why is my snake plant dying sansevieria trifasciata

Why Is My Snake Plant Dying? (Causes And Solutions)

The Snake Plant is one of the easiest houseplants to grow, making it very popular amongst homeowners. Also known as a Snakeskin Plant or Mother-In-Law’s Tongue this hardy succulent has a reputation for being nearly indestructible. Like any other plant though it can succumb to problems causing you to scratch your head in wonder, trying to figure out why your snake plant is dying and how to remedy it.

Why is my snake plant dying? The most common reasons why your snake plant is dying are root rot, exposure to extreme temperature variations, insect infestations, or fungal problems. Troubleshooting problems with snake plants are fairly straightforward and most problems can be identified and treated easily.

Read on to learn about the ailments Snake Plants succumb to, and appropriate treatments, so you can address the problem correctly and quickly. If you want to learn more about how to care for succulent plants indoors, check out my full snake plant care article and my guide to growing succulents indoors.

Common Snake Plant Problems

Snake Plants are very easy to grow, making them a favorite houseplant for many, including those that aren’t extremely adept at keeping plants alive. I’ve written a guide to growing and caring for snake plants that covers everything you need to get started.

Regardless of how green your thumb is, unfortunately the following can still affect your plants.

Root Rot

The most commonly seen problem with Snake Plants is root rot, caused by overwatering, especially in the winter months. The roots then die back due to lack of oxygen or the overgrowth of a soil fungus. Soggy soils encourage the growth and multiplication of Pythium, Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia, or Fusarium fungi which spreads into the roots, infecting plants. Healthy roots begin to turn brown and mushy as they perish, unable to take in nutrients needed for growth.

The challenge with root rot is that it often goes unnoticed because it occurs beneath the soil surface and out of sight. In extreme cases when conditions are perfect, i.e. in pots without drainage holes, root rot can kill the whole plant within ten days.

While snake plants will struggle to survive in pots without drainage holes, there are a number of solutions to this problem that you wouldn’t immediately think of. Check out my article to see how you can grow plants in pots without holes.

Potting your snake plant in a well-draining pot is essential, but you still want your plant to look well and add to the beauty of your home. You may have some decorative pots with plenty of drainage that you can plant your snake plant in, but personally, I much prefer to set the pot on a drip tray, or inside a more decorative planter. See here for my best ideas for indoor planters.

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Symptoms

Visible on the roots first causing them to turn brown and mushy — classic signs of rot. As root rot progresses leaves turn yellow, wilt, or droop and then become mushy as well. Once symptoms are visible in the leaves the problem may be past the point of rectifying, endangering the entire plant.

Treatment

Repot the plant, if caught soon enough. Remove as much of the infected soil as possible adding in fresh, clean potting soil. You can add a root treatment containing beneficial mycorrhizal species, or dust the healthy roots with sulfur powder to help prevent reinfection. Beneficial mycorrhizae create a hostile environment for unwanted bacteria and fungi; sulfur acidifies the soil, making some nutrients less available and limiting the food source for the pathogens that cause root rot.

If root rot has spread significantly, dissect the plant, keeping only the healthy portions. If the whole base is affected, take cuttings from healthy foliage and root them to propagate a new plant.

Prevention

Water plants when the top 2-4” of the soil has dried out completely. This could mean only watering your Snake Plant every 1-2 months during the cooler, winter months when the plant is dormant.

Snake plants are ideal plants for the less attentive gardener. You can safely avoid watering them for weeks at a time. You won’t have to worry about all the ways to water houseplants while on vacation, as your snake plant will easily tolerate 3 weeks or more without water, even in warm, arid conditions.

Exposure To Extreme Temperatures

Native to West Africa and similar to other succulents, your Snake Plant prefers warmer temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures the cell walls within leaves are damaged. This damage interrupts the pathways in which water and nutrients flow, inhibiting water uptake through the roots, causing the plant to perish from lack of moisture.

Symptoms

Scarring on the leaves, or yellowing, mushy leaves, although the plant hasn’t been overwatered.

Treatment

Prune heavily damaged leaves from the plant, making sure to keep healthy foliage intact as over-pruning further stresses the plant.

Prevention

Keep your Snake Plant in a location where daytime temperatures are between 60 and 80℉ and nighttime temperatures are between 55 and 70℉.

Mealybugs

These pink, soft-bodied insects are covered with a white, waxy, almost cottony-like material. The cottony fluff helps protect them from moisture loss and excess heat. Mealybugs are usually found in colonies in somewhat protected areas of the Snake Plant such as on the leaves close to the soil surface.

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Mealybugs are similar to their relatives the soft scales but they lack the scale covering and retain legs throughout their life cycle allowing them to move around. The citrus mealybug is the most common species found on succulent plants like the Snake Plant. They lay microscopic eggs within a mass of white cottony threads and then perish within 5 – 10 days.

Symptoms

Stunted or deformed leaf growth, especially on new foliage as mealybugs inject a toxin into leaves when they feed on the plant’s fluid. Mealybugs also excrete honeydew — a sugar-rich, sticky liquid — as they feed, encouraging the growth of sooty mold. Healthy plants may be able to handle a slight infestation if the plant is in good health overall. If left untreated, leaves will yellow, curl, and drop.

