The snake plant is one of the most popular houseplants in the world. These plants are easy to care for and to propagate, which makes them great starter plants for beginner plant owners.
Despite being relatively low-maintenance, snake plants can only tolerate so much when it comes to incorrect watering techniques. One of the biggest mistakes plant owners make with succulents is underwatering.
Underwatered snake plants have curling, brown and dried leaves, brittle leaves and roots, stunted growth, and the soil in their pot is usually very dry. Underwatering can be due to soil issues, water evaporating too quickly from the soil, or improper watering techniques.
In this article, we look further into the signs and symptoms of an underwatered snake plant, the causes of this problem, and how to remedy it. So, if you suspect your snake plant is underwatered, keep reading.
How can I tell if my snake plant is underwatered?
1. Browning, curling leaves
If the leaves on your snake plant are turning brown, this is not normal and is indicative of long periods of underwatering. The browner the leaf, the longer it has gone without adequate moisture.
Snake plant leaves, when healthy, will stand straight. If you see them curling while also turning brown, this is almost always due to underwatering.
2. Brown and drying leaf edges
When a snake plant is underwatered, the plant will prioritize the parts closest to its base, because this is what keeps the plant alive. The farther away the plant part is from the base, the less significant it is to the overall survival of the plant. Naturally, then, the tips and edges of the leaves will dry out because they will receive the least water. Because the water is not reaching the leaf tips, then essential nutrients also cannot reach those parts, further adding to their deterioration. As mentioned above, the browning from the tips of the leaves will eventually spread over the rest of the leaf the longer it is underwatered.
3. Falling leaves
An underwatered snake plant not only lacks water; it also lacks nutrients and minerals that keep it healthy. A healthy snake plant will have leaves that are tough and rigid, but an underwatered snake plant’s leaves will be dry and weak and, before long, they will fall off.
4. Wrinkled leaves
One of the first signs of underwatering in snake plants is wrinkling on the leaves. The wrinkles will appear as lines of varying lengths and depths along the surface of the leaves. When a snake plant is properly watered, its leaves will be taut and not be wrinkly at all.
Why is my snake plant underwatered?
Incorrect potting soil
If the soil in the pot is too dense or compact, this can lead to overwatering and succulent root rot , because the dense soil will hold onto moisture for longer than it should. This is ultimately a more dangerous problem for most plants than underwatering.
Meanwhile, if your plant is in soil that is too loose, this can lead to underwatering. When the soil is too loose, the water will drain out too quickly and the plant’s roots will be unable to absorb what they need to keep the plant healthy. The effects of this are not instant, so it may take you some time before you can correctly diagnose the cause of the plant’s problems.
Yes, it is great for the plant when you add components to the soil that promote good drainages, such as vermiculite, pumice, pebbles, coarse sand and gravel. These materials make the soil airy, porous and well-draining. However, it is important to know the right ratios for these ingredients, so that your potting mix, while well-draining, is still able to retain enough water to supply the plant with moisture until the next time you water it.
Water evaporates too quickly from the soil
Unfortunately, even if you are giving the plant enough water and using the correct soil mix, there are still several other factors that can cause the water in the soil to evaporate faster than you would like.
One example is if you keep the plant near a heating vent or an air conditioner, and the plant is exposed to warm and cold drafts regularly. These drafts will not only dry out the soil in the plant’s pot; they will also dry out the plant’s leaves. Try to keep the plant away from spots where they will get hit directly by these drafts. This includes areas near windows and doors that let in cold drafts through small cracks.
Improper watering techniques
The most probable reason your snake plant is underwatered is that you are not giving it enough water each time you water it, or if you are not watering it as frequently as it needs.
When you water your snake plant, make sure you have soaked all the soil in the pot. Keep pouring water until you can see excess water flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Learn to be aware of when you need to water your plant. Rather than following a set schedule, the best thing to do is touch the soil in the pot and, if the top two inches of soil are dry, water the plant. If the top two inches of soil are still damp, wait one or two days before checking the soil again.
You can also base your watering on the weight of the potted plant after it has just been watered, versus how much it weighs just before you need to water it. When the top two inches of the soil are dry, lift the potted plant and feel how heavy it is. Then water the plant thoroughly and wait 20 minutes to allow the excess water to drain out completely. After 20 minutes, lift the plant and make a mental note of how much heavier it has become. A plant that still has a significant amount of water in the soil will be noticeably heavier than a plant whose soil is dry. This technique can be difficult to master at first, but the more you do it over time, the easier it will become for you.
How can I save my underwatered snake plant?
If you happen to catch the symptoms of underwatering in its early stages, you will not have to do much to remedy it aside from watering it immediately. Soak the soil with water until excess water flows out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. The plant should perk up after a day or two and all you need to do then is make sure you do not forget to water it again.
However, if the plant has been underwatered for an extended period of time, you may need to take greater measures to rehabilitate it, as outlined below.
1. Remove all the affected foliage and roots
When the snake plant’s leaves have turned brown and dried out, they can no longer go back to their original green color. The best you can do is stop this browning and drying from spreading to the rest of the leaf. You could cut off the brown leaves to somewhat retain the plant’s aesthetic. Do not worry; the leaves will grow back no matter how much you trim them back, as long as the roots are healthy.
Use a sterilized knife or scissors to cut the leaf so that you do not accidentally infect the plant with pathogens.
2. Change the potting mix
As discussed above, one of the possible reasons your snake plant is underwatered is loose potting soil, so you will need to fix that as soon as possible to ensure that the plant gets as much water as it needs. Soil that is too loose will allow the water to almost completely bypass the soil and just drain out of the bottom of the pot. You can enrich your potting mix with coir, perlite or moss, but only until it makes up a third of the entire mix. If you add too much, the soil will become too loose and will result in underwatering.
Check the soil a few days after watering to see if it has retained a little moisture and has not completely dried out.
3. Choose an appropriate spot for the plant
Place the plant in an area where it can get some sun and some shade throughout the day. These plants are succulents so they do a lot better than most plants with lots of light. If you are keeping the plant indoors, keep it away from air conditioners or heating vents so that it does not dry out from hot and cold drafts.
4. Adopt proper watering techniques
Follow a watering regimen that suits your plant. Remember that the amount of water and the frequency of watering will also depend on the climate where you live, the season of the year and the current weather conditions. Do not forget to factor these into your watering schedule.
Water the plant only when the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch, and water the plant in the mornings, so that the roots do not sit in cold soil overnight.
When watering, soak all of the soil in the pot so that all the roots get their fair share of water.
Snake plants are extremely popular houseplants the world over, thanks to how low-maintenance and resilient they are.
One of the easiest mistakes to make with these plants is underwatering them.
You will know your plant is underwatered if its leaves are turning brown, wilting, curling or falling off. You will also notice the roots becoming brittle, and the soil will be very dry.
Underwatering can be caused by incorrect potting soil, water evaporating too quickly from the soil, or improper watering techniques.
Save your underwatered plant by removing the affected foliage and roots, changing the potting mix, placing the plant in the most suitable spot, and adopting appropriate watering techniques.
Image: istockphoto.com / Akchamczuk