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.
Your Snake Plant is suffering, and nothing you’ve done to help it seems to be working. Its leaves are turning yellow, or it’s wrinkling and drooping, or there are squishy brown spots creeping over the foliage. Should you throw your Snake Plant out and start over? Or is there still a chance you could save it? We’ll take a look at some of the danger signs in Snake Plants and explain what, if anything, you can do about them.
Snake Plant leaves often wrinkle, fold, and curl when they’re dehydrated. They may also get crunchy and brown at the edges. This looks bad, but it’s usually possible to save them. It’s much more serious when the foliage gets soft and squishy, which can be a sign of root rot. You’ll have to take the plant out of its pot and see if there are any healthy roots left. If the rot has spread far enough, the plant may be done for.
Even if there’s no way to revive your Snake Plant, you may be able to propagate it. Healthy snippets of leaves can develop into full-grown plants with the proper care. Try cutting off a few leaf sections, letting them scab over, then planting them in loose, rocky soil.
Snake Plants Can Take a Lot of Punishment
We want to start by stressing that there’s lots of reason for optimism. Sansevierias are born survivors that can bounce back from a wide variety of problems. As long as your plant still has a few healthy roots and leaves, it has a potential path to recovery.
That said, its outlook depends a lot on its symptoms. What exactly is happening to your Snake Plant?
Your Snake Plant is doing its best impression of a raisin. The surface of its foliage looks wrinkled and saggy. At the same time, the leaves are curling down at the tips or folding in at the edges.
These indicators mean that your Snake Plant’s leaves are running out of moisture. Their usual fleshy appearance comes from the water they’re storing up in case of hard times. When their supplies get low, there’s nothing to keep them inflated.
The simplest explanation is that you need to water your plant a little more. Yes, even the famously drought-resistant Snake Plant can get thirsty, especially if the weather is hot and the humidity is low.
You can check by looking at the potting mix. Snake Plants like it dry, but not so dry that it fuses into a lump. If you see the soil pulling away from the inside of the pot, you’ve let your plant go too long without water.
If the soil is still soft up top and slightly damp near the bottom (you can check the lower section with a moisture meter), then watering isn’t the issue. The roots could have grown too big for the pot, or there could be too many mineral salts in the soil.
If the earth around the roots is waterlogged, you should uproot the plant and check for signs of rot. You can find more detail on this below.
Prognosis: If your Snake Plant is wrinkling because it’s underwatered or over-fertilized, it should recover once you give the soil a hearty soak. If overwatering is the problem, read this article.
Brown and Crispy Tips
The tops and sides of your Snake Plant’s leaves are shriveling up and turning brown.
This is another symptom of dehydrated leaves. It often means that something is messing with your Snake Plant’s roots, stopping the flow of moisture to the rest of the plant.
We mentioned the most likely culprits above: excess minerals and overcrowding.
Mineral buildup happens when you give your Snake Plant more fertilizer than it can use. Mineral-heavy tap water can have a similar effect. To prevent, drench the soil with a large volume of water every month or two. And if you’re using liquid fertilizer, try reducing it to a half-strength dose in the future. Apply it only during the growing season.
To keep the pot from stifling the roots, move your Snake Plant to a bigger pot every 3-5 years. Two extra inches of diameter is usually enough.
It’s also possible that the plant is too hot and dry, causing it to lose water to evaporation. Make sure the ambient temperature is below 85 degrees.
Prognosis: The crispy parts of your Snake Plant will stay that way unless you trim them off. The leaves also won’t get any taller once their tips are dead. However, the rest of the plant should be fine if you follow our suggestions above.
Yellow and Brown Spots
Blotches of brown and yellow are appearing in random places on your Snake Plant’s leaves. They may be oozing fluid and soft to the touch. It’s gross, and it makes you afraid for your plant’s life.
One possibility is that your Snake Plant has a chill. Temperatures below 55 degrees can stress and even kill its cells. This leaves chunks of dead tissue that break down into mush. The plant may also have picked up a fungal or bacterial infection. Either way, the decaying spots can grow and spread.
You should cut away any spots that feel soft. Disinfect your pruning shears with a 10% bleach solution or some rubbing alcohol. Then snip each leaf below the lowest point where you can feel decay. Sometimes this means getting rid of entire leaves, but that’s better than letting them contaminate the rest of the plant.
Try to make your cuts clean to avoid further infection. Extra-cautious owners can finish with an antifungal spray to kill any lurking spores.
Overexposure to direct sunlight may also leave discolored spots. These usually have a pale, bleached appearance, and feel dry and crispy rather than soft and wet. You don’t need to remove these sunburned patches. They won’t go away, but they won’t spread either. If you clean up the plant for cosmetic reasons, leave as much healthy green tissue as possible.
Prognosis: Depends on how far the damage has spread. Sometimes there’s no way to get rid of the rot or fungus without clipping off all of the foliage. Even then, your Snake Plant might still recover and produce new leaves if the root system is healthy.
