Underwatered Snake Plant Signs and How to Save It

An underwatered snake plant an uncommon or rare occurrence. That’s because the plant is quite drought tolerant.

However, because it can go weeks without being watered, it can be easy to forget to eventually water the plant.

This will eventually result in an underwatered snake plant.

That said, it is important not to let this condition linger as it can eventually damage the roots and harm the plant.

How do I know if my snake plant is underwatered? The plant’s leaves will feel dry, crispy and brittle. They will also turn brown, curl and become wrinkled.

To verify that the snake plant is underwatered, check the soil. Very dry soil means the plant needs water. You can also check the roots to see if they look dry and brittle.

Signs of Underwatered Snake Plant

Very Dry Soil

The first thing I like to check when I suspect my snake plant is underwatered is the soil.

Here, there are a few things you can do.

And all you need is to feel the soil with your hands.

The first is to feel the surface of the soil. Very dry, cracking soil what is firm to the touch means it has been dry for a while now.

You can kind of tell the difference between soil that has just dried because there’s still some moistness to it.

On the other hand, if the soil is dusty, firm and has some cracks on it, it means that it has been dry for some time.

If you want further verification, you can stick your finger down into the soil as far down as you can do see how dry it is.

Another option is to use wooden stick or a wooden chopstick.

If you insert the wooden stick all the way down until it hits the bottom of the pot, you’ll be able to see until what part of the soil is still moist by looking at the water line in the stick.

Some gardeners will just use a moisture meter, which works as well.

In general, an underwatered snake plant will have dry soil.

 

Slow Growth

Water affects every aspect of a plant’s growth. And the snake plant is no exception.

In fact, plants are made up of 90% water.

This is why they need it to survive.

And even the all-mighty drought tolerant snake plant needs sufficient water.

That’s because water supports its different functions. It also allows nutrients to reach different parts of the plant to sustain them.

So, with an underwatered snake plant, you’ll see its growth slow down.

However, slow growth is one of the broader symptoms. So, it is not as helpful as the others on our list. That’s because many other things can cause slow growth.

 

Curling Leaves

Leaves curling is another sign that your snake plant is underwatered. This is not a pretty sight as the leaves which are normally upright and firm will curl up and slightly bend in different directions.

Unfortunately, this is the plant’s way of coping with lack of water.

While there are other reasons for snake plant leaves curling, underwatering is usually the first one you want to check.

That’s because plants, including the mother in law’s tongue, leaves curl to cope with lack of water.

And they do this to reduce the surface area of the leaves.

In doing so, it reduces the amount of water loss from transpiration.

Thus, when you see this happening, you want to check the soil and see whether your snake plant is underwatered.

 

Leaves Falling Over or Bending Over

Snake plants have unique, firm looking leaves that are upright. And they will get bigger over time if you let it, reaching as much as 3 to 5 feet tall.

As with other succulent plants, it stores water in its leaves.

And the presence of moisture allows the leaves to maintain their shape and firmness.

This is why when your snake plant is underwatered, you’ll see the leaves bend over or start falling over.

If the plant is left dry for prolonged periods of time without watering, its leaves will start to droop, look weak and lack the vibrancy they normally do.

Note that while this is more aesthetic, lack of water also affects the overall health of the snake plant since water is what allows many other functions to work including its ability to absorb nutrients.

 

Brown, Dry Leaf Edges and Tips

An underwatered snake plant will also develop brown leaf tips and edges. These will turn dry and crispy when they’re not getting enough moisture.

And in most cases, the browning will start in these areas.

That’s because the tips and edges of the leaves are the farthest parts.

So, lack of moisture means that water is not able to reach these extremities. And because it is not able to do so, they will also lack nutrients.

As a result, the tips and margins of your snake plant’s leaves will turn brown, crispy, feel dry and brittle.

Sadly, once any part of the leaves turn brown, there’s not way they’ll turn green again even after you’ve solved or treated the cause of the problem.

Thus, you’re only option here is to trim off the brown sections if they are small enough and reshape the affected leaves.

 

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Brown Leaves

Browning of the leaf tips and edges are only the initially signs of an underwatered snake plant. If the condition persists, you’ll later see the brown areas spread.

And the browning will keep spreading until it affects the entire leaf.

The problem here is that if the snake plant stays underwatered, you’ll see more and more leaves start turning brown as well.

When they turn brown, they will also feel dry and crispy.

This is why it is not a good ideal to let the plant go without water for very long periods of time.

In general, the snake plant is drought tolerant. And it can go without watering for weeks at a time without any problems.

But if you let your snake plant stay underwatered for months at a time, it will eventually suffer.

In addition to leaf discoloration and wilting, it will also damage the roots eventually.

 

Underwatered Snake Plant vs. Overwatered Snake Plant Differences

Above, I’ve listed down the signs of an underwatered snake plant. And these are very helpful.

But what I’ve noticed is that the differences between the signs of underwatering and overwatering are quite blurry.

That’s because many of them overlap with one another due to their similarities.

I had this problem when I was starting out with gardening. And since then, I’ve also been asked by many readers about this.

Because of the importance of not interchanging one for the other here’s a breakdown of the differences between an overwatered snake plant and an underwatered snake plant.

 

Soil

Soil is one of the signs that can confirm your suspicions. And it is a good differentiator between underwatering and overwatering because there’s such a big difference.

When you touch or feel the soil, an underwatered snake plant will have very dry soil. The soil will feel hard as well.

In contrast, an overwatered snake plant will have wet, mucky or soggy soil. You may even see small puddles of water on some areas of the surface.

 

Leaf Texture

Leaf color is not a great way to tell the difference between overwatering and underwatering. That’s because both can present brown or yellow leaves. They just happen at different stages.

