Snake Plant: Healthy vs Unhealthy (6 Ways to Know)


A healthy Sansevieria Snake plant also known as Mother-in-Laws-Tongue in the plant room with a white background

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Knowing if your snake plant is healthy or not can be tricky for most indoor gardeners. Having this article that includes a list of specific signs to look for when determining whether your snake plant is healthy or not, will hopefully make it easier for everyone.

Here are 6 ways to tell if your snake plant is healthy or not:

  • Check the leaf coloring
  • Feel the texture of the leaves
  • Measure the plant’s height
  • Review the leaf uprightness
  • Do the fingertip test
  • Inspect the root ball

In this article, I’ll expound further on the above 6 means of determining the health of your snake plant. If your Sansevieria trifasciata isn’t quite in tip-top condition, I’ll tell you why and what you can do about it, so keep reading!

The 6 Signs That Tell You

Check the Leaf Coloring 

The first sign of a healthy or unhealthy snake plant can be determined by the color of its leaves. 

Even if yours is variegated (aka it has patterns throughout its leaves), if you’re caring well for your snake plant, then its leaves will be either a dark or bright green hue.

When you should become apprehensive is when your snake plant is very pale green or even white.

There are three reasons a snake plant’s coloring can fade.

  1. Nutrient deficiencies are one cause, especially being underfed potassium.

By switching to a balanced fertilizer, your snake plant’s coloration should return.

2. Overwatering the snake plant is another reason its leaf coloring can fade.  

3. The third reason your snake plant can look white is due to light overexposure.

What are the best light conditions for your snake plant?

The best lighting conditions for the snake plant are bright, indirect light. Too much time in the sun or under a grow light, can bleach the color right out of your snake plant!

Other signs of leaf discoloration should be concerning as well. For instance, if the snake plant’s sword like leaves are brown, that too is usually a symptom of sun exposure.

If mostly the leaf tips are brown, then it could be that your snake plant isn’t getting enough water. 

Yellowing leaves are your snake plant’s way of telling you that you’re overwatering it. The leaves often become yellow before they fade to white. 

Feel the Texture of the Leaves

Although I don’t recommend handling houseplants more often than you have to, from time to time, you should touch the leaves of your snake plant. That’s yet another way to determine the healthfulness of your houseplant.

Healthy snake plant leaves will feel firm and strong. If yours are brittle and crispy, that’s usually accompanied by the abovementioned leaf tip browning. 

If your snake is crispy or brittle to the touch, your plant is clearly dehydrated. I’ll talk later about the fingertip test and why it’s your best gauge into the hydration levels of your snake plant, but I bet if you did the test right now, the plant’s soil would feel very dry, even bone dry.

It’s your job to not let that happen. By watering your snake plant more frequently (but not too frequently, of course), the leaf browning and crispiness of your plant should fade.

Perhaps when you touched your snake plant, its leaves felt soggy and mushy. This too is a sign that your snake plant is not in good health.

Mushy leaves can be caused by one of two things, overwatering or plant disease. I talked about overwatering earlier and how it might be accompanied by leaf yellowing. 

I can’t stress enough that overwatering is a serious houseplant problem. Failing to address and correct it immediately can lead to root rot, which I’ll cover shortly.

Spoiler Alert: root rot can kill your houseplants, snake plants and otherwise.

The snake plant disease that causes mushy leaves is known as southern blight. This is a fungal disease attributed to the Sclerotium rolfsii.

The fungus can get into the stems of your snake plant, where it then consumes the material inside.

Besides browning and possibly whitening the leaves, your snake plant’s leaves will feel mushy and soft before the plant dies. This occurs when the fungus reaches your snake plant’s tissue. 

By the time you determine southern blight is the culprit of your snake plant’s mushy leaves, without preventative measures, it’s usually within a week that the death of your plant will occur. 

To treat southern blight, you can use methyl bromide or fungicide.  

Measure the Plant’s Height

When you have a baby, you watch their size to ensure they’re growing as expected, right? Similarly, tracking your snake plant’s height over its lifespan is a good way to get a gauge of its health. 

When grown in a container, the average size of a fully mature snake plant leaf is up to three inches wide and six to eight feet tall. Every season, you might notice two to four new leaves and three to six inches of new growth in height.

