Troubleshooting Guide for Snake Plant Turning Yellow
Discovering a sick snake plant is never a pleasant experience. When a snake plant begins to turn yellow, it is screaming for your attention. Your snake plant needs help! But what could be wrong? Why is your snake plant turning yellow?
The good news is if you act quickly, you can save your snake plant. The not so good news is there are many reasons why your snake plant is turning yellow. It could be caused by:
- water stress
- fertilization issues
- the external environment stressing your plant (like light, temperature and humidity)
- poor soil quality
- disease or pests
- or your snake plant is simply getting old.
To help you identify the cause of your ailing snake plant, we’ve put together a troubleshooting guide that will help you 1) diagnose the cause of your yellow snake plant, and 2) provide you with actionable solutions to quickly revive your snake plant.
How to Save Your Sick Snake Plant
Before we begin, we think it is important to set your expectations up correctly to achieve a mindset that will deliver the best chance of success.
We are not going to sugar coat it for you – your snake plant is not going to magically spring back to its former self overnight.
This process is going to take time and patience – with a big emphasis on the latter of these two factors. As you work through the troubleshooting guide below, you will make a change and wait. And test and wait again. It’s a big waiting game, where you are looking for positive responses to any changes we make to your plant.
It may be as small as the foliage looking more plump than the previous day. Or maybe the leaves are looking like they are more vibrant than a week ago.
As you progress through the process, you will become a more mindful gardener and pick up skills that you can apply to other aspects of your gardening.
Becoming a more mindful gardener with skills that can apply to all aspects of gardening
Okay, that’s enough of a motivational pump up – let’s get into the troubleshooting guide.
Why is My Snake Plant Turning Yellow
Below is a list of potential reasons for your snake plant’s leaves turning yellow. We suggest working your way through each problem, to identify the most likely cause.
Once you have identified your top few causes, methodically apply one solution at a time. Wait a week, to examine if there are any changes, and then apply other solutions if your snake plant does not appear to be responding.
Snake Plant is Overwatered
If we were to run a poll on all snake plant owners for the reason why their snake plant is turning yellow, overwatering would be right up there in the top 3 causes.
It is a very common problem to encounter with snake plants, especially with novice plant parents just beginning their journey.
Snake plants belong to the sansevieria genus, which are classified as succulents. By their very nature, succulents don’t require a lot of water (compared to other indoor plants).
Like other succulents, snake plants have the ability to store water in their meaty leaves, allowing them to survive periods of dry and little water.
Snake plants only need to be watered once every two weeks.
You should be watering your snake plant once a fortnight at most, less during colder months.
If you are watering your snake plant more frequently, it is possible your houseplant is suffering from being overwatered. You will be able to tell because the soil will appear soggy and wet.
If your snake plant has been sitting in soggy soil for too long, it may also have developed root rot. We’ll discuss this in more detail further on in the guide.
How to Moderate Your Snake Plant’s Water Intake
We like to allow our snake plant’s soil to completely dry before giving it a top-up.
To determine when it is due for more water, we employ the soil finger moisture test. This is a simple, yet effective, method of testing the moisture levels in the soil by digging your index finger into the top two inches of soil. If soil sticks to your finger when you lift it out, there is moisture present. If your finger ends up being clean, it’s dry and time for a drink.
Snake Plant is Under Watered
On the other end of the spectrum, your snake plant may be turning yellow because it is not receiving enough water.
The main reason for under watering is improper watering and neglect.
You know when you haven’t shown your snake plant with enough care and attention. And you can confirm this by examining your soil. Dry soil tends to clump and become very hard and brittle. Extremely dry soil will also form cracks, and won’t absorb any water. The water will just sit on the surface of the soil, and eventually filter down the cracks, out of the drainage holes in the pot.
How to Correct Your Dry Soil
If your soil has cracked, we’d recommend swapping it out for some fresh soil and giving your snake plant a chance to recover and rehydrate. It will definitely thank you for the change and breathe new life into your indoor plant.
Alternatively, you can try soaking your soil with a few healthy doses of water. You will need to repeat this process until your soil regains its water absorbent properties again.
Poor Light Conditions
Snake plants are known to be very hardy houseplants. They can survive in a range of lighting conditions.
That said, if a snake plant stays in low light conditions, they may become weak and lose their color, beginning to turn yellow.
How to Improve a Snake Plant Suffering from Poor Light
If you suspect your snake plant needs more light, the solution is simple. Move it to a brighter position.
However, before you throw it onto a window sill, we recommend making the move gradually over a week. Every few days move your snake plant closer to its final position. This will give it an opportunity to adapt to the change in environment, and decrease the chances of your plant experiencing shock.
Too Much Sunlight
Even though snake plants are succulents, they can receive too much sunlight, which will cause their leaves to get burnt and turn yellow.
