While snake plants (Dracaena trifasciata) have a reputation of being almost impossible to kill, that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from their fair share of problems. If you notice your snake plant leaves are turning yellow, you’re not alone. We’re going to cover the causes of yellow leaves in snake plants as well as ways to improve this unsightly problem.
Snake Plant Leaves Turning Yellow – The Essentials
Snake plant leaves can turn yellow due to a variety of reasons. These include overwatering, exposure to cold temperatures, and excess fertilizer. Providing the proper snake plant environment and care will help correct yellowing leaves.
Common Reasons Your Snake Plant’s Leaves Are Turning Yellow
1) Lack of Water
While snake plants like their soil on the drier side, you’ll still need to water these plants regularly.
If you allow the soil to remain dry for more than a week or so, your plant will become stressed. Without enough water, it won’t be able to complete photosynthesis or move nutrients throughout its tissue properly.
To prevent yellowing from underwatering, water your snake plant when the top three to four inches of soil is dry.
While underwatering can cause yellow leaves, overwatering is a more common issue. Since snake plants like their soil on the dry side, you will only need to water your snake plant once every one to four weeks.
When you overwater, the soil stays moist. This moist soil can cause a type of fungal disease known as root rot.
When a snake plant develops this disease, its root will become soft and discolored. Additionally, the roots will not properly take up water and nutrients. This may lead to yellowing leaves.
Since root rot develops in moist soils, you must avoid overwatering. Only water when the top few inches of soil is dry.
3) Lack of Nutrients
While snake plants aren’t heavy feeders, they still require nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. While your potting soil may have some nutrients, you’ll need to apply fertilizer to keep your snake plant healthy.
A balanced houseplant fertilizer is the best option for your snake plant (you can also consider fertilizing snake plants with the likes of coffee grounds). Dilute the fertilizer following product instructions, then apply once in the early spring and again in the early summer.
Snake plant leaves may indeed turn yellow if they don’t have the nutrients they need. However, overfertilizing your plants can be just as dangerous!
When you fertilize, you want to pay attention to two things: the concentration of the fertilizer and the frequency you’re applying it.
If you’re using a liquid or granular fertilizer, you’ll want to dilute it following the product instructions. Never apply a more concentrated form!
You should also avoid applying fertilizer more than necessary. Snake plants only require two applications per year.
Either type of overfertilization can result in salt burn. This damage typically appears as yellowing leaf tips, although whole leaves can become affected over time.
You’ll want to hold back from fertilizing recently propagated snake plants as well.
5) Poor Drainage
If you only water your snake plant once a month, poor drainage can lead to moist soil. Both an improper container and poor soil can lead to drainage problems.
When choosing a pot for your snake plant, ensure it has drainage holes. If your planter has a dish under it, make sure to empty any excess water that collects after watering.
Soil choice also has a significant impact on drainage. Snake plants prefer well-draining and well-aerated soils. If you notice your snake plant’s soil stays wet for an extended period of time, it’s good to switch up the soil and repot your snake plant.
Traditional peat-based or coco coir-based potting soils such as Happy Frog Potting Soil and Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix tend to be a bit too heavy for snake plants. If you choose to use one of these mixes, mix in additional perlite or pumice.
Alternatively, you can choose a potting mix designed for succulents.
6) Inappropriate Temperature
Snake plants like it warm, between 60-90ºF to be precise. If temperatures dip below this range, your snake plant will experience stress. As a result, its leaves may turn yellow.
Keep your snake plant in a warm area, free from both hot and cold drafts though will happily tolerate most radiators and other heat sources. You should also do your best to avoid exposing your plant to large swings in air temperature.
If you’re planning on growing snake plants outdoors, see our in-depth guide on the ideal hardiness zones for these plants to thrive.
7) Poor Light Conditions
Although snake plants have a reputation for surviving in low light, they will perform best in bright, indirect light. While it’s true these hardy plants can live in shady areas, they may suffer if you leave them in dark spots for a long time (such as bedrooms).
If you notice your snake plant’s leaves are turning yellow, move it to an area that receives a bit more light.
8) Sap-Sucking Pests
Even though snake plants are hardy, they are still susceptible to pests. Sap-sucking pests including aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and thrips can piece leaves and remove plant sap.
While minor damage isn’t a cause for concern, large numbers of pests can lead to serious small spots, also known as stippling. When lots of these tiny creatures feed at once, snake plant leaves can turn yellow, drop, or display signs of drooping or falling over.
To prevent this damage, remove pests as soon as you spot them. You can use a wet, soapy cloth to wipe insects off your plant. Alternatively, you can spray the pests with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
9) Age of Plant
Like all plants, snake plants won’t live forever. As the plants grow older and outer leaves age, it’s common for them to turn yellow or brown. In time, these leaves will die and be replaced with new growth.
Is Some Yellowing Natural?
While it’s common to become concerned with every little bit of discoloration, some yellowing is natural. As all types of snake plants age, their outer leaves fade and drop. Therefore, you shouldn’t always be worried if a large, old plant has yellowing leaves.
In other instances, yellowing often indicates a problem. While it isn’t unnatural per se, it is a sign that your snake plant could benefit from a change.
Can Yellow Leaves Turn Green Again?
This depends on both the severity and cause of the yellowing.
If your plants are slightly yellow, they may be able to regain their green color. This is especially true when the discoloration is due to a nutrient deficiency.
However, if your snake plants have mostly or fully yellow leaves, they are unlikely to recover.
Should I Remove Yellow Leaves?
Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and try again. If a few of your snake plant’s leaves are yellow, removing the discolored leaves is often the best action. This will allow your plant to send its energy to healthy leaves.
If you remove leaves, it’s essential to correct the problem that caused the yellowing. If you don’t, you’ll likely end up with more yellow leaves.
Prevention & Care for Your Snake Plant
One of the best ways to prevent yellowing leaves is to provide your snake plant with the proper environment and care.
Use a well-draining potting mix as well as a container with drainage holes. Remember to only water your snake plant when the top few inches of soil is dry.
Keep your snake plant in an area with a temperature between 60-90ºF and moderate humidity. Additionally, avoid exposing your plant to drafts or sudden temperature changes.
While snake plants can handle various light conditions, they’ll thrive in bright, indirect light. Make sure you don’t suddenly expose your snake plant to bright, direct light.
Since these plants are light feeders, apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer once in the spring and again in the summer.
Keep an eye out for insect pests, and remove them as soon as you notice them.
Under ideal growing conditions, you may even notice your snake plant producing flowers.
While snake plants have a reputation for being hardy, don’t fret if you notice your plant’s leaves turning yellow. By investigating the cause of the discoloration and taking corrective steps, you can help your plant return to a green state. Under optimal growing conditions, snake plants can live for 20 years or more, and they may even help to purify the air in your home or office.
If you’re looking for your next snake plant to add to your collection, see our guide to the best plant shops delivering snake plants nationwide.
Briana holds a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Penn State University. She manages a small market garden where she grows vegetables and herbs. She also enjoys growing flowers and houseplants at home.
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