Reasons for snake plant leaves turning yellow include overwatering, underwatering, too little or much light, or temperature. Also, the yellowing may occur due to overfeeding, nutritional deficiencies, pests, diseases, or being rootbound.
We considered snake plant yellow leaves caused by aging and plant shock as usual or expected. Also, we didn’t consider humidity as an actual cause due to their ability to tolerate low humidity. What makes you comfortable is ok for this succulent.
Last but not least, what we will learn here will apply to the various varieties and cultivars of snake plants (Dracaena trifasciata formerly, Sansevieria trifasciata), including bird’s nest snake plant.
- Snake plant care and growth requirements
- Reasons and solutions for Snake plants turning yellow
- 1. Watering or moisture issues
- a. Overwatering and snake plant yellow mushy leaves
- b. Underwatering
- What to do?
- 2. Light issues
- a. Too little light
- b. Too much light
- c. What to do
- 3. Extreme temperatures
- a. Chilly conditions and cold drafts
- b. Heat stress
- c. What to do
- 4. Overfeeding and nutritional deficiencies
- a. Nutritional deficiencies and snake plant yellow leaves
- b. Overfeeding and snake plant leaves turning yellow
- c. What to do
- 5. Pests
- a. Thrips
- b. Spider mites
- c. Mealybugs
- 6. Diseases
- a. Red leaf spot and treatment
- b. Southern blight
- 7. Pot bound or compacted roots
- Normal reasons for snake plant yellow leaves
- 1. Aging
- 2. Plant shock
- About snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
Snake plant care and growth requirements
We find it essential to give you snake plant care and growth needs. Why? Because from experience, yellowing or other issues like leaves curling or turning brown happens due to improper care or growth requirements.
|Easy or low maintenance
|USDA hardiness zone
|10 to 12
|55 to 90°F (12.8 to 32°C)
|Normal household humidity. They don’t need extra if you are comfortable.
|Bright, indirect light but can grow even in low light
|Slightly acidic to neutral (pH 5.5 to 7.5), well-drained, aerated, and rich potting mix.
|Allow the soil to dry in-between watering sessions or when dry halfway down.
|Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer for houseplants once or twice a year during the growing seasons.
|Pruning and grooming
|Chop any dead, dying, or diseased leaves at the soil line with a sterilized pruning knife. Also, in spring or summer, you can cut a few leaves to control size and growth.
|They require repotting after 2 to 3 years or when rootbound
|Leaf-cutting or by division
|Toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and other pets
Reasons and solutions for Snake plants turning yellow
Snake plant yellow leaves are a sign that either the plant isn’t making enough chlorophyll, a condition known as chlorosis, or something is causing chlorophyll degradation.
Environmental stress like temperature, light, and moisture can affect chlorophyll levels and thus causing yellowing. Also, pests, disease, overfeeding, lack of some nutrients, or being rootbound are possible causes.
Let us now look at each of these causes. We intend to give you common signs associated with each reason and what to do.
1. Watering or moisture issues
Water is essential in absorbing nutrients necessary for chlorophyll. Also, lack of water causes the decomposition of chlorophyll. Both these two will cause yellowing.
a. Overwatering and snake plant yellow mushy leaves
A soggy potting mix will deny roots the oxygen they need to absorb water and nutrients well. Also, if this condition continues for a long time, your plants will get root rot, worsening things and killing your plant.
Besides a constantly wet potting mix, your snake plant may have mushy yellow leaves. Also, the leaves may curl or have brownish spots or splotches,
Other signs include droopy leaves that feel soft (not dry like underwatered), a moldy, foul-smelling potting mix, a mushy stem base, and so on. Some of these signs are due to root rot.
A dry pulled away soil, and your snake plant leaves curling inward, drooping, yellowing, or having brown tips may indicate your Dracaena trifasciata is thirsty. Yes. These succulents are very forgiving when it comes to some neglect, but too much will affect their health.
Other signs are leaves becoming brittle, having dry edges, wrinkling, or scarring that improves with watering.
Without water, your plant cannot absorb the mineral, some vital for chlorophyll manufacture. Thus you may notice some yellowing or discoloration.
