Is Your Snake Plant Dying? Top Ways to Prevent a Dead Plant

Snake Plants, or mother-in-law’s tongues (Dracaena trifasciata, formerly Sansevieria trifasciata) are resilient houseplants adaptable to various household conditions. They’re hard to kill, but sometimes they do die.

What can cause their demise? And what can you do to prevent it and keep them looking their elegant best?

All the environmental and cultural conditions you provide inside your home or office affect your plant’s growth. The right light, water, soil, and fertilizer are all important. But there are other factors, too. Here are the various causes of a dying Snake Plant.

Quick Answer: Why Is My Snake Plant Dying?

Your snake plant could be dying due to a few key factors: overwatering, poor drainage, or exposure to cold temperatures. Overwatering often results in yellowing or browning leaves, a classic sign of plant distress. Additionally, slow-draining soils can cause water to accumulate, leading to root rot. Lastly, snake plants thrive in temperatures between 70-90°F (21-32°C). Exposure to temperatures below this range can cause plant health to decline.

Remember, proper watering, good soil drainage, and maintaining an appropriate temperature are essential to keeping your snake plant healthy.

14 Causes & Solutions: Save a Dying Snake Plant

dying snake plant

1. Extreme Temperatures

Snake Plants are native to the countries of West Africa, so they can easily handle warm temperatures up to 90 degrees F. They will show heat stress above 100 degrees F because they will dry out quickly, and their leaves may begin to split. They can’t survive in cold temperatures below 50 degrees F either.

In both cases of extreme temperature, their tissues will shrivel and collapse, making it impossible for water and nutrition to move up through the leaves, causing them to die.

Snake Plants grow best in 65 to 75-80 degrees F, which is well within the range of most household and office temperatures. If your plant was exposed to extreme temperatures and some leaves died, cut them off and move the plant to a place with moderate temperatures.

2. Lack of Enough Sunlight

snake plant lighting

Snake plants are often labeled as low-light plants, but that’s not altogether true. They are adaptable to different amounts of light, but too little sun slows down photosynthesis, their food-making process, and can cause droopy, yellow leaves, and death of the plant.

They are healthiest in bright indirect light, such as in a north- or east-facing window. You can set your plant closer to the window in these locations; however, south- or west-facing windows with direct sunlight may be too bright for the plants and burn their leaves.

Setting your plant farther away from the direct sun in these locations is best.

If your home or office is dark without much natural light from the windows, artificial lighting will help give your plant enough light.

3. Overwatering

watering a snake plant

Snake Plants are native to an arid environment in West Africa, so to mimic those conditions, you’ll need to allow the soil to dry out (or almost dry out) between waterings. Overwatering can be deadly for Snake Plants.

All soil has a structure with spaces that allows air and water to circulate around the roots. When too much water fills up those spaces, the plant can’t “breathe,” and the leaves will become yellow, soft, and droopy.

Brown, soggy spots may appear on the bottom of the leaves, and conditions become ripe for root rot, a fungal disease, and fungus gnats.

Don’t water on a schedule!

The timing of your watering will vary according to the time of year, amount of light, temperature, and humidity. It’s best to test the plant’s soil to see how moist or dry it is rather than keeping a consistent watering schedule.

Do this by digging your finger or a chopstick down 2” to 4” in the soil. If it comes out dry, it’s time to water, but if it’s still moist, hold off until the soil dries some more. Moisture meters are also good tools to determine when to water.

Water thoroughly by letting it run through the soil so that it comes out of the hole in the bottom of the pot. Let it drain completely, and then remember to empty any remaining water out of the dish under the pot so that the roots aren’t sitting in water.

4. Underwatering

Snake Plants only like to be watered when they’re dry, but too little water too infrequently can result in the death of their tissues. If you see drooping, curling leaves with crispy tips, and the soil has been dry for a long time, cut off the dead leaves and water the plant so that the soil is thoroughly wet and drains completely.

How often you water your plant will vary from month to month.

