Snake plants are known for being resilient. Some will even call the plant “indestructible” or ”impossible to kill”. Unfortunately, those are exaggerations.
And while the plant is tough, you may one day find yellow leaves on your snake plant. So what’s happening and what should you do?
Why is your snake plant turning yellow? Overwatering and root rot are the most common reasons why snake plant leaves turn yellow and soft. However, yellowing can also occur due to underwatering, pest infestation, too much fertilizer and excess light. As such, make sure to identify the actual cause that’s making the leaves turn yellow.
Causes of Snake Plants Leaves Turning Yellow
Snake plants are often indestructible. As much as home growers wish that was true, it is not.
Although, the plant is tough and resilient. It can tolerate a lot of neglect and quite a bit of abuse. However, once you see your snake plant leaves turning yellow, it means something is wrong and the plant is asking you for help to fix whatever is causing it.
Overwatering is the number one cause of houseplant death. And the snake plant is not immune to this.
In fact, this is one of the plant’s few weaknesses.
And overwatered snake plant with yellow leaves tops our list because it requires priority attention. And with overwatering, yellow leaves is one of the most common symptoms.
The reason overwatering is dangerous is that it can lead to root rot. This is the most serious issue for any houseplant because it can eventually lead to the plant’s death.
This is why knowing how to water and when to water your snake plant is essential.
When to water your snake plant?
At the very least wait until the top 2 inches of soil has dried before adding more water. You can test this by sticking your finger into the soil down to the second knuckle.
If the soil at that level feels dry, you can water. But if it feels moist in any way, wait 2 days before testing the soil again.
A safer, more conservative method is to wait until 50% of the soil has dried before adding more water. You can do this by sticking a wooden chopstick into the soil until it hits the bottom of the pot.
Then take out he chopstick and check where the wood is wet.
This will tell you up to where the soil is still moist.
How to water your snake plant?
Water thoroughly. The best way to do this is to use the drench and drain method.
That is add water directly to the soil. You can use a hose and rest it on the rim of the pot on a low stream. Or use a long nose watering can to pour directly on the soil.
Keep letting water flow until it starts dripping through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, then stop.
Immediately allow the soil to drain completely.
This method will let the entire root ball get saturated with water allowing the roots to get very hydrated. But after that, drain excess moisture to avoid overwatering and waterlogging.
So, what you’re left with is moist soil and with roots that have had their drink.
Another important thing that the snake plant will appreciate is consistency.
Try not to fluctuate as your busy schedule changes.
Many very busy home growers will leave the plant to dry when they are very busy. The try to compensate for this by watering too often when they have a bit more time.
This can lead to yellow leaves as well after a while.
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How to Fix Overwatering in Snake Plants with Yellow Leaves?
Allow the soil to completely dry.
This will help the plant recover from an overwatered state.
If there is excess water in the pot or on the surface of the soil, tip the pot and hold on to the plant and the root ball. Then allow the excess moisture to drain by pouring it out.
Then move the plant to well-lit spot with bright, indirect light and good ventilation. This will speed up the drying process.
Also, check drainage.
Drainage involves two things:
- The soil
- The pot
Make sure you’re using well-draining soil. If the soil holds too much water, it will just retain what you poured. Therefore, even if you water properly, the soil negates your efforts since it will get waterlogged anyways.
Thus, you end up overwatering your snake plant as well.
Similarly, the pot is very important. It needs to have drainage.
Therefore, choose a pot with holes at the bottom. This will allow the liquid that drains from the soil to drip out of the container.
Without holes, that excess liquid will just accumulate at the bottom of the pot keeping the soil wet. This will leave you with wet soil once again.
I separated root rot from overwatering although the two are very closely related.
That’s because overwatering can lead to root rot.
While this does not happen 100% of the time, it can happen if overwatering is left unchecked.
The reason root rot occurs is two-fold:
- Roots suffocate
- Fungal infection destroys the roots
Either way, the roots end up rotting which means they don’t function anymore. And when they cease to work properly, the plant cannot absorb water or nutrients from the soil no matter how much you fertilize or water the soil.
This will cause your snake plant to have yellow leaves. And over time, it will get dehydrated and malnourished, then die.
This is why root rot is a very serious issue.
The reason overwatering leads to root rot is that too much water will drown the roots in liquid.
When this happens, the roots end up sitting in water for long periods of time. This liquid also blocks all the tiny air passages to prevent air from getting in.
So, after a while, the roots suffocate because they cannot breathe air through the water. This causes them to rot.
Another cause of root rot is fungal infection.
Excess moisture promotes fungi growth and development. These microorganisms like damp environments. And once they grow they will spread as long as the conditions are favorable.
Unfortunately, certain types of fungal infections will eat through the roots of your snake plant. And when they’re done, the roots would have rotted and died.
Thus, both suffocation and fungal infection lead to the same result.
How to Fix Root Rot in Snake Plant with Yellow Leaves?
It is good practice to always suspect the possibility of root rot when you see yellow leaves. Yellow leaves are often a sign of overwatering.
So, whenever I suspect overwatering, I’ll feel the soil and see if it is wet or dry. If it feels wet and it has already been a few days since I last watered, I will take out the plant out of its pot and check the roots.
Root rot is easy to spot and smell.
There’s a stink to it that you’ll probably get a whiff of once you unpot the plant.
Also, the rotted roots are black, brown, soft and mushy. In contrast, healthy roots are white and firm to the touch although are pliable.
If your see any roots that are rotted, check to see how much of the root system is still healthy and how much has rotted.
Unfortunately, if too many roots have already rotted, there is no saving your snake plant even how hard you tried. The few remaining roots just won’t be able to pull it off.
