The snake plant, also known as sansevieria or mother-in-law’s tongue, is a popular and hardy houseplant known for its upright sword-shaped leaves. Snake plants are resilient and can tolerate low light and infrequent watering, making them perfect for beginners or anyone with a busy lifestyle.
However, even this tough plant can start to decline and show signs of a sick snake plant. The causes for a snake plant dying vary but generally come down to a few common health issues.
This complete guide will cover all the typical reasons you might see your snake plant dying or suffering from problems. We’ll explore the most common causes of wilting leaves, yellowing tips, rotten roots, pest infestations, and fungi. You’ll learn how to properly diagnose each issue and find solutions to get your snake plant thriving again.
Here’s an overview of the main topics we’ll cover:
- Overwatering and identifying root rot
- Underwatering and signs of wilting or dry tips
- Problems from improper sunlight
- Potential pest infestations
- Common diseases like root rot, leaf spot, and botrytis
- Issues from overpotting or dense soil
- Environmental factors like low humidity, temperature extremes or drafts
We’ll also provide tips on snake plant care to prevent these issues in the future. With the right troubleshooting, you can return your snake plant to full health and enjoy its unique upright leaves for years. Let’s dive in and talk about how to fix a dying snake plant!
Overwatering and Root Rot
Overwatering is one of the most common causes of snake plant decline. These succulent plants are accustomed to arid environments, and their thick leaves store water. They can tolerate some drought between waterings. Too much moisture quickly leads to problems.
If your snake plant is overwatered, you may notice:
- Soggy and waterlogged soil that remains wet for days after watering
- Yellowing or transparent wilting leaves
- Drooping or mushy leaves and stems
- Root rot with black, mushy roots
- Visible fungus or mould on the soil or roots
- Foul odour from rotting plant tissue
The saturated soil prevents oxygen from reaching the roots, causing them to rot and die. Anaerobic bacteria and fungi like root rot thrive in the excess moisture, infecting and further damaging the roots. Without healthy roots, the plant is unable to absorb water and nutrients. Leaves start yellowing and wilting as the snake plant declines.
Solutions for Overwatering:
- Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings and reduce watering frequency—only water when the top several inches of soil dry.
- Check for drainage issues. Repot in fresh, well-draining soil if needed. Consider adding perlite, sand, or gravel to improve drainage.
- Remove the plant from overly large containers that hold too much moisture.
- Treat root rot by removing damaged roots, disinfecting healthy ones, and repotting in dry, sterile soil. Apply a fungicide drench if the fungus is visible.
With quick troubleshooting, you can often revive an overwatered snake plant. Just address drainage and adjust your watering practices to prevent continued issues. Let the soil dry out between each watering, and pour off any excess water accumulating in the saucer. Proper soil moisture will keep your snake plant happy and healthy.
Underwatering and Wilting
While overwatering is common, it is also possible to underwater your snake plant. If the soil dries out too much between waterings, you may see signs of underwatering, including:
- Shrivelling or wilting of the leaves
- Leaves feeling soft and flexible rather than firm
- Brown and crispy leaf tips and edges
- Stunted or slowed new growth
When a snake plant lacks sufficient water, its leaves start to shrivel and wilt as it dehydrates. The soft, flexible leaves feel almost empty as the plant loses turgor pressure. Without enough water, new growth may also be stunted.
Solutions for Underwatering:
- Water more frequently, checking that the top several inches of soil is dry before watering again.
- Consider switching to a soil mix that retains more moisture if the plant needs watering too frequently. Add compost or peat moss.
- Use room humidifiers, pebble trays, or misting to raise the humidity around the plant between waterings. This slows moisture loss from the leaves.
- Move the plant to a shadier location since sunlight speeds up evaporation and leaf water loss.
Pay close attention to your watering schedule and humidity. Increase frequency slightly if the snake plant shows any signals of underwatering stress. Aim for a consistent moisture level without prolonged saturation or drying.
Brown Leaf Tips from Underwatering
In addition to wilting, one distinct sign of an underwatered snake plant is brown, dried-out leaf tips. The leaf tips dry out first with inadequate soil moisture, leading to crispy brown edges.
This occurs because the leaf tips are furthest from the plant’s water reserves in the roots and lower leaves. As water movement slows, the leaf tips do not receive enough water and start desiccating and dying off, turning brown.
Low humidity also contributes to brown tips in underwatered plants. The dry air causes excess evaporation from the leaves, concentrating at the tips.
