Snake plants are very easy to care for, they are likewise beautiful which is why they are popular amongst homeowners.
Also known as the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, this plant can tolerate lots of abuse and neglect without issues.
However, there may come a time that you may notice your snake plant dying.
Why is your Snake Plant dying? The most common reasons your snake plant is dying are root rot and overwatering.
Other reasons including underwatering, extreme temperatures, pests, and infections.
Once you notice something is wrong, it is important to identify the cause so you can treat the problem directly.
Common Reasons Your Snake Plant is Dying (& How to Fix Each)
Snake plants are very resilient. This is why they’re such popular houseplants. They can tolerate neglect, improper care and even abuse.
In fact, some people even label them as “indestructible” or “impossible to kill”.
That said, like all things, there’s a limit to what the snake plant can take. And when this happens, you may find your snake plant dying or its health deteriorating.
Below, I’ll go through the most common reasons why your snake plant is dying, how to identify that cause and finally how to fix each one.
Root rot is a very serious problem that requires immediate attention. Because of its ability to potentially destroy your plant, I’ll start off with this one.
For the most part, root rot in snake plants is cause for overwatering.
The reason root rot sets in is because the plant’s roots need both water and oxygen to stay healthy. When the two are out of balance, that’s when problems happen.
In the case of overwatering, excess moisture prevents airflow from getting to the roots. Over time, this causes the roots to suffocate since they cannot breathe.
Another common cause of root rot are fungal infections. Some examples include Pythium, Rhizoctonia Phytophthora and Fusarium fungi. Once they infect the roots, they will keep spreading and destroying them.
These fungal infections are likewise caused by too much moisture since this damp environment encourages pathogen growth.
Symptoms of Root Rot
You can easily identify root rot by the color and texture of the roots. Healthy roots are have a white color and feel firm. Rotted roots are brown or black in color, soft and mushy.
They also smell bad. Therefore, if you notice any foul odor coming from the soil of your snake plant, it is a good idea to suspect root rot and unpot the plant to check.
The problem with root rot is that it is not visible. That’s because the roots are hidden under the soil.
Therefore, unless you’re aware that you’re overwatering the plant, you’ll need to wait until the symptoms reach the stems and leaves before you realize something’s wrong with roots.
By then, there has been at least some damage to the root system.
How to Treat Root Rot in Snake Plants
The best way to treat root rot is to repot your snake plant in fresh, dry soil. But before doing so, you’ll need to remove and discard any infected soil.
Make sure to disinfect the roots as well. I like to use hydrogen peroxide although here are other methods. Don’t forget to sanitize the pot as well since residue that’s left there can infect the next plant you put in that pot.
Then prune the rotted roots before you repot it.
If there has been significant damage to the roots, you may need to discard part of the plant. The reason for this is that the few remaining roots will only be able to support a small part of the original plant.
Therefore, overburdening it with the entire plant will reduce its chances of survival. By discarding part of the plant, you give the remaining, smaller plant a better shot at recover.
Unfortunately, with root rot, there comes a point where your plant is beyond saving. When too many roots have rotted, the only option is to find healthy cuttings and propagate them.
This allows you to grow new plants from the parent.
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How to Prevent Root Rot in Snake Plants
Because root rot can eventually kill your snake plant, the best thing to do is completely avoid it altogether if you can.
This means making sure that you don’t overwater the plant.
The best way to avoid overwatering is to always check the soil before adding more moisture. And allow the top 2 to 3 inches of soil completely dry before adding more water.
Also, adjust your watering schedule based on the time of year.
Snake plants generally need watering about once a week. During the summer, frequency may increase to 2 or 3 times as the rate of evaporation will dry the soil faster.
However, once winter arrives, make sure to cut back on watering. This can mean watering once every 2 or 3 weeks. Again, always check the soil before adding water.
In addition to watering frequency, use the right kind of potting soil.
Snake plants need a well-draining potting mix to avoid waterlogging. You can combine 1 part potting soil with 1 part peat moss with 2 parts perlite to create a potting mix suitable for your snake plant.
This will provide good drainage to prevent waterlogging.
Finally, use a pot with drainage holes to allow the excess moisture to escape. While snake plants can do well in pots with not drainage, you’ll need to use alternative solutions to make this happen.
I find that growing the plant in a pot with drainage is much simpler way to go about things.
Above, I’ve covered some parts of overwatering because it is what usually leads to root rot.
But because of the consequences attached to it, it is worth re-emphasizing that overwatering is the most common problem that can kill your snake plant.
In addition to root rot, overwatering can increase the risk of pests and disease. It is also what causes leaves to turn yellow.
Therefore, it is very important to avoid overwatering your plant.
