Healthy Snake Plants (Dracaena trifasciata, syn. Sansevieria trifasciata) stand at attention with their flat, saber-like leaves rising out of the soil.
When these resilient, leathery leaves curl, your plant is trying to tell you that something is wrong.
Key Tips: Snake Plant Leaves Curling
The most common reason for Snake Plant leaf curl is underwatering, but there are other reasons. They mainly have to do with cultural conditions that stress the plant, such as overfertilization, overwatering, not enough light, temperature issues, transplant shock, pests, and diseases, among other things.
Check your plant for the following problems to diagnose what might be causing the leaves to curl.
10 Main Reasons For Snake Plant Leaf Curl
Snake Plants are native to the hot, dry environment of West Africa, where they are drought-resistant succulents, so they don’t need continuously moist soil like some plants. However, They need to be watered thoroughly when their soil dries out.
If they’re allowed to stay without water for too long, their leaves will start to curl inwards.
Don’t water on a schedule! Environmental conditions in your home, such as temperature, amount of sunlight, humidity levels, and time of year, will all influence how quickly the soil dries out. These conditions fluctuate, so you must check the soil to know when to water.
Dig your finger 2 to 4 inches down into the soil to figure this out. If it comes out moist, hold off watering until the finger test comes out dry. A moisture meter will also help you determine when the soil is dry.
When it’s time to give your snake plant water, it’s essential to do so correctly. Rather than regular watering a small amount, you need to water deeply so that it runs out of the drainage hole, thoroughly wetting the soil to the bottom of the pot.
Empty any excess water from the tray or dish underneath the pot so the roots won’t sit in water.
2. Compacted Soil
Some indoor potting mixes with a high percentage of peat will gradually become compacted over time. This can cause them to become hydrophobic and repel water rather than absorb it. As a result, water will run over and around the soil, but it won’t be absorbed.
Compacted soil can result in leaf curl, similar to underwatering because the plant is not receiving the needed water.
To fix this issue, repot your Snake plant in cactus or succulent mix or a commercial potting mix amended with perlite, coco coir, rough sand, or pumice to give it a good drainage and aeration composition that won’t easily compact.
3. Nitrogen Deficiency
Since all varieties of Snake Plants grow slowly, you won’t need to repot your plant very often – maybe once in 3 to 5 years. However, as the roots grow and expand, they may deplete the soil of some nutrients before you repot.
This can result in a nitrogen deficiency that will cause the leaves to become pale and curl inward.
This issue is easily fixed by feeding your plant a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the package so you don’t overfeed and cause low pH and fertilizer burn.
Slow-release granules are effectively used once a year, as well as half-strength liquid fertilizer once a month during the spring and summer.
Using more fertilizer than the plant requires can affect the soil pH, which should be between 5.5 and 7.5. When the soil becomes, too acidic, magnesium (Mg) becomes unavailable to the plant, which inhibits chlorophyll production and interferes with photosynthesis.
It also affects the plant’s ability to absorb water. This can result in fertilizer burn of the leaves, causing them to curl downward.
If you think too much fertilizer is the problem, flush the soil to eliminate the excess. Then, run water through the soil and out the drainage hole for about 10 minutes.
Then ensure it drains thoroughly before you set it back on its dish or tray and hold off fertilizing again to let it recover from the stress. A pH meter will help you determine if the soil pH is in the correct range for Snake Plants.
Overwatering can cause significant problems for your Snake Plant – root rot, fungus gnats, and soft, yellow leaves that droop and curl downward. If your plant shows signs of overwatering, you’ll need to do some plant surgery and remediation.
You know who you are. If you tend to give your plants too much water and your Snake Plant is showing signs of droopy, curling leaves, little black insects that fly up in a cloud when the pot is jostled, and a foul smell emanating from the soil, your plant has root rot, a fungal disease.
Tip the plant on its side and pull out the root ball. Shake off the soil to get a good look at the roots. They should be white or light orange, but if they’re black, mushy, and smell bad, cut the infected roots off with clean scissors or a knife.
Then wash off the roots and drench them in a solution of one part 3% hydrogen peroxide and three parts water to kill the fungal root rot. You can also use Neem oil, a commercial fungicide with an ingredient of copper, or even cinnamon, a natural fungicide.
Next, cut off all the soft, infected leaves with clean scissors or a knife (washed thoroughly after cutting the roots). Finally, repot the remaining plant in fresh soil in a clean pot. If you want to use the same pot, wash it with soap and water before adding the new soil.
Then, don’t use a watering schedule. As stated above, only water your plant when the soil is dry or almost dry, and you will not be in danger of overwatering.
