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Root Bound Snake Plant (Symptoms and Solutions)

Do you believe your snake plant has become root-bound? Mother in laws tongue’s is a slow-growing plant that is content with being slightly pot-bound.

However, if your snake plant has grown too large for the container to support it or is bursting the walls of the container, you should consider repotting it.

If your snake plant’s leaves are curled, wilting, limp, or yellowing, it has become root-bound. Additionally, you’ll discover a dense mass of entangled roots wrapped tightly around the root ball, as well as little to no soil. You can remedy this by repotting, root pruning, or dividing your snake plant.

Herein, I’ll also show you how to inspect, repot, or root-prune your root-bound snake plant.

What Does ‘Root Bound’ Mean?

Root Bound Snake Plant
Root Bound Snake Plant

Simply put, root-bound means that your plant has outgrown its current container. To be more specific, the root ball has grown far too large for the container to support.

As a result, the roots become entangled and snarled, leaving little to no space in the pot for the potting mix.

A root-bound plant will struggle to survive because its roots may not function properly.

The roots have taken up all, if not the majority, of the container’s space. Because of the limited space, the roots are usually circled or coiled up within the container, resulting in a dense mass of roots.

As a result, when unpotted, the pot-bound roots can form a hard, compacted ball that retains the shape of the container.

Furthermore, some of the roots may escape through the bottom drainage holes. In fact, some of them may poke through the container’s surface.

If left to its own devices, the root-bound snake plant may burst through the pot’s sides or walls. As a result, the pot of your plant may have cracks, bulges, or breakages.

A snake plant won’t mind if its roots are slightly restricted. However, if it is heavily root-bound, it is not good for your snake plant’s health.

A tangled, unkempt, and soilless root ball will not only stress your snake plant, but may also deprive it of water, oxygen, and nutrients.

Rootbound simply means that the roots of your plant have become constricted or “bound” by the sides of the container.

It’s worth noting that plants grown outside can experience the same thing because their root balls can be surrounded by footers, walls, rocks, and so on.

What Causes Snake Plants to Become Root Bound?

In many cases, a snake plant will become root-bound if it grows too large or tall for its container. When you take the root ball out of the container, you’ll notice a densely packed system of roots that have become coiled, spiraled, and tangled up.

What causes this to happen? Snake plants are distinguished by the production of plantlets or pups from the mother plant.

They are known for growing thick rhizomes from the primary root ball and then producing a large number of vertical leaves. Each plantlet will develop its own root system and grow alongside the mother plant.

As a gardener, I usually divide these plantlets or pups to grow different snake plants. However, if you allow several pups to establish in the same pot, their root balls will eventually fill up the container, leaving no room for the potting mix.

It’s possible that you planted your snake plant in a container that was too small, to begin with. As a result, your snake plant will become root-bound sooner rather than later.

How to Tell If Your Snake Plant Is Root Bound

[1] Roots Spiraling Around the Container

Snake Plant Roots Spiraling Around the Container
Snake Plant Roots Spiraling Around the Container

The best way to tell if your snake plant is root bound is to inspect the root ball. You must carefully remove your snake plant from its container. You don’t want to just take it out of the package.

If your snake plant is too big for its container, gently tip it to the side before unpotting it. Tapping the rim of the pot can help loosen the root ball, making it easier to slide out of the pot.

A mass web of roots spiraling, circling, or coiled around the perimeter of the soil is a sure sign that your snake plant has become root-bound.

If the dense mass of spiraled roots has compacted into a hardball, the root system will actually slide easily out of the pot.

[2] No New Growth or Stunted Growth

Check for physiological clues to see if your snake plant is root-bound. Active growth indicates that your plant is alive and well.

However, if the leaves are stunted or there are no new growths, it is a sign of a stressed snake plant.

Being root bound can cause the roots to form a hard, compacted ball, stressing your snake plant. This could also be the reason your plant isn’t getting enough water or nutrients.

A suffocated root ball also deprives your snake plant of oxygen, water, and nutrients, all of which are essential for new and continued growth.

Your snake plant will most likely no longer produce its characteristic pups or plantlets. Any new leaves that sprout will almost certainly be small, distorted, or otherwise stunted.

[3] Yellowing of the leaves

Indoor potted snake plant leaves turning yellow and soft.
Yellowing of the leaves

Another telltale sign of root boundness is the yellowing of snake plant leaves. Your plant’s beautiful variegation may also fade.