What to do?
Snake plants love a moist, not soggy, and you shouldn’t allow the potting mix to dry out completely for a long time.
We recommend watering your snake plant after the soil dries out entirely or most of it is dry. This may be after 1 to 2 weeks in the growing season. But exact time depends on the season, environmental conditions, soil mix, pot type, or size. In non-growing seasons, it may be after 1-2 months.
To know when to water your plant, insert the probe of your soil moisture meter (we use XLUX Soil Moisture Meter) and water if it reads three or less.
The other thing is ensuring optimum growing conditions, a well-draining potting mix, open drainage holes, and you have the right pot size. A huge one may cause overwatering, and if it is too small, your plants will dry quickly.
When watering, saturate the soil until excess water comes from drainage holes. Pour any water that collects on the saucer.
Last but not least, never follow a snake plant watering session. Instead, always feel to ensure the potting mix is dry at least half-down the pot.
i. Fixing an overwatered snake plant
If already overwatered, hold the watering and improve ventilation. Also, improve aeration (poke the soil with a stick), and don’t fertilize or squeeze water (damages roots) from the potting mix.
Check the roots to be sure if it has root rot or not. If it has black or brown mushy roots, repot your plant, discarding the current potting mix. Also, cut any brown or black roots using sterile pruning scissors.
In the case of an underwatered snake plant, you need to give it a thorough soak or drink. You can slowly and evenly saturate the soil from the top until water flows from drainage holes or go for bottom watering.
In bottom watering, you will sit your plant in a basin with 3 to 4 inches of water and let the soil absorb it for about 45 minutes. Feel with your finger if the top 2 to 3 inches are wet. If not, give some top watering.
Lastly, get a rough estimate on how often you water your snake plant and set a reminder to avoid neglect. But before watering, first, feel the soil with your finger.
2. Light issues
Light is necessary for the biosynthesis of chlorophyll in all flowering plants. But too much will degrade chlorophyll.
a. Too little light
Dracaena trifasciata don’t mind low light. But if too low, they make enough chlorophyll. Thus, the leaves will look pale and yellowing. Also, your plant will grow slowly and have smaller leaves. Why? It cannot make enough food too.
b. Too much light
Direct sunlight, especially the hot summer sun, may degrade chlorophyll, making leaves look bleached, washed out, whitish, pale, or yellowish. Also, the leaves may curl inward and have dry brown tips and edges since it promotes faster water loss.
c. What to do
Not much to do here. Just make sure your plant gets bright indirect light.
If your house is poorly lit, get grow lights. We use Relassy 15000Lux Sunlike Full Spectrum Grow Lamp because it has light in the range of bright indirect light, i.e., 10,000 to 20,000 lux.
An illuminance meter is a better way to ensure your plant gets enough light. We recommend Dr. meter LX1330B Digital Illuminance Light Meter. It is accurate, has a long battery life and is durable.
Outside, grow this plant under a shade. Also, you can have a greenhouse or a shade cloth.
Indoors, don’t place them too close to the window where they get direct sunlight. The south-facing window is notorious for allowing sunburn. Have blinds or put the plants away from the window. But a little morning sun on the east-facing window or late evening, if you have a west-facing window, is ok.
3. Extreme temperatures
Extreme temperatures are a possible reason for snake plant leaves turning yellow. How? You may ask. It is simple. They influence plant function, including chlorophyll formation, thus can cause yellowing when outside the optimum range.
a. Chilly conditions and cold drafts
Winter cold drafts or temperatures below 41°F (°C) will affect your plant normal plant functioning. If it goes to subzero, water in the plant will freeze, damaging the cells.
Signs will include leaves turning brown, black, or yellowish and looking faded. Also, at times a whole leaf may turn brown overnight.
b. Heat stress
Extremely high temperatures or heatwaves will promote faster water loss and may denature some proteins that hold chlorophyll. Thus, your plant leaves may curl, wilt or turn yellow. If you do nothing, they will begin drying up, turn brown and become crunchy.
c. What to do
Snake plants favor warm areas. Thus, maintain an optimum temperature of 55 to 90°F F (12.8 to 32°C) all the time.
