Mother in law’s tongue or snake plants are a familiar sight in many homes. With their gorgeous sword-shaped leaves, snake plants increase the beauty of your office space or home. These low maintenance, evergreen plants have a reputation of being hardy. They can cope with some imperfect growing conditions very well, which makes them an excellent choice for forgetful gardeners. However, there are limits to the amount of neglect any plant can tolerate. Increased stress caused by some extreme changes in the environment can turn the snake plant brown. In this post I explain how to fix a snake plant with brown tips or spots on the leaves and how to prevent it from happening.
Why does a snake plant get brown tips or patches on the leaves? The browning of leaves is usually a result of stress. And the plant stress can be caused by many different factors. It’s important to find out the reason and fix it ASAP to save your plant from severe damage. Here are some of the most common problems that can make snake plant leaves turn brown.
If you are noticing dry, brown tips on your Sansevieria, it is most likely caused by infrequent or sporadic watering. Though the snake plant can store water and withstand long periods of drought, it still enjoys a regular watering routine. When you forget to water for a long time, the plant can get extremely dehydrated. Then the first sign you’ll notice is crispy, brown tips. The dry, shriveled brown parts can spread to the edges and along the leaf.
When an underwatered plant is suddenly subjected to excess water, it can also provoke some leaf browning. You may want to take a look at the potting mix. If the soil is dense like mud, it either becomes too wet and soggy or concrete dry. This can suffocate the roots and make the plant unhealthy.
It may sound surprising but overwatering can also result in turning the snake plant brown. However, in this case you may not see the brown tips right away. When the potting medium remains wet for too long, roots will suffer damage due to rotting. Leaves will turn mushy, droopy, yellow or yellowish-brown in color. There will be soft brown patches or spots on the leaves. After the root rot becomes severe and the roots cannot absorb moisture or nutrients anymore, then the brown tips can appear.
Proper watering is probably the most important thing you can do to keep your snake plant in good health. Underwatered snake plants are easy to treat as you just have to resume the regular watering. Once they get enough water, the leaves will start looking healthier. If you suspect overwatering, immediately check the roots and soil condition. You’ll have to let the plant dry out, then start watering gradually. Check these posts for more information on saving overwatered or underwatered snake plants.
It’s always good to routinely check your plants to see if they need water or not. The best way to know this is to feel the top 1.5-2 inches of soil with your finger. If it’s completely dry, the plant can be watered. Usually a snake plant needs watering every week or every 2 weeks during spring and summer. In winter and fall seasons, you can water it once a month or even less frequently. Read more on properly watering the snake plants.
Excess heat or direct sunlight
Brown edges and tips can also mean your snake plant is suddenly subjected to excessive sunlight. Snake plants can definitely be grown in direct sunlight when they are acclimatized to it. But if you suddenly move your plant from a basement to the outdoors, it may not tolerate the intensity of the sun. Extreme sun exposure results in the drying up of plant tissue. This can turn the leaves yellow and develop brown spots. Putting the plant above a heater or radiator is not a good idea. It will quickly dry out the soil and damage the leaves.
To correct this problem, place your snake plants behind a light curtain-covered window for bright but indirect sunlight. If you want to move it from a deep shaded place, gradually expose it to light over the period of a few weeks.
Avoid sudden change of light conditions. Some mild direct sun is good for the snake plant, but keep your outdoor plants in a shade. Move the snake plants a few feet away from the heater to prevent any heat damage.
Insect or fungal infestation
Although snake plants are less susceptible to pest infestation, they can sometimes attract insects like spider mites and mealybugs. Both these bugs are sap sucking insects which damage the leaves by making small wounds on them. By sucking the leaves dry they cause leaf dehydration that leads to plant stress and browning of leaves.
Wet brown areas with white thread-like growths signify a fungal growth such as southern blight. Fungal growths first appear white before changing to a deep brown color. Brown lesions on leaves can indicate a fungus red lead spot.
If your plant has developed any kind of brown spots, it’s always a good idea to inspect the foliage for signs of infestation. Check out this post on how to identify the pests and get rid of them.
First of all, isolate the infected plant so that the disease doesn’t spread to other healthy plants. You should start the treatment as soon as possible after you identify the pest attacking your snake plant. For controlling spider mites and mealybugs, use alcohol dipped cotton swabs to wipe off the bugs. You can also wash the leaves with mild soap water. Fungal infections may need chemical treatments like using fungicides.
A simple way to protect your plants from insects is to keep them healthy and clean. Maintain a good watering regimen to avoid any fungal problems. Make sure that the soil and leaves don’t remain wet for long.
Snake plants have developed the ability to survive on nutrient deficient soil. So, their nutrient requirements are low. Fertilizing your snake plants too often or using a strong fertilizer can cause damage to the roots. When the roots get burned by powerful chemicals, it impacts the foliage as well. This can often cause brown leaf tips, or brown edges on the leaves. Snake plants thrive and grow healthier with a little feeding, but just be careful not to overdo it. If you notice the brown leaves a few days after the feeding, excess fertilizer might be the reason.
Flush the potting mix by running plenty of water through it. This will filter the excess nutrients out of the soil. To save the snake plant, stop feeding it for a few months. Once your plant looks happy again, you can resume the fertilization. Use diluted fertilizer at the most once a month only during the growing season.
Avoid feeding your snake plants in winter when they’re in resting state. Don’t fertilize young plants, sick plants or right after they are repotted. Use liquid or slow release fertilizers and apply them cautiously. For more details on fertilizers, you may find this helpful.
Mother in law’s tongue plants aren’t winter hardy and shouldn’t be exposed to freezing cold climates. When the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), they suffer permanent damage to the leaves. The leaves will get scars, light brown patches with little mushy texture. Sometimes the edges of the leaves become wavy and they fold over.
There is no treatment to reverse the damage, but if only part of the leaf has been affected you can simply cut it off. If all leaves are mushy at their bottoms, they are as good as gone. It is possible that the roots are still alive, so new leaves may sprout from that.
It shouldn’t be difficult to protect indoor plants from low temperatures. But if you keep your snake plants in a balcony or outside, just bring them in during winters.
A physical damage can also make the snake plant leaves develop brown patches. If you have purchased the plant online, sometimes it can get injured during the transport. Or moving a big plant from one place to another may result in some harm to the outer foliage.
Brown edges are the dead parts of the leaves and cannot be treated. You can remove the affected parts if you think it’s an aesthetic issue. Just be careful not to cause new injury to the plant.
How to save the snake plant with brown spots?
The best fix for browning of snake plants is to identify the primary cause and improve the growing conditions to resolve that problem. This may include setting a watering schedule, reducing the fertilizer and sunlight, and treating the pest infections. Unfortunately, the damage that has already happened is permanent. Even when you take good care of your plant, the leaf damage will not revert back.
If the damage is minimal, you can just remove the affected parts. Simply cut away the dying brown parts if they look very unappealing. But if there are just small brown tips, you may want to leave them like that. When the damage is severe, snip off the whole leaf at the soil line. Always use sterilized tools to cut the leaves, especially if there is any fungus infestation. Isolate your snake plant from other healthy plants, just to be safe.
Although the brown tips of the plant cannot be revived, they will be less noticeable as your plant gets healthier. When the underlying problem is taken care of, your snake plant will grow plenty more new healthy leaves.