How to Revive a Dying Snake Plant

how to revive a dying snake plant

Snake plants are, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular architectural plants that I recommend to all plant beginners due to their low maintenance.

However, I find that occasionally, people struggle to grow them, usually because of overwatering. In my job at a garden center, I have learned firsthand exactly how to care for snake plants and, more importantly, intentify why they are dying, but also how to save them.

In this article, I share with you all the tips and secrets I’ve learned from not just my own experience but from speaking to some specialist succulent growers in a step-by-step guide…

For those of you with only a minute to spare, here is my 2 sentence explanation…

The reason for a dying snake plant is commonly overwatering and slow-draining soils, which cause the leaves to turn yellow or brown and droop with a dying appearance. Snake plants do not tolerate cold and can die in temperatures lower than 50°F.

I revive dying snake plants, by replicate some of the conditions of its native environment by watering it correctly, ensuring that it is in a room warmer than 50°F, and locating it in an area of bright indirect light rather than the full sun.

Keep reading for how to revive your snake plant has turned yellow or brown with a drooping appearance due to overwatering or the leaves have curled inwards perhaps with white patches due to underwatering or cold stress…

Are The Leaves Turning Yellow or Brown and Drooping? (Overwatering)

  • Symptoms. Snake plant leaves turn yellow, possibly drooping, and develop a mushy texture rather than a firm feel to the leaves.
  • Causes. Overwatering, slow-draining soils, and pots without proper drainage.

To undertsand why snake plant leaves turn yellow, we need to think about how they grow in their natural habitat…

Snake plants are a drought-resistant succulent that has adapted to growing in an arid climate with gritty soil, infrequent rainfall, and low humidity in tropical Africa.

The classic mistake that I see beginner indoor gardeners make is watering snake plants too often or planting it in standard potting soil that stays damp for too long can cause too much moisture around the roots for this drought resistant plant to tolerate.

Essentially, Snake plants turn yellow or brown with a mushy texture to their leaves as a sign of stress due to too much moisture around the roots.

We need to acknowledge that snake plants should be watered less often than most house plants and require soils that drain much quicker than conventional potting soil.

I discovered early on in my horticultural career that to grow snake plants successfully and avoid the leaves turning yellow or brown, what you need to do is emulate some of the conditions of the plant’s native environment by using a gritty or sandy, well-draining potting mix and only watering when the soil has dried out completely.

If the snake plant’s soil does not dry out between bouts of watering then this is contrary to the conditions to which it has adapted and the snake plant leaves turn yellow with drooping leaves and can in severe cases cause root rot and the snake plant dies back.

I should also mention that it is also essential that snake plants are planted in pots with drainage holes in the base so that water can escape freely.

A common mistake I’ve witnessed is the use of Saucers and trays underneath pots, which isn’t a problem in itself, but excess water can pool around the roots, and then your snake plant (a drought tolerant plant) is essentially sitting in a bog!

(To learn all the best practices for watering snake plants, read my article on how to water snake plants).

My Tips for Saving Yellow or Brown Drooping Leaves

  • Scale back the watering. If you water more than once per week, you water snake plants too often. From my experience, snake plants should be watered once every two or three weeks (although this can vary), but what we need to remember is that it is imperative to allow the soil to dry out completely when the leaves are brown or yellow.
  • Replace the soil. I think this is really important: even if you are watering your snake plant with the right sort of frequency, it can still turn yellow or brown and droop if the soil is slow draining and moisture retentive. Sometimes, I’ve seen people report their snake plants in ordinary potting soil, which is just going to hold onto moisture for too long. What you need to do is empty the pot and replace the soil with specifically formulated succulents and cacti (available from garden centers and on Amazon), which replicates the well-draining soil characteristics of the snake plant’s natural habitat to significantly reduce the chance of your snake plant turning brown or yellow and dying back.
A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing snake  plants.
A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing snake plants.
  • Plant snake plants in pots with drainage holes in the base. As we discussed, it is important that excess water can escape freely from the base of the pot to prevent the snake plant roots from being in damp soil for too long.

Pro tip: I’ve learned, snake plants benefit from being planted in pots that are proportional to their size as particularly large pots contain more soil and hold more moisture and dry out a lot slower which can increase the risk of the leaves turning yellow or brown.

