You can trim away the scorched spots if you want. If you do, make sure to disinfect your pruners with rubbing alcohol or 10% bleach. Leave as much healthy tissue as possible – if you cut too much off, your plant can’t take in enough energy to recover.
#3: Temperature Stress
We’ve talked about the dangers of too much or too little sun. Similar warnings apply to an excess or shortage of heat. When the temperature is too hot or cold, your Snake Plant can go from healthy green to washed-out yellow.
The ideal range for a Snake Plant is around 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a little wiggle room on either end, but temperatures below 55 or above 90 will strain its system. Parts of the leaves will turn yellow and brown. They may also get soft and slump over.
If random spots on your Snake Plant start fading to yellow, check to see if it’s too hot or too cold. Even if the temperature is okay right now, look for things that could make it fluctuate:
- Drafty spots
- Exterior doors that get a lot of traffic
- Air conditioners
- Heating vents
- Ovens, fridges, or other appliances that run hot
Try switching your Snake Plant to a milder climate. You should also prune away the squishy spots on its leaves. They may contain rotting tissue that could spread and kill large chunks of your plant. Always wipe down your cutting tools with some kind of sanitizing agent first.
#4: Sludgy Soil
This is a common issue for Snake Plants. They need very little water, so it’s easy for their caregivers to supply more than they can use.
When you’re watering too often and the soil is damp all the time, the roots get weak from lack of oxygen. Certain microbes also grow like crazy in moist soil and can invade the stressed-out roots.
This is root rot, and it can cause your Snake Plant’s color to fade from its usual vibrant green to a sickly yellow. This discoloration usually starts at the bottom of the plant and works its way up the leaves. If you don’t treat it fast, it will kill your Snake Plant.
Probe the soil to see if it’s still wet and swampy near the bottom of the pot. You can use a moisture meter or a wooden barbecue skewer.
If you last watered your plant more than a few days ago, and the pot is still moist, you’re probably dealing with root rot. Foul smells coming from the soil are another major tip-off.
We’ve got a detailed article on dealing with root rot in Snake Plants. In the meantime, here are the key steps to take:
- Pull your plant out of the pot and rinse off the roots.
- Sanitize a pair of pruning scissors with rubbing alcohol.
- Snip off any roots that are slimy, gray, or black. Keep wiping off your pruners with the alcohol as you cut.
- Trim away any leaves that are too mushy at the base to stand up.
- Repot your Snake Plant in a clean pot with fresh, well-draining potting mix.
#5: Poor Nourishment
Plants can also get discolored leaves when they run short on key elements like nitrogen, potassium, or iron. That’s why fertilizer is so important for indoor plants.
Your Sansevieria may have had some nutrients in its potting mix when you bought it. But sooner or later, any houseplant will use up the supplies in its pot. If you don’t provide some fertilizer at that point, your plant will start to fade away. All houseplants need fertilizer eventually.
However, you should be very careful about treating Snake Plant problems with fertilizer. Excess nutrients in the soil can make the roots dry up and wither.
Try to rule out issues of watering, light, and temperature before adding fertilizer. It may also be worth checking whether your plant is getting root bound (crowded in its pot). Never fertilize during the fall or winter, or any time your plant isn’t getting enough light to grow.
Once you’re sure that your Snake Plant needs more nutrition, choose a well-balanced liquid fertilizer. Dilute it to half the strength recommended on the package. Use this mix to water your plant the next time it needs a drink.
Keep fertilizing your Snake Plant roughly once per month during the growing season. Its leaves should start looking healthier again soon. To learn more about fertilizing Snake Plants, take a look at our detailed post on the subject.
#6: Damage From Insects or Mites
Pests can also mess with your Snake Plant’s coloration. Damage from bugs looks different from the other problems on this list – which is good because it requires very different treatment.
Here are some of the ways that bugs can affect your Snake Plant’s appearance:
- Spider mites, whiteflies, and thrips leave a dusting of pale pinpoints where they feed. It looks almost like someone has scraped up your plant with a file.
- Mealybugs, aphids, and scale insects produce faded yellow spots.
- Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, and scale secrete a sugary goop called honeydew. This can grow sooty mold, creating charcoal-colored spots on your plant.
- Mealybugs form a waxy residue that looks like cotton fluff. The worse the infestation gets, the more of this white stuff you’ll see on your Snake Plant.
- Whiteflies lay their eggs in loose, fuzzy-looking white spirals on the leaves.
- Spider mites will drape your plant’s foliage in cobwebs full of their eggs.
You may also be able to spot the bugs themselves, especially the bigger ones like aphids and scale.
If you have a pest infestation, the first thing to do is quarantine your Snake Plant. You want to reduce the odds that the bugs will spread to other plants in your home.
Next, take your plant outside and hose it off to knock some of the bugs loose. Then wipe it down with a swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Finally, use a spray bottle to mist the foliage with soapy water. You can also use more potent bug killers like neem oil or insecticidal soap.
A good ratio to start with is 1 teaspoon of mild soap in 1 liter of water. Or you can use ⅓ of a teaspoon of soap, 1 teaspoon of neem, and 1 liter. Shake well to mix it all up.
You’ll have to repeat the spray treatment every 3-5 days for at least a couple of weeks. It’s almost unheard of to completely wipe out a pest infestation with a single round of treatment. And try switching to different insecticides between treatments. This helps prevent your unwanted visitors from building up resistance to your weapons.
Note: If you’re using neem oil, keep your Snake Plant out of direct sunlight. This stuff makes them more vulnerable to sun scorch.
Leaf discoloration from things like insects or sunburn won’t go away. But if you restore your Sansevieria to healthy conditions, it will grow new leaves that show off its beautiful patterns in all their glory. With care and patience, you’ll get your Snake Plant looking as stunning as ever.