The snake plant is one of the most popular succulents to keep as a houseplant, thanks to its distinctly-shaped leaves and its low-maintenance care requirements.
Snake plants are often described as unkillable because they can survive the harshest conditions, and this makes them great starter plants for those who are just getting into succulents.
This plant has long, fleshy leaves that can absorb and store water for use in the event of drought. It is not really prone to many problems, but one fairly commonly-encountered issue is the shriveling of its leaves. This is a sign of stress caused by one or more environmental factors, and you will need to identify the cause in order to address and resolve the issue.
The most common causes of shriveled snake plant leaves are too much water, not enough water, incorrect fertilization, temperatures that are too high or too low, low humidity, poor water quality, and not enough light.
In this article, we will discuss each of these causes and how to fix them. So, if you are currently experiencing this problem and you wish to learn more, just keep reading.
Why are my snake plant’s leaves shriveling?
Too much water
The snake plant is a drought-tolerant succulent that is native to some of the driest places on earth. It has adapted to these desert-like conditions over thousands of years and therefore does not need to be watered as often as a regular plant.
And, for this same reason, the snake plant is also more prone than most to overwatering. Overwatering can come about from giving the plant too much water each time you water it, watering it more often than necessary, using a poorly-draining pot or potting mix, or not adjusting your watering habits to changes in the weather, season, or climate.
Overwatering leaves the soil perpetually soggy so that the roots are unable to effectively absorb oxygen and nutrients from the soil. Furthermore, because the water in the soil has nowhere to go, the plant will continue to absorb it until its cells become engorged and will literally burst. This will affect the integrity of the plant’s leaves: they will turn yellow or brown and will appear shriveled.
An even more serious consequence of overwatering is root rot. This is caused by prolonged exposure of the roots to waterlogged soil, to the point that they drown and die. The dead roots will start to rot and will become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens such as fungi and bacteria in the soil. These pathogens will make the rot more aggressive, and it will spread even faster to the rest of the plant. Before you know it, the entire plant will be consumed by rot and will no longer be salvageable.
If you think your snake plant has been overwatered, stop watering it immediately and move it to a sunnier spot with good air circulation. This will help the soil in the pot to dry out faster.
If you suspect root rot, you may need to unpot the plant to check. Wash off as much soil from the roots as you can, working gently because the roots will be fragile.
Inspect the roots for sections that have turned brown or black. These roots are rotten and will have to be removed. Use a sterile knife or pair of scissors to cut them off until only the healthy, white roots remain.
Lie the plant on a dry surface to allow the roots to air-dry for a few hours. Meanwhile, prepare a new pot by filling it with a well-draining potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil. Do not water the soil immediately; wait at least a week. Place the plant in a spot where it can get lots of bright light and good air circulation.
In order to prevent overwatering from happening again, try to develop better watering habits. Water your snake plant only when the soil in its pot is dry to the touch. If the soil is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
Not enough water
Like with most plants, it is usually the leaves of the snake plant that are the first to succumb to severe dehydration.
Your plant’s leaves will develop deep wrinkles as a sign of thirst if you do not water it as often as required. The length and depth of these lines will vary according to the severity of dehydration.
Taller leaves may shrivel and become floppy, droopy, and leggy in addition to wrinkling.
They may also appear lifeless, with brown tips and edges. This is usually not a big deal and can be fixed by watering the plant right away.
Dry potting soil, stunted growth, and dry edges are also signs of an underwatered snake plant.
Leaves that have been dehydrated for some time may become brittle, curl up, turn brown, or wilt. It is usually the lower leaves that show these telltale signs first.
Because of the lack of moisture, there will be no root rot if underwatering is the problem.
Because snake plants are so hardy, they will not require a huge amount of water to recover from dehydration. After a few days of proper watering, the leaves will start to unfurl, and the foliage will become more vibrant, upright, and blemish-free.
In general, it should suffice to water your snake plant once every two to four weeks. If the soil has compacted from dehydration, you will need to loosen it before watering the plant. At first, water fairly frequently, then gradually reduce the frequency until you reach the sweet spot.
The watering amount and frequency will differ from plant to plant, and will also depend on factors such as pot size, soil quality, and the local weather and season. During the hot summer months, for example, your plant will require more frequent watering.
Incorrect fertilizer application can cause your snake plant’s leaves to curl and dry out over time.
Snake plants, like most succulents, are self-sufficient and do not require fertilizer on a regular basis. Fertilizer should be applied only once every one to two months during the plant’s active growth period, which is the summer months.
However, keep an eye out for yellowing leaves, and if this occurs, use a houseplant fertilizer to supplement zinc, magnesium, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus as needed.
Excess fertilization, on the other hand, can result in leaf and root damage. Shriveled leaves, brown tips, and yellowing are the most common signs. The leaves may also appear to be burnt and curl inwards.