Similarly, it is a good idea to know the symptoms of overwatering. This will allow you catch it early and avoid the negative effects.
Unfortunately, while root rot is the most serious problem caused by overwatering, the roots are not visible since they are under the soil. Therefore, you’ll need to rely on other symptoms to identify the problem.
Here are the most common symptoms of an overwatered plant.
- Yellow or brown leaves that are limp and soft.
- Wilting is usually a later symptom when there’s already some root rot happening.
- The plant is dropping leaves, including old and new ones.
- The base of the stem feels more mushy than normal.
- Rotten odor coming from the soil is another sign that there is root rot already.
- Leaves start to present brown spots with yellow rings around them. This is a sign of bacteria infection.
- Presence of fungus or mold on the surface of the soil.
How to Fix an Overwatered Snake Plant
I’ve covered root rot above, so here I’ll focus more on overwatering and less on rotting roots.
If you suspect overwatering, the first thing to do is to check the soil. You can do so by sticking your finger into the soil down to about 2 to 4 inches to feel for wetness.
If the soil at that depth is wet, soggy, or damp there is likely waterlogging happening as a result of overwatering.
Because overwatering yields so many negative effects, always assume the worse.
At this point, I’ll usually just unpot the plant to check for root rot.
If there is no root rot, the plant will be able to recover once you let the soil dry out. This means stop watering for a while.
In addition to letting the soil dry, make sure that the soil you’re using is free draining. If the soil does not drain moisture or retains a lot of water, it will take a long time before the soil dries out.
This puts your plant at risk in the meantime since it is still swimming in water.
Therefore, if you’re unsure whether the soil is well-draining, it is a good idea to repot and change the soil. This allows the plant to “start over” from a dry state and recover from there.
Once the soil has dried out, avoid watering the plant for at least a few days.
At this point, it important to note that how you water the plant is just as important as when you water your snake plant.
When to water your snake plant? Water your snake plant only when the top 2 inches of soil is completely dry.
Avoid doing so before that. To test this, stick your index finger into the soil down to the second knuckle. The soil at that depth has to be dry before you add more water.
If not, wait 2 days and test again.
If you prefer, you can likewise use a moisture meter to gauge how much moisture the soil has.
How to water your snake plant? Use the soak and drain method. That is, add water to the top of the soil until you start seeing the liquid drip from the bottom holes of the pot.
This means the soil is soaked and saturated with moisture.
Then let all the excess water drain out completely before returning the plant to its spot.
Doing this ensures the roots get their fill of water to stay hydrated. It also ensures that the soil does not stay wet for long.
In addition to how much and how often you water your snake plant, another thing that can cause waterlogging is poor drainage.
Here, there are two factors involved:
- The soil the plant grows in
- The pot where you keep the plant
Since snake plants need well-draining soil, avoid using heavy mixes or those that retain too much moisture. If you want to use regular potting mix, make sure to add perlite or pumice to improve drainage.
Otherwise, if the soil holds too much water, you can water correctly with the right frequency, but the soil will hold on to most of the moisture. Therefore, your snake plant still ends up swimming in water.
Finally, there’s the pot.
I like to make sure that the pots I use for my houseplants have drainage. If your pots don’t have holes, then the water that drains out from the soil just ends up pooling at the bottom of the container.
Therefore, you end up with waterlogged soil.
Drainage holes allow the excess water to drip and escape out of the pot.
Just as importantly, if you keep a saucer or a catch tray under the pot, make sure to throw the water away and not let it collect there.
Otherwise, the soil will eventually reabsorb the moisture.
How to Fix Poor Drainage
To make sure your snake plant gets ample drainage,
- Use the right kind of potting soil
- Make sure the pot has a drainage hole
Snake plants need well-draining potting soil. The good news is that you can use a number of different ingredients to achieve this, including perlite, pumice, orchid bark and activated charcoal.
As for the latter, choose a pot with drainage.
If you already have pots at home with not holes, you can drill the holes in yourself.
Besides overwatering and all the problems that come with it, another reason your snake plant is dying could be lack of water.
While the plant is fairly hardy and can tolerate drought, allowing it to get dehydrated can ultimately cause problems as well.
Therefore, avoid letting the soil go completely dry.
That said, many of the symptoms of overwatering and underwatering are similar.
You will see yellow or brown leaves, wilting and in general an unhealthy looking plant. To distinguish one from the other, check a couple of things.
- The leaves
- The soil
One of the biggest differences between an overwatered and underwatered snake plant are its leaves.
Overwatering gives you soft, mushy leaf texture. On the other hand, an underwatered snake plant will have dry, crispy, even brittle leaves.