You’ll be watering every two to three weeks on average during the growing season from spring to fall. In the winter, you’ll water less often, maybe every 4 to 6 weeks, but it’s always best in any season to check the soil to see how dry or wet it is before you water.

5. Poor Drainage

repotting a snake plant

It’s essential that water drains easily through the soil and out of the pot, or it will build up, the roots will rot, and the plant could die.

Droopy, soggy leaves that turn yellow and brown are a symptom of too much water in the soil, whether from the wrong kind of soil, a non-draining pot, or overwatering.

6. Soil

snake plant soil

Soil that is too dense won’t drain well. If it has a high peat content, it can even become compacted and hydrophobic, meaning that it repels water rather than absorbing it.

To ensure good drainage, you’ll need to assess the kind of soil you have. It needs to be light and well-draining, such as potting mix specially formulated for succulents.

You can also make your own with a good commercial potting mix that you amend with perlite, coco coir, coarse sand, or pumice to boost the drainage.

7. Pot

Next, look at your pot. The healthiest kind of pot is terracotta because it breathes and allows moisture to evaporate through its walls. But composite, ceramic, and plastic pots are fine, too, as long as they have a hole in the bottom to let the water escape.

Finally, overwatering contributes to poor drainage. If the soil is slow to drain, overwatering can prevent water from building up unhealthily and causing problems, even with a drainage hole in the pot.

And if the plant is rootbound, it will need to be repotted for its health.

8. Rootbound Snake Plants

snake plant roots

Rootbound snake plants grow to the point where the roots circle the inside of the pot and come out of the drainage holes. If they become too crowded in the pot, the roots can’t absorb the nutrients and water that the plant needs, and it stops growing. In extreme cases, this can cause the decline and death of the plant.

The way to take care of a rootbound Snake Plant is twofold. You’ll have to trim the roots and leaves, and then you’ll have to repot the plant.

Cut off enough of the roots so that they are an appropriate size to fit into a pot, and take off a corresponding number of leaves. If you remove a quarter of the roots, cut a quarter of the leaves off down at the rhizomes.

When you repot, it’s essential to choose the right-sized pot. It should be about a third wider than the root ball at the top. The roots will have enough room to grow through the soil and absorb nutrients and water but not enough space to flop over.

Fill the pot about a third of the way up the pot with fresh, moist, well-draining potting mix. Support the plant and fill the rest of the pot with soil so that the rhizomes are 1” to 2” inches down from the top, the leaves are vertical, and the roots are comfortably spread out in the soil.

Set the plant in a warm location with moderate indirect light, out of any drafts, and water it after about a week. It will need some time to recover from the trimming and repotting, so it’s important not to stress it at this time.

Hold off on fertilizing it until about a month later, and go easy. If Snake Plants are repotted about every 2 or 3 years, their soil should still contain enough nutrients so they don’t need much fertilization.

9. Overfertilization

Giving your plant too much fertilizer can cause the roots and leaves to “burn.” Mineral salts build up in the soil and draw water out of the roots, desiccating them and drying out the leaves. Fertilizer burn can cause the plants to wilt and eventually die.

There are two things you can do to cure this problem.

First, trim any dead leaves off and then flush the soil with water for about 10 minutes to get rid of the excess fertilizer. After allowing it to drain completely, set the plant out of the bright light in a warm spot. When it recovers in a week or two, set it back in its usual place and don’t fertilize it for several months, and never in the winter. 

The other thing you can do is to repot the plant in fresh soil. Snake Plants don’t need much fertilizer, but if you want to boost their growth, feed them once a month with half-strength liquid fertilizer or a small amount of granular fertilizer specially formulated for succulents once in the spring.

10. Insects and Pests

Snake Plants are tough and resilient, but they can sometimes be susceptible to spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, and fungus gnats. Too heavy an infestation from any of them can destroy your Snake Plant.

