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.
When you look at pictures of Snake Plants online, you see clusters of tall, straight leaves. So why is your plant’s foliage fanning out like a hand of cards? We’ll walk you through the most likely causes for your Sansevieria’s posture, and explain how to fix them.
The most likely issue is that your Snake Plant’s leaves are softening at the base due to overwatering and root rot. This can make them lean to the sides instead of reaching for the sky. If you think you’ve given your plant too much to drink, take it out of the pot and check it for infection immediately.
If your plant’s foliage is limp and mushy but its roots aren’t rotting, it could be suffering from excessive cold. Underwatering or crowded roots can also cause droopy leaves, and a lack of sunlight can make the foliage stretch out in odd directions in search of light. We’ll explain how to recognize and treat each of these issues below.
Scenario 1: Wet Feet
We’re going to start with the worst-case scenario, because if this is what’s wrong with your Snake Plant, you need to know right away. Your Sansevieria leaves might be tilting to the sides because they’re rotting from the roots up. As the leaves grow soft and weak at the base, they can no longer support their own weight.
Overwatering is the usual cause. Snake Plants are built for storing water through long droughts, not sipping a little bit at a time from soil that stays constantly damp. It’s easy to overestimate how often you need to water them.
When you don’t let your Snake Plant’s pot dry out enough between waterings, it becomes a breeding ground for microbes that love soggy soil. These tiny pests can swarm your plant’s roots and slowly devour them. Although this problem is known as root rot, it can spread upward and affect your Snake Plant’s foliage as well, causing it to droop and fan out.
If your Sansevieria’s soil remains damp for more than a couple of days at a time – whether because you’re watering too frequently or because the pot isn’t draining fast enough – then there’s a pretty good chance it has root rot.
What Should You Do?
When you suspect your plant has root rot, you should try to confirm the diagnosis as soon as possible. Take your plant out of the pot, rinse off the roots, and look them over closely. If any of them are squishy, slimy, gray, black, or giving off a nasty smell, they’re infected.
Cut the diseased roots off with some pruning scissors, making sure to wipe the blades down with rubbing alcohol or 10% bleach between snips. For good measure, you can dunk the roots in a mix of 3 parts water and 1 part hydrogen peroxide.
Then repot your Snake Plant in a disinfected pot with a completely fresh batch of potting mix. You can use a store-bought succulent mix or blend your own using the guidelines in our article on Snake Plant soils.
Moving forward, water your Sansevieria sparsely but thoroughly. Let it sit for a while between waterings – at a bare minimum, wait until the top 2-3 inches of the potting mix are dry to the touch – but when you do give it a drink, soak the soil all the way through.
Looking for more detail on how to save a Snake Plant from root rot? We’ve got a whole article on the topic right here.
Scenario 2: Cold Snap
Another problem that can soften up your Snake Plant is damage from severe cold. Temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit will stress or even kill the cells of these tropical plants. A mild case may simply cause the leaves to curl up; a serious one can create patches of dead, rotting tissue, causing the leaves to bend over.
This is less common than root rot, and usually easier to diagnose. One clue is that the dead spots may appear at random places along the leaves rather than concentrating at the bottom. More importantly, you can probably tell whether you’ve exposed your Snake Plant to a chill based on its location.
Remember that this isn’t just a problem for outdoor plants, though. Sitting beside a drafty door or a poorly insulated window, even for just a few hours, can be enough to cause cold shock. And the symptoms may take a few weeks to show up.
What Should You Do?
Step one is to move your Snake Plant into a warmer area. Don’t try to speed-thaw it by setting it next to a fireplace or a space heater. That will just add heat stress to its list of grievances. Place your Sansevieria in a location with a steady, comfortable temperature – between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the problem is limited to a few curly leaves, this should be enough to fix it. But if there are any mushy spots, you should remove them, or the rot could spread to other parts of the plant.
This usually means trimming the affected foliage right to the soil; a Snake Plant leaf cut part of the way down just looks sad. Don’t forget to disinfect your clippers or knife before cutting into your plant. Make the cut as smooth as you can to minimize the risk of infection.
Scenario 3: Dry Spell
We’ve talked about the dangers of watering too much, but going to the other extreme isn’t a good idea either. Drought-resistant succulents like Snake Plants can still fall victim to underwatering. When they do, their leaves may slump and curl instead of standing upright.
