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Snake Plant Leaves Turning Brown and Soft (Causes and Solutions)

Snake plants (Dracaena trifasciata) aren’t difficult to care for, but these hardy succulents have a few special requirements.

If these conditions are not met, the leaves of your snake plant may become soft and brown.

Excess watering issues are the most common causes of snake leaves turning brown and soft. Sunburn, pests, low humidity, nutrient deficiencies, and fungal infections can all cause leaf browning. Remove heavily browned leaves and adjust growing conditions as needed.

[1] Overwatering

Because snake plants are hardy and drought-tolerant, overwatering is the most common cause of harm to their delicate leaves and roots.

If your snake plant has been overwatered, you’ll notice small spots on the leaves. They may appear to be watery or sluggish.

However, they will keep growing until the whole leaf looks soft and then turns brown.

If you don’t deal with the problem immediately, the leaves will fall off, and your snake plant will die.

Your snake plant may also develop root rot, which occurs when the roots begin to decay and rot after being exposed to excessive soil moisture for an extended period.

Look for the following main signs of overwatering:

  • Yellowing of the leaves
  • Despite watering, the leaves are drooping and wilting.
  • Growth has been slowed.
  • Your snake plant’s base is rotting.
  • Brown or black mushy roots indicate root rot.
  • Another sign of root decay is a foul odor from the soil.
  • Soggy soil that has been left wet for too long.

How to Fix an Overwatered Snake Plant with Browning Leaves

You must act quickly, especially if the leaves begin to yellow and droop. The sooner you detect a problem, the more likely you will save your plant.

Here are the critical steps you must take:

  • Unpot your snake plant gently.
  • Check the roots for any signs of root rot. The roots that have been affected will be black or brown, fragile, and mushy. The rotten ones will feel slimy and smell bad.
  • With a sharp, sterile pair of pruning scissors or shears, gently cut off any affected roots. After each cut, clean it with rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution.
  • Remove any leaves that have soft brown spots. You don’t have to make any concessions here because fungal or bacterial leaf spots will eventually spread to other areas.
  • Brush away as much old soil as possible from the remaining roots. This will aid in the removal of any persisting rot-causing agents.
  • Treat the healthy roots by soaking them in a suitable fungicide. You can also make your drench by combining a tablespoon of regular hydrogen peroxide and a cup of distilled water.
  • Repot your snake plant in fresh soil and a new pot. I recommend a commercial succulent/cactus mix or something specially formulated for snake plants. Make sure the new pot has plenty of drainage holes.
  • Provide your snake plant with moderate humidity, temperature, water, and light conditions. Avoid any situations that will put your plant under stress.

Your plant should regenerate new, healthy roots within the next few months. After that, it will eventually recover entirely and grow rapidly.

[2] Underwatering

On the other end of the watering spectrum, underwatering can cause your snake plant’s leaves to turn brown.

Snake plants are extremely drought resistant. After the last drink, there will be no signs of distress for weeks, if not months.

And, in my experience, it’s better to err on the side of caution than to overwater your succulents.

However, if you notice browned and crunchy leaves at the tips and margins, your plant has been neglected for far too long.

The main signs of an underwatered snake plant are a lack of growth, brown leaf edges, curling leaves, and bone-dry soil. The leaves may appear shrunken, wrinkled, or shriveled as well.

How to Fix

When the soil on your snake plant becomes dry, remember to water it.

Water it thoroughly until the liquid flows out of the drainage holes. That should be enough to keep your snake plant alive and well.

Allow the excess water to drain before emptying the drip tray. Irrigate your snake plant only when the soil feels dry to the touch.

If your plant requires frequent watering, you should investigate other possible causes.

Check the amount of light, humidity, and temperature to see if these are the culprits.

[3] Fungal Diseases

Your snake plant could get brown spots on its leaves from fungi like:

  • Snake plant red leaf spot disease – Causes the appearance of red to reddish-brown spots and irregular patches.
  • Snake plant rust – Indicated by tiny, pale yellow spots on foliage that expand before turning brown. Affected leaves may fall off.
  • Anthracnose disease – First appears as small oval to round, dark green watery lesions. They later become circular, light brown spots. These spots will eventually merge into large brown patches.
  • Snake plant southern blight – Caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii, southern blight is indicated by white areas that turn deep brown over time. The leaves will soften and wilt, appearing soggy or wet.