Yellowing and loss of variegation on the leaves indicate that your snake plant is struggling to obtain the resources it requires, such as water, nutrients, and air.

Your plant’s leaves may also turn yellow if it is overly thirsty. Because if your plant is root-bound, the potting mix will dry out far too quickly. After all, the little soil left in the pot isn’t enough to keep moisture in.

[4] Leaves wilting or curled

Snake Plant Leaves Wilting
Snake Plant Leaves Wilting

When your snake plant is root bound, it doesn’t just grow slowly. Repeated dehydration will also cause the leaves to curl up, twist, and distort.

Your snake plant may also show signs of wilting. If it wilts despite frequent watering, it’s a sure sign that your plant has become root-bound.

The reason for this is that the roots are so densely packed and overcrowded that there is no more space for the soil to hold moisture.

Because the entangled roots are so tightly packed, they cannot absorb water effectively, leaving your snake plant dehydrated and wilting.

  • Other common symptoms of root-bound dehydration include:
  • Frizzed or wrinkled leaves with browning edges and tips
  • Due to a severe lack of moisture, the foliage is curling inward.
  • Yellowed foliage
  • Droopy leaves that do not perk up after being watered
  • The leaves may turn brown and become crunchy. Wilting

[5] Snake Plant Roots above the Soil

Some of the roots of your snake plant may grow out of the container if it has become pot-bound. Some of these roots will most likely be visible above the soil line. If your plant has become severely root bound, this is usually the case.

[6] Cracks in the Pot

Cracks in the pot are another sign of a snake plant that is severely root-bound. The roots are packed so tightly in the container that the pressure will cause the pot to break, bend, or crack.

This is common if your snake plant is housed in a clay, ceramic, or terracotta pot.

If you used a plastic or flexible container to pot your plant, the pressure from the pushing roots will cause the pot to bulge or lose its shape.

The middle of the container is typically pushed out, giving the pot the appearance of being swollen.

[7] Scorched or Browned Leaves

Snake Plant Leaves Appear Sunburned
Snake Plant Leaves Appear Sunburned

The leaves of your root-bound snake plants will most likely turn brown, scorched, or appear sunburned. This is due to the root system’s inability to absorb water, which causes extreme thirst.

[8] Roots Emerging Through Drainage Holes

These roots will not be able to breathe in an extremely pot-bound snake plant. As a result, some of the roots will emerge from the drainage holes.

How to Check the Root System of your Snake Plant

If you notice any or all of the above symptoms, your plant may have become pot-bound. Unfortunately, the majority of these symptoms can also occur as a result of a variety of other causes, ranging from underwatering to root rot.

The most certain way to tell if your snake plant is root bound is to carefully inspect its root ball. To begin, you will need to unpot your snake plant in order to examine its roots more closely.

Here’s how:

  1. Tilt, tip, or lay the pot of your snake plant on its side. Don’t force your snake plant out of its container, especially if it has grown too large.
  2. Tap or hit the pot’s side and rim gently. If the pot is plastic or flexible, try compressing it on the sides to loosen the soil.
  3. To loosen the soil’s edges, use a long, serrated knife. Run it around the container’s perimeter. This will separate the soil and root ball from the container’s interior.
  4. Remove your snake plant from its container. To do so, place your hand at the base of the plant and gently slide the root ball out of the pot. The root ball should easily come out of the pot if it is slightly pot-bound.
  5. Examine the root ball – Your snake plant can be moderately, severely, or extremely root bound.

Moderately Root Bound Snake Plant

If your snake plant is slightly root bound, leave it alone. This is because it prefers to become moderately root bound in order to produce pups/plantlets.

  • The roots are not overly compacted.
  • The roots are just starting to encircle the root ball.
  • The soil still takes up more than half of the container space.

Root Bound Snake Plant

Your snake plant is root-bound if it has a dense mass of roots that have begun to form a mat around the root ball.

  • Typically, the soil remains but occupies less than half of the container space.
  • The roots have encircled the root ball but have not become overly compacted.
  • The roots have begun to encircle the root ball.

Extremely Root Bound Snake Plant

A snake plant that has become severely root-bound requires immediate repotting. Among the symptoms are:

  • The plant is nearly entirely wilted and yellowed.
  • There isn’t much soil in the container.
  • Around the root ball, the roots have formed a compacted mat.
  • Almost every inch of the container space has been taken over by the roots.

