The snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) is an extremely robust plant. It is still worth remembering that it is a living plant and requires some care and attention even though it is tough.
Brown tips are almost always the first indication that you are facing a problem, but because this plant is so hardy, health issues can generally be easily cured if you follow the steps below.
Brown tips are a warning sign, but they are not a cause for panic. These plants are so resilient that they will bounce back if you take swift remedial measures and follow the right care principles. Underwatering, an overdose of fertilizer, lack of light, and nutrients are the main causes of snake plant brown tips.
Causes of Snake Plant Brown Tips
There are several possible causes for brown tips appearing on the leaves of your snake plant.
You need to recognize that this is an early warning sign and that action needs to be taken so that the problem does not escalate.
As you are about to learn, watering issues very often lie at the heart of these symptoms, and we will now look at addressing those issues
These plants are desert natives and can withstand long periods without water.
That does not mean that they will remain in peak condition if they are underwatered.
It is wise to establish a watering regime that is appropriate to those that are ideal for your plant.
In addition to crisp brown tips, underwatering manifests in wrinkled leaves and leaf distortion.
Water your plant sparingly and allow the water to drain away completely. Ideally, you want your plant to remain in soil that is slightly damp but not wet.
Establish a good watering regime. To do this you need to check the moisture level of the potting soil regularly.
It is fine for the top inch or two of soil to become dry but deeper than that, it will need to be cool and slightly damp.
The easiest way to establish this is to simply thrust your finger into the soil to the depth of your first knuckle.
You will easily be able to feel if the soil is moist. You will need to get into the habit of doing this on a regular basis.
This is an area that many gardeners get wrong. The soil becomes too dry and the leaves start to show signs that the plant is stressed.
The gardener then responds by soaking the plant in an effort to rectify the problem. What you end up with is a series of adverse conditions.
These range from extreme drought to flooding. It should come as no surprise that the plant battles to adapt to this ever-changing life of extremes.
Get into the habit of checking the soil moisture regularly. If poking your finger into the soil seems like a bit too much of a chore.
If you are not sure that you are feeling the moisture level accurately enough, you can buy a moisture probe that will give you an accurate indication of how damp your plant’s soil is.
Experience will start to pay off here. As you get into the habit of checking soil moisture on a more regular basis.
The drought – flood syndrome will be overcome and you will find a steady equilibrium at which to maintain an ideal moisture level.
Even the most robust of plants require a certain level of humidity to function at their most effective levels.
Humidity in an outdoor environment is not a factor that often becomes a problem.
Bring a plant into the indoor arena, and things suddenly change because we are placing them in unnatural conditions – conditions that we often manipulate with air conditioning or indoor heating.
Normally, these plants are fairly tolerant of the dry air which we tend to have in our modern homes.
If you start to notice signs of stress such as brown tips or wrinkled leaves, firstly, make sure that you have your watering regime correct.
Humidity will be the next factor to take into consideration. Filling the plant tray with pebbles and then pouring water over the top will often solve this issue.
As the water slowly evaporates, it will create enough moisture to avoid a humidity problem.
Because the plant pot is standing slightly above the water level, drainage will not be prevented or slowed down.
When you position your plant, consider factors such as radiators or air conditioning units, and leave some space between them and the plant.
Grouping several plants together also increase the humidity levels in the vicinity as the plants respire and release moisture into the air.
Snake Plant Sunburn
It sounds like something of an oxymoron to mention sunburn when referring to a plant as tough as the snake plant.
What you need to remember is that in the wild, the plant will probably have been growing in a position where it was protected by shade from other plants for at least some of the day.
If you plonk your plant directly onto a south-facing windowsill, it probably will receive almost constant sunlight during the daylight hours.
Move the plant. Try to position your plant where there is lots of light but where it gets some shade during the course of the day. Often, just moving it back from the windowsill slightly will offer these less harsh light conditions.
Choose the position of your pant with forethought. If you have purchased it from a nursery or plant shop where it was growing in quite low light conditions, wean it to accept brighter light slowly. Over time it will adapt to the brighter conditions. Providing them too quickly will come as something of a shock.
Too Little Light
All house plants need light and snake plants like plenty of it. That said, the beauty of these plants is that they will also tolerate low light and this is unlikely to be one of the problems you will encounter with these guys. If the yellow stripe down the sides is fading, then low light might be something to think about.
Move the plant to a windowsill. Even a north-facing one will do, but not a southerly one that risks getting the leaves burned.
Keep the plant in a relatively bright position and if that is on a windowsill then turn it a quarter turn once a month so that light exposure is even.
Too Much Fertilizer
If your snake plant is in good potting soil it will need very little in the way of extra fertilizer.
Many gardeners hope that by feeding the plant often, it will grow more quickly but, in fact, this can have adverse effects.
If the leaves start to become floppy and soft, and you have been feeding your plant regularly, then cut the food immediately.
Excess feeding will often be revealed first through brown leaf tips.
As soon as you see the leaves becoming limp and floppy then stop feeding your plant. Even if this is not the cause of the problem, the extra feed will not help.
The first thing you need to understand is that these plants are not heavy feeders.
I would recommend that you only feed twice a year using a standard houseplant food.
If you feed your plant in spring, and then again in mid to late summer, you will provide more than enough nutrients to keep it growing well and looking spectacular.
Salt Build-up in Potting Soil
Salts can build up in the soil in which your plant is growing. Over time, this can lead to mild soil toxicity.
The salts normally come from one of two areas. The first is from chemical fertilizers, which, after reading the last point, you should have already addressed.