Why does this happen? Basically, because plants don’t have skeletons. Their leaves can only maintain their normal shapes when the water pressure inside their cells keeps them plump. Without enough moisture, your Snake Plant’s tissues wrinkle up like raisins, and the foliage may bend out instead of reaching up.
You can usually identify an underwatered Sansevieria from the state of the soil. It takes a pretty long drought to make these tough succulents wilt. By that point, the potting mix has usually dried into a hard mass and shrunk back from the walls of the pot.
What Should You Do?
This one is easy: water your Snake Plant. Give the soil a good drench, and the plant should be back to its usual chipper self within a day or two. Just make sure it’s planted in a container with a drainage hole so all the excess water can run out the bottom.
If it seems like all of the water you pour in immediately runs out the bottom of your pot, this is not uncommon. When soil is extremely dry, it won’t take up new water as easily as it has before. In this case, give your Snake Plant a thorough watering, then wait about two hours and do it again. The second watering should soak into the soil more than the first.
In the future, try to check on the soil a little more frequently so that you notice when your plant is getting thirsty. It’s usually safe to water when the top 2-3 inches of the potting mix are dry. Remember that heat and sunlight speed up a Snake Plant’s growth and water consumption, so you’ll probably need to water more often in the height of summer.
Scenario 4: Tight Fit
A Snake Plant that’s fanning out may be too big for its pot. When the roots bunch up too tightly, they can’t soak up enough moisture or fertilizer to keep it healthy. This causes the same symptoms as underwatering, along with a few other telltale signs:
- Roots poking through the soil or out of the drainage holes
- Water trickling out the bottom without soaking into the soil
- A pot that’s bulging or stretching (if it’s made of plastic) or cracking (if it’s ceramic)
These signs can sometimes alert you to a pot-bound Snake Plant even before you see symptoms of dehydration.
What Should You Do?
Your Snake Plant should recover once you move it into a bigger pot. The new container should be around 2 inches wider in diameter than the current one – if you size up more than that, you may be putting the plant at greater risk of overwatering.
It’s a good idea to refresh the potting mix. For information on the best soil for Snake Plants, read this article. When you tip your Snake Plant out of its old vessel, take a look at the root mass. You’ll probably see that it’s grown into a huge knot with numerous roots looping around the outside. This condition is called being root bound or pot bound.
You should try to spread the root ball out before repotting your plant. Gently but firmly sink your fingers into the roots and tease them apart. It’s unnecessary – not to mention probably impossible – to disentangle them completely. But creating a bit of breathing room will encourage healthier growth in the new pot.
Scenario 5: Dimmed Down
What if your Snake Plant isn’t drooping due to mushy leaves or curling and wrinkling from lack of water? What if its leaves are the right texture, but the wrong shape – weirdly long and skinny, and pointing or bending out at odd angles?
In that case, your Sansevieria is probably etiolated, or leggy, a growth pattern that happens when plants can’t get enough sunlight. Your Snake Plant is putting all its efforts into growing longer, on the off chance that it can reach past whatever obstacle is blocking the light. The leaves also grow more widely spaced to increase the odds that one of them will catch a few stray sunbeams.
Another sign of an etiolated plant is a lack of variegation. Many Snake Plant cultivars produce cool patterns of multicolored stripes, but they can only do this when they’re getting plenty of sun. In dim lighting, the plant will produce more chlorophyll to make the most of the available energy, reducing the contrast and deepening the leaves to a uniform green.
What Should You Do?
Moving your Snake Plant into a brighter space will encourage it to grow more upright in the future, though you should make the change little by little. Moving the plant immediately from a dim corner to a sunny windowsill will stress it out. In the long run, you want to get it to a location that receives lots of bright indirect light, but not much direct sun.
Sadly, this won’t fix the leaves that are already warped. They’re already locked into their long, slender shapes and awkward spacing.
If your Snake Plant has a few younger leaves that haven’t grown skinny and weird-looking yet, you could cut off the older ones and let the new foliage grow back with a healthy amount of sunlight. You can even root the trimmed leaves in new pots – Snake Plants can grow from leaf cuttings, so you can kickstart new plants using the foliage you removed.
Read more about leggy Snake Plants here and see our step-by-step instructions for solving the problem.
Snake Plants don’t always grow in perfect vertical lines, but if they’re dramatically fanning or drooping, it’s usually because their growing conditions are out of whack. Make sure you’re providing the right amount of water, warmth, growing space, and light. We hope our guide helps you spot the problem and get your Sansevieria back on track.