This is why with root rot early detection is crucial.
The odds of saving and reviving the plant increase significantly if you spot the issue early. If you do midway through or late, your odds of fixing and saving your snake plant diminish dramatically.
The only way to fix root rot is to prune the rotted roots then prune the affected leaves.
After that make sure to disinfect the healthy root system and the pot with hydrogen peroxide solution. This is in case fungal root rot is the cause. You don’t want the pathogens to follow the plant and attack again.
Then repot your snake plant into a new, fresh, dry potting soil.
From there, you’ve done all you can. And it is now up to the plant to see if it can recover. Although, there is no guarantee it will.
This is why root rot is something to avoid as much as possible.
If you verified that overwatering is not the cause of yellow leaves on your snake plant and that there is no root rot, the next potential culprit is excess light.
The snake plant will tolerate a wide range of lighting conditions. It won’t have a problem with low light and will do well in bright light as well.
However, when it comes to medium to bright light, it is important that the light is indirect, filtered or dappled.
The one thing I cannot withstand (at least for more than 2 o 3 hours a day) is direct sunlight. More specifically direct sunlight during the hottest times of the day (10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). This is when the excess light can damage its foliage.
If you leave it there for extended periods of time, the snake plant’s leaves will turn yellow. Additionally, if the exposure is regular and extreme, you may see burn marks on the leaves due to scorching.
How to Fix Snake Plant Yellow Leaves from Light Overexposure
For best growth, the snake plant enjoys medium to bright indirect light. Thus, the best spot for it is near an east facing window where it gets direct morning sun which is gentle.
You can likewise keep it near a north facing window.
Although this has less light, the snake plant has no problem with that.
What you do want to be careful with is getting too much contact with the sun’s direct rays between 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as well as during the hottest times in the summer.
And this occurs in the south and west facing windows since that’s the direction where the sun is during those times of the day.
So, if you want to keep the plant on that side of your home, distance it away from the window so the sun’s rays never touch the plant.
If you want to keep the plant near the window, you can use blinds or curtains to filter the sun’s rays.
Outdoors, avoid full sun as this will likewise cause snake plant leaves to turn yellow.
Thus, if your snake plant is turning yellow and is getting direct sunlight during the middle of the day, move it to a less bright location.
Lack of Water
Just like overwatering, underwater can cause yellow leaves in snake plants as well.
This is why I’ve always warned beginner home growers that yellow and brown leaves can be misleading. Both kinds of discoloration can happen during overwatering and underwatering.
However, they will happen at different times during the process.
While the snake plant can tolerate some dryness, it will encounter issues when the soil stays too dry.
As a result, you will see yellow leaves and the plant will droop and wilt as well.
Because it needs moisture to absorb nutrients, you’ll eventually see the plant experience deficiencies as well if this goes untreated.
How to Fix Snake Plant Yellow Leaves from Underwatering?
Simply water the plant.
But not so fast.
Because both overwatering and underwatering can cause yellow leaves, you need to confirm which one is the actual cause of the problem.
To do so, feel the soil.
If the soil feels wet or moist in any way, don’t water the plant. Odds are there is another reason for the yellow leaves in your snake plant.
However, if the soil feels very dry, it means the plant is underwatered.
In the latter case, water the plant.
Again, use the drench and drain method to ensure that the roots get their fill of water. Also, letting any excess liquid drain after ensures that you don’t end up overwatering the plant or with waterlogged soil.
An Aging Snake Plant
Like all things, your snake plant will at one point get old.
Similarly, the leaves have their own life cycle. This allows the plant to shed old leaves to give way for new ones.
In both cases, there’s nothing to worry about nor anything you need to do.
That’s because it is part of the plant’s natural life cycle.
In the former, it means that your snake plant has lived a long, healthy life and is now getting old.
In the latter, it means a few leaves are now reaching their age and are almost ready to be replaced. These will later fall off and you’ll see new leaves growing.
Another possible cause of yellow leaves in snake plants is pest infestations.
While the plant is generally resilient to these bugs, it is not completely immune to them. And when your snake plant is weak, stressed or sick, it becomes susceptible too.
The most common insects that will pounce on the plant when given the opportunity are spider mites, mealybugs and aphids.
These are all sap sucking bugs.
What that means is that they feed by sucking on the spa or internal juices of the plant. Unfortunately, these internal plant juices contain moisture and nutrients that are meant to the reach the plant’s extremities (the leaves).
Since these pests are very tiny, they don’t do a lot of damage when there are just a few of them. However, they grow in number very rapidly.
This is when they cause significant damage because the rob the plant of water and nutrients. As a result, you see yellow patches on leaves which later turn into entire yellow leaves. Similarly, you’ll see holes on the foliage as well.
How to Treat Pests in Snake Plant that is Turning Yellow
The goal is to get rid of the pests as soon as you spot any. Ideally, it is when there are only a few of them.
But often, once the leaves turn yellow, it means there’s quite a bit of bugs already present.
The first thing to do is take a garden hose or shower head. You can also use the sink. Find a good spot where you can wet the plant without wetting any other thing.
Needless to say, don’t do this in the living room.
You can take the plant outside and use a garden hose. Or bring it to the sink if it is still a small plant. You can likewise use the bathtub.
Spray the plant with a gentle stream of water. This will dislodge the pests from the plant. Try to find the bugs, the larvae and eggs and spray these off the plant.
Usually, they like hiding on the undersides of leaves or the smaller nooks and crannies of the plant.
Try to get as many as you can since this is a quick way to remove the insects.
You may need to do this 3 to 4 times over the span of a week or two to get them all.
Alternatively you can also use neem oil or insecticidal soap spray.