A snake plant is a houseplant that is often described as easy to care for. However, it can develop problems if that care has turned into neglect. Or it can also deteriorate if it receives too much attention in the form of overwatering. The soil may be soaking wet or dry and dusty. You might see dead, brown leaves or pale ones with soft, brown mushy spots. Or worse yet, you may see whole pieces of the plant falling over.
If your sansevieria is not looking healthy, you might be wondering – can this snake plant be saved?
To diagnose the problem, you’ll need to be a bit of a detective. Sansevieria can suffer from:
- Overwatering – Is the soil very wet? Are leaves mushy and brown? More on this below.
- Underwatering – Is the soil hard, dry, or dusty? Are the leaves wrinkled? Read more below.
- Exposure to cold air – Has a window been left open in winter? Is there a cold draft, or are leaves up against the cold glass? Is it near an exterior door that is used frequently? If a sansevieria experiences temperatures below 50°F (10°C), it can be damaged. Cold damage causes leaves to curl. Soft, discolored sections develop on the leaves.
- Too much or too little light – If your sansevieria is in a sunny window and looks a bit bleached out, and the tips of the leaves are brown, try moving it into a less sunny spot. Too little light presents as stunted or leggy growth or no growth at all! Sansevieria do best in bright indirect light, the kind you get from north or east-facing windows.
- An insect infestation – Snake plants are generally untroubled by pests, but mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, thrips, and fungus gnats can sometimes be a problem.
Sometimes saving a sansevieria is as easy as trimming away dead leaves and moving it to a different location. But sometimes more intensive measures as required.
Supplies You Will Need to Revive a Snake Plant
- Sharp pruners, scissors, or knife.
- 1:10 bleach and water solution, or bleach disinfecting wipes for cleaning your cutters.
- Fresh soil (optional). If you are going to repot, use a potting mix specifically designed for sansevieria or a mix labeled for cacti and succulents. You can also make your own. Here’s a good recipe for houseplants that need a well-draining soil:
- 1 part potting mix
- 1 part peat moss or coco coir
- 2 parts sand or perlite
- A clean new pot (optional). A terra cotta pot wicks water faster than other materials, which allows the soil to dry more quickly. A terra cotta pot is also heavier than a plastic pot. The weight of it may help keep your top-heavy sansevieria from falling over.
- Insecticidal soap, if you’ve seen signs of an insect infestation.
- A soft cloth.
- Gloves and newspaper for masking the work space, if desired.
Reviving an Overwatered Snake Plant
Overwatering is the number one problem for sansevieria.
An overwatered, constantly moist soil leads to root rot. Symptoms include drooping leaves that have turned yellow or brown and could be rotting at the base. If there is a foul odor to the soil, that’s a good indication of root rot.
If you notice little black flying insects, these are fungus gnats and an indicator that the soil is too wet. They should slowly disappear when your soil dries out appropriately. If there are too many of them, consider getting rid of them with Mosquito Dunks, as mentioned in our article above.
Sometimes you can let a sansevieria dry down naturally. But if the soil is very wet and you see signs of rot, it’s best to remove the wet soil altogether and repot. Remove the plant from the pot, remove the soil from the root ball, and check for rotting roots and rhizomes. Cut away these rotting parts, then repot the healthy plant parts in a fresh potting mix.
If the rot is severe, the best and easiest save is to cut the healthy leaves well above the rotting parts and propagate them.
To prevent your sansevieria from becoming overwatered in the future, don’t water on a schedule (such as every Tuesday). Don’t give your snake plant small amounts of water at frequent intervals. This type of practice will keep the soil constantly moist, which leads to root rot.
Water deeply and thoroughly, not superficially. Water only when the soil is completely dry and then soak it thoroughly until water runs out of the drainage holes. Empty the drainage saucer right away. Don’t let the pot sit in water.
Let your plant dry out completely before watering again. Depending on the size of the pot and the location of your plant, this could mean weeks between waterings. Remember that it’s better to err on the side of too little water with snake plants.
You can check soil moisture with a chopstick that goes all the way to the bottom of the pot. When you pull the chopstick out, wet soil will cling to it. If the pot isn’t too heavy, you can also lift it and check the moisture level through the drainage holes.
Reviving an Underwatered Snake Plant
Easy care shouldn’t be confused with neglect.
You can tell your snake plant is underwatered if the leaves are wrinkled or split. Healthy, well-hydrated leaves are firm, plump, and smooth. If the soil is dry, dusty, and gray, and you know it hasn’t been watered in several months, it is suffering from dehydration.
You might want to wear a dust mask for this project. You will also need a container of water for rehydrating the roots.
Remove the sansevieria from the pot. Look for firm roots and rhizomes. Some roots may be dry and crunchy and look like straw. Those will not recover, so trim them away with your pruners. Rehydrate the healthy pieces in a container of water for about an hour, then repot them in either fresh or rehydrated soil.
Pruning and Grooming a Snake Plant
If your sansevieria is not under or overwatered, all it might need is some grooming to look like it’s in tip-top shape again. It may seem wrong to prune snake plants, but you can! Just be sure to cut to the base of the leaf. Snake plant leaves grow up from the root system, so if you cut a leaf in the middle, that cut will always be there.
Cut back any brown or broken leaves. Cut away any brown-spotted or mushy leaves. These should be cut last so that you don’t spread diseases to healthy leaves. Be sure to clean your cutters between cuts.
Sansevieria leaves can grow so long that they become top-heavy and fall over. They can’t support their own weight. Interior leaves help hold each other up; the outer leaves might flop out. Some leaves might grow too tall for the overall shape of the plant. These leaves can be trimmed off at the base. Then you can decide if you want to propagate them.
Cleaning and washing the leaves is a simple task that should be done whenever you notice they are looking dusty. This is also a great time to inspect for insects. Use a damp, soft cloth and hold it between your thumb and fingers. Start at the base of each leaf and gently draw the cloth up to the leaf tip. Rinse the cloth frequently and continue until all the leaves are cleaned.
What to Do if Your Snake Plant is Beyond Repair
It’s sad to admit that there’s no way to save the entire plant. But you can salvage the tops of the leaves. Take cuttings and propagate them.
You can take the knowledge you’ve learned, buy a new sansevieria and promise it you’ll do better. Or, you might decide that you don’t have the conditions that a snake plant needs. Assess your environment and do a little research. Then buy a different indoor plant that will thrive in your space.
But whatever you do, don’t be discouraged, and never say you have a black thumb. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right plants for you and your home.