Treatment

The most effective way to treat a Snake Plant for mealybugs is to manually pick the adults and egg masses off by hand or wiping them with a cloth or cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Before attempting rubbing alcohol, spot test an inconspicuous area on your plant to ensure it won’t damage foliage; the waxy succulent leaves on a Snake Plant are typically strong enough to withstand a little bit of rubbing alcohol, but it’s best to double check before treating your plant.

Prevention

Carefully inspect all new plants when you bring them into your home since mealybugs easily crawl from one plant to a neighboring one. Quarantine infected plants from healthy ones to prevent the spread.

Spider Mites

These tiny sucking pests are found on the undersides of leaves, wreaking havoc on indoor houseplants. Spider mites feed on the fluids found inside the leaves of Snake Plants, piercing the waxy coating to access the internal fluids.

One of the biggest challenges with spider mites is their prolific nature; often times a heavy infestation will occur, unnoticed, before plants begin to show physical symptoms of damage.

Symptoms

Leaves may be stippled with discoloration, or turning yellow overall. Plants may also exhibit a fine, spider-like webbing between the leaves or at the base of the plant.

Treatment

Mist your plant with water or insecticidal soap, then using a clean, soft cloth, wipe the leaves down carefully to remove the spider mites. You can also turn the plant upside down and carefully rinse the leaves off with tepid water in the shower, washbasin, or kitchen sink. Severe infestation requires pruning off the affected leaves.

Prevention

Keep the leaves of your Snake Plant dusted, eliminating places for spider mites to nest and lay eggs. Maintain higher humidity around your plants too; spider mites thrive in dry conditions.

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Southern Blight

Southern blight is caused by a parasitic fungus, Sclerotium rolfsii,  that attacks many houseplants and garden plants alike. It affects over 500 plant species, typically causing lethal results especially in warm, moist conditions.

When southern blight infects a host plant it penetrates the stem and infects the plant quickly. Within a week to ten days, external symptoms appear, signifying infection.

Symptoms

Fungal growths first appear as white areas on the leaves, then changes to a deep brown color. A Snake Plant also exhibits wilting of the leaves with white thread-like growths and wet, softened areas of dying plant tissue.

Treatment

Fungicides such as methyl bromide are effective at treating southern blight in houseplants, but it’s recommended that for only a single plant you remove the diseased tissue entirely instead of chemical treatment.

Prevention

Avoid reusing potting soil from previously infected containers, inspect new plants for infestation when bringing them into your home, and maintain good airflow around your Snake Plant.

Red Leaf Spot

Another fungal disease, red leaf spot is caused by Drechslera erythrospila. It is most commonly seen in spring and summer months when temperatures are warmer but can infect houseplants year-round. Red leaf spot occurs when fungal spores in the air find a damp leaf surface to adhere to.

Symptoms

Small red or reddish-brown spots on the leaves with a tan center. Over time the spots expand and coalesce to form large, sunken, liquidy lesions.

Treatment

Remove affected leaves to prevent the spread to other areas of the Snake Plant. Slight infestations can be treated with a sulfur spray or copper-containing fungicide. Chemical treatment will not eradicate the current infection but prevents spores from germinating.

Prevention

The best method of prevention is to avoid standing water on the leaves of your Snake Plant. Maintain adequate air flow around plants as well and inspect all new plants for infection when bringing them home.

Check out the video below where I discuss the main reasons why your Snake Plant might be dying.

Related Questions

Why Isn’t My Snake Plant Growing?

Growth slows down considerably or stops completely during the cooler winter months as plants go dormant to conserve energy. If your plant isn’t growing during the spring or summer, troubleshoot through the previously mentioned issues that may be causing growth to slow.

Low light conditions will also cause growth to slow. You can read all about the impact of low light on houseplants with this really useful article. If you want to get just the right light conditions for your snake plant, I’ve also written about how much light snake plants need to grow and thrive.

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Sometimes your snake plant can become dirty from dust accumulating on the leaves, and this can reduce the amount of light entering the leaves, even if the plant is situated in a bright room. Don’t forget to clean the leaves of your snake plant every few months. Check out my article about the best ways to clean indoor plant leaves, to make this a quick and easy process.

Are Snake Plants Toxic?

Yes, all plant parts on Sansevieria trifasciata are mildly toxic. Small doses of the toxin may not cause any symptoms; consumption of large amounts of the plant cause swelling and numbness of the tongue and throat, leading to intestinal distress. For safety’s sake, keep your snake plant away from small children and pets.

Please take the time to check out my recommended resources section, which discusses some of the best books, tools, and resources which have helped me improve my knowledge, skills, and enjoyment of gardening.

Comments

  1. Hello and Thanks for your time on this. Can you plant a snake plant in a copper pot ( old coal scupper) and have it live.

    1. Author

      Hi Beverley
      Yes, you can plant a Snake Plant in a copper pot, but you will need to be really careful with watering. The biggest problem with Snake plants is overwatering, so if your coal scupper has no drainage holes, it will be easier to overwater your plant. Just take care to only water it a small amount each time and wait till the potting media is completely dry before watering again, and your plant will be fine. Snake plants cope really well with neglect, so you’re better to underwater in this situation, than to risk overwatering.

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