Snake Plant Root Rot – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Last Updated on March 14, 2022 by Admin

Snake plant is a very popular houseplant because it is easy to care for and hard to kill. It can take a lot of neglect and abuse and will not die on you. However, snake plant root rot is one of the things it is vulnerable to. And this can eventually kill the plant if not diagnosed or treated in time.

Why is my snake plant dying? The most common cause of a dying snake plant is root rot. however, it can also be caused by pests, sudden temperature fluctuations and fungal problems.

As such, is it important to identify which of these causes is the actual culprit usually starting with the most serious one in order to try and limit its progression.

What is Snake Plant Root Rot?

Snake plant root rot is when the roots of the plant rot or die. This occurs mainly due to overwatering. But the actual cause of root rot is snake plant is either the roots eventually suffocate because of too much water surrounding them or the excess moisture allows fungi to develop.

In the former, roots rot due to suffocation because in addition to water, they need to breathe air. Therefore, if there’s too much water, the roots drown and are unable to get oxygen for long periods of time. This is what leads to snake plant root rot.

On the other hand, fungal infections tend to develop is damp and moist conditions. And it is the excess water from overwatering that allows these fungi to grow on roots.

The fungal infection will them spread to more and more roots destroying them. Thus, causing root rot.

The difficulty with root rot is that it happens below the soil.

As such, the process is not visible. Instead, you’ll be relying in the subsequent symptoms of root rot as they move up the stem and the leaves. Only then do you suspect a problem with the roots.

Thus, it is very important not to overwater the plant. And the moment you notice any signs of overwatering happening, a quick check on the roots is always worth the extra time and effort.


Snake Plant Root Rot Symptoms

Since root rot starts below the soil, you won’t be able to tell until you unpot the plant. Once you do, you’ll easily be able to tell the roots that have rotted from the healthy ones.

However, in most cases, the symptoms you’ll see first are those above the soil.

This is why root rot is so dangerous.

By the time the symptoms reach the leaves, which is when growers see the first sign of concern, root rot has already progressed.

So, in the symptoms below, I’ll begin with those you’ll usually spot first. This way, you can tell the signs faster when it is actually happening to your snake plant.


Snake Plant is Turning Yellow

When root rot progresses from the roots up the plant, it will eventually reach the leaves. And yellow leaves are a sign that there is root rot.

However, yellow leaves usually signal overwatering as well (which is the main cause of root rot).

This is why I tell people that when you see yellow leaves from overwatering, always take the extra time and effort to check the roots for rotting.


Soft, Mushy Leaves

The thing with yellow leaves is that there are other things like underwatering which can turn leaves yellow as well.

One hint the plant will give you that overwatering is the culprit is the leaves will be soft and mushy in addition to turning yellow.

If you notice these two in combination, always check the soil.

Wet soil warrants a look at the roots.




Dark Spots on the Stem or Near the Base of the Plant

Dark spots on the based of the stem usually means the rotting is progressing upwards.

Therefore, if you notice this, take the plant out of the pot and check for root rot.

Often root rot will have a strong enough smell that if you’re examining or looking at the base of the plant or are near the soil, you’ll smell a stench.

This is the bad odor or the rotting roots permeating through the soil.


Wilting Leaves

Wilting leaves is often caused by underwatering or low humidity. But it can also be caused by overwatering.

However, when root rot occurs and some of the roots stop functioning because they have rotted, the plant won’t be able to absorb moisture or nutrients efficiently from the soil.

This will eventually cause lack of water which will cause leaves to wilt.

So, while wilting is a less obvious and more indirect symptom of root rot, it can still give you a clue that the problem may be happen.

And if it happens in conjunction with some of the other symptoms above, then that usually warrants unpotting and checking root roots.


Black, Mushy, Stinky Roots

The last but most telling sign of root rot are the roots themselves. Rotted roots are black, brown, soft and mushy. They also stink.

In contrast, healthy roots are while or translucent in color. They are pliable yet firm to the touch. And they don’t have much of a smell except hints of soil.

This is the final confirmation, although it should really be the first.

But since it is under the soil, usually people will notice the symptoms on the leaves first before they move down to the roots.