My method to establish how often to water snake plants, is to feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole in the base. If the soil feels moist then delay watering for a few days, but if the soil feels dry this is the perfect time fore watering.

This was the method I taught when I first started in horticulture years ago, and it’s still the best advice I have heard for caring for snake plants.

The reason for this is watering snake plants with this schedule recreates the typical watering cycle of heavy rainfall followed by a period of drought, in their native environment.

Succulent and cacti soil is well draining.
Gritty succulent and cacti soil (on the left) compared with ordinary potting soil.

Typically, my snake plants require watering once every 2 weeks but this can vary according to the climate and conditions in your home, so it is always better to establish the ideal watering cycle for your home by feeling the soil to check when it is dry.

I think it’s so important to acknowledge that there is no universal advice on how often to water snake plants because there are so many variables such as light, temperature, maturity of the plant etc., and you should always feel the soil yourself first before watering.

Always ensure that there is no compacted soil or roots that block the drainage hole in the base of the pot which could slow drainage, as this is one that catches people out in my experience.

Once the soil around the snake plant’s roots has had a chance to dry out completely and you have adjusted how often you water or replaced the soil if it was slow-draining, then your snake plant has a chance to revive without being under stress.

The snake plants should show signs of reviving over the following weeks.

If the brown or yellow color is still spreading and the leaf feels soft then cut back these badly affected leaves at the base of the plant as those individual leaves are not likely to recover and this can prevent rot from spreading to other parts of the plant.

snake plant
This is a snake plant I saved. I cut back the entire leaf as the brown, mushy area was spreading.

As you can see in the photo above, this is a snake plant I personally saved. I replaced the soil with gritty succulent soil, washed the pot before replanting and I cut back the mushy brown leaf all the way back to the base as it was spreading and would have otherwise infected the rest of the snake plant.

Snake plants with severe root rot

If the snake plant leaves continue to get progressively discolored despite best care practices, root rot is the cause, at which point I’ve always found it very difficult to save the plant.

I consulted with some specialist succulents growers and they assured me that the most effective option is to take cuttings of any healthy remaining leaves for propagation as the rest of the plant could die back.

Snake plant leaves propagate readily from cuttings and you can have several new plants as a result of propagation which may be the only way to save your plant.

Watch this helpful YouTube video for how to easily propagate snake plants from leaf cuttings to produce lots of extra plants at no extra cost:

(If your snake plant is turning black read my article for the solution).

Why Are The Leaves Curling?

  • Symptoms. Snake plant leaves curling inwards with the leaves potentially splitting or appearing wrinkled.
  • Causes. Underwatering, soil that has become hydrophobic or cold damage.

If your snake plant leaves are curling inwards, this is usually because the plant is underwatered or has suffered cold damage.

Snake plants store water in their leaves so when they are suffering drought stress the use up the stored moisture which cause the leaves to curl inwards.

I’ve seen that underwatered leaves can also sometimes look wrinkled or even split at some point down the leaf.

I theorize that this happens so often because of the advice that ‘snake plants do not need much water’ which people interpret as watering the snake plant with a small quantity of water rather than not watering too frequently.

I’ve heard that people give their snake plants a very small quantity of water in fear of overwatering it.

Whilst snake plants are drought resistant and can go for 2 or 3 weeks without water, they do require a generous soak at each watering which is then stored in the leaves as a strategy to survive drought.

Another potential cause of leaves curling inwards is that some soil mixes bake hard when they dry out.

This dry soil can then repel water off the surface so that it runs down the side of the pot and out of the drainage holes. I observed this happening when snake plants were potted up in compost containing peat. I did my research and found that peat compost is hydrophobic (repels water off the surface) when it dries out.

This can give the impression that the snake plant has had a generous amount of water, but the water has not infiltrated the soil properly, and the roots can not draw up moisture, which causes drought symptoms of curled leaves.

Cold Damage Causes Leaves to Curl

We need to consider that cold temperatures may also be the cause rather than just underwatering. Snake plants are tropical plants and do not tolerate cold or freezing temperatures.

Snake plants require a growing temperature of between 50°F (10°C) and (23°C) 75°F. If they are in an room that gets significantly colder than this temperature their first reaction is to curl as a sign of stress.

If the snake plant is exposed to severe cold then it develops white mushy areas on the leaves from 1-4 weeks after they were in the cold.