Solutions for Brown Leaf Tips:
- Increase watering frequency to keep the soil consistently moist.
- Use pebble trays or humidifiers to raise the humidity around the plant.
- Mist the leaves occasionally to provide extra moisture and prevent drying.
- Move to a shadier location to slow moisture loss from the leaves.
- Cut off any severely dried and dead leaf tips to improve the plant’s appearance.
You can remedy and prevent crispy brown tips on your snake plant’s otherwise lush green leaves with extra hydration through the soil and air.
While repotting your snake plant in a larger pot may be tempting as it grows, overpotting can lead to problems. Snake plants grow relatively slowly and can be kept in the same container for years without becoming rootbound.
If potted in an oversized container, the snake plant faces these risks:
- The excess soil stays damp longer after watering, making the plant prone to root rot.
- With fewer roots than soil volume, the plant cannot absorb moisture fast enough leading to wilting.
- Nutrients from fertilizer get over-diluted in the extra soil volume.
- The plant puts energy into root growth rather than leaves.
- The heavy pot is more difficult to move.
Solutions for Overpotting:
- Repot back into a properly fitting container – only size up 1-2 inches greater than the root ball.
- Add perlite, gravel, or other amendments to improve drainage and aeration in extra soil.
- Water sparingly and allow the soil to dry out between waterings fully.
- Apply fertilizer at 1/2 strength to account for the extra soil.
When repotting, aim for a snug fit and only shift to slightly larger containers as needed over time. This will keep your snake plant happy and healthy.
Snake plants need well-aerated soil that drains properly to avoid issues like root rot. Dense, compacted soil can lead to problems including:
- Poor drainage leads to overly wet roots.
- Limited air circulation around roots.
- Restricted growth as roots struggle to spread through dense soil.
- Higher likelihood of diseases and pests.
Dense potting mixes or native soils often settle and become compressed over time. Using dense soil for repotting can also cause these issues.
Solutions for Dense Soil:
- Amend heavy soil by adding perlite, sand, gravel or other aggregates to lighten the texture.
- Use a commercial cactus/succulent mix when repotting. They are formulated with extra drainage materials.
- Add compost to improve aeration and introduce beneficial microbes.
- Repot annually to refresh old, dense soil with lighter, fresh mixes.
- Consider terra cotta pots which naturally improve drainage and aeration as they breathe.
Ensuring an adequately loose, aerated soil will prevent excess moisture and improve root growth. This keeps your snake plant happy in the long run.
Not Enough Sunlight
While they can tolerate low light conditions, snake plants will become stressed without adequate sunlight. Signs your plant is not getting enough light include:
- Slow, stunted growth
- Leaves turning lighter green
- Leaves bending downward, seeking light
- Sparse foliage and leaf loss
- Floppiness in new leaves
Snake plants ideally need several hours of bright, indirect light each day. Low light leads to poor photosynthesis and lacklustre growth.
Solutions for Insufficient Light:
- Gradually move the plant to a brighter location, avoiding direct hot sunlight. Near a south-facing window is ideal.
- Rotate the plant occasionally so all sides receive equal light exposure.
- Prune congested growth to allow better light penetration.
- Supplement with grow lights if brighter natural light is not possible. LED plant bulbs work well.
- Use sheer curtains or move further from the window if leaves show signs of scorching in brighter light.
Adjusting light levels takes some trial and error. With the right amount of sunlight, your snake plant will flourish.
Too Much Direct Sunlight
While moderate sunlight is beneficial, too much direct sun can damage snake plant leaves. Signs of sunburn include:
- White, bleached patches on the leaves
- Yellowed or browned leaf tips and edges
- Shrivelling and curling leaf tips
- Wilting and drooping leaves
The intense sunlight and heat burn the leaves, especially the more exposed tips and edges. This extensive damage can kill leaves or the entire plant if left untreated.
Solutions for Excessive Direct Sun:
- Move the plant to a location with bright but indirect sunlight. Near an east or west window works well.
- Draw sheer curtains or use window screening to diffuse and filter the direct sunlight.
- Rotate the plant daily to prevent one side from receiving prolonged direct sun exposure.
- Mist leaves create an evaporative cooling effect during periods of intense sun.
- Shade the plant outdoors under a patio cover or taller flowers/plants if potted outside.
Adjusting light conditions requires paying close attention to how the snake plant responds. With the right amount of filtered sun, it will thrive without leaf burn.
