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24 Common Snake Plant Problems & Questions with Answers

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Although snake plants, or mother-in-law tongue as they are sometimes called, are tough plants, there are numerous questions and problems surrounding these plants. This post details 24 of the most common snake plant problems and questions that people ask.

snake-plant-problems

Previously in the Sansevieria genus, snake plants are now classified in the Dracaena genus of plants.

COMMON SNAKE PLANT PROBLEMS & QUESTIONS

SOIL, POTS, REPOTTING

1. What is the best soil for a snake plant?

Many different mixes can work as long as they are well drained. My personal preference for potting mixes for snake plants are 2-3 parts of a cactus/succulent mix with 1 part of 1/4″ pumice.

The one I personally use and highly recommend is the 1/4″ pumice from Bonsai Jack’s. It’s very high quality and uniform and works really well!

Pumice is a volcanic rock that, when mixed into potting mixes, produces wonderful drainage for your snake plants.

snake-plant-pumice

2. Best pot for snake plant?

You can use a variety of pots for snake plants, and I usually either grow them in terra cotta pots, or in plastic nursery pots which I then slip inside a more decorative pot.

Just keep in mind that terra cotta pots will dry out much more quickly, which can be both a pro or a con depending on your environment.

If your growing space is very warm and dry, you may want to avoid terra cotta pots since they can dry out excessively fast, especially the small ones.

3. Do snake plants need drainage holes?

Yes. This goes for any plant, but especially succulent plants like Sansevieria. The risk of rotting is too great if you don’t have a drainage hole.

4. When to repot snake plant?

My rule of thumb is the following, and this applies for any houseplant. The best time to repot is normally late winter/early spring when many plants are starting into growth again.

You CAN repot any time of year though if needed, especially if you provide good light (natural light or from grow lights) and growing conditions.

Snake plants do like to be root-bound and can stay in the same pot for many years. Eventually, they can even break or split the pot that they’re growing in.

sansevieria-division

FERTILIZER

5. Does snake plant need fertilizer?

For best growth and health, fertilizer is an important part of any houseplant care routine. You can get away with not fertilizing, but eventually it will catch up to your plant.

Snake plants don’t need tons of fertilizer, since they grow naturally in areas with poor, rocky soil in tropical Africa, but you will have a healthier plant if you do.

6. Best fertilizer for snake plant?

You can use any all-purpose fertilizer for houseplants, especially those formulated for succulents.

Avoid any fertilizers that are very high in Nitrogen as this can result in weak, floppy new growth.

7. Can I use miracle gro on snake plant?

Do not use the standard all-purpose Miracle Gro since it contains excessive amounts of nitrogen. It has an NPK of 24-8-16. The first number indicates the nitrogen amount. Too much nitrogen can cause weaker, less sturdy new growth in your snake plants and in any other succulent plants.

Miracle Gro does make a Succulent Plant Food, which is appropriate for snake plants. The NPK for this product is 0.5-1-1.

sansevieria-trifasciata-laurentii

WATERING

8. How often to water snake plant?

You should not water based off of frequency, but rather, when your plant needs it.

Snake plants like their potting mix to dry out completely, but don’t wait too long otherwise even your snake plants can suffer.

When you’ve determined that your potting mix has completely dried out, go ahead and water.

Water thoroughly and allow all excess water to escape the drainage hole.

9. How much water to give a snake plant?

It is not necessary to measure out the water amount when you are watering your plant. There are a number of watering myths concerning “overwatering.”

Simply water until you’ve thoroughly moistened your potting mix, allow all excess water to drain away, and you’re done.

HUMIDITY

10. Do snake plants like humidity?

No special attention to humidity is needed for these plants.

LIGHT

11. How much light does a snake plant need?

These are often touted as low-light plants, but growth will be very poor in dim light. And it will take a long time, but these plants will eventually weaken dramatically in poor light.

They are slow to respond to poor light, but eventually the beautiful form of the plant will be distorted and leaves will weaken and bend.

snake-plant-low-light
A snake plant that has suffered from growing in long-term dim conditions. The stiff, upright form of the plant has been lost.

For best results, grow these plants directly in front of a window that has at least 2-3 hours of direct sunlight.

They can certainly grow in front of windows with no direct sun, but their growth will be much slower and they grow slowly to begin with.

Growing snake plants in dim conditions can also cause other issues. Namely, your potting mix can take too long to dry out and thus increase the risk of root rot.

