How to Save a Snake Plant with Yellow Leaves


Why is my snake plant turning yellow

The reason for snake plant leaves turning yellow is usually because they are scorched by too much direct sunlight. Snake plants have sensitive leaves that are adapted to grow in the shade or filtered light, rather then full sun, which causes the leaves to turn yellow.

Most common reasons for snake plant leaves turning yellow:

  1. Sun burn scorches the leaves yellow. (Snake plants grow in the shade and their leaves are sensitive to direct sunlight).
  2. Overwatering causing root rot. (Snake plants need the soil to dry before watering again).
  3. Slow draining soils causing root rot. (Snake plants need gritty, well draining potting soil and often suffer root rot in unamended potting soil).
  4. Underwatering turns snake plant leaves yellow and wrinkled. (Snake plants store moisture in their leaves. Yellow, wrinkled leaves indicate the snake plant is underwatered).
  5. Temperatures cooler then 50°F cause the leaves to turn yellow at the base. Snake plant are native to hot climates and prefer a temperature range of between 65 and 80°F (18°C to 27°C).
  6. Older leaves nearer the base turn yellow as the plant matures.

The oldest leaves of the snake plant often turn yellow and die back as the plant matures. Snake plants redirect their energy to growing the younger larger, leaves that are in the brightest light. Older leaves can become shaded, turn yellow and die back.

This does not indicate that there is necessarily anything wrong with your snake plant as this is a natural part of the plants cycle as it matures.

Keep reading for how to implement the solutions to save your yellowing snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)…

Snake Plant Turning Yellow (Sun Burn)

Snake plants are native to the African countries of Nigeria across to Tanzania, where they have adapted to grow in the shade under a forest canopy protected from direct sunshine from foliage overhead, therefore their leaves tend to scorch yellow when they are in too much sun.

If they are turning yellow due to sun burn the leaves often feel firm rather then mushy, but perhaps thinner then they were as they snake plant draws upon the moisture reserves in the leaves to cope with the increase in light and heat. (Snake plants with yellow leaves due root rot are usually mushy).

The leaves that receive the most sun exposure are the leaves that are more severely scorched yellow, whereas the leaves that are shaded and not facing the sun directly are less severely affected and may retain their usual color.

Snake plants are a adaptable, hardy species of succulent that can tolerate full shade (although this can cause the snake plant to stop growing) or bright light with some filtered light or even some direct sun.

However it can take time for the leaves to adjust to any increase in light intensity. Snake plants often turn yellow when they are moved from a location of relative shade to a much brighter, sunny location as the contrast in conditions causes them to scorch a pale yellow.

This can often happen after the snake plant has been bought, from the store or garden center, where they grown in a shady area then when the are brought into they house, the snake plant’s sensitive leaves immediately have to contend with strong sunshine, if they are on a sunny window sill.

How to Save a Snake Plant with Yellow Leaves due to Sun Burn

To save a snake plant with yellow leaves, move the plant to a shadier are of the house. Any location with bright indirect light is optimal for the recovering snake plant.

The individual yellow, scorched leaves typically do not recover their appearance once they have been scorched.

If they are severely scorched yellow the leaves do not turn green again and they cannot photosynthesis and provide the snake plant with energy.

However as long as the snake plant is kept out of direct sunlight, then the yellow leaves do not necessarily harm the plant and, as long as they are enough leaves remaining, the snake plant can continue to grow, although after such a stressful event the snake plant often takes some time to recover before directing its resources to growing more leaves.

Continue caring for the snake plant as usual, with a good watering schedule and when the snake plant shows signs of new growth, (usually in the Spring or Summer) then you can cut any scorched leaves back to the base of the plant with a sharp pair of pruners.

When the snake plant starts new growth, it is much more resilient to pruning and it is a good sign that the conditions are more favorable for the snake plant to recover.

Pruning tidies up the appearance of the plant, stimulates new growth and removes the scorched leaves so that the snake plant can prioritize the growth or new, healthy green leaves.