The second is from the water that you are providing. Many municipal water supplies add chemicals that can build up over time as they are filtered by the soil.
If you are noticing a white chalky layer on the top of your potting mix, or small, salt-like dots on the pores of the leaves, then you know that you have salt build-up.
Regardless of whether the salt build-up is from the water or the fertilizer, it can lead to leaf or root damage, and then to brown leaf tips.
Repot the plant into new potting soil. Don’t be tempted to plant it into a much larger pot than the one you just took it out of.
Instead, plant it into the next pot size up and use a free-draining potting mix.
There are two very reliable ways to prevent this salt build-up. The first is to slow your feeding regime down, which you hopefully have done by now.
The second is to ensure that you are not adding salt to the soil when you water your plant.
Even chlorine in the water will eventually build up and become harmful. You can avoid this toxic build-up by using captured rainwater or water that has been filtered.
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This is a problem that sometimes occurs in our homes, and most often in those where cold winters require some form of indoor heating.
What tends to happen, is that we heat our homes when we are awake, and the temperature is allowed to drop dramatically while we are in bed.
When we get up, we turn the heating up again. Few plants are easily able to adjust to these dramatic variations. Even the rugged snake plant tends to suffer.
The snake plant will not thrive in temperatures that drop below 50°F (10°C).
If you are using thermostatically controlled radiators you will need to ensure that they do not allow the temperature to drop below this range, even during the night.
Firstly, you will need to know what the temperature highs and lows are in the vicinity of your plant.
One option is to use a thermometer that tells you both how high, and how low, the temperature goes.
If your plant is in a room where there is a lot of temperature variation over the winter months, you may want to move it to a different room where the temperature remains more constant.
Finally, consider things like radiators and windows when positioning the plant.
If you are keeping it close to a radiator it will suffer from the temperature being pushed up and then descending later.
By just moving a plant away from a cold window, you may prevent it from falling below that crucial minimum temperature.
A plant is deemed to be root bound when the roots fill the pot in which it is growing to such an extent that it cannot grow anymore.
If left unattended, this problem will slowly reduce the nutrients that are getting to the leaves.
Ultimately, this will restrict the size to which the plant can grow and because nutrients are no longer being effectively supplied, leaf tips may go brown.
This is a relatively easy problem both to detect and to overcome. If you are having trouble getting your finger into the soil when you feel to test the moisture level, then your plant is probably becoming root-bound.
Tap it out of its pot and you will quickly be able to see if the root system is occupying the whole pot or not.
If it is, repot the plant into the next size container. First, gently tease the roots apart.
If you are poking your finger into the soil to test the moisture level, you will easily be able to recognize this issue before it becomes a problem.
Another sure give away is roots popping through the hole in the base of the pot.
Root rot is a much more serious problem than being root-bound. This is brought about by the plant standing in soggy potting soil and can quickly lead to the death of the root system.
This leads to soggy leaves with yellow blotches and can soon kill your plant.
In instances where the root rot is caught early, you may be able to alleviate the problem by ensuring that the water is allowed to drain freely and then letting the soil dry out.
In more serious cases, remove the plant from its container, scrape away any loose soil and repot into new potting soil.
Don’t water again until the top two to three inches have dried out.
First and foremost, you will need to adopt a proper watering method. Make sure your plant is in a free-draining container and that it is never allowed to stand in a draining tray that is filled with water.
Finally, always use a free-draining potting medium. A cactus or succulent mix works well.
If you don’t have access to one of those, mix twenty percent perlite, or even gravel, to regular potting soil to speed the draining process.
Fortunately. these plants are not very prone to attack by pests. Sapsuckers such as mealybugs and spider mites are two possible exceptions to this rule, and both are quite easy to deal with.
A high infestation of sap-sucking pests can lead to leaf dehydration and that manifests in brown spots.
Mealybugs in small numbers can be scraped off by hand. If they become more established, then dab them with alcohol.
Spider mites can be controlled by raising the humidity. Wipe the leaves carefully with a damp cloth and then make sure the humidity levels are kept raised and these creatures should cease to be an issue.
Keen observation is the secret to keeping pests at bay. If they are spotted early, they can easily be dealt with and damage will be limited.
If they become established, then ridding your plant of them becomes much more difficult.
Fungal diseases are one of those problems that are exacerbated by incorrect watering.
The two most common fungal diseases are a southern blight and red leaf spot, but the cure and prevention are the same in both instances.
If the leaves remain dry and the soil is allowed to drain freely you can avoid this problem.
Follow good watering protocols and make sure that the plants never become waterlogged. Water only at the base of the plant to prevent wetting the leaves.
In damp conditions, water only in the morning so that evaporation can take place during the course of the day.
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Can I Cut the Brown Tips Off my Snake Plant?
Those crispy brown tips are dead leaf material and they no longer serve any purpose for the plant.
Although cutting them off will neither benefit nor harm your plant, you can cut them off if you find them too unsightly.
Try to keep the cut just inside the dead material so that the plant doesn’t need to convert energy into healing a new wound.
You are seldom going to encounter a house plant that is more forgiving than your snake plant. If you start to see signs that it is becoming unhappy, then the first thing to check for is a watering problem.
You now know how to overcome that. Lighting will only become a real issue if the plant is getting burned. Simply moving it away from that south-facing windowsill will probably alleviate that problem.
As far as pests and diseases are concerned – play close attention and check for pests trying to camouflage themselves at the base of the leaves. All in all, this is an attractive plant that won’t cost you sleepless nights.
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