How to Fix and Prevent Fungal Diseases

Fungal diseases usually affect an overwatered snake plant. You can try to snip off diseased foliage and reduce watering. 

But the outcome for heavily diseased snake plants isn’t good. The solution might be replacing your plant or propagating new from healthy leaf cuttings.

If the fungal infection is mild, consider spraying with an appropriate fungicide and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

For instance, a broad spectrum fungicide (Amazon Link) is typically excellent against southern blight.

Prevention is your best bet against fungal diseases:

  • Avoid overwatering your snake plant.
  • Keep the leaves from getting wet.
  • Avoid watering from above. Instead, water the plant from the bottom up and into the growing medium.
  • Water your snake plant in the early morning.

[4] Pest Infestations

We often think of snake plants as so brutal and hardy that they don’t get bothered by pests.

However, snake plants are vulnerable to many insects, which can cause brown spots on their leaves and other damage.

Scale insects and mealybugs are particularly fond of these succulents.

Spider mites, fungus gnats, and whiteflies can attack and harm your snake plant, as can aphids.

Their damage can hurt your plant’s health and growth.

If you don’t do anything, pest infestations will cause the leaves to turn yellow and brown.

Other common symptoms include stunted growth and black sticky mold.

How to Fix

Inspect and treat your plant regularly to avoid pest infestations.

Using a pair of sterile, sharp scissors or shears, remove any severely diseased, damaged, or affected leaves.

Once you’ve done that, you can figure out what pest is bothering your snake plant and treat it accordingly:

  • Whiteflies and mealybugs are best removed with a steady stream of water. Do it outside, and then bring your snake plant inside to dry.
  • Fungus gnats are usually caused by excessively wet soil. Allowing the soil to dry out should help eliminate the gnats and keep them from spreading. Avoiding overwatering is a sure way to keep fungus gnats at bay.
  • Spider mites require the quickest reaction time. They can cause irreversible damage to the growth of your plant. Use a commercial miticide to spray your plant once a week.
  • Using an alcohol-soaked cotton swab, remove mealybugs and scale insects.
  • To eliminate any remaining pests, use neem oil or insecticidal soap.

[5] Low Humidity

Snake Plant Brown Tips Due to Low Humidity

Snake plants are succulents, so they don’t like places that are too humid. But, on the other hand, they feel at home in average humidity levels, especially when they are well-hydrated.

But very low humidity can stress your plant and make more of its leaves turn brown.

Winter can be tough on indoor snake plants because central heating removes moisture from the air.

That may also explain why the leaves turn brown at different times.

Low humidity also speeds up moisture loss from the soil and the leaves because they breathe more.

This can worsen a snake plant damaged by too much water, sun, or heat.

How to Fix

Place a shallow water tray with wet pebbles near your potted snake plant for the easiest way to improve humidity levels.

During winter, a small humidifier will suffice for the hardy snake plant.

Keeping your plant away from heating vents and drafty areas is also essential.

[6] Are your Snake Plant Leaves Turning Brown Due to Too Much Fertilizer?

Snake plants don’t require a lot of fertilizer because they aren’t heavy feeders.

So in the growing season, half the recommended dose of all-purpose fertilizer, reconstituted monthly, should be sufficient.

In the off-season, excessive fertilization or feeding can lead to a buildup of chemical salts in the soil.

Browning of the leaves above the ground signifies that too much fertilizer salts are causing damage to the roots.

Solution: Flush the Potting Mix

  1. First, place your snake plant in a pot outside or the sink.
  2. Deeply flush the soil by soaking it in distilled water for several minutes. This will aid in the removal of some of the fertilizer salts.
  3. Allow the excess water to drain completely from the pot.
  4. Clean out the drip tray or cachepot.
  5. Don’t water again until the soil is arid.

Don’t give your snake plant too much fertilizer to keep it from dying. Instead, you should stop fertilizing during the fall and winter.

[7] Nutrient Deficiencies

To make do with so little, snake plants developed a unique adaptation.