Why not buy Govee Hygrometer Thermometer H5075 with Bluetooth and a smart app alert to easily monitor temperature and humidity? Otherwise, how will you know temperature even low or high?
Move your plants indoors when the temperature falls below 50°F (10°C), and avoid drafty areas in cold winters. These places include open windows, doors, and so on. You can also get cold frames.
In hot summers or during heat waves, take your plants to cooler places. Also, don’t put your plants near house heating system vents, radiators, fireplaces, or anything that emits heat.
Last but not least, avoid temperature sudden drops and spikes. They will stress your plant.
4. Overfeeding and nutritional deficiencies
Do you not feed your snake plant at all, or do you overdo it? Both these may result in snake plant leaves yellowing.
a. Nutritional deficiencies and snake plant yellow leaves
Lack of nutrients vital in the manufacture of chlorophyll and may cause snake plant yellow leaves or chlorosis. Here are some of these nutrients:
- Iron: It is essential for maintaining chloroplasts (cells that contain chlorophyll). Also, it participates in chlorophyll formation. If your plant doesn’t get enough, yellowing starts with younger leaves before going to older ones.
- Nitrogen: It is a part of the chlorophyll molecule. Thus, a deficiency will cause the yellowing of older leaves. And it starts from the margins and spreads inward to the center. Also, your plants will grow slowly.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is part of the chlorophyll molecule (the central atom). A deficiency will cause yellow patches or yellowing between veins. This will start from the center leaves go outward.
- Zinc: it helps in chlorophyll formation. If your plant doesn’t get enough, it will cause interveinal chlorosis starting with leaves near the base. Stunted growth is another sign.
- Manganese: It activates enzymes involved in chlorophyll formation. A lack will cause in-between veins yellowing on young leaves. Also, there will be slow growth and sunken tan spots on the yellowed areas.
- Molybdenum deficiency: When it is lacking, plants accumulate nitrates but fail to use them to make proteins. Thus, leaves will show signs similar to nitrogen deficiency – pale green to yellowish between veins and slow growth.
- Sulfur: A deficiency will affect protein manufacture, its structure, and the production of chlorophyll. Thus, leaves will turn yellow and have necrotic tips.
Besides the above that directly affect chlorophyll formation, other minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, etc., have roles too. These roles include nutrient and water transport. So, a lack will negatively affect your plant.
b. Overfeeding and snake plant leaves turning yellow
A deficiency will cause yellowing. Also, too much fertilizer will cause fertilizer burn, wilting, yellowing, etc., and you may see fertilizer deposits on soil crusts.
It occurs because too much feeding may alter soil pH, increase salt content or burn roots. All these will affect water and nutrient absorption.
c. What to do
These plants don’t need a lot of fertilizers. But how often to feed depends on the fertilizer you use.
Our favorite fertilizer is Succulents & Cactus Plant Food with a balanced formula. Feed it only once in 8-9 months, and it has magnesium, sulfur and other micronutrients.
However, you can use any other houseplant fertilizer for succulents like Miracle-Grow or Espoma Organic Cactus. Follow manufacturer recommendations.
If already overfed, leach or flush the soil. Alternatively, you can change it, i.e., repot your plant if it is during spring or summer.
Pests are another possible reason for snake plant leaves yellowing predominantly yellow spots. These sap-sucking bugs will drink plant juice, damage their tissues, and make leaves chlorotic. Common pests your plant have are:
These slender tiny yellow to black insects with narrow fringed wings leap or fly when disturbed.
- Signs: Silvery stippling, premature leaf drop, stunted growth, spots (greyish, brown, or yellowish spots), deformed leaves, and small black dots (feces).
- What to do: Blast them with water, use insecticidal soap, dormant oil sprays, or dust leaves with diatomaceous earth.
b. Spider mites
Spider mites appear as small, yellowish to pale oval-shaped moving bugs. With your naked eye, they will appear like small moving dots.
- Signs: Tiny light or spots or stippling, webbing, leaf yellowing or turning bronze, curling and leaf loss
- What to do: Use insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils sprays, or miticides. If you have a greenhouse, don’t use an insecticide because it will kill their natural enemies, i.e., those that prey on spider mites.
