Snake Plant - Over Watered, Under Watered, or What?

Trevor11March 8, 2013

Hello GardenWeb forum!

I'd like to preface this post by apologizing if I wrote to too much. If you think you can get a good idea of what's wrong just by looking at the pictures, that's fine, but please let me know.



About 10-12 days ago, I watered my snake plant from the first time in a while I'm not sure how long. Maybe a couple months. My understanding is that snake plants don't need much water in the winter.

2-3 days later, so of the leaves on my plant were drooping down, yellowing, and I think there was a smell. After doing some googling, I determined that i must have over watered them, and so that night I decided to put a hair dryer on medium heat and low speed and I held it a couple feet from the soil and blew at it for a while, from a few different angles (horrible idea?). I also used some stuff to hold up the drooped leaves.

The next night, a realized that I hadn't really given my plant any natural light in a while, so I figured that was probably part of the problem, so I placed the plant near a window, and I also decided to do the hair dryer thing again.

A couple days later, it was looking worse, and one of the leaves had fallen over and was dying.

The next night (or possibly the same night) I cut off that leaf, as well as another one next to it that looked pretty hopeless. Both leaves were cut around an inch from the soil.

The next day I added a very small amount of 3/4 coffee and 1/4 water.

The next night, one of the big leaves had basically collapsed from the middle and the lower part of the leaf was kind of brown and crinkly-looking I read that when the plant falls over in this manner, it comes from UNDER watering (perhaps the hair dryer dried it too much?). I added a VERY small amount of water to he dirt around that leave, and put cardboard behind the leaf to hold it up.

This morning, the same thing happened with another big leaf on the opposite side of the pot, so I put a long metal thing behind it to hold it up.

At this point I think the problem might be under watering, but of course I am hesitant to water it because the opposite problem might be the case.

I took a few pictures. If anybody can take a look and tell me what might be the problem, I would be very grateful.




PS: The round brown object sitting on the soil is just an avocado pit that I was using to hold things up.

Here is a link that might be useful: PICTURES

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you go only by the odds, you're over-watering. Sans don't necessarily like to go completely dry before you water, but it's better to let them go that dry than it is to over-water.

Houseplants aren't difficult, especially Sans, but if you're going to grow ANY plant well, you first need to know how to keep the root system healthy. I'll leave a link below that will take you to a thread that, if you take it to heart, will help you avoid most of the pitfalls that commonly befall even gardeners with a considerable amount of time spent growing houseplants. I hope you find it useful.


Here is a link that might be useful: An overview, if you click me.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 5:02PM
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Ok, you need to put your finger in the soil - press it down about 2 inches and tell us if it's wet.

some of those leaves look basically dead. But, this type of plant - if there's good roots, you may be able to get them to grow back some new leaves.

you really need to test the soil. And, if it's really wet, and smelly - you need to do an immediate transplant - and try to salvage what roots/plant you can - and get them into some really good draining soil/mix.

But, first test ... stick a finger in and tell us how wet the soil is.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 5:08PM
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AsarumGreenPanda(z6 MA)

Hi Trevor11, and welcome to the forum. That's a pretty plant. You've already gotten great information. I just want to add two thoughts.

1, Googling is a great idea; it's important to be as informed as you can. Equally important, though is to be able to interpret the information you find online--to be able to relate it directly to your own plants. What I mean by that is, to tell whether a plant is too wet, you need to stick your finger (or a wooden dowel or chopstick) into the soil. I appreciated the information you gave us, and the photos, too, but I didn't read about you actually checking the soil to see how wet it was, before you added more water or dried the plant with a hair-dryer. Maybe you did that, and maybe you said you did and I missed it--sorry, if that's the case (been a long day here). I'm a hands-on person, but I think it's really important to check out information you find online, for yourself, in your own growing conditions.

2, I wonder if what you're seeing might be heat damage/burning of the leaves from the hair-dryer. I know you said you held it a few feet away, but... If you need to dry out a plant, you can take it out of its pot and wrap the ball of soil in newspaper. That's usually a less risky (and less labor-intensive!) way to go.

