How to Save a Snake Plant with Yellow Leaves

Why is my snake plant turning yellow

Snake plants are one of the first houseplants I recommend for beginner indoor gardeners as they are low maintenance, but one of the most common problems I see come up is that the leaves are beginning to turn yellow.

I have grown and propagated many snake plants in my job in a commercial greenhouse that supplies garden centers, and I have distilled all my knowledge in this article to help you understand why your snake plant leaves are yellowing and for the steps I take to save it…

Most often, I see snake plant leaves turning yellow 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 than full sun, which causes the leaves to turn yellow.

Here is a list of the other common reasons I encounter for snake plant leaves turning yellow:

  1. Sunburn scorches the leaves yellow. (Snake plants grow in the shade, and their leaves are sensitive to direct sunlight).
  2. Overwatering causes root rot. (Snake plants need the soil to dry before watering again).
  3. Slow-draining soils cause 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 than 50°F cause the leaves to turn yellow at the base. Snake plants 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.

I should warn you that 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.

I can assure you that this does not necessarily indicate that there is anything wrong with your snake plant, as this is a natural part of the plant’s cycle as it matures.

Keep reading for steps I take to diagnose the reason for yellowing leaves and how I save it (Dracaena trifasciata)…

Sun Burn can Scorch the Leaves Yellow

To understand how to save your snake plants, it is important to know how they grow in the wild so that we can emulate some of these conditions in our homes…

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.

When I have dealt with sun burnt leaves, they feel firm to the touch rather than mushy but perhaps thinner than they were as the 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 to root rot are usually mushy).

You can tell it’s sunburn if 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 an 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.

In my experience, 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.

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

How I Save it…

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

I can report that 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 I find the yellow leaves do not necessarily harm the plant, and as long as there are enough leaves remaining, the snake plant can continue to grow.

I would 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), I would recommend cutting any scorched leaves back to the base of the plant with a sharp pair of pruners.

When you see your snake plant starting 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 of 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?)

Why are My Snake Plant Leaves Turning Yellow (and Brown), Mushy, and Droopy? (Overwatering)

Overwatered snake plant leaves that turned yellow and brown with a mushy texture.
Here is a photo of my friend’s 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.

As I previously stated, 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.

If you are watering a snake plant too often or planting it in normal, unamended potting soil, then I’m afraid this promotes the conditions for root rot, which turns the leaves yellow, often with a mushy texture and drooping appearance.

The roots of your snake plant need a porous soil structure that allows space for oxygen around the roots so that they can respire. Too much water in the soil excludes oxygen, which prevents root respiration and interferes with the root’s 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 from turning yellow, it is important that you mimic 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 I Saved My Overwatered, Yellow Plant…

These are the exact steps that I took to save my overwatered, drooping, yellow-leafed snake plant.

  • I reduced how often I water the snake plant, so the soil dries out completely between each watering bout. This style of watering emulates the typical -deluge of rainfall, followed by drought- conditions of the snake plant’s native environment, to prevent root rot and avoid yellowing leaves.
  • I re-poted my 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 than normal potting soil, which allows more oxygen in the soil so that the roots can function effectively and transport nutrients to the leaves, reducing the risk of root rot.
  • I always ensure my snake plants are 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 my favorite pots for succulents such as snake plants as they are porous and dry out more evenly than plastic or glazed ceramic pots, which also reduces the risk of yellow leaves due to slow-draining soils.

Once I adjusted the watering schedule to allow the soil to dry out more between each bout of watering, and replaced the potting soil, the snake plant’s 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 I cut these leaves back to the base to prevent the rot from spreading.

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

However, what I do in this scenario is take cuttings from 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 plant’s 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 sunburned leaves should also be cut back as they do not turn green again.

Why are My 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. (It’s a pretty cool survival strategy, don’t you think?)

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 make your leaves turn crispy as an extreme reaction to drought stress.

I find that 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, I can assure you they have adapted to thriving in a deluge of rainfall followed by a drought, a cycle of moisture.

Therefore, your snake plants need a good soaking when you 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 I Save it…

  • I submerge my snake plant’s root ball in a basin of water for 10 minutes. If the soil has been dry for too long, I find 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.
  • I always water snake plants thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot. I do this because it 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.
  • I always wait for the soil to dry before watering again. I 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, I 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.

Why is My 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.

I find the stress of cold temperatures can be responsible for the leaves turning yellow and mushy at the base of the snake plant. However, cooler temperatures usually cause the potting soil to dry out too slowly after watering, resulting 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 related articles:

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, turning the leaves yellow and mushy with a drooping appearance.
  • Snake plant leaves also turn yellow due to sunburn. 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 scorch yellow and white.
  • Snake plant leaves turn wrinkled and yellow if they are severely under-watered. Snake plants should be watered with a generous soak and then allowed to dry out before being watered again. If the snake plant is watered too lightly, it depletes the leaves’ moisture reserves, 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 than 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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