8 Reasons for Wrinkled Snake Plant Leaves & Simple Solutions

Your Snake Plant, or mother-in-law’s tongue (Dracaena trifasciata, formerly Sansevieria trifasciata), usually stands tall like a sentinel with smooth, firm, sword-shaped leaves. But when they become soft and wrinkled, what went wrong, and how can you fix it?

There are a number of reasons why the leaves will wrinkle, and most of them are due to cultural and environmental conditions that have caused them stress.

Let’s look at the eight different reasons for wrinkled Snake Plant leaves, how you can diagnose the symptoms, and how you can fix them.

8 Causes of Wrinkled Snake Plant Leaves

 snake plant leaves wrinkled

Watering Issues

The most frequent causes of wrinkled Snake Plant leaves are watering issues. Underwatering, overwatering, and water with added chemicals can all stress the plant and cause the leaves to wrinkle.

Underwatering

Snake Plants are native to the hot and dry environment of tropical West Africa. They are drought-resistant succulents, storing water in their stiff, fleshy leaves. But they still do need water, and when their soil is too dry for too long, their leaves will wrinkle.

Your Snake Plant needs to be watered when the soil is dry or almost dry. If you have been watering your plant infrequently, the soil is very dry, and the leaves are beginning to wrinkle and develop brown tips, your plant is underwatered.

How frequently should you water? And how can you make sure that it’s getting enough water? The answer is that it depends on several factors, such as the amount of light, temperature, and type of soil, so don’t water on a schedule! Test the soil instead.

The best way to gauge the dryness of the soil is to stick your finger or a chopstick down several inches in the pot. If your finger (or the chopstick) comes out dry, it’s time to water.

If it comes out moist, hold off watering for another few days to a week and test the soil again. A moisture meter will also help with this.

When you water, run it through the pot so that it soaks the soil and comes out of the drainage hole at the bottom. Allow it to drain completely, then empty any excess water from the dish under the pot.

Overwatering

watering a snake plant

When you love a plant, and want to give it the maximum TLC, it’s easy to overwater. But soil that is watered too often or with too much water will become saturated, and air spaces around the roots that should allow for an exchange of oxygen stay filled with water.

When the water can’t drain away, allowing the roots to “breathe” again, they will begin to develop root rot, a serious fungal disease that will cause brown leaf tips, wrinkled leaves, and in bad cases, the death of the plant.

If you have been watering your plant so the soil is consistently moist or wet, you are overwatering and need a method to gauge when the soil needs water.

The best way to keep from overwatering your Snake Plant is to test the soil rather than keeping a watering schedule. The soil will dry out at different rates over the course of the seasons due to changes in temperature, humidity, and the amount of light, so you can’t rely on a set watering timetable.

Only water your plant when its soil is dry or almost dry, using the finger or chopstick method as described above.

Chemicals In the water

In most parts of the country, chlorine and other chemicals are added to the municipal water supply to keep it free of bacteria (CDC). These chemicals are hard on houseplants and can cause droopy, wrinkled leaves.

Check with your local municipal water company to see if chlorine is in your water. If it is, you can leave a pitcher of tap water open overnight for the chlorine to evaporate. This will help. However, if it has been replaced with fluorine, it will not evaporate from a pitcher of water.

In addition, water softener that you add to your household water is toxic to plants. Instead, it is best to use distilled, filtered, or rainwater to keep your Snake Plant safe from the effects of these chemicals.

Inadequate Light

snake plant in a room without windows next to bed

Snake Plants are known to be adaptable to various levels of light and are often billed as low-light plants. They are indeed adaptable, but for optimum health, they do best in bright indirect light.

If your plant is in a low-light location and has developed pale, wrinkled leaves, it needs more light for its best health. And Snake Plants in low-light locations will dry out more slowly than those in brighter light, which can present the opportunity for overwatering.

Set it in a place that gets bright light but out of the direct sunlight, such as in an east- or north-facing window.

If you set your Snake Plant outside to enjoy the summer’s warmth and light, keep it in the shade under a tree or on a covered patio or porch out of the direct rays of the sun that can burn the leaves.

Wrong Pot & Soil

checking pot for proper snake plant drainage

Both the pot and soil you choose for your Snake Plant will affect its health.