You might take the plant out of its pot and take a look at the roots. They can often tell you if the plant's been over-watered. After you do that, let us know what you find. It would also help to know what temperature you've kept the plant in. Is the window area colder? Is there a draft there?

I'm sure your research will pay off, as you continue to grow this plant and others.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 5:18PM
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AsarumGreenPanda(z6 MA)

Roseyd and I were posting at the same time. Great minds test soil alike, :)


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 5:20PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Hi Trevor & welcome to Gardenweb. It sounds like your plant probably did not need a drink yet, especially if it had not been getting any sunshine on it. I know you said there were more leaves, but that a Sans in that size of a pot just won't dry very quickly. The thing you said about these plants not requiring much water during winter is accurate.

None of the other stuff besides propping the leaves sound like good things to do to your plant. Your potential for improvement is vast, so I feel safe to say you will improve very much very quickly! I hope you will please disregard your previous source of plant care info.

There is a Sans forum, should you develop a deeper interest, but here you can absolutely get some better basic info than you've had before.

Please do not blow a hair dryer on any plant again. A much more mild type of fan, like a ceiling fan, or box fan on low, a few feet from your plant would also help.

If you feel like a plant has soggy roots in the future, sitting the pot on a stack of newspapers will help it to dry. If you are able to remove the root ball without all of the soil crumbling away, sitting the root ball directly on the newspaper would be the most expedient way to dry it. Tilting the pot toward a hole, if holes are at the rim, can also encourage excess water to drain after a rare watering when the soil has completely dried if the newspaper thing isn't do-able.

It is also good to put plants in the sink or bathtub when giving a drink, so the excess water can go completely away. If it's sitting in a drip tray, it's essentially in a little pond, not good. It looks like there's a filter of coffee grounds in the tray being used to contain drips (which would cause very strong coffee to be accessible to the plant roots, when moisture flows from one to the other.) Coffee can alter PH, among other things, and is not fertilizer, although sometimes applied to plants in extremely diluted concentrations, most would advise against it at all. Fertilizer is also not medicine, and should not be given to a sick plant.

Not all plants appreciate being in such close proximity with all metals, but I don't have further details to offer than that.

This plant may already be fatally injured, but they are extremely tough, and I hope yours recovers. If you leave it alone in a sunny spot for a while, time will tell. Sending good vibes to your plant!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 5:27PM
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I have stuck my finger in the dirt, but I wasn't really sure how to describe the moistness of it. I'm sorry I didn't mention this. I just stuck my finger in it after reading your posts and I would say the top is dry, and the next 2 or 3 centimeters in, it is slightly moist, but definitely not "wet". I didn't go any deeper than that, because it's a very tough angle to get my hand in without pushing on the plant. I can look for a popsicle stick or something to put in though.

I'm a little hesitant to take the plant out to take the plant out to see the roots, because I've adjusted the plant and taken it out many times and I don't want to bother it too much. But if you guys still think I should do that, I will.

As for the temperature near the window, I think it's about the same as the rest of the house - Possibly warmer because there is a heater right near there that we turn on a lot.

As for the tray beneath it, there is no water dripping out. There is actually no need for mother just put it there because she didn't want my plant sitting directly on her table. The coffee grounds are there because at one point I took a few pinches of coffee grounds and tried to mix it in with the soil (which I later found out was useless).

I will try to find something non-metal to hold that one leaf up.

I want to know if it would maybe be a good idea to just get rid of all the leaves EXCEPT for the pair in the front right corner of this picture:
since they look the most alive (even though they are small and thin and floppy) and it looks like they are sprouting 2 new leaves in between.

Am I doing any harm the plant by not cutting the leaves that are dying?

Tapla - I will read your guide.

If anyone asked any questions that I forgot to answer, please let me know! I apologize!

Thank you guys for all your help so far!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 6:59PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Trevor,

Nice plant, sorry you've had this trouble. My name is Karen & I'm a regular at the Sans. forum.