Mealybugs are soft-bodied pinkish or yellowish small insects covered with grey or white powdery or cottony wax.
- Signs: Honeydew, sooty mold, stunted growth, leaf yellowing, curling, and leaves falling.
- What to do: Wipe leaves with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol, use neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural spray oils.
Here are the specific pest control pests we recommend:
- Insecticidal soap: We have used Garden Safe Brand Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer. It will kill aphids, mealybugs, mites, thrips, whiteflies, scale insects, etc., by contact.
- Horticultural oils: With 2% mineral oil, Bonide (BND212)will offer protection against insects, spider mites and diseases like greasy spots, botrytis, rust, powdery mildew, etc.
- Neem oil: Buy Bonide BND022 with a ready-to-use formulation. We have had excellent results, and its 3-in-1 formulation helps control most of the above pests.
The other possible reason for snake plant yellow leaves diseases. Those known to cause chlorosis are:
a. Red leaf spot and treatment
This fungal disease will cause “lesions to be irregularly shaped, sunken, reddish-brown, and often have a chlorotic (yellow) border,” notes Unversity of Florida IFAS. To manage red leaf spot disease, keep your plant leaves dry and use a fungicide.
b. Southern blight
Southern blight is another fungal disease that presents itself as water-soaked spots or lesions near the soil line. The lesions will turn brownish and harden. Other signs to expect include stem roots, leaf yellowing, and wilting.
Like other fungal diseases, treatment is by fungicide. But you can also go for heat treatment, i.e., exposing rhizomes to temperatures of 122°F for 30 minutes (50°C).
7. Pot bound or compacted roots
If your snake plant leaves are yellowing and you see roots growing from drainage holes, your pot is pot bound. It means your houseplant has outgrown the current pot and cannot get enough water or nutrients. Compacted roots will do the same.
Other signs are leaves drooping, looking scorched, and stunted growth. Roots will be spiraling, curly, tangle, or growing around the pot in circles. In extreme cases, the root ball may damage or crack the pot.
What to do
If it is during spring or summer (the growing seasons), repot your plant immediately. If not, wait. When repotting, be careful and get rid of as much of the old potting mix as possible. Also, pick a pot that will accommodate your plant root ball. But don’t overdo it.
Normal reasons for snake plant yellow leaves
Not every case of yellowing should worry you. Some instances are usual, and you expect them. Such circumstances include the following:
Plant senescence or aging makes the lower, older leaves turn yellow, brown and then die. Why? The yellowing occurs due to chlorophyll degradation. Just use a sterilized gardening scissor to prune any dying, yellowing, or brown leaves.
2. Plant shock
New or relocated plants may have yellow leaves as they acclimate. Also, if you recently transplanted or repotted your snake plant, leaves may turn yellow.Your plant is trying to adjust and may not absorb water and nutrients as usual.
You may also see other signs like leaves curling, drooping, or looking burnt. Give it time. All will be well again.
About snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
Snake plant is a name for Dracaena trifasciata, formally Sansevieria trifasciata native to tropical parts of West Africa. Other common names are mother-in-law’s tongue, Saint George’s sword, or viper’s bowstring hemp.
This succulent is a member of the family Asparagaceae, and botanists move the genus Sansevieria to Dracaena.
The snake plant has adorable fleshy erect, flat, and stiff sword-like leaves with an alternating band of greenish shades running horizontally on the leaves. But some cultivars or varieties have variegated outer margins, mainly yellow or white.
Dracaena trifasciata leaves grow in rosettes or clusters, reach as high as 4 feet, and are about 2-4 inches wide. But you will get smaller cultivars.
The most popular cultivars are Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii, Moonshine, Cylindrica, Golden Hahnii, Futura Robusta, Hahnii Jade Pagoda, Black Gold, Black Coral, Craigii, and Futura Superba.
However, those are not the only ones. Others include Sansevieria trifasciata Bantel’s Sensation, Hahnii Green, Golden Flame, Hahnii Silver Marginata, Whitney, Black Robusta, and Black Jack.