Popular for being low maintenance, the snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata) is an evergreen house plant loved by many.
Not only does it boast impressive dark green leaves that can give any room a tropical or jungle feel, but it also helps save the planet whilst doing so.
The snake plant is an air purifier, often used in offices to help circulate oxygen and clean harmful carbon dioxide out of the air.
It has even been said to have sleep-aiding benefits, as it gives off most of its oxygen at night.
But, what if your beloved snake plant looks like it might be dying?
Although hardy, these plants are also sensitive to changes in schedule.
Read on to diagnose what is wrong with your snake plant and find out how to fix it!
Why is my snake plant dying?
Overwatering is the main cause of snake plant death and can result in the roots of your plant becoming rotten. Other factors, like disease, insects, and fertilizer overdose can also damage your plant. It is important to ensure your plant is getting the proper care it needs to resolve these issues.
The most common causes of snake plant death
Brown spots on the leaves
If your snake plant has started to get unusual spotting or strange colored growths on its leaves then it is likely experiencing a form of fungal disease.
Your plant will start to become limp and lifeless as the fungi feed on all its stored energy and nutrients.
It could even end up with a moldy coating over the leaves as a result of this.
If left untreated it could lead to death, as your snake plant will no longer have any energy to thrive at all.
However, if the fungal disease is caught quickly, your snake plant can make a full recovery and thrive once again.
Chemical solutions for fungal diseases are sold in garden centers and nurseries.
Already prepared, fungi chemical solutions typically come in a bottle, which you use to spray over the infected leaves and stems.
Although this solution is is quite harsh, it is often seen as a quick fix.
If you would prefer to use a more natural and cheaper solution, I suggest purchasing some baking soda.
Sodium bicarbonate, which is the chemical name of Baking soda, contains anti-fungal properties that will dissolve the fungi.
It can be purchased at a low price from most supermarkets and stores.
Start by dissolving a teaspoonful of baking soda in some water. I would suggest 1 part baking soda to half a liter of water.
It needs to be diluted and not too thick, but still needs to be able to stick to the plant.
Next, fill a spray bottle with your solution and spray generously onto your infected leaves.
Be sure to spray just the leaves and try to avoid the soil.
Although useful for the leaves, spraying baking soda into the soil could strip it of nutrients, which will, in turn, make the recovery and regrowing process slower.
After the baking soda solution has dried, you can give the plant repeat sprays if it is suffering from a bad dose of fungal disease.
Over the next week, you should then start to see signs of recovery in your snake plant.
Fertilizer overdose is when your plant has been fertilized way too much, which means that it has become overloaded with nutrients.
This can cause browning of the tips on the leaves, which become quite crispy and dry to touch.
It is easy to identify if too much fertilizer is the cause for this, and the process will happen quite suddenly after your snake plant’s last fertilization.
You should always fertilize your plant dependent on your environment.
The higher the amount of light that your snake plant is getting the more often it should be fertilized. If your snake plant is placed in a light and sunny location it should be fertilized every few months.
In a location where there isn’t a lot of sunlight, your snake plant should only be fertilized once a year.
The lower amount of light your snake plant is getting, the fewer nutrients it needs to use.
Fertilizing a snake plant when it is not needed leads to an overload of nutrients, which will cause your plant to become weak and more susceptible to both disease and death.
Mealybugs are the most common insects in snake plants.
They can be identified by looking almost like tiny pieces of white lint, usually found crowded around the center veins of the leaves.
Your plant may become withered by the insects, as they suck on the sap stored in the leaves.
Mealybugs are an insect that primarily affects tropical plants, but they can attack snake plants if they are placed in a moist or humid environment.
If you have identified mealybugs on your snake plant, the first course of action is to move it away from any other plants to prevent the infestation from spreading.
If there only seems to be a small number of bugs attacking your plant, it is possible to handpick them or simply wipe them off of the leaves.
However, if the infestation is larger, it is suggested that you purchase a houseplant pesticide or use a rubbing alcohol solution on the leaves.
These can either be applied by spraying them onto the leaves or gently wiping the infected areas.
In most cases, simply removing the bugs from your snake plant’s leaves should solve the infestation, but there is always a chance that your plant may be more infested than you realize.
It is suggested that if the mealybugs return after you have treated the leaves, you should think about repotting your plant entirely,
There is a chance that the bugs have already laid eggs in the soil, in which case simply removing them from the leaves would be a losing battle.