Snake plants are native to tropical regions with relatively high humidity. In dry indoor environments, low moisture levels can lead to issues like:
- Brown, dried-out leaf tips
- Crispy, shrivelled leaves
- Increased susceptibility to pests
- Wilting and slowed growth
The dry air quickly evaporates moisture from the leaves and soil. Without sufficient atmospheric humidity, the plant struggles to maintain hydration.
Solutions for Low Humidity:
- Use pebble trays – place the pot on a bed of wet pebbles to create localized humidity.
- Install humidifiers to raise moisture levels in the surrounding air.
- Mist leaves occasionally to provide temporary moisture replacement.
- Group plants together to create a localized humid microclimate.
- Avoid hot or drafty locations which worsen moisture loss.
Monitoring humidity levels and adjusting them can prevent the dry air from damaging your snake plant. Proper humidity keeps the leaves full and lush.
Snake plants prefer warm temperatures between 65-80°F. Exposure to temperature extremes can negatively affect them:
- Cold damage – Temps below 50°F can injure leaves and roots. Slowed growth, shrivelling, discolouration, and leaf drop may occur.
- Heat damage – High temps above 90°F excessively dry the plant. Leaves may scorch, brown, and wilt.
Fluctuating seasonal temperatures can also stress the plant as it adjusts its growth and respiration.
Solutions for Temperature Issues:
- Move the plant away from cold drafts from windows and doors during winter.
- Keep the plant away from heat sources like appliances and heating vents.
- Maintain indoor temperatures in the ideal 65-80°F range with heating/cooling adjustments.
- Move the pot outdoors during warm seasons if the temperature is regulated. Bring inside before temps dip below 50°F.
- Insulate pots in cold locations with insulating wraps or move to an enclosed porch/atrium.
Careful climate control prevents damage from temperature extremes. With proper indoor conditions, your snake plant will continue growing year-round.
Exposure to direct air drafts can also damage snake plants. Signs of draft stress include:
- Dry, shrivelled leaf tips and edges
- Excessive leaf loss
- Wilting and crimped leaves
- Slowed growth
Direct airflow quickly evaporates moisture from the leaves. This desiccates and damages the tissue, especially on the thin edges and tips.
Solutions for Draft Issues:
- Move the plant away from frequently opened doors, AC vents, or fans blowing directly on it.
- Rotate the plant occasionally to expose all sides equally if drafts are unavoidable.
- Increase humidity around the plant through misting, pebble trays, etc.
- Shelter the plant with other objects that can help block air movement.
- Avoid repotting or pruning during drafty weather, which worsens moisture loss.
Shielding the snake plant from direct air currents will help prevent moisture loss and desiccation damage to the leaves. Proper air circulation without drafts is key.
Mealybugs are a common pest that can infest snake plants. Signs of mealybugs include:
- White cottony masses on leaves and stems
- Honeydew secretions lead to sticky foliage
- Discoloured wilting leaves as bugs suck juices
- Plant decline and stunted growth
Mealybugs pierce plant tissues and suck out juices, causing damage as they multiply. Their cotton-like egg sacks and secretions also promote sooty mould growth.
Solutions for Mealybugs:
- Isolate infested plants to prevent spread.
- Remove bugs and egg masses manually using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
- Spray plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill bugs. Repeat applications may be needed.
- Use a systemic insecticide labelled for mealybugs applied to the soil to kill bugs long-term.
You can eliminate mealybugs and return the plant to health with persistent treatments. Consistent monitoring prevents future infestations.
Another common pest, spider mites, create fine webbing on snake plants. Signs of spider mites include:
- Fine cobweb-like webs on leaves
- Speckled stippling damage on leaves
- Slowed growth and leaf loss
- Bugs visible moving on webs once population builds
The tiny mites feed on plant fluids and cause stippling, which can lead to leaf loss. Their webs also hinder plant photosynthesis and growth.
Solutions for Spider Mites:
- Hose or wipe leaves to remove webs and mites.
- Apply insecticidal soap or neem oil sprays every 5-7 days for 2-3 weeks.
- Introduce predatory mites like Phytoseiulus persimilis, which consume spider mites.
- Use a miticide for severe infestations.
- Isolate and prune away badly infested leaves and stems to control spread.
A consistent pest management regimen can eliminate mites and prevent future infestations on your snake plant.