If this were my plant, I'd turn it out of the pot to assess the roots, that will tell a lot. The base of the plant is impossible to see this way, I'm concerned about rot coming from underneath there.

I'd be brave & unpot it & here's the basics: if smelly, it's rotting, if soft, mushy, it's rotting, if so, cut back to healthy tissue which is firm to the touch. Then sprinkle it w/ cinnamon & shake off the excess. If that's the case, I'd get fresh mix & a new pot & pot it up DRY, then don't water for a week.

If you find dry, brittle roots, they're dead & will crumble off in your fingers.

You may find these connected by a thick root, if that smells bad, there's still rot going on.

But the Great thing abt Sans is one can grow them anew from leaves. I'd hope they'd keep their stripe, they MAY not, but that's for another day.

I think this is the fastest, best way to salvage this plant.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 7:24PM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

Sansevieras are a wonderful group of plants. They grow very slowly. They are very drought tolerant. I have major issues with underwatering. I will second PirateGirl's idea about leaf cuttings. The bottom is rotted out and there is no saving that. As she said. Sanseviera's dont usually keep their variegation after being rooted via leaf cuttings. If you really value the variegation, than I would discard the plant and buy another one. They are generally really cheap to buy in my opinion. If you really value this specific plant, then leaf cuttings will give you a still gorgeousley handsome plant in my opinion. Do what you think is best

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:14PM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

how dud that photo get in my post

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:16PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I don't know, but it happened twice, Teen.
You can edit your post to remove the image.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 1:25PM
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Don't know how it got there, but it's a cute violet!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 4:37PM
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It looks like you overwatered the plant, which could be the reason why the leaves are yellowed and shriveled in places.

The use of the hairdryer (never a great idea) could have very easily burned the leaves and caused them to turn yellow. In your photos, I see some leaves are yellow at the base; these leaves are done for, I would cut them off and be done with it. They won't recover... If there are any leaves which are bright green and healthy, those will do just fine.

Using a finger to test the soil is a very good way to measure the dryness/wetness level of the plant. You mentioned trying this and that the soil was only slightly damp. Another test is to pick up the whole pot. If it's extremely heavy you may have overwatered. (Conversely, if it's very light it will need some water ASAP!) Always be sure your plant can drain off excess water and that it never sits in water for a prolonged period of time.

Checking the roots will help you assess the damage level of the root system. If it's stinky or mushy, it's rotting. cut away any roots that are brown and mushy. Roots that are yellow or white are healthy.

I would suggest letting the plant dry out before watering again. Also I might add that the heater nearby could be drying out the plant prematurely, causing it to need more water more often. Be sure the window it is near is not too cold; this can cause yellowing of leaves too. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 4:54PM
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I have dug the plants out of the soil. I say "plants" because they are actually not all connected by one root. They used to be, but eventually one side split apart.
Anyway, I would say the soil is NOT's pretty dry. And the roots didn't smell, and they weren't soft. They seemed dry..they were not crumbly but they looked maybe a bit brittle.

I picked up the pair in the front right of the picture: plant - Pictures from this morning/y_zps984f0e63.jpg
which is connected to the one in the back right, and I disconnected them at the root, since the one in the back seemed dead. Also, out of stress, I impulsively cut off the longer leaf (which, without the support of the pot, was completely flopped over from the bottom), and immediately regretted it.

I took what was left over connected to the root and sprinkled cinnamon on it and shook/blew the excess off, and planted it in a small cup. (using the same soil, taken from the bottom of the pot).

I will take a picture of it with my mother's camera when she comes home.

If you guys don't think think there is much hope for what I have planted in the cup, any advice on planting cuttings from my thicker leaves would be appreciated. (However, I would prefer not to do that if I don't have to)


    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 5:34PM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

It wasnt moist?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!
thats unusual!!!!??????
Thanks eahamel for the compliment on my variegated AV

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 8:49PM
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