The only time I’ve seen this is when a snake plant is on a window sill and the leaves are in contact with a frosty window, as they are usually very at home at room temperature.

How to Save a Snake Plant with Curling Leaves?

For drought-stress snake plants with curling leaves:

  • Place the snake plant in a basin of water for 10 minutes. If the snake plant soil is repelling water off the surface, then I always submerge the root ball for 10 minutes, allowing the snake plant roots to draw up much-needed water.
  • Always water with a generous soak. Watering too lightly only moistens the top inch or so of the soil and the moisture does not infiltrate and reach the roots. I advise watering with a good amount so that excess water trickles out of the drainage holes in the base. This is a good way to tell if you have watered with a sufficient amount of water to keep the plant healthy.
  • If water is running off the surface of your snake plant and the soil underneath the surface feels dry then replace the soil. Snake plants should be planted in a special succulent and cacti soil that mimics the well-draining, porous soils of the snake plant’s native environment. The succulent and cacti soil ensures that water can infiltrate properly and does not bake hard like some potting mixes even if it is dry.

Whenever I have treated drought-stressed snake plants with the proper watering practices and an initial 10-minute soak in water, the snake plant shows signs of recovery in around a week.

The first thing you should notice is that the curled-in leaves can start to store water again and restore to a plump full texture rather than a dying appearance.

Reviving Cold-Damaged Snake Plants

If your snake plant has been exposed to temperatures slightly lower than 50°F (10°C) then it can recover from its curled in appearance once it is located in a room that is consistently warmer than 50°F (10°C).

However, if your snake plant has areas of white that have a mushy feel to them then these leaves are not likely to recover.

I would just Cut the damaged leaf blades back down to the soil with a sterile pair of pruners to prevent the damage from spreading.

Snake Plants With Brown Spots

Remember we talked about how snake plants grow in the wild? snake plants grow in hot, sunny climates but in shaded areas often under tree canopies.

Snake plants can adapt to full sun in some cases but prefer bright indirect light and can even survive in considerable shade.

(Shade can slow down the growth of snake plants. Read my article for why a snake plant is not growing and how to solve it).

Whenever I see a sunburnt snake plant it is always because it has been moved from shade to a much sunnier area with any time to acclimate to the higher intensity of the sun.

If the snake plant is moved from an area of shade to any direct sunlight then it can burn with brown spots on the leaves.

Like with all succulents, the sunburn parts of the leaf do not recover in appearance but they also do not kill the snake plant and I’ve had snake plants live for a long time despite sunburn to its leaves.

However, it can be a good idea to cut the damaged leaf blade back to the soil to encourage more growth of healthy leaves.

I have occasionally seen snake plants turn brown due to physical damage from falling over.

Top Tip: Pots with a larger base prevent the snake plant from falling over as it can get very top-heavy. Snake plants can suffer bruising if they topple over.

(For all the best care tips read my article: Complete Guide to Snake Plant Care: Growing Snake Plants Indoors).

Do you have any more questions about snake plants? If so, you can leave a comment below!!

Key Takeaways:

  • A dying snake plant is often caused by overwatering and damp soils, which cause the leaves to turn yellow or brown and droop. Temperatures lower than 50°F can also cause cold stress and result in a dying snake plant.
  • If the leaves curl, this can indicate cold stress if they are exposed to low temperatures or drought stress, as the leaves store water.
  • Brown spots on the leaves if often a sign of sunburn. Snake plants prefer bright indirect light and can develop brown spots in direct sunlight.
  • To revive a dying snake plant mimic the conditions of its native range with infrequent watering, indirect light, and maintain a warm temperature to prevent cold stress. If the snake plant is dying take cuttings of leaves from healthy tissue for propagation.

One thought on “How to Revive a Dying Snake Plant

  1. I have a Snake plant that has very droopy leaves. They aren’t turning yellow, they don’t have brown spots, they are just droopy. It has been like this for about 1 year. I’ve had to put a tomato cage into the pot to support most the leaves. Some (about 1/2 a dozen are standing tall, the rest are droopy, but it’s still putting forth young shoots. I don’t know what to do for it. I am considering repotting it soon and it had been repotted some years before. I’ve had it for quite a number of years and it grown quite well. I received this plant from my mother, who has since passed, and am hoping that it will survive.
    Thank you

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