It is worth noting that snake plants in very shaded areas often stop growing (Read my article, why is my snake plant not growing?)

Snake Plant Leaves Turning Yellow (and Brown), Mushy and Droopy due to Overwatering

Overwatered snake plant leaves that turned yellow and brown with a mushy texture.
Overwatered snake plant leaves that turned yellow and brown with a mushy texture.

Snake plant leaves turn yellow if there is too much moisture around their roots due to overwatering and slow draining soils. Snake plants are drought resistant and prefer the potting soil to dry out between each watering. If the snake plant is in consistently damp soil, the leaves turn yellow due to root rot.

Snake plants grow in hot and dry climates with somewhat infrequent rainfall and in gritty, well draining soils that do not retain much moisture in tropical Africa.

Watering a snake plant too often or planting it in normal, unamended potting soil, promotes the conditions for root rot which turns the leaves yellow, often with a mushy texture and drooping appearance.

The roots of the snake plant need a porous soil structure that allows space for oxygen around the roots so that the roots can respire. Too much water in the soil excludes oxygen which prevents root respiration and interferes with the roots ability to draw up nutrients and moisture which is why the leaves turn yellow with a drooping appearance.

Therefore to grow a healthy snake plant and prevent it turning yellow, it is important to mimics some of the conditions of its native environment by watering it only when the soil is dry and planting it in a well draining soil mix that emulates its natural soil conditions.

How to Save Snake Plants With Yellow, Drooping Leaves

  • Reduce how often you water the snake plant, so that the soil dries out completely between each bout of watering. This style of watering emulates the typical -deluge of rainfall, followed by drought- conditions of the snake plants native environment, to prevent root rot and avoid yellowing leaves.
  • Repot snake plants in a well draining ‘succulent and cacti’ potting mix to improve drainage. Specially amended, ‘succulent and cacti’ soil drains much quicker and has a gritty mix then normal potting soil, which allows from more oxygen in the soil, so that the roots can function effectively and transport nutrients to the leaves, reducing the risk of root rot.
  • Ensure the snake plant is planted in pots with drainage holes in the base and always empty, saucers, trays and decorative outer pots frequently to avoid excess water pooling around the roots. Clay, unglazed ceramic and terracotta pots are best for succulents such as snake plants as they are porous and dry out more evenly then then plastic or glazed ceramic pots which also reduces the risk of yellow leaves due to slow draining soils.

Once you have adjusted the watering schedule, to allow the soil to dry out more between each bout of watering, and replaced the potting soil, the snake plants roots can function properly and the plant can recover.

(Read my article, how to water snake plants).

If any leaves are getting progressively more yellow, mushy and drooping, then cut these leaves back to the base to prevent the rot from spreading.

If the snake plant’s root have been in damp soil for too long then the root rot may be too severe for the plant to recover.

However you can still take cuttings for any remaining healthy leaves to use for propagation. Snake plants, like all succulents are particularly easy to propagate and you can grow a new healthy, disease free plant for free.

Watch this helpful YouTube video for how to propagate snake plants…

Should I cut Back Yellow Snake Plant Leaves?

If the snake plants leaves are turning yellow and feel mushy, due to overwatering or slow draining soils then cut these leaves back to the base of the plant with a sharp pair of pruners to prevent the rot from spreading. Removing yellow snake plant leaves helps to promote new growth.

Yellow sun burned leaves should also be cut back as they do not turn green again.

Snake Plant Leaves Turning Yellow, Wrinkled and Crispy

Snake plant leaves turn yellow and wrinkled because of underwatering. Snake plants store moisture in their leaves which keeps them plump. If the snake plant is underwatered, the snake plant draws upon the moisture reserves in the leaves causing them to turn yellow and wrinkled.

Snake plants, like all succulents have adapted to living in hot and dry climates by storing water in their thick fleshy leaves during times of rainfall, and drawing on these moisture reserves to survive extended periods of drought.