PROPAGATION

12. How do you propagate mother in law tongue?

Propagation can be done by division, leaf cuttings in water or soil, rhizome cuttings, or by seed. Refer to my snake plant propagation post containing all the details for each of these methods, with step-by-step photos.

sansevieria-division

PROBLEMS

13. Why are my snake plant leaves curling?

Typically, leaf curling in Sansevieria is caused by the potting mix going completely dry for too long. As with any problem, you’ll need to observe your plants to verify, and in this case, go ahead and check the soil moisture when you notice leaf curling.

Feel your soil with your finger (moisture meters can be notoriously unreliable and I do not recommend them). Has your soil stayed dry for too long?

Snake plants can easily take completely dry soil, but it doesn’t mean that they will stay in prime shape if you keep them dry for extended periods.

Be sure to soak your plant well if it has gone dry for too long.

14. Why are the leaves on my snake plant drooping?

Drooping leaves can be caused by what I mentioned in the previous section where I discussed curling (dry soil for too long).

15. Why does my snake plant have mushy leaves?

The most common reasons for mushy leaves are the following:

  • Was your plant exposed to cold temperatures? Maybe you left it outside when it was cold, or perhaps you ordered a plant and it was shipped to you during cold winter months. If temperatures are cold enough, the succulent leaves of snake plants can pretty quickly turn to mush.
  • Has your potting mix remained wet for too long? Has your plant been sitting in water perhaps in the saucer underneath or in its decorative cache pot?

Cold temperatures AND wet conditions combined together is an especially dangerous combination and you can quickly kill a snake plant that way.

16. Why are my snake plant roots brown and mushy?

If your snake plant’s soil stays too wet for too long, these plants can easily get root rot. Never allow your plant to stay wet for too long.

Always discard excess water that accumulates in the saucer below. Or if you have your plant growing in a pot that has drainage holes, and is slipped in a decorative cache pot without drainage holes, be careful of any accumulation of water in the pot.

If your roots have gotten brown and mushy, you will likely also see droopy leaves, as well as yellow leaves in combination.

If you do notice this, clean up any mushy roots and rhizomes, trim away any yellow leaves, and repot into small pot in a well draining mix. I recommend 2 parts of a good succulent/cactus mix plus one part pumice.

Having a smaller pot size, well-draining potting mix, and good light will make it difficult to achieve root again.

Pumice is a great addition to add to your potting mixes to help increase drainage.

17. Why is my plant not growing?

Quite simply, your plant is probably not getting enough light. Growth will slow down or even come to a complete halt if you are not providing enough light for your plant.

Indoors, for best growth, snake plants would greatly benefit from at least some direct sun right in front of a window. Eastern or Western exposure windows would be ideal, especially if they are unobstructed.

Just keep in mind that the more light your plant receives, the quicker the soil will dry out so be flexible with your watering routine.

Although snake plants can tolerate low light conditions, they will suffer over time.

They can be slow to respond to change so if you have a plant in a dark corner, it will likely remain looking good for quite a while, but eventually the poor conditions will take its toll and the plant will suffer with weak floppy leaves and poor growth.

sansevieria-flowers

OTHER

18. Can snake plants be outside?

Yes of course they can be outside, as long as the temperatures are adequate. Remember that there is no such thing as a “houseplant”. All plants evolved outdoors.

If you choose to move your Sansevieria plants outside, make sure that you keep them in conditions that are no colder than 55F minimum (approximately 13C).

Most Sansevieria plants are native to Africa and are tropical plants that enjoy warmer conditions. Strive to keep your plants in the 65-80F range (approximately 18-27C).

Another thing to be careful of is when you move plants from indoors to outdoors. Always place a plant in complete shade outdoors at first, even for sun-loving plants, otherwise they will quickly burn.

The light outdoors is much stronger than indoors, so your plant needs to acclimate slowly. After a period of 1-2 weeks or so of being in the shade, gradually increase any sun as needed, if you wish. Snake plants can take some sun even outdoors.

I’ve witnessed many snake plants growing outdoors in quite a bit of sun, including on a trip to Africa.

snake-plant-africa-sun
Snake plant that I saw in South Africa, and it was growing in partial sun.

19. Can you plant snake plant with other plants?

You absolutely can, but the one thing to keep in mind is to make sure that whatever plant you pair with your snake plants share the same light and soil moisture preferences.

Many succulents would pair well with a snake plant!

20. How to care for snake plant in winter?

Winter time for snake plants, and any houseplant for that matter, can be more challenging. The key is to adapt your care routine because conditions in the wintertime (depending on where you live and if you use grow lights or not), can be dramatically different.

Cooler temperatures, cold drafts and substantially reduced light will slow down growth, shock the plant, and cause the potting mix to take much longer to dry out.

Cold and wet conditions will spell death for snake plants and encourage rotting.