6. Lighting Issues
Snake Plants are often considered low-light plants that do well in dark corners. They will tolerate moderate indirect light, but too little light will cause their leaves to thin out and curl upward, searching for more light.
On the other hand, too much light can also stress the plant. It can cause the rate of photosynthesis and transpiration to speed up to the point that the plant becomes dehydrated, causing its leaves to curl.
And even though it does well with some direct sun, too much bright sunlight, such as outdoor summer sunshine all day, can burn the leaves.
Snake Plants do best in a location with bright indirect light most of the day and direct sunlight for 4 to 5 hours a day, such as in a west- or east-facing window.
7. Temperature Stress
Snake Plants don’t respond well to extreme temperatures. Below 50 degrees F, they can get cold damage – their growth slows, and their leaves begin to curl downward and droop.
And similar to lighting issues, high temperatures above 80 degrees will cause the transpiration process to speed up and the plant to become dehydrated, resulting in curling leaves.
So, keeping Snake Plants in fairly consistent temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F away from window drafts and heating and air conditioner vents is healthiest.
8. Transplant Shock
No matter what it is, every houseplant goes through some transplant shock after being repotted. The roots need time to re-establish their growth in the new pot and soil.
Transplant shock is usually temporary and not a severe problem, but it can cause curling and twisting leaves after repotting. You’ll need to give your plant some low-stress TLC to help it recover.
- Set your plant in medium light out of the direct sun in a warm location with no hot or cold drafts.
- Don’t water your plant after repotting because the moisture in the soil will be enough to help it through its recovery. You can begin watering after a week or two.
- Don’t fertilize it until about a month after repotting.
9. Rootbound Issues
A plant is rootbound when it has roots growing through the soil to the point that they circle the sides of the pot on the inside and grow out of the drainage holes.
A severely rootbound plant won’t be able to get the nutrition or air it needs, so it can become stunted with curling, drooping leaves. You can see if your plant is rootbound by turning the pot on its side and gently removing the root ball from the pot.
If there is an overgrowth of roots, you must repot your plant. Untangle the roots as much as possible and trim them individually.
Then repot your Snake Plant in fresh soil in a pot one size up from the previous one. Water it in, and empty any excess water from the dish or tray underneath the pot.
Since Snake Plants grow slowly, they must only be repotted every 3 to 5 years.
Healthy Snake Plants usually aren’t subject to many pests, but if they have been weakened by less-than-optimal growth conditions, pests may take hold.
Infestations of mealybugs, spider mites, thrips, and scale can all suck out the plant’s sap and cause the leaves to turn yellow and curl.
Mealybugs and Spider Mites
You can eliminate mealybugs and spider mites by hosing the plant to knock as many bugs off as possible. Then spray the affected leaves with insecticidal soap and/or Neem oil.
Thrips are a little more complicated. Hose them off first, then spray the leaves with a combination of insecticidal soap and Neem oil. Sticky traps, which are easily obtained online, are also a way to eliminate them.
Scale insects, which have hard shells, are not affected by sprays. So the best way to get rid of them is to pick off as many as you can see by hand and wipe down both surfaces of the leaves with rubbing alcohol. That will kill the rest that you don’t see.
In addition to root rot which was mentioned above, Southern blight and red leaf spot are fungal diseases that can infect your plant and cause the leaves to wither and curl.
Like root rot, Southern blight is a soil-borne fungus that attacks the roots and moves up into the foliage. It creates water-soaked patches that turn brown and kill the tissue, causing the leaves to curl inward.
To treat Southern blight:
- Cut the diseased leaves off as soon as possible.
- Remove the root ball from the pot and shake off the soil.
- Treat the roots with a fungicide specially formulated for Southern blight and repot the plant in fresh soil in a clean pot.
Red Leaf Spot
Red leaf spot is another fungal infection that can cause Snake Plant leaves to bend and curl. It starts as red, fluid-filled blisters on the leaves that spread.
Cut the affected leaves off, then treat the remaining leaves with a fungicide like Neem oil or Bordeaux mixture, a fungicide made of a combination of copper sulfate, lime, and water.
Red leaf spot thrives in moist, humid environments, so give your plant plenty of air circulation to prevent reinfection.
Many things can cause your Snake Plant leaves to curl, and the most common question is, “Can the plant be saved?”
If the damage is slight, you may have to remove the affected leaves, but the rest of the plant will survive with appropriate care. Too much damage, however, especially if not treated right away, may spell the death of your plant.
Give your Snake Plant the suitable soil, the right temperature, and only water it when the soil is dry. Also, ensure you don’t overfertilize and repot before it becomes rootbound. When you give your plant the right conditions for its growth, it will stand up straight and tall for many years.
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.