The snake plant (Sansevieria) is a hardy low maintenance houseplant. Tolerant of a range of conditions and even a little neglect, the snake plant is one of the easiest plants to care for. However snake plant problems are all too common. Being able to quickly identify any problems helps you to solve the issue quickly, before it becomes too serious and affects the overall health of the plant.
The following are some of the most common snake plant problems. As well as helping you to identify the issues, we will also explain how to solve or prevent them. The solutions provided below are suitable for all types of snake plant.
1 Leaves Drooping or Bending
The snake plant is identified by its strong, upright shape. This makes it all the more frustrating when problems such as leaves dropping or falling over start to develop.
Flopping foliage can be a sign of a number of different problems. The most common issue that it is indicative of is overwatering.
Thick Sansevieria leaves, like succulents, are able to store water. This helps your snake plant to tolerate neglect. It also means that your Sansevieria can survive a few weeks without watering.
Overwatering or watering while the leaves are still full of water, can cause root rot. Sansevieria roots dislike sitting in wet soil for prolonged periods of time. After a while they start to degrade or rot.
Damaged roots struggle to harvest and send moisture and nutrients to the steam and leaves. This can cause the leaves to struggle and droop.
Sansevieria leaves should be strong and upright.
Giving your Sansevieria too little water causes the leaves to wilt. Water fills the leaf cells helping to keep the foliage strong and upright. If water isn’t present the leaves start to thin out and fall over.
Adjust your watering schedule. Aim to water when the soil has dried out for several days. While both over and underwatering can cause problems, Sansevierias are more tolerant of underwatering than overwatering.
Heat stress can also cause leaves to droop. While the snake plant tolerates full sun, too much light can cause problems.
Allowing your Sansevieria to spend the entire day in bright hot sun can do more harm than good. Moving the Sansevieria slightly back from the window, so that it enjoys more indirect light quickly amends the issue.
2 Narrow and Stretched Foliage
Light is vital for photosynthesis to occur. If your snake plant is unable to photosynthesise it struggles and, ultimately, may die. However, too much light can cause more harm than good.
Like other outdoor and houseplants, your Sansevieria does anything that it can to get enough light. This is particularly true of succulents and succulent-like specimens. These require more sunlight than specimens with thinner leaves.
Foliage can stretch as it reaches up to the light.
If your snake plant doesn’t get enough light its leaves stretch and strain towards the nearest light source. This is known as etiolation and can cause leaves to become overly long, thin or narrow. Not only is this visually unappealing, it is also bad for your Sansevieria.
Luckily, the solution is simple. Give your Sansevieria more light. Placing near a bright indirect window is a quick fix. A little direct light a day also helps. If you can’t find anywhere with enough natural light, artificial light sources such as grow lights can be used.
While increasing light levels solves the issues, long thin leaves can’t easily shrink back to a more pleasing shape. If your Sansevieria is too lanky, wait for it to produce new shoots and repot them.
You can also propagate a new Sansevieria by taking cuttings from the healthiest leaves. If you have never done this before, our guide to propagating a snake plant takes you through the process.
3 Soft or Mushy Foliage
A healthy Sansevieria leaf feels thick and firm. Soft mushy leaves are not only undesirable, they can also be a sign of a more serious underlying issue.
Soft or mushy foliage is usually caused by overwatering. Just like overwatering causes roots to turn mushy and rot, leaves can also soften when they take on too much moisture. Overwatering causes the inside of the leaf to disintegrate.
A poorly draining pot or heavy potting soil can cause this issue if you are, otherwise, correctly watering.
Succulents and succulent-like specimens struggle if they are allowed to sit in water.
If you suspect the pot or potting soil is to blame,lift the Sansevieria and replant in a porous pot. Our guide to the best succulent pots explains what sort of material your chosen container should be made from.
Before replanting, trim away any rotten roots and cut back the damaged leaves. Once your Sansevieria has settled in its new position, fresh, healthy growth should emerge.
Another, albeit unlikely, cause of soft foliage can be humidity. Placing your Sansevieria next to a humidifier or in a bathroom may expose it to high humidity levels.
While unlikely, if high humidity levels are the cause of your snake plant problems, cut away the damaged leaves and more to a drier area. Your Sansevieria should soon recover.
4 Misshapen or Deformed Leaves
Deformed leaves are usually a sign of a pest infestation.