Scroll down to read further on repotting a dying snake plant.
Overwatering is one of the biggest killers of snake plants. You should think of your plant as similar to a drought hardy succulent such as a cactus.
The snake plant stores water in its leaves, meaning it needs to be watered well but very infrequently.
Consistent overwatering can lead to root rot, which is where fungus gets into the soil as a result of the roots being too moist.
The roots will then become mushy and brown, and they won’t be getting the oxygen or nutrients that are needed to survive.
As this progresses, it can lead to the leaves also becoming damaged. They may feel soft and weak to touch, before turning an offish brown color.
You should only water a snake plant when between 2-4 inches of the topsoil has completely dried out.
Don’t be tempted to water your plant again if the topsoil is still damp, even if it has been a while since it was last watered.
Be sure to listen to what your plant needs instead of going ahead and watering it prematurely.
Even in the midst of the summer, a snake plant can go up to a month without being watered.
If your snake plant has been affected by overwatering, it should be transplanted into a new pot with fresh soil.
After repotting, don’t water your snake plant again until you’re sure that the soil is completely dry.
Ensure that the pot you are using has a good amount of drainage holes, preferably with a drip tray underneath.
Top tip – Don’t let your snake plant sit in a watered-filled drip tray for any longer than 15 minutes. Pour out any excess water to prevent the roots from becoming water clogged.
How to save a dying snake plant
Repotting a dying plant is often the last resort. If all of the above-mentioned methods have failed, or you believe your snake plant is too far gone to benefit from them, then here is how to repot your plant.
If your snake plant is suffering from any sort of infection, you should always start the process of repotting far away from any of your other plants.
This is because you don’t want to risk spreading any infected soil to your other plants.
Many even use their bathtub as a place to repot their plant. This is especially handy if you’ll need to clean the roots.
Start by gently removing your snake plant from its current pot. Use room temperature water to thoroughly clean the roots.
This will minimize the chance of spreading any infection to the new soil.
Snake plants have quite hardy roots, so if you have to be a little rough with the roots when washing them there is no need to fret.
Next, you need to ensure that your snake plant’s new soil will have adequate draining. Use a mix of dry soil and horticultural gravel in a pot that has draining holes.
Create a space in the new soil that is big enough for the root ball of your snake plant. Place your snake plant in this hole and firmly pat the soil around the plant.
Place your snake plant in an area where there is lots of natural light, but avoid direct sunlight for at least a week whilst your plant is adjusting to its new soil.
Now all you have left is a waiting game. Be sure to only water your plant when needed, (the watering schedule for a snake plant is explained further in this article) and provide it with lots of bright yet indirect light.
If done properly, you should hopefully start to see an improvement and some recovery within the next few weeks.
Pruning dead leaves
If your dying snake plant has a lot of dead or brown leaves, it is suggested that you prune these off.
Even when leaves are dead and crisped up, they are still going to be harboring and using up your plant’s energy.
Prune the dead leaves using sterile pruning shears. Cut close to the plant’s stems as much as possible, but do not damage them in any way.
Be sure to wipe your shears in between cuts and after you have finished pruning your plant. This will minimize the risk of infection getting to any viable parts of your snake plant, or any other plant you might prune in the future.
Pruning dead leaves should hopefully result in more energy going towards the recovery of your plant.
Tips to prevent plant death
Fertilizer is the main lifesaver when it comes to preventing plant death.
However, as we have already mentioned, too much fertilizer can cause more of a hindrance than a help. It’s all about using the right schedule and listening to what your plant needs.
Fertilizing your snake plant during its growth seasons with a standard plant food will help improve its tolerance to disease, and should give it a better chance of survival if it is very unfortunate enough to encounter it.
Frequently Asked Questions about Dying Snake Plants
How long should it take my dying snake plant to recover?
It can take between a few weeks to a few months for a dying snake plant to recover. You could be lucky enough to see recovery signs after just a week, but this depends on how much damage your snake plant has experienced.
What is the lifespan of a snake plant?
The lifespan of a snake plant is roughly between 5 to 10 years. However, some have been known to live longer than 20 years if cared for and maintained properly.
Do snake plants need sunlight?
Snake plants need bright light but not the direct type of sunlight. They should preferably be placed near a window.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.