Instead, feel the leaves.

An underwatered snake plant will have very dry, crispy or brittle leaves.

In fact, if the plant has been dry for a while the edges and tips of the leaves may even crumble when you touch them.

On the other hand, in an overwatered, the leaves will feel soft, mushy and limp.

 

Wilting Leaves

This one is a bit trickier to differentiate. But with some practice, it will become easy and natural.

In an underwatered plant, the lower leaves will wilt first. And you’ll see them curl as well.

Meanwhile, wilting and drooping in an overwatered plant is more indiscriminate. That is, all leaves whether new or old will wilt.

 

Presence of Disease

If there is fungal infection or mold that’s noticeable in the soil, then you’ll instantly know that the problem is overwatering.

However, this is not a definitive sign because an overwatered plant may not have developed any disease yet.

On the other hand, with a dry, underwatered plant, there is no disease formation.

 

Root Rot

This is another telltale sign. However, you’ll need to take the plant out of its pot to check this.

So, it requires a little more work on your part.

But along with the leaf texture and soil wetness or dryness, by checking for root rot you’ll be sure whether the problems are happening due to overwatering or underwatering.

To do so, unpot the plant and check the roots.

If there is root rot, you’re sure that the plant is overwatered. However, there are instances where an overwatered plant hasn’t developed root rot yet.

So, you need to combine this along with the dryness or wetness of the soil and the leaf texture to confirm.

For an underwatered snake plant, there’s no chance for root rot since this problem only happens from excess watering.

 

How to Save and Revive Underwatered Snake Plant

Now that you know the symptoms of an underwatered snake plant and how to differentiate it from an overwatered one, it is time to save the plant.

Here’s how to save and revive an underwatered snake plant.

 

Check the Soil Once a Week

The easiest way is to avoid the situation in the first place. And even if you are not able to prevent it, you’ll still need to identify the issue once it begins to happen.

And this is why checking the soil once a week is important.

It guides you on when to water the plant. And it also warns you if you’re overwatering or underwatering your snake plant.

Just by feeling the surface of the soil, you’ll be able to tell the difference between moist, overwatering and lack of moisture.

And if the soil is dry, stick your finger into it and feel at least 3-4 inches down from the surface.

If the soil is still very dry there, it means the plant needs watering.

 

Make a Watering Schedule

This is another preventive measure. However, it is also something that you may need to do after you save and revive an underwatered snake plant.

Snake plants don’t need a lot of water.

And they are drought tolerant.

This makes them easy to care for as a houseplant since you don’t have to keep watering the plant often.

That said, on average, the plant only needs watering once every 2 weeks.

But during the hot summer, you may need to increase frequency to once a week. In wintertime, you’ll likely only need to water once a month or once every 4-6 weeks.

As such, the best way to know when to water the plant is to check the soil.

Insert your index finger down 2-3 inches from the surface of the soil. If the soil feels dry there, that’s the time to water the plant.

Otherwise, wait a few days before you check the soil again.

If you happen to forget, try to water the plant before the entire root ball goes dry.

You can tap the side of the pot to listen to the sound. If it feels hollow all the way down, then it is likely dry to that level.

Another option is to use a wooden stick or a moisture meter.

 

Make Sure You’re Using the Right Potting Mix

Snake plants don’t like wet feet. As such, avoid heavy soil. This will hold too much water that will leave the plant’s roots in lots of liquid.

As a result, you can easily overwater the plant.

Instead, use a well-draining soil. Ideally, one that is nutrient rich to help the plant grow.

But the most important thing here is to ensure that the soil has good drainage.

You also want to avoid something that is purely sand or have overly fast draining. This will dry up the plant’s roots forcing you to keep watering the plant regularly.

Here’s how to make your own potting mix for snake plant at home. Just combine:

  • 1 potting mix
  • 1 part peat moss (or coconut coir)
  • 2 parts perlite (or you can use coarse sand)

 

Select the Right Pot

Use the right pot. I cannot stress this enough.

For me, the most important things are:

 

Pot size

Choose a pot that is 2 inches larger than the plant’s root ball.

This is the simplest way I’ve found to know how big a pot a plant needs.

Avoid going with very small pots as it will limit the growth of the plant. And if the pot is too small, the roots will get overcrowded.

As a result, the plant will get stressed.

A smaller pot also means less soil to hold moisture and nutrients. So, it is very likely that the plant will later end up underwatered or nutrient deficient.

On the other hand, avoid larger pots altogether.

You will need them when it is time to repot your snake plant.

But until then, don’t overpot the plant. This increases the risk of overwatering due to the excess soil volume.

And for a plant like the mother in law’s tongue which prefers a dry environment, excess moisture puts it at risk of root rot.

 

Pot with Drainage Holes

The other important feature of a pot or planter is it needs drainage holes at the bottom. This will allow any excess moisture to drip out.

For the snake plant this is crucial as it prevents overwatering and potentially root rot.

If you have pots with no drainage holes, avoid using them for tropical plants like the snake plant. Instead, save them for more water-loving plants.

Alternatively, you can drill holes at the bottom to DIY your own pot drainage.

Finally, don’t place a catch tray or saucer under the pot. This will collect water and keep the soil wet as well.

If you do, make sure to throw any water that builds up on the tray or saucer.

 

Other Useful Features

  • Pot type – many growers will suggest using a clay pot or terracotta pot. That’s because of the porous material they’re made of. This lets moisture and air through easily. Thus, helping to keep the snake plant from being overwatered.
  • Pot weight – make sure you get a pot that is heavy enough and stable enough. This is important as your snake plant gets bigger. They will usually grow to 4-5 feet tall so, you need enough weight and balance for the pot to avoid tipping over.

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