Why is my snake plant dying? Pro tips to help a struggling sansevieria

Snake plants are tough, but they're not invincible – this advice could help you save yours before it's too late

damaged snake plant
(Image credit: Pixel-shot / Alamy Stock Photo)

Q: I recently bought a snake plant for my living room shelf. It looked healthy at first, but now it seems to be dying. Some of the leaves have withered and drooped, with brown patches appearing at the tips. What could be the problem, and can it be saved?

A: Although snake plants, otherwise known as sansevieria, are generally low-maintenance indoor plants, problems with discoloration and wilting can occur. These are telltale signs that something isn't quite right with their growing environment, such as the surrounding temperature or how much water you're giving them. 

The good news is, if you make amendments quickly, you may be able to nurse your houseplant back to full health before it's past the point of no return.

snake plant in sunny room

Snake plants make a statement in any interior scheme

(Image credit: Wirestock / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

3 reasons your snake plant may be struggling

Revive your dying indoor plant by checking for – and treating – these common problems. 

snake plant leaves

Snake plants have attractively patterned leaves

(Image credit: Hazrat Bilal / Alamy Stock Photo)

1. Too much water

The first thing to address is your houseplant watering regime. Overwatering snake plants is very common, and, just like if you overwater other succulents, it can kill them. 

These plants store water in their thick leaves, and only need watering when the soil is dry. Otherwise, the roots will sit in the excess water, which can quickly cause them to rot. Rotting roots, in turn, can make snake plants turn yellow, mushy, and wilted.

On the positive side, this makes them an undemanding plant to care for. I water my snake plants about once a fortnight during the hottest weeks of summer and around once a month during the rest of the year. They've remained looking happy and healthy for years.

Look out for drainage issues, too, as Joanna Turner of Fiddle & Thorn highlights. 'There might be nothing wrong with how much or how often you are watering your snake plant, but if that water isn't draining correctly, it can cause damage to the root system,' she says.

'One really easy way to increase the drainage in the soil of your snake plant's pot is by mixing in some perlite,' Joanna continues. 'The other thing you must check is that the pot has sufficient drainage holes that aren't blocked by anything.'

If you've overwatered your snake plant, move it somewhere sunny to help the soil dry out, and avoid watering it for a good few weeks to allow it to recover. If signs of root rot have already occurred, remove the plant from its pot, cut away the damaged roots and foliage, and then replant it in dry, well-draining soil. 

Joanna Turner
Joanna Turner

Joanna is a houseplant enthusiast and the editor of Fiddle & Thorn, a website which has helped more than one million people around the world take better care of their plants.

snake plants in pot

Snake plants don't need much water to thrive

(Image credit: Adam Yee / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

2. Exposure to extreme temperatures

Snake plants will grow in both sun and shade. However, like most indoor plants, they won't appreciate extreme temperatures. According to gardening expert John Negus, they prefer an average warmth of approximately 60-75°F, and temperatures no lower than 50°F. 

Keeping them away from cold drafts and hot radiators is essential. So, if you're sure you're watering your snake plant correctly, assess its location. Moving it somewhere where the temperature is more consistent may be in order.

John Negus
John Negus

John has been a garden journalist for over 50 years and regularly answers readers' questions in Amateur Gardening magazine. He has also written four books and has delivered many talks over the years on horticulture.

snake plant leaves

Avoid putting your snake plant next to a drafty window or door during winter

(Image credit: Adam Palo / Alamy Stock Photo)

3. Pest infestations

'Pests like mealybugs and spider mites can damage snake plants if not addressed promptly,' says Harry Luther, the Founder of Plantpat. Aphids can also be problematic.

He advises inspecting your snake plant regularly for signs of pests. If you spot them, isolate the infested plant to prevent the pests from spreading, he says. Then, wipe down the leaves with a damp cloth to remove them.

Other methods, such as using neem oil or insecticidal soap, such as Bonide's ready-to-use spray from Amazon, can also help.

Harry Luther
Harry Luther

Harry is a passionate gardening expert and the Founder of PlantPat, with years of experience in the horticulture world. His journey with plants began early on, nurturing a deep love for all things green. Over the years, he has honed his expertise in various aspects of gardening, from propagation techniques to plant care.

wiping snake plant leaves

Wipe pests away regularly to combat an infestation

(Image credit: Kira Yan / Alamy Stock Photo)


Should you repot a snake plant?

'Sansevieria does not enjoy being re-potted very often,' says gardening expert John Negus. He suggests potting them in a clay pot and then only re-potting them when the pot cracks, indicating that maximum growth space has been used.

Generally, once every three to four years is about right, and is a good time to propagate them by division, too.

Should you remove dead leaves from your snake plant?

With the right know-how, snake plants can thrive for years, growing to dramatic sizes, producing baby plants perfect for repotting, and in some (albeit rare) cases, flowering. Just remember to tackle any problems quickly to help increase their chances of a long and healthy life.

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.