Small pests like mites and thrips can be difficult to spot. These like to sit on the foliage or hide in the soil taking the sap from your Sansevieria. Often, it is only when the damage becomes visible that you realize the foliage is infested. If infestations are allowed to continue for a long time, it can cause foliage to become misshapen.
When watering your Sansevieria, take the time to check for signs of pests or disease. If you notice any pests, isolate the affected Sansevieria from the rest of your houseplant collection. This prevents the infestation from spreading.
Check the foliage for signs of infestation. Source:
Apply homemade insecticidal soap or neem oil to the affected leaves. Horticultural oils can also be used. Mighty Mint Plant Protection Spray is effective and safe to use indoors. Large or persistent infections may require repeated treatments.
Fungal diseases can also cause the leaves to become deformed. Fungal problems are one of the most serious snake plant problems. They are typically more difficult to solve than pest infestations.
If the problem is not that severe or you have caught it early enough, cut away the affected sections and apply an organic fungicide to the remaining leaves. Earth’s Ally 3-in-1 Plant Spray is safe to use indoors and around pets and people.
If the disease is too widespread you may have to destroy the Sansevieria before the problem spreads to other specimens in your collection. Healthy sections can be propagated to grow on as a new Sansevieria.
In the worst case scenario you may have to propagate a new Sansevieria.
5 Brown Spots or Tip
One of the most common snake plant problems, it is also one of the most worrying. Leaf browning can have several causes.
The first cause of brown spots appearing on Sansevieria foliage is physical damage. This is impossible to rectify. Leaves can be damaged by exposure to adverse weather or when transporting.
There is not much you can do about damaged leaves. Instead, wait until your Sansevieria is settled and actively growing before trimming away the affected leaves. New growth should quickly form and fill in the gaps.
The weather, in particular exposure to temperature extremes, can also cause brown spots or tips on foliage. Cold weather exposure freezes the cells of plants, killing them as they thaw. In cases of cold weather browning, the leaves won’t return to their usual green color.
Too much heat can burn the tips. This is particularly common if you have just moved your Sansevieria to a sunnier spot. Try to avoid placing your Sansevieria directly in the afternoon sun. At this stage of the day the sun is at its most intense and leaf burning or scorching is common.
Nutrient issues can cause brown patches to form on leaves and tips. Too much fertilizer can burn the roots which leads to brown tips forming. When fertilizing your Sansevieria, always follow the instructions on the packet.
Tap water can also cause nutrient related snake plant problems to develop. This is because tap water can contain chemicals that are potentially harmful. Allow the water to stand for a few hours before using. This gives the chemicals time to dissipate. You can also harvest rainwater to use on your houseplants.
6 Yellow Leaves
Unexpected changes in foliage color is not a problem that is exclusive to the Sansevieria. Yellowing leaves can be a sign of overwatering. This is one of the most serious snake plant problems.
As we have already noted, roots that are allowed to sit in wet soil can struggle to send nutrients to the rest of the plant. This can cause a number of issues including yellowing leaves.
A soil moisture sensor can help if you struggle to know when to water. Placing your finger in the soil to test how dry it is before watering also works.
Allow the soil to almost completely dry out before you water your Sansevieria.
Underwatering or an inconsistent watering routine can also impact on your Sansevierias ability to harvest nutrients. It can take some trial and error to get the watering routine right but once you have it sorted most snake plant problems resolve themselves.
Pest infestations can also cause leaves to yellow. Upon closer inspection, other signs of infestation such as leaf deformation or brown spots, should also be visible.
Trim away affected leaves and remove the pests. Once the infestation is treated the snake plant should soon recover.
7 Wrinkled Leaves
A Sansevieria leaf should be shiny, healthy-looking and rich in color. Wrinkled or dull leaves can be an early sign of some serious snake plant problems.
Healthy leaves are rich in color.
One of the most common causes of wrinkled leaves is temperature problems. Exposure to warm weather, particularly for several days in a row, can cause heat stress.
Too much warmth and heat stress can cause the foliage to wrinkle. Mulching the soil or watering more frequently can help to keep your Sansevieria cool.
During hot spells soil dries out more quickly meaning that you will probably need to water your Sansevieria more frequently.
Wrinkled leaves may also be a sign of underwatering. While the snake plant likes some neglect, too little water can cause problems. Allowing the cells to dry out shrinks the leaves, causing them to wrinkle.
