Common Snake Plant Problems – Comprehensive Troubleshooting Guide
You don’t need a green thumb to be successful with snake plants. They are beautiful, hardy plants that are extremely tolerant of a variety of conditions. So, when your plant begins to show symptoms of stress, it means there are snake plant problems that requires immediate attention.
Snake plants don’t experience many problems, however when they do the initial symptoms begin to show in those beautiful long sword-shaped leaves. Some common symptoms are curling, discoloration, falling over or even becoming wrinkled and mushy. Using the symptoms as a guide, we can identify the problem causing your ailing snake plant and promptly get it back on the road to recovery.
Symptoms Reference Chart for Snake Plant Problems
To help you quickly troubleshoot your snake plant problems, we’ve put together a symptom identification chart. Simply run down the list of symptoms to see which ones your snake plant may be exhibiting, and use the possible causes listed next to each symptom as a guide for what to research.
We have also linked to specific sections or relevant articles with step-by-step guides on fixing your ailing snake plant.
|Leaves Turning Yellow||Underwatered, Overwatered, Over-fertilization, Pests|
|Leaves Falling Over / Drooping||Water Stress, Problems with Root System, Lack of Light, Transplant Shock|
|Leaves Wrinkled and Curly||Water Stress, Diseased, Root Bound, Over-fertilization|
|Leaves are Soft and Mushy||Overwatered, Diseased|
|Leaves have Brown Tips and Edges||Water Stress, Light Problems, Ambient environment issues, Pests|
|Leaves have Brown Spots||Diseases, Pests, Fertilizer Burn, Temperature Fluctuations|
|Leaves and Thin and Malformed||Low Light|
|Leaves Twisted and Spiral Shaped||Underwatered, Pests|
|Stunted Growth||Wrong Pot Size, Poor Light, Irregular Watering, Disease, Under Fertilized|
|Roots Smelly, Brown and Mushy||Diseased (Root Rot)|
How to Use this Guide for Common Snake Plant Problems
For those who are new to our style of guides, there is a specific method to our madness. Here is the process we recommend you follow to help resolve the problems you are experiencing with your snake plant.
- Use this guide to help identify your snake plant symptoms, then
- follow the links provided under each symptom section to other articles that provide a more comprehensive solution with step-by-step instructions.
Symptom – Leaves Turning Yellow
When a snake plant’s leaves begin to turn yellow, it is usually indicative that there is an imbalance of nutrients or water in the plant.
A lack of water will certainly manifest in a yellowing of the leaves as they become dehydrated. You will also notice parts of the leaves becoming wrinkled and the edges of the leaves beginning to curl inwards.
On the other hand, too much water can also produce yellow leaves on a snake plant. When there is an abundance of water present in the soil, the leaves will become over saturated.
Finding the right balance of water for your snake plant can be challenging. To overcome this hurdle, we usually employ a tried and tested method called the soil finger moisture test. It involves digging your index finger into the top layer of soil to determine the presence of any moisture.
Or for those that don’t like to get their hands dirty, you can use a soil moisture meter that you can easily purchase online at places like Amazon, or from your local nursery.
Another problem that may result in yellow leaves on your snake plant is an excess of fertilizer in the soil. Snake plants are not hungry plants. This means if you are feeding your houseplant too much, the unused nutrients can build up in the soil. When fertilizer is not used up, it can become toxic, and lead to fertilizer burn, turning the leaves yellow.
To rid your snakeplant of the excess nutrients, we recommend flushing your pot to push the fertilizer out of the drainage holes in your planter.
The last potential reason why your snake plant may have yellow leaves are pests. Snake plants usually attract sap-sucking insects that love to feed on their meaty leaves. They suck the sap from the leaves, depriving the snake plant of nutrients, resulting in yellow leaves.
To treat a pest infestation, you will need to manually remove as many as possible. Then apply an insecticide to complete the process for any unseen pests. Here is a comprehensive process for treating snake plants with pest infestations.
Symptom – Leaves Falling Over / Drooping
If you have a snake plant with leaves that are constantly falling down or drooping, it means there may be issues with the root system, experiencing water stress or a lack of light.
Weak Root System
Any plant with leaves that are as large and long as the snake plants, requires an extremely strong and well established root system. Which is why snake plants prefer to have a tight root system in small pots.
If you plant your snake plant in a large pot with too much space, the root system may not be able to support the leaves. This causes them to fall or droop under their own weight.
To ensure your snake plant has enough support, choose pots that are smaller than your average indoor plant. Allow the root system to form a tight root ball that will support the foliage above the soil line.