It has spider mites if you see webbing and little red or black, eight-legged critters on the leaves. Aphids are about the same size and can be green or black with tiny, pear-shaped, or oval bodies. Mealybugs are more prominent and have white or cream-colored, cottony bodies.

All of these bugs suck the sap out of the leaves, causing a yellow, stippled discoloration, weakening of the plant, and stunted growth. They also secrete a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew that will grow mold.

Horticultural soap and/or Neem oil will control these pest infestations. Spray the entire surface of the leaves on both sides per instructions. You can also wipe them down with a solution of rubbing alcohol and water.

Fungus gnats attack the roots of your plant. Dormant eggs are present in most commercial potting mixes and only “wake up” from dormancy in soggy soil, such as from overwatering.

To control them, you must treat the eggs and larvae in the soil and the adults flying above it. First, drench the soil with one part 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to three parts water. This will kill the eggs and the larvae, and the plants will benefit since it releases oxygen.

Next, put sticky traps on the soil’s surface to catch the flying adults. Yellow traps are the best color, and you can obtain them easily online. 

You may have to repeat the hydrogen peroxide treatment after two or three weeks when you’re ready to water the plant again. If you have a significant infestation, it would be best to discard the soil, wash the roots with the hydrogen peroxide solution, and plant your Snake Plant in fresh soil in a clean pot.

11. Diseases

snake plants turning yellow and wilting

When a Snake Plant has been stressed and weakened by poor cultural conditions, it can become susceptible to diseases. The main ones that affect Snake Plants are fungal infections, such as root rot, Southern blight, and red leaf spot.

12. Root Rot

If the potting soil has been saturated for a while from overwatering, and the leaves are limp and droopy, your plant probably has root rot, a soil-borne fungus. This is a disease that can kill your plant, so you’ll need to attend to it immediately to keep it alive.

First, turn the pot on its side and gently pull out the root ball. Shake or wash off the roots so that you can see them clearly. Healthy Snake Plant roots should be white to light orange, but if your plant’s roots are black, mushy, and smell bad, they have root rot.

Cut all affected roots and leaves off with clean scissors or a knife. Wash the roots until they’re clean, then drench them in a solution of one part 3% hydrogen peroxide and three parts water.

As an alternative, you can spray them thoroughly with Neem oil or a fungicide with copper as an ingredient. You can even cover the roots in cinnamon, a natural fungicide.

Then plant the remaining roots, rhizomes, and healthy leaves in fresh soil in a clean pot, and remember to only water when the soil is dry.

13. Southern Blight

Southern blight is another soil-borne fungal disease that grows in overly moist and humid conditions. Any part of the plant in contact with the soil, such as stems and the lower leaves, can be affected. Another name for Southern blight is stem rot and crown rot.

After the infection starts, it moves quickly through the plant, causing water-soaked spots on the leaves and the collapse of plant tissue. Sometimes, tangles of white mycelial threads form at the soil line in warm, humid weather.

This disease will often cause the death of a plant. Severely infected plants will need to be discarded, along with their soil, and all pots and tools cleaned to prevent the disease from spreading.  

A light infection can be treated with a fungicide specially formulated for Southern blight or a systemic fungicide that travels through the roots into the foliage. Remove the infected plant tissue, change the soil, and follow the package instructions.  

14. Red Leaf Spot

Red Leaf Spot is an airborne fungal disease that comes from high humidity levels around the plant and moisture on the leaves. It starts as small red spots that expand and form tan centers. The spots eventually turn to liquid lesions and can destroy the plant.

Remove all of the affected foliage and treat the plant with Neem oil, a sulfur spray, or a commercial fungicide with copper as an ingredient.

It is possible to treat these infections, but prevention is the best method of control. Give your plant chunky, well-draining soil, bright indirect light, and a pot with drainage holes. Don’t overwater it, and keep the humidity low with enough air circulation.

If you give your Snake Plant the conditions it needs, it will be far less likely to develop problems, and you will have a healthy plant to enjoy for many years.

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.