The ideal light for a snake plant is 6-8 hours of bright indirect sunlight a day. They can tolerate a bit of direct sunlight. However, it should only be for short periods at a time or dappled sunlight.
Other symptoms of too much sunlight include the foliage of your snake plant looking burnt, brown and crispy in the areas that have started to become yellow.
How to Reduce Overexposure to Sunlight
The obvious solution would be to move your snake plant to a position that is not exposed to direct sunlight.
However, sometimes this is not an option. Especially for plant parents living in small apartments or with poor aspects in their house. In cases like these, we recommend installing sheer curtains over the window that is letting in the direct sunlight.
Even though it is only a thin piece of see-through material, it is sometimes enough to filter the direct sunlight, and decrease the intensity of the light and heat.
Snake Plant Suffering From Root Rot
Root rot is a fungal disease that develops when your snake plant has been sitting in soil that is too wet and soggy. The spores rapidly multiply in the soil, quickly contaminating the root system and causing it to rot. If left unchecked, the rot will spread to the base of the snake plant, causing the parts of the plant just above the soil line to also rot. Once the root rot reaches this stage, unfortunately your snake plant is unsalvageable, and will die.
It is a painful and frustrating experience for gardeners at any level, because it requires a complete repotting and treatment of your snake plant to ensure the disease has been eliminated.
The symptoms are similar to the ones described in the over watering section above. However, in addition to the soggy soils and yellowing leaves, the soil will smell rotten, and you may have mushy leaves. Also, if you inspect the roots of your snake plant, parts of the roots will be dark brown or black.
How to Treat Root Rot in Snake Plants
Like we mentioned earlier, the only solution for treating root rot is to completely repot your snake plant out of the waterlogged soil. You will also need to treat the infected areas (root ball and plant) with a fungicide.
We have written a detailed step-by-step solution for treating snake plant root rot HERE.
Poor Quality Soil
One factor that can potentially lead to root rot is poor quality soil.
If your snake plant is growing in soil that does not have excellent drainage, excess moisture can develop into root rot and encourage the growth of fungal diseases.
Other qualities (in addition to avoiding poor drainage) that we recommend for a snake plant soil mix are:
- loamy consistency,
- excellent aeration, and
- plenty of organic matter to supply the necessary nutrients and minerals.
How to Make the Perfect Soil for Snake Plants
We like to make our own indoor potting mix according to a specific formula. You can read more about it in our article ‘Best Soil for Snake Plants‘.
The benefits of making your own soil are that you can manipulate the components of the soil to adjust its properties to suit individual plants. For example, for snake plants we like to increase the amount of porous materials (like perlite or vermiculite) to ensure there is plenty of proper drainage.
Alternatively, if you don’t like making your own soil, using a cactus soil or succulent plants mix will do the trick perfectly.
Incorrect Environmental Factors (Temperature & Humidity)
Sudden changes to the immediate surrounding environment, like temperature fluctuations or humidity changes, can shock a snake plant to the point that it becomes weak. As a result of it’s weakened state, your snake plant will appear limp, and develop yellowing leaves.
If your snake plant is in the direct air flow zone of an air conditioner or too close to a heater, the constantly fluctuating temperatures will make your plant go into shock. They prefer a stable temperature range between 70-90° Fahrenheit (21-32° Celsius).
The same applies to rapidly changing humidity levels. Snake plants like to live in humidity ranges between 30-50% – which is very similar to the levels that we enjoy inside. We recommend keeping snake plants indoors, where humidity levels are easier to control.
Pests are another potential cause for your snake plant’s leaves turning yellow.
Snake plants have many appealing qualities, but unfortunately being pest resistant is not one of them. They are susceptible to most common indoor plant pests, such as:
- Spider mites
- mealybugs, and
All of the above pests are sap-sucking bugs and will feed on the sap of your leaves by piercing the outer layer with specialized equipment.
If allowed to grow, a few pests can quickly develop into full-blown insect infestations, leaving your snake plant weakened from their constant feeding. When a snake plant is weak, its leaves begin to turn yellow and become wrinkled or shrivelled. You may also see brown spots beginning to form where pests have pierced the leaves.
How to Treat Pests on Snake Plants
Treating pests generally involves a two-part strategy.
The first phase is to manually remove as many of the pests as possible. We recommend doing this outside, so the pests aren’t tempted to jump ship onto another one of your indoor plants. You can use a pressurized hose to shoot streams of water onto the pests to dislodge them. For mealybugs, you will have to use rubbing alcohol soaked onto a cotton bud and lightly dab each bug.
Phase two involves treating your snake plant with an organic insecticide, like Neem oil. Make sure to apply the insecticide to the undersides of the leaves and crevices. These are common hiding areas for pests, and if you miss just one, you may be back to an infestation within a few weeks.