If a snake plant doesn’t receive enough water, it can lead to leaves that begin to droop and fall over.
As most members of the succulent family do, snake plants use their leaves to store water. As they draw down on their water reserves, the leaves lose structure and vitality, causing them to droop.
Remember to keep up with a regular watering schedule is important for ensuring your snake plant has the necessary moisture reserves to perform their processes.
The last possible reason for leaves falling over is poor lighting. Even though snake plants can survive in poor lighting conditions, we do not recommend keeping them in low light for prolonged periods. Snake plants, as do all plants, require light to photosynthesize and produce energy to grow.
Without this essential ingredient, your snake plant will become weak and sickly, leading to falling leaves.
The solution is simple – gradually move your snake plant into a position that receives plenty of indirect sunlight.
Symptom – Leaves Wrinkled and Curly
Snake plant leaves are supposed to be full and plump. So when they show symptoms of being wrinkled and curly, it usually points to issues with water supply, fertilization problems or fungal diseases.
Water Stress & Root Bound System
When snake plant leaves become wrinkled and curly, it often indicates the water reserves in the leaves have been depleted. The lack of water leads to a loss of structure in the leaves, resulting in wrinkles forming along the length of the foliage.
There could be several reasons why your snake plant is lacking water. It may be from a lack of watering and neglect, or it could be that your snake plant is root bound, which limits the amount of water the system can absorb. For a full list of reasons why your snakeplant is dehydrated, check out our in-depth article HERE.
If your snake plant is developing wrinkles towards the base of the leaves, and it appears brown and mushy, it is possible your snake plant has developed a fungal disease called root rot.
This occurs when your snake plant has been sitting in soggy soil, which has encouraged fungal spores to grow and multiply and infect the root system.
Root rot is a frustrating problem most gardeners encounter along their journey. If you suspect the root rot has travelled into the leaves, you only have one option to get rid of root rot – propagation. This is because once root rot reaches the stems and leaves of a plant, it means the entire root system is compromised and is already rotting.
For a full rundown of how to treat root rot in snake plants, check out our full guide HERE.
The final possibility for curly leaves is an excess of fertilizer in the soil leading to fertilizer burn on your snake plant’s leaves. You can usually tell when your snake plant is experiencing fertilizer burn because the edges of the leaves begin to turn yellow, then brown. Once they are brown, the edges begin to curl and appear as if it has been burned (hence the name).
As we discussed before, to overcome an excess of chemicals in your soil, your pot plant will need to be flushed. Here is a video by Marianne from My Wasteless Life on how she flushes her pot plants
Symptom – Leaves are Soft and Mushy
If your snake plant has soft and mushy leaves, your houseplant has root rot. If you give the affected area a sniff, it should have a rotten odor.
Unfortunately, root rot in indoor plants is a serious problem. It requires prompt action to limit the spread of the disease.
If you have caught root rot in the early stages of the infection, only sections of the root system should be infected. You can tell by looking for rotting roots, which will be brown or black, squishy and smelly. Whereas, healthy roots will appear white and virile, and will feel hard when pinched between your fingers.
How you treat root rot will depend on how much the disease has advanced in your snake plant. If it is localized to the roots, you can perform a bit of plant surgery to remove the infected areas, and then treat with a fungicide.
Whereas advanced root rot will have consumed the entire root system and moved up into the leaves. At this point, the only way to salvage your snake plant is with propagation.
Symptom – Brown Tips on Leaves
There are a number of reasons why snake plants develop brown tips and edges on their leaves. It can result from exposure to direct sunlight, changes in ambient temperature and humidity, water stress or even pests.
Leaf Burn from Direct Sunlight
The one type of light that snake plants cannot tolerate is direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time. When a snake plant is exposed to direct sunlight, it can suffer leaf burn (a plants’ version of sunburn). The direct light is too intense and often dehydrates the leaves from the heat. This leaves the leaves weak and susceptible to burning, which shows as brown tips and edges.
To fix a plant experiencing leaf burn, give it a drink of water immediately. We like to bottom water our snake plants to allow them to slowly replenish their water reserves.
Moving your snake plant to a position with plenty of indirect sunlight (not direct sunlight) will also reduce the temperature and allow it to recover from the stress.
Changes in Temperature and Humidity
Sudden changes in temperature and humidity can lead to stressed snake plants with browning tips and leaves. Usually drastic changes in temperature and humidity will stress a snake plant when they are close to air conditioners and heaters.