Exposure to too much light can also cause problems with the appearance of the foliage.
If you have recently purchased the snake plant, problems with wrinkling foliage can be a sign of stress. Despite its resilience, Sansevieria can struggle when its environment changes.
Moving your Sansevieria around too much can cause problems such as shock to develop. Once settled in its new position the problems should resolve themselves and your Sansevieria returns to normal.
8 Curling or Twisting Leaves
Most varieties of snake plant produce wide, flat leaves. If the leaves start to curl or twist it is usually a sign of underwatering.
Curling inwards helps the leaves to retain moisture. Leaves that don’t get enough water for an extended period of time can lose their upright shape. Wrinkling or bending leaves are also a sign of underwatering.
Pest infestations, particularly thrip infestations, can cause the leaves to curl. Leaf curl is often the first sign of infestation. This is followed by other visible signs such as leaf deformation or browning.
Apply a horticultural oil to the leaves and wipe away the pests with a dry cloth. You can also use neem oil to treat infestations of pests. If you have never used neem oil on your Sansevieria before, our guide to using neem oil on plants explains how to most effectively use the product.
Over fertilizing your snake plant can also cause leaves to twist or curl. Sansevieria is not a heavy feeding houseplant. They rarely require more than one or two doses of a natural fertilizer during the entire growing season.
Too much fertilizer can damage the roots. This impacts on your Sansevieria’s ability to harvest moisture and nutrients and can lead to leaves curling, browning or developing hard edges. Fertilize only when absolutely necessary, following the instructions on the fertilizer packet.
9 Brown and Mushy Roots
When repotting your Sansevieria you may notice that the roots are brown or mushy. Do not ignore this issue. Unless you take steps to correct snake plant problems promptly your Sansevieria may die.
Brown and mushy roots are the result of either overwatering or disease.
Overwatering is one of the worst things you can do to your Sansevieria. Persistently overwatering can cause a range of serious snake plant problems to develop.
If you are unsure when to water, wait a few more days. While underwatering can cause snake plant problems they are less common and less severe than those caused by overwatering.
One easy way to work out when to water your houseplants is to get used to the weight of the pot. If you handle the pots regularly you start to notice that the pots are heavier after watering, when the soil is saturated. As the soil dries out, the pot lightens.
Disease can also cause the condition of the Sansevieria’s root to deteriorate. Fungal disease can inhabit the soil, attacking roots. This is particularly common during humid or wet weather. Although wet weather is unlikely to be a problem if you are growing indoors.
When potting and repotting, never use soil from the garden. Not only can it harbor disease it is also easily compacted, preventing excess water from draining away.
Cut away affected roots, leaving only healthy roots in place. Rinse off remaining soil and replant in a high quality well draining potting mixture such as Harris Premium Succulent and Cactus Potting Soil Mix.
10 Sansevieria Not Growing
One of the more difficult snake plant problems to spot, don’t worry if your Sansevieria doesn’t appear to grow over the course of a few days or a week. These are slow growing specimens. It can be several months or even a few years before you realize that your snake plant isn’t growing.
If, after a few months, you notice that your Sansevieria has suddenly stopped growing or isn’t growing as much as it has done in previous years it is time to consider potential problems.
The first potential cause is pot size. You need to repot your Sansevieria every 3 to 5 years. A Sansevieria sitting in a pot for too long can outgrow its position.
This means that the Sansevieria becomes too large for the pot and its root system has no room to spread or develop. This is known as being pot bound. Repotting into a bigger pot encourages the snake plant to start growing again.
A lack of sunlight can also cause your Sansevieria to stop growing. Without light, they can’t photosynthesize and stop growing. Moving your snake plant to a lighter spot should encourage it to start growing again.
Placing close to a bright window encourages growth.
A lack of growth can also be caused by poor soil, or a soil containing too few nutrients. Again this is usually resolved by repotting with fresh, succulent appropriate potting soil. A dose of balanced liquid fertilizer can also help to kick start growth.
Improper watering, too much sunlight, overfeeding, infestation, disease or stress can also cause growth to cease. When your Sansevieria is unhappy and stressed it focuses its energy on staying alive. This comes at the expense of growth.
The snake plant is one of the most resilient houseplants. Hardy and low maintenance makes them the perfect addition to a busy home. Tolerance of many conditions being able to identify snake plant problems as they occur enables you to quickly solve the issue.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.