Pot

Pots come in many different materials and shapes. Terracotta, or clay pots “breathe,” allowing the soil to dry out quicker. Plastic, ceramic, and composite pots hold moisture in for longer and can be a problem if you tend to overwater your plant.

With their tall, sword-like leaves, Snake Plants are most stable in a wide, shallow pot. But whatever shape or material you choose for your plant, make sure it has one or more drainage holes in the bottom so that water can drain and not build up around the roots and cause the leaves to wrinkle and sag.

Soil

Since Snake Plants are succulents, they need light, porous potting soil that is well-draining, allowing water to move through the soil without building up around the roots.

Soil has a structure of solid pieces of matter that provide stability and nutrients to the plant, and air spaces between the pieces for good drainage and an exchange of oxygen.

Soil that is too dense without enough air spaces for good drainage is not suitable for Snake Plants. If your potting mix is thick and dense and your plant’s leaves are wrinkled and droopy, you may need to change the soil.

You can use a good commercial succulent mix or make your own with an all-purpose houseplant mix amended with half perlite, coarse sand, coco coir, orchid bark, or peat. Snake Plants don’t need repotting more than once every 2 to 3 years, but if the soil isn’t suitable, it’s best to repot sooner than later.

Damage From Overfertilizing

adding snake plant fertilizer to soil

Fertilizer burn happens when too much fertilizer builds up in the soil and draws water out of the roots, leaving them unable to absorb moisture. The plant suffers from dehydration, and the leaves become wrinkled.

If you have fertilized more than is recommended, thinking that you’re giving your plant an extra boost of nutrition, and the leaves begin to wrinkle, you may have some fertilizer burn.

The best fix is to flush the soil with water for 15 to 30 minutes to wash away the excess fertilizer.

If enough fertilizer has built up to form a crust on the soil, you may have to repot it with fresh soil in a clean pot.

Temperature Stress

snake plants outside

Snake Plants are comfortable in 65 to 90 degrees F, which are well within the range of average household temperatures. They grow best when the temperature is relatively steady, without big fluctuations.

But if they do experience a sharp change in temperature, such as when the thermometer soars to above 90 degrees in the summer and your plant is vacationing outdoors. Its leaves will begin to wilt and wrinkle and could sustain some damage.

On the opposite end of the thermometer, Snake Plants will also become damaged in temperatures below 50 degrees. Bring your plant indoors before temperatures begin to get cooler in the fall.

And if you are transporting your plant in freezing temperatures, make sure it is well-insulated in towels and heavy paper to keep the water in the leaves from freezing.

Hot & Cold Drafts

Hot and cold drafts are other temperature stressors that can cause your Snake Plant’s leaves to wrinkle. They do need some average air circulation around their leaves to keep them healthy, but a stream of hot air from heating vents or blasts of cold air from air conditioners will damage the foliage.

Set it in an area of the house or office that gets good air circulation away from hot or cold drafts.

Root Rot

snake plant roots

Root rot develops from circumstances that leave the soil too wet for roots to “breathe,” and they begin to rot. If you suspect that you have overwatered your plant and the leaves are droopy and wrinkled, you need to take action.

Tip the pot to the side and gently slide out the root ball, then shake the soil off to get a good look at the roots. Healthy Snake Plant roots should be firm and white to light orange, but if you see black, shriveled, mushy roots that smell bad, your plant has an infection of root rot.

Wash off the roots, cut out the black, infected ones with clean scissors or a knife, and cut off any droopy, mushy leaves as well. Then treat the remaining roots with Neem oil or a commercial fungicide with copper as an ingredient. As an alternative, you can sprinkle the roots with cinnamon powder, which is a natural fungicide.

Then repot your plant with fresh, moist, well-draining soil in a clean pot and set it in a warm place in medium to bright light away from any drafts. Wait to water it until after a week since the soil moisture should be enough after repotting, and don’t fertilize it for several weeks.

Pests

snake plants turning yellow and wilting

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 cause the leaves to wrinkle, droop, and destroy your Snake Plant.

If you see webbing and little red or black, eight-legged critters on the leaves, it has spider mites. 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 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.

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.