I do not recommend watering on a schedule. Checking your plants on a schedule is invaluable, but if you continue to water your plants, particularly snake plants or succulents, on a set schedule like some people do, you could run into problems!

Check your potting mix moisture and do not water your snake plants until the soil has completely dried out (and this goes especially for winter time).

Be sure not to miss my detailed blog post on plant care in winter. There are lots of tips and topics to be aware of so that your plants can really thrive during the challenging winter season.

21. What are some other names for snake plants?

These plants belonged to the Sansevieria genus, but have been reclassified into the Dracaena genus.

Among the common names for these plants are: snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue, viper’s bowstring hemp, Saint George’s sword, devil’s tongue, and more.

22. What are good snake plant varieties?

There are quite a few gorgeous varieties to grow in the home, and many of them are cultivars of the Dracaena trifasciata species.

Be sure not to miss my blog post on 13 beautiful varieties of snake plants. They’re among my favorites!

sansevieria-masoniana-whale-fin
Whale Fin Snake Plant

23. Are snake plants succulents?

Snake plants are considered succulents. Remember that succulent just means that the plant can store water which allows them to survive periods of drought.

There are certainly plants that are more “succulent” than snake plants, but they are still considered to be succulent.

24. Is mother in law tongue poisonous?

Yes, snake plants are toxic to dogs and cats, due to saponin compounds, according to the ASPCA.

If you pet ingests these plants, it can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

RELATED RESOURCES

Other than the posts I wrote that I already linked to, here are other posts that might interest you:

General Snake Plant Care

Sansevieria cylindrica

Sansevieria Flowers

Whale Fin Snake Plant

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Do you have any other snake plant problems that are not mentioned in this post? Comment below and I will help.

Laura Cisco

Wednesday 28th of September 2022

I don't understand what is happening with my snake plants.The plants look good with fast-new growth, no dry tips and the leaves are all upright and green.

I touched one to see if it needed watering. The plant literally fell apart, all the leaves detached at the base.

Even though the leaf tips weren't dry, they all had new growth, I hadn't watered this plant in awhile, so I thought maybe underwatering.I didn't want that to happen again. So, I watered the others more frequently.

Same thing happened with another. I just touched the plant and it the upright leaves just fell off the base of the plant. Post-mortem "autopsy" showed the roots were fine, no mush, no blackening. The soil had drained after watered and was dry.

I've lost 2 plants and a 3rd seems on the way out. I've been watching them more, and caught this plant with one detached leaf.

What is happening? How can the plant look healthy & thriving, then, just fall apart?

Roxanne

Monday 12th of September 2022

A friend brought me a snake plant 17 years ago when my daughter was born. The planter is about 5" x 5" - small. Over the years the plant has sproinged in a bunch of directions - probably due to dim light as shown in your picture above. I just cut the wayward leaves from the base of the plant and put them in water in hopes of propagating. Of course, I did this *after* reading your posts! So, yeah... Anyway, I really want to rehabilitate my plant - it will need new soil. I'd like to keep at least a portion of the plant in the original hospital gift shop planter - sentimental value. I'm wondering if I should take a leaf cutting and start all over again. Advice? I can send you the pictures of before and after and in progress leaves in water. Any help to keep my plant going would be so appreciated. Thanks!

Raffaele

Monday 12th of September 2022

Hi Roxanne! You may need to give your original plant a bigger pot. I suspect it's probably pretty root bound after all those years, but the only way you'll know is if you take it out of the pot and look. You can always plant any new, rooted cuttings into the original planter!

Katie

Thursday 3rd of March 2022

I used Miracle Gro All Purpose Fertilizer on my snake plants, and now they are all turning lighter. How do I correct this please and thank you.

Raffaele

Sunday 6th of March 2022

Hi Katie! Miracle Gro is too high in nitrogen so I would avoid using that for snake plants, and any succulents. Just give your plant normal care and it should harden up a bit. Where is your plant situated light-wise? Is it right in front of a window? What exposure and how far is it from the window?

Faye Geller

Thursday 3rd of February 2022

My Whale Fin is developing a yellowish area on one leaf. It has very good drainage, I water as you direct, and it has thrived since it arrived last September. It is on a Sunny windowsill. I live in Rhode Island. So there are some days when it is overcast, but all my other succulents do very well on this windowsill. I have a Hanaii growing under plant lights across the room, and have propagated a new plant from one of its leaves. But I haven’t had this problem before. I’ve read through a lot of your material and haven’t come across it.

Raffaele

Thursday 3rd of February 2022

Hi Faye, I will send you an email so you can attach a photo. Maybe we can get to the bottom of it!