An overwatered snake plant is always a worrisome problem for a plant owner. Unfortunately, it is a common issue since the plant is drought tolerant and stores water in its leaves.
So, while it is often “indestructible”, this tough, resilient houseplant has a glaring weakness.
In fact, snake plant overwatering can kill the plant altogether.
What are the signs of an overwatered snake plant? The plant will develop yellow leaves that are soft and mushy. While they leaves may or may not wilt, you’ll see some foliage drop.
In more severe cases, the damage will reach the roots causing root rot. If this happens, it is important to treat and save the plant immediately.
Signs of Overwatered Snake Plant
Wet, Mucky Soil
If you see many of the signs of an overwatered snake plant but cannot be sure if the plant has gotten too much or too little water, just check the soil.
Snake plant overwatering will result in wet, mucky or soggy soil.
And you’ll know by feeling the soil surface or sticking your finger into the soil down 2-4 inches.
On the other hand, very dry, even crusty looking soil, means that the plant is underwatered.
Soft, Mushy Leaves
This is one of the distinctive signs of overwatering. That’s because leaf discoloration can happen in both lack of water and too much water.
Often, yellow and brown leaves will develop in both cases.
Therefore, it can sometimes mislead you.
To differentiate overwatering from underwatering, just feel the leaves.
When overwatered, snake plant leaves will feel softer, soggy and mushy. In contrast, dry, crispy leaves indicate lack of water.
Yellow leaves are a common sign of an overwatered snake plant.
This happens because the excess moisture suffocates the roots. As such, there may or may not be root rot yet.
But the suffocation or damage limits the roots ability to absorb nutrients and get them to the leaves.
Thus, you end up with yellowing foliage.
Note that wilting may or may not accompany the yellow leaves when there is overwatering in snake plants.
Leaf drop can also happen. And while one or two leaves dropping once in a while can be normal, many leaves dropping combined with the other signs on this list will indicate overwatering.
Thus, while this symptom is useful, it can happen in a few other instances which means it needs other signs to help confirm overwatering.
Foul Smell Coming from the Soil
If you take a sniff at the base of the plant near the soil, you may smell a foul odor.
This is the smell of rotten roots.
As such, if there is such a stench, you want to take the plant out of its pot and inspect the roots for any damage.
Root rot is the biggest danger sign of snake plant overwatering.
You’ll need to unpot the plant to confirm whether there is root rot or not. Hopefully, there isn’t.
But if there is root rot, it is very important to immediately treat your snake plant and try to save it.
I discuss the different scenarios below and how to save your overwatered snake plant with root rot step by step.
How to Save an Overwatered Snake Plant
The important part of this article is how to save an overwatered snake plant. Here, there are two main scenarios you’ll find.
One is when the overwatered snake plant is spared from root rot. Or root rot has not set in yet.
Another is when the snake plant already has root rot.
Of the two, the second is more dire.
That’s because depending on how serious the root rot has gotten, you may or may not be able to save the plant.
I’ll go through each of the steps below.
Saving an Overwatered Snake Plant with No Root Rot
If you unpot your overwatered snake plant and find that there is no root rot, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
This makes the process of saving and reviving your plant much easier.
It also means it is in less risk.
Nevertheless, you still need to address the excess moisture and figure out how to prevent it from happening again.
Pour Out Excess Water
The first step is to pour out any excess liquid from the pot.
If you see any puddles or water on the surface of the soil or feel excess liquid moving in the pot, try to tip the pot to its side and pour out any excess liquid.
This will help the soil from staying in too much moisture.
Prune the Damaged Leaves
Next, prune the damaged leaves.
Brown, yellow, wilted or mushy leaves won’t turn green again. Nor will they recover to their original lush looks.
So, it is best to remove them.
Pruning will encourage new growth to develop. Additionally, it stops the plant from expending energy and resources in trying to heal the damages.
Instead, after your remove the affected leaves, the plant will be able to focus all its energy on maintaining the healthy leaves and pushing out new leaves.
