While snake plants are easy houseplants to care for, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their fair share of problems. If you notice that pests are crawling over your snake plant or fungus is causing discoloration, don’t panic! Most snake plant pests and diseases are easy to treat, as long as you know some essential tips.
Dealing With Common Snake Plant Pests & Diseases – The Essentials
Snake plants are susceptible to numerous pests and diseases, including aphids, spider mites, Southern blight, and root rot. To keep your plant healthy, inspect it regularly and treat issues as soon as they occur. Providing your plant with the proper environment will also help prevent and treat pests.
The Most Common Snake Plant Pests and Diseases
Root rot is the generic name for numerous fungi that attack plant roots. These fungi thrive in moist conditions that occur when plants are overwatered or planted in poorly draining soil.
While root rot causes roots to become mushy, the first signs of this disease often occur above the soil line. If you notice your snake plant is drooping, falling over, or yellowing, it may be infected with root rot.
If you think your plant may have root rot, remove the root ball and inspect the roots. Trim off infected roots and decrease the amount you water. Remember to allow the top half of snake plant soil to dry out before watering again.
Southern blight is a fungal infection caused by the pathogen Sclerotium rolfsii. It is more likely to develop on snake plants when the air is warm and humid.
The first signs of this disease are small white areas containing tiny black dots. These areas then grow and may turn brown or gray.
Southern blight can remain dormant in the soil or on other plants for months. When the right conditions emerge, it can infect your snake plant.
If you spot Southern blight, you should prune off and dispose of infected tissue.
This fungus covers plants in a powdery, white coating. It typically occurs when low light, cool temperatures, and high humidity combine.
While the fungus does not directly harm the plant, it limits photosynthesis and is unsightly to look at. Moving your plant to a brighter area and decreasing the humidity can help with powdery mildew.
The most common pests that affect snake plants are small sap-sucking pests. These pests use tiny sucking mouthparts to drink up plant sap. They rapidly multiply and can quickly take over plants if they are not treated in a timely manner.
As these pests feed, they release a sticky substance known as honeydew. This substance can lead to the formation of a dark fungus known as sooty mold.
Here are the characteristics of some common sap-sucking pests that affect snake plants.
- Aphids are around 1/8” long and can be green, yellow, pink, brown, or black.
- Mealybugs have a small oval body covered in a white, waxy substance.
- Scale Insects vary in appearance depending on the species. They may be flat and resemble a disease, or they can be white and fluffy.
- Spider Mites are tiny pests. You may spot their namesake spider-like webs or stippled leaves before you spot the pests themselves.
- Thrips are tiny, slender pests that vary in color.
- Whiteflies are around 1/10’ long and have two white wings that cover their soft body.
Fungus gnats are small flies that often develop in potting soil. If you see small pests with long antennae, you’re likely dealing with fungus gnats.
While the adults do not feed on snake plants, the larvae may eat plant roots. Plus, the gnats are just plain annoying!
Fungus gnats are more likely to appear when your snake plant is sitting in moist soil. Since snake plants prefer their soil to dry out in between waterings, a proper watering routine will prevent fungus gnats. Allow the top half of the soil to dry out before watering.
If you spot fungus gnats, it’s a good idea to repot your snake plant in fresh potting soil.
Pesticide and Insecticide Options
When you’re searching for ways to treat your pests, you’ll come upon a variety of options. Here are some ways you can treat snake plant pests.
Sticky traps are sticky coated cards that can be used to monitor or trap insects. If you’re dealing with a small number of pests, sticky traps might do the trick. You can also use them to detect pests before they get out of hand.
Yellow sticky traps will trap aphids, fungus gnats, and whiteflies. Blue sticky traps will trap thrips.
Horticultural oil is simply oil that is safe to use on plants. Some common types include mineral oil and canola oil.
Horticultural oil can be used to suffocate soft-bodied pests like aphids, mealybugs, and scale. Since it works via suffocation, it’s important to make direct contact with the pests.
You can also use horticultural oil to prevent fungi from attacking your plants.
Some horticultural oil products come in a ready to apply format while others require dilution before applying. Monterey Horticultural Oil and BONIDE® All Seasons Horticultural Spray Oil are two great options.
Insecticidal soap is plant-safe soap. Similar to horticultural oil, it works by suffocating pests. You can use insecticidal soap to effectively treat aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale, and other soft-bodied pests.
When you use insecticidal soap, you must thoroughly coat insect pests.
You can also use diluted dish soap to control pests. Mix one tablespoon of dish soap per quart of water then thoroughly spray your plant.
While most snake plant pests can be treated using natural methods, severe infestations may require you to resort to synthetic pesticides. These products are created from manufactured chemicals rather than naturally-occurring substances.
When you use pesticides, it’s important to note the product’s mode of action and targeted pests. Some pesticides kill all insects, while others only target certain insect species. Likewise, some products require ingestion while others work on contact.
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How to Use Pesticides and Fungicides for Snake Plants
Before reaching for a pesticide or fungicide, see if you can treat the problem using alternative methods. For example, you may be able to physically remove a small number of aphids using a wet, soapy rag.
Once you decide the use of pesticides or fungicides is warranted, select the proper product. You should aim for the least harmful product to deal with the problem at hand.
In general, organic products are less harmful than synthetic pesticides. However, organic pesticides can still harm humans, pets, and/or plants if misused! With that in mind, make sure to carefully read product instructions before mixing or applying a product.
Some products will work on contact, while others can take a few days. In general, wait a week in between product applications.
Managing Pests & Diseases
The best way to protect your snake plant from pests and diseases is by preventing them! Not only is preventing pests easier than treating them, but it will also save you time and money. Under optimal growing conditions, snake plants can live for 20 years or more.
Snake plants offer a host of benefits (including being straightforward to propagate and purify the air), carry all sorts of meanings and symbolism, and are generally easy-care, slow-growing plants but be considerate of watering cycles, temperature, and humidity requirements, fertilizing needs, and light exposure. Many pest problems can be solved by improving your plant’s environment. Under ideal growing conditions, you may even notice your snake plant producing flowers.
Remember to carefully inspect any new plants or potting soil you bring into your home. Adding new houseplants is the most common way new pests are introduced into your home.
You may also want to quarantine new plants in a separate room for a month to confirm they’re pest-free.
If you spot pests or diseases, act fast! Controlling a few pests is much easier than treating a serious infestation.
For more, see our in-depth guide to the best locations for Snake Plants to thrive in your home or office.
If you’re planning on growing snake plants outdoors, see our in-depth guide on the ideal hardiness zones for these plants to thrive.
Snake Plant Pests and Diseases – The Final Word
With this information in hand, you’re ready to treat any issue that plagues your snake plant. Remember to monitor your plant for issues regularly and take action as soon as possible.
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.