Infestations of insects or mites can take a variety of forms. Bugs can drain your Snake Plant’s sap, making the foliage wither and curl. They can disrupt the growth of new leaves and make them appear misshapen. And they can carry diseases that stick around even after you get rid of the pests.
There are lots of different Snake Plant pests that cause a wide variety of symptoms. We’re lumping them all together here because you can treat them all with similar methods. Let’s talk about diagnosis first. Here are some signs that your Snake Plant has pests:
- Scars from bugs feeding on the leaves. These usually look like random clusters of pale dots. To a casual eye, the foliage may look faded or dirty.
- Patches of white fluff from mealybugs or whiteflies.
- Little brown lumps on the leaves. These are scale insects, which clamp onto one spot and don’t move once they reach adulthood.
- Clumps of tiny oval bubbles on the newer growth. These are probably aphids.
- Wispy, dusty-looking webs. Spider mites make these as their colonies expand.
- Sticky fluid on the leaves. This stuff is called honeydew, and lots of different insects make it. It sometimes grows grayish mold.
When you notice pests on your Snake Plant, move it far away from anything else growing in your house. Wash off the leaves with a stiff spray of water, then swab them down with rubbing alcohol.
You should also spray down your plant with a mild insecticide. One simple option is 1 teaspoon of mild liquid soap in 1 liter of warm water. There are also stronger insecticidal soaps if you want an added punch. Or you can add some neem oil to the mix (keep your plant out of direct sun for a few weeks if you do).
Keep spraying down your plant every 5-7 days until you’re sure the pests are gone. This will take at least a few repetitions. It often helps to switch between pesticides – use neem oil one week and hydrogen peroxide the next, for example.
Prognosis: As with fungal infections, the outlook varies depending on how far the invaders have gotten. If all of the leaves are shriveled up or swarming with bugs, you may never be able to dislodge them. Sometimes it’s best to discard an infested plant rather than put the rest of your collection at risk.
Soggy and Droopy Foliage
Your Snake Plant’s leaves are slumping over instead of standing upright. They’re limp and pulpy at the base, which is why they can’t support themselves. They may also be turning yellow.
These are all indicators of root rot. This disease happens when you overwater your plant, allowing microorganisms to multiply wildly in the damp soil. They move into your Snake Plant’s root system and start devouring it. When they spread to the foliage, they start to dissolve the leaves as well.
The early stages of overwatering can cause the same symptoms as underwatering or fertilizer burn. If the leaves look dehydrated but the soil is wet, it’s always a good idea to check for root rot. Your Snake Plant will be much better off if you spot the problem before it reaches the foliage.
Grip your Snake Plant near the base and slide it out of its pot. Then rinse the dirt off the roots and inspect them. If they’re healthy, they should be firm and white or bright orange. If they’re rotting, they’ll be gray, brown, or black, and they’ll feel soggy and slimy.
Trim off any rotten roots with a clean pair of scissors. Before each snip, wipe them down with disinfectant as we described above. Rinse the remaining healthy roots with hydrogen peroxide or sprinkle them with cinnamon. This will help get rid of any last traces of fungus. Then clip off any leaves that have turned gooey at the base.
If you had to clip off more than ⅓ of the root system, take off the same proportion of leaves. Then repot your Snake Plant. Use a clean container and a succulent mix with good drainage. Read more about saving Snake Plants from root rot here.
Prognosis: Your Snake Plant is in serious trouble. In some cases, you’ll pull up the plant only to find that the roots are completely gone, or that only rotten ones are left. Or the rot may have spread through the entire lower segment of the foliage. In that case, there’s no saving your Snake Plant.
Even if some healthy roots remain, your plant may be too damaged to recover. The treatment we’ve laid out is your best bet at helping it survive, but we can’t make any guarantees.
What If You Can’t Save Your Snake Plant?
A Snake Plant whose roots or leaves are too rotten to bounce back can still serve as the seed for new plants. You can cut away any healthy sections and plant them in new soil. After a while, they’ll grow new roots and foliage.
It’s often helpful to slice the lower end of each cutting into an upside-down “V” shape. This increases the amount of surface area that can push out fresh roots. Set them out overnight so that the ends dry up. This helps to keep soil bacteria out of the cut.
You may want to put a few leaf pieces into each pot. Don’t crowd them, but don’t use a pot that’s too large, either. Until new leaves grow in, keep your developing Snake Plants out of direct sunlight and don’t give them any fertilizer. Water only when the top 2-3 inches of the soil are dry.
Some kinds of variegation may not carry over to the new plants. The golden stripes on the edges of the popular Twisted Sister or Laurentii varieties can’t reproduce from cuttings. Other than that, your baby Snake Plants will be the spitting image of the one you lost.
Most Snake Plant problems are fixable as long as you act quickly. Don’t hesitate to slash away any rot that you find. It’s better to remove too much than too little. We hope this post helps you snatch your plant back from the jaws of death – or at least propagate it successfully.