Make Sure that You’re Using Soil with Good Drainage
One important thing to consider is the kind of soil your snake plant is in.
Often, people assume that snake plant overwatering is due to adding water too frequently. But that’s not always the case.
Instead, the problem could be with the kind of soil the plant is in.
Snake plants need a free draining potting mix. That’s because they don’t like sitting in lots of water.
Instead, these are drought tolerant plants that like dry soil. However, they do need some moisture to stay healthy.
Therefore, it is important to use a soil mist that retains some water but provides good drainage.
Heavy soils can hold too much water which lead to waterlogging which results in an overwatered snake plant.
As such, it s crucial to avoid this.
Instead, pick a potting mix with sufficient drainage and is loose to provide good aeration.
Here’s an easy potting mix you can make at home.
- 1 part potting mix
- 1 part peat moss
- 2 parts perlite
You can substitute the peat moss with coconut coir if you prefer something more environmentally friendly.
Similarly, if you have coarse sand at home, you can use that instead of perlite.
If you notice that the soil mix that the plant is currently in is retaining too much moisture, then switch it out for the DIY potting mix recipe above.
Ensure that the Pot has Sufficient Drainage
Once you’re sure that the soil is loose and is well-draining, it is time to ensure that the pot has sufficient drainage as well.
Pot drainage refers to the holes at the bottom which allow the excess liquid that drains from the soil to escape out of the container.
This prevents the moisture from building up at the bottom of the pot.
If the latter happens, the soil will stay wet keeping the roots wet as well.
In addition to making sure there are enough holes to drain excess liquid, check that the holes are not clogged. Sometimes, they get clogged by larger soil particles or debris that get bunched up together.
If this is the case, clear up the holes.
On the other hand, if your pot does not have drainage, repot the plant into a container with sufficient drainage.
Let the Snake Plant Dry
It is important to ensure that both the soil and pot will provide enough drainage to keep the snake plant happy. Otherwise, after saving it from overwatering, the same process will repeat itself again in the future.
When trying to let your snake plant dry, there are two options.
- Keep it in its pot
- Repot the plant
Repotting takes more time and effort. But by doing so, you give the overwatered snake plant immediate relief as you move it from the wet soil to fresh, dry soil in its new container.
Thus, it can start recovery immediately.
And there’s no extra risk of further damage due to the excess moisture.
However, if you keep it in its pot, there’s much less work required on your part.
In addition to pouring out the excess liquid, you can turn the soil to aerate it. Another option is to poke holes into the soil to allow air to get in.
The air will help the soil dry much faster.
It will also break up any chunks or sections that have gotten compacted which allows the moisture to dry sooner.
That said, it can take a few days or even a week before the soil dries.
And you want to allow the soil to completely dry before watering again. This will help the plant recover from overwatering.
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Keep the Plant in a Well-Lit Location with Good Ventilation
Another thing that helps speed up drying an overwatered snake plant is moving it to a spot with plenty of light.
Ideally, choose a location indoors that has bright, indirect sunlight.
But avoid direct sunlight as too much of this can dry out the plant or cause sunburn to its leaves.
Outdoors, pick a spot with partial or semi-shade. Keep it away from full sun.
In addition to good lighting, the area you select needs good air circulation. The presence of airflow or ventilation will help the soil dry as well.
Again, be careful not to put it in windy or drafty locations.
This includes outdoor spaces where it will be susceptible to strong winds or gusts. Indoors, avoid vents, radiators, air conditioning or windows where cold drafts can enter.
Adjust Your Watering Schedule
Last but not least, adjust your watering routine.
Snake plants don’t need watering on a daily basis. Nor do they need to be watered weekly.
In most cases, watering once every 2 weeks works well.
However, the weather and temperature can increase or decrease the frequency of watering.
As such, I prefer to check the soil.
I like to wait until the top 50% to 75% of the soil has dried between waterings. Never water before this range.
Some growers will let the soil dry out all the way before adding water as well.