Scale insects are small sap-sucking bugs attached to snake plant leaves and stems. Signs of scale include:
- Small bumps or lumps on leaves and stems
- Sticky honeydew secretions
- Discoloured yellowing leaves
- Black sooty mould growth
- Leaf loss and decline in severely infested plants
Armoured scales have hard protective shells, while soft scales secrete a waxy coating. They immobilize themselves and feed on plant fluids.
Solutions for Scale:
- Prune off mildly infested leaves/stems.
- Use a soft toothbrush or cotton swab dipped in alcohol to scrub off scales.
- Apply horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps to suffocate scales. Repeat applications may be needed.
- Use systemic insecticides applied to the soil to kill scale bugs long term.
- Introduce ladybugs which will feed on soft scales.
Prompt removal and consistent treatments can eliminate scale populations before they significantly damage the plant.
Root rot is a common fungal disease that can afflict snake plants, often caused by overwatering. Symptoms of root rot include:
- Dark brown or black soft, mushy roots
- Foul odour coming from the soil
- Yellowing or wilting leaves
- Drooping or dying stems
- Visible white fungal growth on roots or soil
The saturated soil allows fungal pathogens to thrive, infecting and decomposing the roots. This impedes water and nutrient absorption leading to plant decline.
Solutions for Root Rot:
- Reduce the watering frequency and improve drainage to prevent oversaturation.
- Remove the plant from its pot and cut away all decayed roots.
- Replant the healthy roots in new sterile, well-draining soil.
- Apply a fungicide drench tailored for root rot to protect from reinfection.
- Destroy severely infected plants to prevent spread.
Catching and treating root rot quickly can allow you to rescue the plant before the damage becomes too extensive. Proper watering is key to avoiding fungal diseases.
Leaf Spot Disease
Bacterial or fungal leaf spot diseases can also occur in snake plants. Symptoms include:
- Small brown, black, or yellow spots on leaves
- Expanding lesions or darkened veins
- Leaf loss if spots cover large areas
- Defoliation spreading up from older leaves
Leaf spot pathogens infect the foliage through water splashes or high humidity. Once lesions develop, they impede photosynthesis and lead to leaf death.
Solutions for Leaf Spot:
- Improve air circulation and reduce excess moisture on leaves.
- Remove and destroy infected leaves to prevent spread.
- Treat with copper fungicide sprays to kill bacterial or fungal leaf spot pathogens.
- Disinfect pots and pruning tools with bleach solution to eliminate sources of reinfection.
- Avoid overhead watering to limit splashes dispersing spores.
Prompt sanitary practices and fungicide applications can help remedy a leaf spot outbreak before substantial leaf loss occurs.
Botrytis blight is a fungal disease that can affect snake plants, especially in cool dark conditions with high humidity. Symptoms of botrytis include:
- Grey fuzzy mould growing on leaves, stems, or flowers
- Brown rotting plant tissues
- Discoloured soft watery lesions
- Wilting and dying leaves/flowers
This aggressive grey mould quickly spreads across damp plant structures, destroying tissues as it feeds. Entire sections of leaves can rot away.
Solutions for Botrytis:
- Improve air circulation and reduce humidity around plants.
- Remove and discard severely infected leaves and stems.
- Apply fungicide sprays containing chlorothalonil, copper, or neem oil. Repeat applications weekly as needed.
- Space plants properly to allow air movement between them.
- Avoid overhead watering, and control drips that cause leaf wetness.
With vigilance and preventative care, you can contain botrytis and avoid rapid plant deterioration. Proper cultural practices are key to controlling its spread.
Snake plants are relatively hardy houseplants, but they can begin to decline and show signs of sickness if certain care issues arise. By identifying the causes early and troubleshooting problems like overwatering, pests, diseases, environment stresses, and improper potting, you can get your snake plant thriving again.
Key takeaways include:
- Allow the soil to dry out between waterings and reduce the frequency at the first sign of issues.
- Watch for common pests like mealybugs, spider mites, and scales that can be treated with gentle insecticidal soaps or oils.
- Prune off infected plant parts and apply fungicides to control diseases like root rot, leaf spot and botrytis blight.
- Repot sensibly sized containers in well-draining soil and find the snake plant’s optimal light and humidity conditions.
With attentive care and quick problem-solving, your snake plants can remain healthy and happy for many years as an easy, resilient houseplant. Their sword-like architectural-shaped leaves will continue filling your indoor spaces with tropical appeal.