If you are being too generous with your feeding, even though you have good intentions, it can actually have the reverse effect. Excess fertilizer in your plants’ soil becomes toxic with the build up of chemicals in the soil. This can result in what is referred to as fertilizer burn, and cause your snake plant’s leaves to turn yellow.
If you notice a white substance forming on the top of your plants’ soil, it is likely that parts of the fertilizer you are using is not being used by your plant. Similar to the presence of minerals present in hard tap water, your snake plant will reject this and begin to slowly weaken in health and appearance.
Suggest Remedies for Over Fertilization
Reducing your feeding schedule is the most sensible solution for over fertilization. However, you may also need to flush your soil to eliminate the build up of salts and chemicals from the initial feedings. To do this, run warm water through the soil, ensuring the excess water (and chemicals) is flushed out from the drainage holes.
Low on Nutrients
At the other end of the spectrum, a lack of nutrients can also cause issues in your beautiful snake plant, causing it to yellow.
Suffice to say, yellow leaves are a snake plant’s way of a cry for help.
Even though snake plants are not overly big feeders, they still require the minimum essential nutrients and minerals to grow and function properly. Using an all-round fertilizer should provide everything your snake plant requires, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.
How to Correct Low Nutrient Levels
We recommend feeding your houseplant just before the growing season kicks off, so early spring.
This should provide your snake plant with plenty of food at the time that it needs it the most. It also helps to prevent a build up of fertilizer, and avoids the fertilizer burn that we discussed previously.
Aging of Snake Plants
It is also conceivable that there is a natural reason for your snake plant’s leaves turning yellow.
Like most living things in life, they age. And even though snake plants are evergreen, their leaves will eventually die from old age.
If we were ever to wish for a reason for our snake plant’s leaves to discolor, this would be it. It means you have successfully nurtured and cared for your snake plant, and it has (and still is) experienced a good life!
Root Bound and Overcrowded Pots
It feels like the list of reasons for a snake plant turning yellow is endless, doesn’t it?
But we want to make sure you have all your bases covered, and a thorough inspection of your plant is conducted to completely troubleshoot your problem.
The last cause of yellowing snake plants is potentially overcrowded pots or root-bound issues.
The problem with root-bound or overcrowded roots is it restricts the ability of your snake plant to absorb nutrients, minerals and water from the surrounding soil. This leads to a cascading list of problems, such as nutrient deficiency, and under-watering – all of which we discussed earlier in this article.
How to Fix Overcrowding of Roots
This is a simple fix – your snake plant needs to be repotted.
The important aspects you need to consider when repotting your snake plant are:
- choosing a pot with good drainage and is 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the previous pot,
- a good quality potting mix that has sufficient drainage, yet retains enough moisture to supply the root system with enough water, and
- repotting your snake plant in late winter or early spring, before the growing season really kicks off.
Common Questions About Snake Plant Turning Yellow
Is Some Yellowing Natural in Snake Plant Leaves?
Yes – absolutely, snake plants do naturally have some yellow parts to their foliage. It is what makes them unique and so stunning to see in a home. Obviously, the extent of the yellow will differ between the many varieties. However, the variegation on the leaves is a stunning display, which makes each plant its own masterpiece.
Should I remove yellow leaves from snake plant?
Removing sick or withered yellow leaves from a snake plant is advisable. Once a plant has decided to cut off support for a leave, it is irrecoverable and will die. To avoid attracting unwanted pests or diseases, we recommend pruning the leaf off as close to the bottom as possible.
Remember to only remove yellow leaves from a snake plant if it looks sickly, and you have identified there is a problem with your snake plant.
How Often Should You Water A Snake Plant?
Mastering the watering needs of your snake plant will ensure you enjoy a hassle-free plant parenting journey. It is recommended you water your snake plant once the soil has dried out completely. We test the soil for moisture with our finger, to determine when to provide the next top-up of water for our snake plants.
Alternatively, you can use a soil moisture meter to indicate when your snake plant needs more water.
Can Yellow Leaves Turn Green Again?
Generally speaking, when a snake plant leaf turns yellow, the mother plant has decided to sacrifice the leaf, and it won’t recover. In fact, the plant will cease channeling nutrients to the leaf, and actually try to absorb the remaining nutrients from the leaf back to redistribute to other parts of the plant.
For this reason, we recommend removing yellowing leaves.
By now you should have comprehensively covered all the potential reasons for your snake plant turning yellow.
We recommend methodically working your way through our troubleshooting guide, and strategically implementing the solutions suggested under each of the most likely causes for your ailing snake plant.
Send us pictures of your yellowing snake plants, and we’ll be more than happy to help you diagnose potential problems that you can rectify immediately.