If you accidentally over-fertilize your snake plant, you can get rid of the excess by flushing the potting mix with a lot of water. Once the soil has dried out somewhat, repot the plant.
Even though the snake plant is native to places with hot climates, too much heat can still have plenty of negative effects on it.
If the plant is exposed to too much heat, it will lose moisture at a very rapid pace. Its leaves will start to shrivel, wilt and even fall off. They might also curl inward as a way of reducing the surface area that is exposed to the heat.
If you are keeping the plant outdoors and the temperature gets too high, bring it indoors where the temperature is more controlled. Also keep it away from radiators or heating vents, as the warmth from these can be just as harmful. Once the plant has been in a more temperature-controlled area for a few days, it should recover nicely and the leaves will start to unfurl and become plump again.
Try to maintain a temperature range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit at all times around your plant.
As much as the snake plant does not like extremely high temperatures, it also does quite poorly in the cold. It will struggle if the temperature around it drops any lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you leave the plant outdoors as the frost is about to start, its leaves can curl and shrivel from the cold and the drafts accompanying it.
If the temperatures get especially low, the water content inside the snake plant’s leaves may even freeze, which does not bode well for your plant.
If you suspect that your plant’s shriveled leaves are due to cold temperatures or drafts, move it indoors immediately. This is especially true if you live somewhere with cold winters.
Indoors, keep the plant away from air conditioners, because the cold air can dry it out. Also, make sure that it is not in the path of cold drafts entering through cracks of doors or windows.
As mentioned above, try to keep your plant somewhere with temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The snake plant does not particularly like high humidity, but it does need a certain level of humidity in order to thrive. The humidity inside your home can become significantly lower during winter, so you might need to take some extra measures to prevent your plant’s leaves from drying and shriveling during this time.
The ideal humidity level for the snake plant is around 40 percent. If the humidity in your home is lower than this, the plant’s leaves may curl and shrivel in response.
To help your plant, try misting it every once in a while. You can also place the plant in one of the more humid rooms in your houses, such as the bathroom or the kitchen. Or you can place the plant’s pot on top of a pebble tray filled with water so that as the water evaporates, it increases the humidity in the air around the plant.
Another option is to group the snake plant with other humidity-loving plants so that together they create a microclimate around themselves.
Finally, if you have the means, you can buy a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity level in the room where the plant is kept.
Maintaining the plant’s preferred humidity level will make its leaves more vibrant and lush.
Tap water sometimes contains too much chlorine, which can destroy the plant’s root system over time, and may cause root rot or ruin the quality of the potting soil. The snake plant will start to falter, and its leaves will become wrinkled from a lack of proper nutrients.
Softened tap water also contains salts that can accumulate in potted soil over time and ultimately cause issues for your snake plant. If you use tap water, you may also notice stunted growth in your plant, and it might not be as strong as it could be.
Tap water in cities, in particular, differs in quality from one city to the next. In fact, tap water in some cities can be significantly high in additive chlorine and low in general quality.
If you must use tap water, let it sit for at least 24 hours in an open container before using it to water your plants. This allows the chlorine and other salts to dissipate.
Ideally, you should use filtered water for your plants. Charcoal-filtered water is highly recommended, but you can also try fridge filters, filter pitchers, and faucet filters. Rainwater is also much better for your snake plant than tap water.
When watering, make sure that the water is at room temperature, regardless of the source. Water that is either too cold or too warm can shock the plant’s roots.
Not enough light
Most indoor lighting conditions are suitable for a snake plant. However, if the available light is insufficient, the plant’s leaves will show signs of shriveling, yellowing, and browning at the tips.
The snake plant, like any other plant, requires light to perform photosynthesis, which in turn provides the majority of the plant’s nutritional requirements. Thus, without light, the plant will not thrive and will begin to show signs such as shriveled leaves.
Place your snake plant close to a window so that it can get enough light to survive. If the only window available in your home lets in very harsh light, you can still place the plant next to it, but you may need to hang a sheer curtain over it to diffuse the light’s intensity.
If you live in an apartment with no windows, you can supplement natural light with artificial lighting, by means of a grow light.
The snake plant is one of the most popular succulents in the world because of its beautiful, sword-shaped leaves. What’s more, it is often described as unkillable, thanks to its ability to survive the harshest of environments.
This is a low-maintenance house plant that requires very little attention and cares in order to thrive and is therefore perfect for those who are only just starting their succulent collections.
One of the most common problems encountered by snake plant owners is when their plant’s leaves start to shrivel. This happens when the plant is stressed by an environmental factor that differs drastically from its preferred living conditions.
The most probable causes of shriveled snake plant leaves are too much water, not enough water, incorrect fertilization, temperatures that are too high or too low, low humidity, poor water quality, and not enough light.
Once you have correctly identified the cause of the problem, the solution will be easier to implement and the plant should be able to recover fully and quickly.
Image: istockphoto.com / MarkYes