Do Snake Plants Like To Be Root Bound?

Some plants will thrive if they are slightly pot-bound. One of them is your snake plant.

Aloe vera, jade plant, umbrella tree, and spider plant are some other plants that thrive when root-bound. Most of these plants, as you can see, are succulents related to the snake plant.

Plantlets or pups are used to reproduce snake plants. They usually need to be stressed in order to produce these baby plants, such as being root-bound.

Do Snake Plants Like Small Pots?

Snake plants, on the other hand, do not want to be severely root-bound or housed in a container that is too small to support healthy growth.

Snake plants have plenty of room in the wild to spread their plantlets and grow more roots. However, when they are bound to a container, they tend to suffer due to a lack of space for root development.

A root-bound snake plant, on the other hand, is incapable of properly absorbing nutrients, water, and oxygen. Emaciation symptoms include leaf yellowing, curled leaves, and stunted growth.

Worse, the soil of a root-bound snake plant dries out very quickly. It may also fail to retain moisture for an extended period of time, allowing irrigation water to pass through quickly.

That means your snake plant will be constantly ill, dehydrated, and depressed.

Snake plants can also grow quite tall. The pot will most likely fall over if it is too small.

Treating your Root Bound Snake Plant

Repotting Root Bound Snake Plant
Repotting Root Bound Snake Plant

You can treat root bound snake plants through 3 common ways: 

  1. Divide your snake plant
  2. Repot your snake plant in a bigger container
  3. Root-prune your snake plant

Option A: Dividing Your Snake Plants

Dividing your snake plant into several divisions is a great way to increase your collection. Here’s how:

  1. Irrigate your plant thoroughly every 1-2 days to help loosen the soil.
  2. Turn your snake planter upside down.
  3. Remove the root ball from the container and use a pair of sterile clippers or a knife to divide the stems and roots into several equal plants.
  4. Repot all of the divisions
  5. Water your newly replanted snake plants and place them in a bright, shaded area away from direct sunlight.

Option B: Repotting your Root Bound Snake Plant

Because snake plants have shallow root systems, they don’t need to be repotted very often. Even so, I strongly advise repotting your snake plant in a larger container every three to four years.

If it has become root bound, however, that calls for early repotting. Here’s how:

  1. Select the right pot – It should be two to four inches bigger than the previous container. Ensure it has drainage holes. I prefer a terracotta or unglazed clay pot.
  2. Lay or tip the pot over – This will allow the root ball to slide smoothly out of the pot.
  3. Eliminate as much of the old soil as possible
  4. Inspect the root system for signs of damage or root rot. Snip off any dead, damaged, or diseased roots. Use a sterilized clipper or sharp knife.
  5. Choose an ideal batch of potting mix – I normally use commercial cactus potting mix (Check the latest price on Amazon here). If you want to create your own medium, mix 1 part of the cactus mix and three parts of organic potting soil with some compost and perlite.
  6. First, you should fill a third of the pot with the growing medium. Leave at least 1 inch of soil between the bottom and the plant.
  7. Put your snake plant into the pot
  8. Fill the pot with potting mix

Once it is repotted, water thoroughly and place it in a bright spot. You should maintain balmy temperatures of around 70-90°F (21-32°C). (Source: University of Florida)

Option C: Root Pruning Your Root Bound Snake Plant

If moving your root-bound snake plant to a larger pot isn’t an option, root-pruning it is your best option. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Remove your snake plant from its pot.
  2. Trim the roots of your snake plant – Cut under or around the root ball with a sterilized sharp knife, pruning shears, or a pair of scissors to remove both the soil and the roots. At least 30% of both small and large roots should be removed.
  3. You can snip off the bottom 25% of the old roots on snake plants that are severely root-bound.
  4. Tease the root ball apart with your fingers to loosen it up. If the roots are severely entangled, you can use a fork, pronged cultivator, or stick.
  5. Your snake plant should be repotted.
  6. Water your snake plant. Keeping your snake plant sufficiently hydrated will help facilitate recovery.

How to Prevent Your Snake Plant from Being Pot Bound

  • Use an appropriate size pot
  • Repot your snake plant every 3 to 4 years
  • Divide up your snake plant when it develops several plantlets