If you notice your snake plant reacting in this manner, investigate whether it is placed too close to a heater or it is in the direct line of where the air conditioner is blowing cool air.
Another cause that will trigger brown tips on your snake plant is water stress – both too much and too little.
The brown tips are a stress response which indicates your plant is not happy with the amount of moisture in its planter container.
Too much water will lead to root rot, while too little water will lead to dehydration and malnutition. Both will require a repotting of your snake plant. Learn how to repot your snake plants HERE.
An infestation of pests on your snake plant can severely disturb your houseplant’s wellbeing. As they feed on the sap of your plant, they deprive it of the necessary nutrients and minerals it requires to grow into a strong and healthy plant. One of the key responses of a stressed snake plant associated with pests are brown spots on the leaves with browning tips and edges.
Manually inspecting your plant on a regular basis will help you spot any pests early, before it becomes a full-blown infestation. Quickly removing and treating any pests with an organic pesticide, like Neem Oil, will help keep any outbreaks under control. Leaving your snake plant to do what it does best – grow and look fantastic.
Symptom – Leaves Have Brown Spots
Brown spots developing on a snake plant’s leaves indicate an internal issue that may be related to diseases or pests. Less common causes of brown spots also include chemical burns or temperature fluctuations.
As hardy as snake plants are, when they are not provided with proper care and attention, they can become weak. This opens the door to fungal diseases infecting your snake plant, such as powdery mildew, southern blight, red leaf spot and rust.
Each disease can have its own unique detrimental impact on a snake plant, and should be treated promptly when identified.
For a full treatment plan, refer to our guide on common snake plant diseases.
Pests Causing Brown Spots
Like other members of the succulent family, snake plants have thick meaty leaves that they use to store excess water as a reserve. Unfortunately this unique quality makes them an easy target for sap-loving bugs like mealybugs, spider mites and thrips.
The pests use specialized equipment to penetrate the thick skin of the snake plants, allowing them to feed on the juicy sap inside. As you can appreciate, when large numbers of pests are feeding, they cause significant damage to the leaves, creating brown spots on the leaves.
As we mentioned earlier, the best form of treatment is a proactive approach of regular inspections of your snake plant. Manually remove any pests you see on your snake plant, quickly and efficiently. This will prevent any opportunity for the pests to breed and infest your indoor plant.
Another potential cause for brown patches on your snake plant’s leaves are chemicals accumulating in the soil. This can result from two main sources: too much fertilizer and hard tap water.
This can result from over application of fertilizer or a gradual build up of unused chemicals in the soil over time. You can identify when your snake plant is suffering from too much fertilizer in the soil, because the leaves will also have a distinct yellow color surrounding the brown marks. You may also see a chemical build up on the surface of your soil.
If you suspect your snake plant has fertilizer burn, you have two options:
- Repotting into fresh potting mix (refer to previous section for repotting instructions), or
- you can flush your plants’ soil to get rid of the excess chemicals.
If you generally use tap water to water your snake plants, you can sometimes experience a build up of chemicals in the soil, like chlorine and other hard minerals. This is especially relevant to those that have hard water or chlorinated water in their taps.
This will depend on your location and country, as tap water quality varies around the world.
If you suspect you have built up residue minerals from your tap water, the best thing to do is replace your tap water with distilled water or rain water.
You can also use the flushing method described above to remove the built-up chemicals or simply repot your snake plant into fresh soil.
One final possible cause of brown spots on snake plant leaves is cold temperatures. Snake plants like to be kept in temperatures between 70-90° Fahrenheit (21-32° Celsius).
When they are exposed to temperatures below this range, their leaves can suffer damage. This is more relevant to snake plants that are outdoor plants. When the night temperatures approach zero, the water in the leaves will freeze and expand, causing damage to the cell walls. This can develop into brown spots on your plant’s leaves.
If you suspect your snake plant is suffering from temperature stress, try bringing your plant indoors at nighttime. Particularly in the winter months of the year.
If you still see brown spots developing on your indoor snake plant, try using a heat pad to keep the ambient air warmer around your plants.
Symptom – Leaves and Thin and Malformed
If your snake plant’s leaves are beginning to thin out and form unnatural shapes, it is likely suffering from low light conditions.
All plants require light as part of the photosynthesis process to produce energy to grow. It is part of the daily cycle all plants undergo. Here is an illustration describing the process.
