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.
Indoor gardeners love the Snake Plant for its resilience and beauty. It’s especially good for absent-minded owners who don’t always remember to water. Of course, even this tough succulent needs hydration sometimes. How can you tell when it’s time to water your Snake Plant?
To know when it’s time to water your Snake Plant, you’re better off watching the soil than the leaves. Once the potting mix is almost totally dry, you can give your Snake Plant another drink. Test the pot once a week or so, ideally getting all the way down to the roots with a chopstick or some other probe. When there’s barely any moisture in the lower part of the pot, you can water again.
If your Snake Plant goes too long without water, its leaves will start to wrinkle, curl, and droop. With prolonged or repeated underwatering, you may see them fade to yellow or turn crispy and brown. Try to check the soil often so that it doesn’t get to this point!
Your Snake Plant’s Watering Needs
You could almost mistake the tall, wavy leaves of a Snake Plant for some kind of mutant seaweed that’s figured out how to survive on land. In reality, these plants evolved in drought-prone regions of Africa and southern Asia. Their thick, waxy foliage retains moisture to help them soldier on through dry spells.
This adaptation means that Snake Plants are at much greater risk from overwatering than underwatering. They can easily succumb to root rot when there’s too much moisture in the soil. So in general, you should always err on the side of underwatering.
There is such a thing as taking good advice too far, though. Your Snake Plant will suffer and die if you let it go without water for too long. How exactly can you strike the right balance?
We’d love to tell you that you can just water every X days and leave it at that. But living things are never that simple. The rate at which your Snake Plant uses water varies according to things like…
- Ambient temperature
- Light intensity
- Local humidity
- Pot size
- Time of year
…and probably several other factors that scientists won’t discover for another fifty years. So it’s better to pay attention to your plant and its pot than to rely on a fixed schedule. (Read more about watering Snake Plants here!) Here are the indicators that your Snake Plant needs refreshment.
#1: Dry Soil
If you forget everything else in this article, remember this advice: check your Snake Plant’s pot regularly and water it as soon as the soil dries out. If you monitor the potting mix closely enough, you’ll never need to worry about the other warning signs on our list. You can usually get away with checking on the soil once a week, though it will dry faster when temperatures are high or when your Snake Plant is growing especially quickly.
One simple way to test the soil is to push your finger about two inches down from the surface. When this upper layer is bone-dry, the lower section should only be slightly damp, meaning you can water again. (This depends on the soil quality, however. It’s best to keep your Snake Plant in a potting mix that drains quickly.)
Note that if the soil is hard-packed and shrinking back from the pot’s rim, it’s definitely too dry.
For even better accuracy, check the pot’s base by poking a wooden chopstick or skewer down to the base. Leave it there for a minute or two, then pull it out and check the lower end. The best time to water your Snake Plant is when the skewer comes back ever-so-slightly moist.
A soil moisture meter can give you even more precision, but keep in mind that it may mistake unusually high mineral concentrations in the soil for moisture. Getting accurate readings may take a bit of experimentation.
#2: Wrinkly Leaves
The leaves of succulents like Snake Plants act like big water balloons that let the plant conserve moisture during dry periods. And like a water balloon, they tend to sag when they’re not full enough.
If the blades of your Snake Plant look like your fingers do after you’ve spent too long in the pool, it’s probably thirsty. But you should still check the soil before giving it a drink, because wrinkled leaves can point to other problems besides underwatering.
One of them, frustratingly enough, is overwatering – too much moisture can choke off the roots, leaving your plant dehydrated even though there’s water to spare. Overcrowded roots or an overdose of fertilizer may also cause leaf wrinkling.
But when you find dry soil along with wrinkled leaves, you should water your plant. Start checking for other issues if it doesn’t revive within a day or two.
#3: Curling, Folding, and Wilting
The waxy outer coating on a Snake Plant’s foliage does a pretty good job of limiting evaporation, but that’s not its only defense against water loss. The leaves can also curl back on themselves or fold up lengthwise to reduce the amount of surface they’re exposing to the air. If your Snake Plant is twisting around or doing an impression of a taco, you may have underwatered it.
As with #2, this can also be a symptom of overwatering or another problem with the plant’s root function. Always, always, always check the soil before you assume your Snake Plant is underwatered! If the potting mix is dry, it should be safe to give your plant more water and see if that resolves the issue.
If you have the type of Snake Plant variety that normally reaches for the sky, slouching and drooping foliage could also be signs of dehydration. The leaves need a certain amount of internal water pressure to stay upright, so they slump when they dry out.
However, if the wilting leaves are soft and squishy, your plant probably has a case of root rot that has spread to the foliage. This disease results from overwatering but can persist even after the soil dries out. Take the plant out of its pot and remove any smelly, slimy, or discolored roots. For more information, you can look at our article on saving Snake Plants from root rot.
#4: Yellowing or Browning Leaves
The vivid coloration of your Snake Plant can suffer when its leaves begin running dry. Without enough water to carry nutrients up to the foliage, the parts of the cells that contain chlorophyll can start to break down. This makes the leaves fade to yellow or white. Lack of moisture can also leave crispy brown patches of dead tissue, usually starting at the tips and edges of the leaves.
If you’ve been following along so far, you’ve probably guessed that there are other possible causes for these symptoms. Excessive heat, sun exposure, or soil mineral buildup can result in browning, while overwatering, inadequate fertilizer, or cold damage can cause yellowing. As always, test the soil and consider all your care habits before concluding that underwatering is the problem.
How to Water Your Snake Plant
You’ve spotted the warning signs, checked the soil, and concluded that it’s time to water your Snake Plant. What’s the best way to go about it?
Our main advice is not to be stingy. You should water until the soil is thoroughly soaked and there’s a trickle coming from the drainage holes at the base of the pot. Don’t worry that you’ll overdo it – overwatering means watering too often or letting the soil stay wet for too long at a stretch. A single big dose isn’t a problem.
In fact, soaking thoroughly helps ensure that the plant’s entire root mass can get a drink. And the excess liquid draining from the bottom helps wash away potentially harmful mineral salts. So water your Snake Plant in gulps, not sips.
Be proactive about monitoring your Snake Plant’s pot and watering when the soil is dry. This will help you avoid the more alarming signs of dehydration we’ve described above. Give your plant plenty of care and attention, and in time you’ll get a good feel for when it needs another drink.