With soil, all you need to do it feel the surface or stick your finger down 2 to 4 inches into the soil.
An overwatered snake plant will have wet, soggy soil, while an underwatered one will have very dry soil.
Before trying t fix the watering issue, make sure to check both so you know what you’re dealing with.
Otherwise, because their symptoms are similar, you could end up adding more water to an overwatered snake plant and allowing a dehydrated one to dry out even more.
Both cases can worsen the situation.
How to Fix a Dying Snake Plant Due to Underwatering
Once you confirm that your snake plant is struggling because it is underwatered or dehydrated, give it some water.
Underwatering is a lot easier to fix compared to overwatering, especially with snake plants. Once you give it ample water, the plant should quickly perk right back up.
It only takes around 24 hours or so to see a huge difference.
Snake plants are accustomed to warm weather. It is native to West Africa. And its preferred temperature range is between 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just as importantly, it does not experience snow, frost or freezing temperatures in its native habitat.
As such, its tolerance for cold environments is limited.
If you leave it in cold temperatures for prolonged periods of time, it growth will initially slow down. Then it will start to experience temperature stress.
After a while, especially if things get colder, it will sustain cold damage.
This is why Snake Plants do best in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11 outdoors. There, they can stay outside all year round without any problems.
But in colder regions, make sure to bring it indoors once temperature drops to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In most cases, the plant is kept indoors in these locales.
How to Fix Temperature Problems in Snake Plants
Once you notice that the temperature has dropped or is below 55 degrees, move the plant to a warmer, cozier location.
Similarly, your snake plant will show some signs of cold stress. These include yellow, mushy leaves and even scarring on its foliage.
When this happens, make sure to transfer the plant to a warmer spot. Then, prune the damaged leaves.
Insufficient light is another reason why your snake plant may be dying or deteriorating in health.
In general, snake plants can tolerate low light. But it cannot go without light. Nor can it sustain itself if left in dark or dim locations.
That’s because the plant absorbs light for photosynthesis, where it turns the light into sugars which in turn it uses for energy.
So the less light the plant receives, the slower its growth will be. And when light becomes insufficient, you’ll notice it get weak, the leaves turn yellow or brown and the plant will wilt.
How to Fix Insufficient Lighting
Fortunately, this is one of the easier ones to fix. All you need to do is move the plant to a brighter location.
However, be careful not to expose it to direct sunlight or very strong, harsh light. Both can scorch its leaves and dry out the plant.
Instead, keep the plant somewhere with medium to bright, indirect light.
If you don’t get enough natural light you can supplement with artificial lighting. Again, avoid placing the plant too close to the grow lights as it can burn its leaves.
Pests are another reason that your snake plant is dying. While these bugs are tiny, they work collectively to cause damage.
The biggest problem with pests is that they grow in population very quickly. Therefore, the damage they can use exponentially grows with each passing day you don’t get rid of them.
The most common pests that attack snake plants are sap sucking insects including mealybugs and spider mites. Both do their damage by robbing the plant of its internal juices.
These juices contain moisture and nutrients that are meant for different parts of the plant including the leaves.
As the number of pests increase the risk of dehydration and nutrient deficiency also goes up.
If left untreated, these bugs and ultimately overwhelm and destroy your snake plant.
How to Get Rid of Pests on Snake Plants
When it comes to treating your snake plant for pests, it is important to get rid of all of them. This includes the adults, the larvae and the eggs.
If you leave any of them, they cycle of dev growth and laying eggs resumes. So, your pest problem will come back.
With plant pests, the best scenario is to catch them early. This is when there are just few. This makes it easy to get rid of all of them. It also takes much less time.
Once they become infestations, it can take several weeks to resolve your pest problem.
My first line of defense is to spray the bugs off with a stream of water. Depending on how big your plant is, you can do this in the sink or use a handheld showerhead.
For larger plants, you can take it to the bathtub or use a garden hose.
It may take a few sprayings to get rid of them all. Also, make sure to let the plant drain and dry right after.
Another option is to use insecticidal soap and make a spray out of it.
You can spray the leaves to kill the bugs. But make sure to test the solution in a small part of the plant’s leaf first to see if there are any side effects.
In addition to pests, infections are another potential problem. Bacterial and fungal infections are what you watch to watch out for.
Like pests, each disease is different. Therefore, you’ll need to identify the kind of infection before starting treatment.
With snake plants, two kinds of infections stand out. These are leaf spot infections and Southern blight.
Both can be treated with fungicides. However, you’ll be using different kinds of fungicides. Therefore, you need to get the right product.
In addition to treating the infections, you’ll also want to prune the affected leaves to prevent the disease from spreading.