Because the snake plant is drought tolerant, you can do the latter method too.
Saving an Overwatered Snake Plant with Root Rot
The second scenario you may end up facing with an overwatered snake plant is root rot.
In this case, immediate action becomes even more urgent.
That’s because root rot spreads.
And where too many of the roots have rotted, there’s no way to save your beloved snake plant no matter what you do.
Below, I’ll go through the steps on how to save an overwatered snake plant with root rot.
Unpot the Snake Plant
The first step is to unpot the snake plant. Be careful and take your time when doing so especially if its is a large plant.
You don’t want to cause it sustain more damage.
When taking the root ball out of the pot, try to be gentle to avoid damaging any healthy roots.
But don’t worry if the rotten roots break since they’re useless at this point anyway.
Remove the Soil from the Roots
Next, remove excess soil from the root system.
Do this in a space where you can keep the soil easy to clean afterwards. Also, try to stay away from other plants.
You don’t want any of the soil to come into contact with the rest of your houseplants.
In case the root rot was caused by fungal disease, it can infect other plants if the soil ends up in those pots.
Prune the Rotten Roots
Take a sterile pair or scissors or pruning shears. You can use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to sanitize the blades.
Then cut off all the rotten roots.
Healthy roots are white roots with firm texture and very pliable. Rotten roots are brown or black in color, soft and mushy.
Don’t cut off any healthy roots since you want to preserve all of them.
But remove every bit of damaged or rotten roots.
Prune the Damaged Leaves
Sanitize the cutting tool again to get rid of any pathogens from the rotten roots.
Now, prune the damaged leaves.
Yellow, brown or any affected leaves will look ugly. So, you don’t want they there.
Additionally, leaving them will make the plant use up energy in trying to heal them. Sadly, discolored and wilted leaves won’t return to their green, lush, healthy appearance ever.
So, pruning is a good way to make the plant focus all its energy to pushing out new leaves while allowing the other healthy leaves to develop further.
Lastly, if you pruned more than one-third of the root system, you’ll need to prune the same amount of leaves to reduce the size of the plant.
This will give the new pruned plant a better chance at recovering from root rot.
Disinfect the Root System
To make sure that there are no possible remnants of pathogens in the root system, soak the roots in hydrogen peroxide solution.
You can likewise treat the root system with fungicide solution.
Then, let the roots dry afterwards.
You can lay the plant down on a few old newspapers to help absorb the excess moisture.
Here, you want to let the roots dry before repotting it later on.
Carefully Throw Away the Soil
Since there may be pathogens in the soil, it is best to discard all the soil mix.
Do this carefully.
You don’t want to reuse infected soil mix on any of your plants because it will cause the same fungal root rot problem again.
Disinfect the Pot
Use a bleach solution or a hydrogen peroxide solution to clean the pot that the snake plant was in.
This will kill any pathogens that’s left there.
Just soak the entire pot in the sink or large container.
Then allow the pot to dry afterwards.
Repot the Snake Plant
Finally, when the roots of the snake plant have dried, you can repot the plant.
Prepare a new pot. This will likely be smaller than the previous container since you’ve pruned some of the roots.
You also want to use fresh, dry potting mix that is loose and well-draining.
The repot the snake plant in the new container.
Don’t water it for a while as it will take time to recover from all the excess moisture.
Also, keep the plant in bright, indirect light in a warm location. Avoid direct sunlight and anywhere that is too hot or too cold.
How to Propagate Snake Plant (Worst Case Scenario)
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to save an overwatered snake plant.
Sadly, when too much of the roots have rotten, it is very likely your snake plant will die and end up in the trash can.
As such, it is important to prepare for the worst.
And the best way to keep your snake plant is to propagate your snake plant. This way, in case you lose the mother plant, you’ll have a new plant.
Because you want to make sure you end up with a successful propagation, it is best to take more than one cutting.
The challenging part is finding healthy cuttings in a severely damages snake plant.