If your snake plant isn’t growing at all or it’s growing under expectations, you should ask why that is. 

So many factors can prevent your snake plant from growing as it should, many of which I touched on already. 

An underwatered snake plant is in no shape to grow, nor is one that’s overwatered. Plant diseases will also prevent growth.

A lack of sunlight is problematic as well. The snake plant is shade-tolerant and can even live in dark conditions if that’s all you can provide.

It’s important to note that plants growing in low light conditions won’t grow as quickly or as robust as their counterparts that are growing in more ideal lighting conditions.

Review the Leaf Uprightness

The snake plant is beloved for its long, sword-like leaves that have earned this plant species nicknames like the mother-in-law’s tongue. The leaves are supposed to stand straight up, but what if they don’t?

Then your snake plant could be healthier.

Don’t get me wrong; not every leaf on your snake plant has to be perfectly-upright. A few can lean or even tilt a little.

The problem is when the majority of the leaves are noticeably drooping, stretching or bending.

For more on this common snake plant issue, you should read: Snake Plant Falling Over? (Solved)

What can cause the snake plant’s leaves to sag like that? Getting back to sunlight, a lack thereof can make your snake plant droopy and sad. 

Overwatering your snake plant will also cause its leaves to wilt. The plant’s roots are so water-logged that everything goes soft and saggy rather quickly. 

Even if your watering habits are good, if your snake plant lacks sufficient drainage, then its leaves will be anything but upright.

Ideally, your snake plant houseplant will have several drainage holes in its pot & each hole needs to be large enough to prevent water from becoming trapped in the bottom of the pot .

Compacted soil will trap in water. To prevent this, replace the plant’s soil every few years.

Do your best to use aerating soil amendments like coconut coir, perlite, or coarse sand as well. 

The last reason that your snake plant’s leaves could be drooping is due to humidity issues. 

The snake plant doesn’t have difficult humidity requirements. It likes its humidity at around 40 percent, which is right in the average relative humidity range for a home or office.

If the humidity is much lower, your snake plant’s leaves can actually bend to the point where they can touch the floor. 

Do the Fingertip Test

I said I would get to the fingertip test, and now it’s time.

The fingertip test will be one of your best gauges when ascertaining whether your snake plant is healthy. As the name implies, all you have to do is plunk your finger into your plant’s soil and feel around.

There’s no need to go deep for the snake plant; an inch or several suffices. 

What are you feeling for? Moisture, mostly. A healthy snake plant is one that has semi-moist soil that’s on the drier side but isn’t completely dry. 

When the soil is dried out completely, then you want to water your snake plant, but not a moment before then. 

Feeling around in the soil will also allow you to determine, at least to an extent, how compacted the snake plant’s soil has gotten. If you can barely jam your fingers into the soil, then how is water supposed to travel to the roots?

It can’t, and that means it’s getting stuck within the soil’s pockets. Standing water is a no-no for the snake plant, so replace any standing or soggy soil ASAP.

Replacing any mushy soil in your snake plant’s pot can significantly reduce the chance of root rot.

If you tend to overwater your snake plant I would recommend learning how to grow your snake plant in LECA. Snake plants are one of the indoor plants that grow really well in LECA.

Inspect the Root Ball

When the time inevitably does come for you to take your snake plant out of its current pot, you should give its root ball a thorough once-over.

The root ball is the heart and soul of your plant, yet it’s something that most indoor gardeners get to see rather infrequently. When you look at the root system of your snake plant, what should it look like?

A healthy snake plant will have white, firm roots. If the roots are brown or black and they feel mushy, then your plant is succumbing to root rot. The smell of the rotten roots will be rather odorous as well.

Let me talk briefly about root rot as I said I would. Root rot is a plant-killing disease that occurs when the roots have more water than oxygen. Overwatering is the primary way to cause root rot, but compacted soil can also aggravate the issue.

The roots will begin to die first; then your plant will have symptoms such as mushiness or leaf discoloration. By that point, the disease has already progressed rather far. 

The best way to save your plant from root rot is to trim away the dead roots, repot your plant in drier conditions, and moderate your watering habits going forward. 

As I always say here on, Indoor Plants for Beginners , there are no guarantees that your plant will survive. But it’s almost always worth trying to save! 

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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