A lack of nutrients can have just as devastating an effect on your plant’s development and health as too much fertilizer.

Although under-fertilization can cause brown leaves indirectly, nutrient deficiency symptoms are typically weak, yellowing leaves before the leaves finally turn brown.

This is especially true if your snake plant isn’t getting enough light or is lacking essential nutrients like nitrogen.

Solution

If you suspect your snake plant has a nutrient deficiency and needs a boost, don’t forget that a bit of fertilizer can go a long way. 

Don’t overfertilize your snake plant to minimize the risk of browning the leaves through fertilizer burn.

Instead, I apply water-soluble fertilizer at half the strength recommended on the label.

I highly recommend repotting your snake plant in case the soil is deficient in more than one nutrient.

[8] Transplant Shock

Transplanting and repotting your snake plant can be stressful. The shock can be even worse if you cut off parts like roots and leaves during the process.

If you move the plant and disturb its parts or environment, it will take some time for the plant to get used to its new home and recover.

For example, some leaves may droop, turn brown, or fall during recovery.

Solution

It isn’t much you can do after the transplant to prevent transplant shock. All you need to do is give your snake plant consistent care, which will recover quickly from the shock.

[9] Too Much Direct Sunlight

Snake plants thrive in light that is both indirect and bright. Therefore, they can withstand a few hours of direct sunlight daily, especially in the late afternoon or early morning.

However, if your plant is subjected to too much direct sunlight, the leaves will begin to turn brown as a result of the drying and burning effects of the sun.

The foliage may also have scorched brown spots, marks, or patches.

Solution

Relocate your potted snake plants to a location where they will receive adequate amounts of direct but consistent bright light (5+ hours per day).

Holding your hand above the spot is easy to tell if your plant is getting enough light. Your hand’s shadow should be reasonably clear and well-defined.

Why Are My Snake Plant Leaves Getting Soft?

[1] Incorrect Potting Mix

Incorrect potting mix for snake plants is usually poorly-drained—these plants prefer to be potted in a well-draining, loose soil mix. However, they thrive in sandy soil mixtures.

Snake plants dislike potting soils high in clay, peat, or dense organic. They can get packed together, thick, and hard to drain.

Such potting media can quickly become soggy or overly wet. Furthermore, because they take so long to drain, your snake plant will be standing on “wet feet” and likely develop root rot.

The rot disease attacks the root system and then progresses to the leaves. Overwatering, edema, and fungal infections will cause the foliage to soften.

Solution

Repotting your snake plant in a fresh batch of all-purpose cactus or succulent mix is the best solution.

[2] Too Much Water

Watering your snake plant too frequently invites trouble. Overwatering not only causes browning of the leaves but also softening and mushiness.

Soft, water-soaked spots on the foliage are one of the first indications of overwatering.

The result is edema, a condition in which cells and tissue burst under the pressure of the excess absorbed water.

The leaves will lose their turgidity and become soft as a result. Unfortunately, Overwatering also causes the leaves to become wet and susceptible to fungal diseases that cause them to become soft and spotty.

Solution

Stopping watering and repotting your snake plant are two of the most common remedies for overwatering.

Here’s a complete, step-by-step guide to saving an overwatered snake plant.

[3] Root Rot

Overwatering is almost always the cause of root rot. It’s one of the few things that can turn your prized snake plant mushy and kill it.

Soft or mushy leaves indicate a severe case of root rot.

When you take your plant out of its pot, you’ll notice it has black/brown, slimy, and stinky roots.

Solution

It’s a race against time to save your snake plant from root rot. You may need to cut almost all the roots and treat the remaining ones with fungicide.

Repot your plant in a new pot with fresh potting soil.

[4] Cold Damage

Snake plants cannot withstand frost, cold drafts, or temperatures below 50°F (10°C). As the tissue dies from cold damage, the leaves droop, turn yellow to brown, and become soft.

Softening and browning will eventually spread down the leaves toward the plant’s base. The leaves closest to the source of cold are the first to soften.

If you do not act quickly, your entire snake plant will suffer from cold damage or shock.

Solution

Temperatures between 70 and 90°F (21 and 32°C) are best for snake plants. Never allow temperatures to fall below 50°F (10°C). Also, protect your plant from cold drafts.