When a sansevieria does not receive enough light, it can begin to stretch towards the brightest light source in the space. This often results in the leaves becoming thin. Rather than growing straight up and vertically (like they naturally do), the leaves begin to take on weird forms in an effort to expose more surface area to the light.
The solution is a simple and obvious one. Move your snake plant to a brighter position that receives plenty of bright indirect light. We recommend making this transition over the course of a week or two. If you move a plant from low light to bright light too quickly, it can experience shock and become weak.
Symptom – Leaves Twisted and Spiral Shaped
It is hard to mistake the beautiful long sword-shaped leaves of a sansevieria. So when they begin to twist and curl, it is easy to spot that something isn’t right with the plant. Twisted leaves tend to suggest a lack of water or pests.
Lack of Water
The curling or twisting of the leaves is actually a survival mechanism of the snake plants. In order to preserve their water reserves, they twist the leaves to restrict the respiratory process (evaporation of water from leaf cells).
They will also curl the edges of the leaves inwards to achieve the same, with the goal to retaining as much water as possible.
If you notice this behavior, make sure to test the moisture levels in your snake plants’ soil and top it up if necessary.
Pests Causing Twisted Leaves
Pests may also cause snake plant leaves to curl and twist in unusual forms. This occurs when the plant experiences plague proportions of insects that are robbing the plant of essential nutrients.
Essentially your plant is curling due to malnutrition and needs help immediately.
Follow our treatment plans for specific types of pests HERE.
Symptom – Stunted Growth
If your snake plant doesn’t appear to be growing, you may want to consider if the size of the pot is affecting its growth rate. If you feel the pot size is appropriate, the stunted growth may be caused by poor light, stress or a lack of food.
Incorrect Pot Size
A snake plant in a large pot will redirect nutrients and energy away from new leaf growth, and concentrate on developing a root system.
The reason behind this decision is practicality. As we are all well aware, snake plants have long and heavy foliage. In order to support these beautiful sword-shaped leaves, a snake plant needs to have an extremely strong root system. Without an established and tight root system, the snake plant leaves will fall and become damaged.
The easiest and simplest way of resolving the problem of too much room is to repot your snake plant into a more suitable sized pot. Choose a pot that is only 1 inch bigger than the approximate size of the root ball.
As we described earlier in the Thin and Malformed section of this article, photosynthesis is an important part of a plants growth cycle. Without the proper lighting, a snake plant cannot produce the glucose it requires to fuel its growth.
Snake plants require plenty of bright light to thrive and grow. If they are positioned in a space that receives limited light, they will survive. But they will not thrive. In many cases, they will show no or very little growth.
Moving your snake plant gradually to a new position that receives plenty of light will give it the opportunity to thrive and become a healthy and strong plant.
Stressed Snake Plant
Snake plants are tough as nails. But they can become stressed when the conditions aren’t right, resulting in them halting any new growth, and reserving the energy to combat the source of the stress.
Irregular watering is a very common way a snake plant can become stressed. Diseases and pests will also stress a snake plant.
If you notice very little growth in your snake plant, something is not right. Look for other symptoms listed in this guide and try to troubleshoot your way to finding a potential source of the stress.
The last potential cause of a stunted snake plant is the lack of nutrients and food. Snake plants need the basic fundamental building blocks for plant development, in order to continue growing. Using an all-round fertilizer should provide everything your snake plant requires, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.
Symptom – Roots Smelly, Brown and Mushy
Without a doubt, if your snake plant has these symptoms, it is suffering from root rot.
If the base is rotten, you should be able to pull it out without much effort. When root rot has infected the roots system, they turn dark, rotten and smell rotten.
Healthy roots are usually white, and appear virile and firm to the touch.
Here’s a visual comparison of healthy roots versus rotten roots.
Treating root rot involves a rigorous process of pruning away any infected parts of the plant. Then rebalancing the plant’s foliage with the root system, to prevent it from going into shock and overwhelm. Finally applying fungicide to the entire plant to ensure the disease has been eliminated.
For a complete rundown of eliminating root rot from snake plants, check out THIS ARTICLE.
Common Snake Plant Problems – Closing Comments
Snake plants are stunning indoor plants that have a place in every plant parent’s home. They are extremely hardy plants, that are low maintenance and are perfect for time-poor homeowners.
Even though they are tolerant of many conditions, they can become susceptible to the usual problems indoor plants encounter, such as water stress, disease, pests and more.
With our comprehensive symptoms chart you have a complete guide to troubleshooting your way back to a healthy and vibrant snake plant.
Make sure to search through our compendium of snake plant articles and resources.