If the snake plant has been chronically underwatered then it draws upon all its moisture reserves which turns the leaves from a smooth texture to a wrinkled appearance with some yellowing of the leaf.

This can eventually result in the leaf turning crispy as an extreme reaction to drought stress.

The advice that ‘succulents such as snake plants do not need much watering’ is misinterpreted to mean that snake plants only require a small quantity of water, and only occasionally need watering.

Whilst snake plants only occasionally need watering they have adapted to thriving in a deluge of rainfall followed by drought cycle of moisture.

Therefore snake plants need a good soaking when you do water them. The water is then drawn up from the soil and stored in the leaves, which gives them a thick, plump appearance and the soil can then dry out between each watering.

How to Save a Snake Plant with Yellow, Wrinkled Leaves

  • Submerge the snake plant’s root ball in a basin of water for 10 minutes. If the soil has been dry for too long it can bake hard and repel water. Placing the snake plant in water ensures the soil has a chance to properly absorb the water so that it reaches the roots where it is required.
  • Always water snake plants thoroughly, so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot. This mimics the soak and dry cycle of watering in their native environment and ensures that the water has infiltrated the soil and reached the roots where it is required.
  • Always wait for the soil to dry before watering again. Feel the soil at the top and the base of the pot through the drainage holes, to detect at what rate, the potting soil dries out. When the soil feels dry, give the snake plant a good soak.

Once the potting soil has been watered thoroughly, the roots can access the water they need and the snake plants wrinkled, yellow leaves should restore their appearance.

Ensure that the snake plant is in the shade, as sunburn can also cause the leaves to turn crispy.

Snake Plant Turning Yellow at The Bottom

Snake plants turn yellow at the base because of slow draining soils, overwatering and cold temperatures. Snake plants need the soil to dry out between bouts of watering and temperatures above 50°F. Snake plant leaves turning yellow at the base indicate stress from cold temperatures and damp soil.

Snake plants grow in hot and dry tropical climates and prefer temperatures between 65 and 80°F.

The stress of cold temperatures can be responsible for the leaves turning yellow and mushy at the base of the snake plant, but usually cooler temperatures causes the potting soil to dry out too slowly after watering which can result in root rot.

Therefore it is important to find a room in your house that stays between 65 and 80°F (18°C to 27°c) and wait until the soil has dried out completely before watering again.

If the leaves continue to turn yellow at the base or even black and start to droop then I recommend taking cuttings from any healthy remaining leaves for propagation to save the plant.

However if the older leaves nearer the base are dying, this is usually because the plant is directing its resources to growing the younger, larger leaves that are in brighter light.

(Read my article, how to revive a dying snake plant).

Key Takeaways:

  • Yellow snake plant leaves can indicate the snake plant has root rot as a result of overwatering. If the roots rot, the snake plant cannot uptake water or nutrients which turns the leaves yellow and mushy with a drooping appearance.
  • Snake plant leaves also turn yellow due to sun burn. The snake plant has sensitive leaves that do not tolerate direct sunlight as they are adapted to living in shade. If the leaves are in too much sun, they scorched yellow and white.
  • Snake plant leaves turn wrinkled and yellow if they are severely underwatered. Snake plants should be watered with a generous soak, then allowed to dry out before watering again. If the snake plant is watered too light, then it depletes the moisture reserves in the leaves causing them to wrinkle and turn yellow.
  • Snake plant leaves turn yellow at the base due to cold temperatures, overwatering and slow draining soils. Temperatures cooler then 50°F (10°C) and overwatering promote the conditions for root rot which turns the leaves yellow at the base.
  • Snake plant leaves can also turn yellow at the base as the plant matures. As the plant grows, it redirects its energy to growing the younger leaves that receive more light and the leaves at the base can become shaded which causes them to turn yellow.
  • To save a snake plant with yellow leaves, repot the snake plant in well draining, gritty potting soil, wait until the potting soil has dried out before watering and keep snake plants out of direct sunlight in a room between 65 and 80°F. Cut back any yellow mushy leaves back to the base.

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