How to Treat Snake Plant Root Rot

Unfortunately, you’re quite limited in the things you can do the treat snake plant and try to save it from root rot. Therefore, it is very important to spot the problem early.

This gives you a good chance of treating and saving your snake plant.

The more roots that are damaged, the more difficult it will be for the plant to recover.

In contrast, minimal root rot gives the plant the best chances of survival.

And the only way to save a snake plant with root rot is to repot the plant in fresh, dry soil. But before you do, you’ll need to unpot the plant and prune the rotted roots.

Take note of how much of the root system you prune as well. That’s because if you pruned more than a quarter of the plant’s root system, you will also need to prune the leaves by that much as well.

The reasoning here is that the remaining healthy roots stand a better chance of survival and recovery if they have a smaller plant to support. But if you leave the entire plant intact, it will likely be overburdened by the load which makes it harder to recover or survive.

After pruning the plant, you’ll need to remove all the soil as well. This is a precaution because if root rot was caused by a fungal infection, then the soil will contain pathogens that will follow the plant when repotted.

Use water to rinse and remove every bit of soil that you can.

Then disinfect the root system. Again, this is to get rid of any pathogens.

You can use hydrogen peroxide. Just mix 1 tablespoon for every 1 cup of water. Then fill a sink or a large container depending on how big your snake plant is.

Submerge the entire root system into the hydrogen peroxide to disinfect.

Make sure every nook and cranny get exposed to the solution. Then allow the roots to dry.

By this point you’ll have only healthy roots remaining with no pathogens. So, your snake plant is ready to be repotted.

If you want to use the same pot, you’ll need to clean the pot with the same hydrogen peroxide solution or a bleach solution first. You can likewise use a completely new pot.

Also, get new, fresh, well-draining soil that is dry to fill the new pot.

Then repot the snake plant there.

Only time will tell if the plant will recover. But you’ve done all you can and now it is up to the plant to recover.


Snake Plant Root Rot Prevention

The best way to prevent snake plant root rot is to wait until the top 2 to 3 inches of soil has completely dried between waterings.

This is your safety net so to speak.

By allowing that part of the soil to dry before you add more water, it ensures that you’re not adding more water when the soil is still wet or moist.

This is how overwatering occurs.

When you water too frequently, the soil eventually has too much moisture and stays wet. This leaves the roots sitting in water for long periods of time which either causes them to suffocate or gives fungi the opportunity to grow.

In addition to allowing the top layer of soil to dry out before you add more water, overwatering can also happen due to poor drainage.

Poor drainage usually has two causes.

One, is when you use soil that retains too much water. If you use regular potting soil with nothing added to it, this can happen. Similarly, heavy or dense soils will also hold too much moisture.

While these soils can work for other plants, it is harmful for snake plants.

That’s because it negates proper watering.

This means that even if you water properly and let part of the soil dry between waterings, but if the soil holds onto all the water you add, then the roots still end up swimming in liquid.

Therefore, avoid this kind of soil.

Instead, use well-draining soil.

Well-draining soil will quickly drain excess moisture so the roots get to breathe. It also holds some water that’s just enough to keep the plant hydrated.

The second is your pot doe not have drainage.

So, what happens to the excess liquid that drains out from the soil?

It depends.

If your pot has drainage holes, the water will drip out and exit the container. This keeps the soil moist without the excess water.

And it is the ideal situation.

But if your pot does not have drainage holes, the excess liquid will pool and collect at the bottom of the pot. Even worse, it will keep the soil at the bottom wet.

As more water accumulates, this water increases.

Eventually, the soil just reabsorbs the liquid. So, you essentially waste the work that proper watering and well-draining soil did.

And the soil is waterlogged once again.

Therefore, make sure the pot you use has ample drainage to get rid of the excess moisture.


Last Word

Snake plant root rot is a very concerning matter. And if not diagnosed early, it will destroy your plant.

By knowing the symptoms, treatment and prevention, you’ll be able to identify it in case it happens. Then fix the problem and try to save the plant.

But the best solution is to prevent snake plant root rot from happening in the first place.

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