Snake plants, scientifically known as Sansevieria trifasciata syn. Dracaena trifasciata is popular among gardening enthusiasts and homeowners for its hardiness. However, even these robust plants are not immune to diseases.
Early detection and intervention can be the difference between a thriving snake plant and a wilting one. Let’s delve into the world of snake plant health, exploring five common diseases and their effective remedies.
5 Common Snake Plant Diseases & Simple Solutions
Snake plants are highly tolerant to a range of conditions. Even so, this hardy plant can suffer from several problems that affect the roots and the foliage, particularly when grown in the wrong conditions.
Most of these diseases aren’t fatal, and your plant will survive with the proper care.
If you notice the symptoms of any of the following five diseases, simply implementing the correct changes should protect your plant from severe consequences.
1: Root Rot
Root rot is one of the most common diseases snake plant owners will encounter. Left untreated it will cause stunted growth and the overall decline of the plant. However, with the right conditions, it is relatively easy to avoid.
It is caused when roots are exposed to excessive moisture or poorly drained soil for an extended period. Snake plants are particularly susceptible as they are adapted to dry and arid environments.
Careless watering or choosing a pot without adequate drainage holes can contribute to waterlogged conditions for a snake plant. This moist environment encourages the growth of the fungal pathogens that cause root rot.
If left untreated, the rot spreads through the root ball and to the snake plants leaves.
Root rot can also be caused by contamination. Pathogens can be present in the soil from previous infected plant material or contaminated water.
This snake plant disease can be fixed as long as it hasn’t spread throughout the plant. Once the infection has reached the leaves, your snake plant might not be able to survive.
Root rot symptoms are numerous and may be confused with other diseases and problems. You will need to examine the plant’s growing conditions to correctly diagnose the problem.
Symptoms may include:
- Stunted growth and deformed leaves
- Foul-smelling soil
- Yellow, mushy leaves
- Bending/drooping and wilting yellow leaves
- Brown or reddish mushy roots
How To Treat Root Rot
Root rot won’t kill your plant unless you neglect it for too long. Once you notice any of the symptoms, you can take the following steps:
- Assess the damage: remove the snake plant from its pot and check the roots. Healthy roots will be firm and white; infected roots will be brown and mushy
- Remove any infected roots using sterilized scissors or a knife. Remove affected leaves to help your snake plant direct energy to new, healthy growth.
- Repot the snake plant in fresh, well-draining soil suitable for succulents. Choose a pot with adequate drainage.
- Use clean water to lightly water in the snake plant, but be careful to avoid overwatering.
Tip: It might be too late to save the whole plant from severe infections. In this case, consider taking leaf cuttings from any remaining healthy leaves and propagating new snake plants.
2: Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew is a fungal infection that affects various plants, including Sansevieria trifasciata. The symptoms of this disease are similar across species, but various fungi can cause it ¹.
The disease thrives in moist conditions, so it is most likely to affect your plant when the humidity is too high, or air circulation is poor. Additionally, insufficient light can weaken the snake plant’s natural defenses and make it more susceptible to fungal infections.
The symptoms of powdery mildew can be difficult to spot. Here are the signs to look out for:
- White or gray powdery patches on the plants’ leaves and stems, which can make the affected areas look dusty or fuzzy.
- Yellowing or browning leaves, often surrounding the powdery patches.
- Deformed or stunted growth.
- Leaves may turn brown, wilt, and fall off the plant.
- Reduced overall plant vigor.
How To Treat Powdery Mildew
Although powdery mildew isn’t fatal, the infection will spread if left undetected, leading to the plant’s decline. Powdery mildew can also spread to neighboring houseplants.
If you notice any of the symptoms, you can take the following steps:
- Remove the infected leaves from the plant.
- Apply a fungicide spray ², neem oil, or horticultural oil to the plant’s affected areas to control the infection’s spread. Make sure to follow the instructions on the label carefully.
- Keep your plant somewhere where it can receive the proper light requirements (bright, indirect light).
- Choose a location with adequate airflow. Allow space between plants to ensure proper circulation.
- Regularly inspect plants for signs of infection.
3: Southern Blight
Southern blight is a serious snake plant fungal infection ³ that can be lethal if left untreated.
It is caused by the pathogen Sclerotium rolfsii, which spreads through the soil and quickly travels to infect the whole root system. Your snake plant will be susceptible to southern blight if the conditions are overly wet and warm.
The fungus is soil-borne, so it won’t easily travel to nearby plants in separate pots. However, it can spread by touch, so it is essential to sterilize gardening equipment to prevent cross-contamination.
Southern blight’s symptoms appear on the lower leaves of snake plants near the soil surface. Leaving the soil exposed to bright sunlight for about four weeks will kill off a southern blight infection. However, it is best to replant with fresh, uncontaminated soil for potted plants.
Southern blight will cause the roots to brown and yellow followed by brown and rotting spots on the lower leaves. The snake plant will eventually begin to yellow and wilt.
How To Treat Southern Blight
Southern blight can be fatal if left untreated. Take the following steps at the first sign of discoloration or dark patches on the lower leaves:
- Prune the infected leaves using sterilized pruners. Sterilize these pruners before touching any other plant.
- Repot your snake plant using fresh, uncontaminated soil. If reusing the same pot, clean thoroughly before planting.
- Apply a fungicide that treats southern blight.
4: Red Leaf Spot
Red leaf spot disease is another fungal infection that may affect snake plants. If detected early, it is easy to manage.
Red leaf spot can be caused by various fungal pathogens, which tend to thrive in environments with high humidity. Overhead watering and poor ventilation can contribute to the conditions that favor red leaf spot fungi.
As the name suggests, the fungus appears on snake plants as red or purplish spots on the foliage, which will gradually turn brown and develop blisters.
If the disease progresses, the leaves may turn yellow and wilt.
How To Treat Red Leaf Spot
In most cases, red leaf spot can be easily treated by adjusting the growing conditions of your snake plant. Once you notice the symptoms, you can take the following steps:
- Remove any infected leaves using sterilized scissors or a knife.
- Ensure plants are well-spaced to avoid overcrowding.
- Choose a well-ventilated location with good airflow and avoid excessive moisture.
- Apply a fungicide labeled for use on ornamental plants.
- Avoid overfertilizing to maintain nutritional balance and plant resilience.
Rust is caused by various species of fungi that infect the leaf tissue and lead to the development of spots and blisters. While not common in snake plants, rust can occur in overly humid conditions or with excessive moisture.
Healthy snake plants are less likely to be infected by rust, as they are better equipped to resist infection. Water stress, improper lighting conditions (mainly low light or too much direct sun), and nutritional imbalance can weaken your snake plant’s defenses.
Rust usually spreads slowly on snake plants, so early intervention at the first signs can help limit its impact.
Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- White or yellow small spots or pustules usually appear in the first stages of infection
- As the fungal spores develop, the spots will turn rust-colored and eventually become powdery
- An advanced infection will cause the leaves to yellow and wilt, as well as reduce overall plant vigor
How To Treat Rust
Rust is not concerning when detected early but can kill your snake plant if neglected. Regularly inspect your snake plant for signs of rust to allow for early treatment.
The following steps will help prevent the spread of infection:
- Remove the infected leaves from the plant
- Avoid growing conditions that favor rust. Provide good ventilation, monitor humidity levels, and water at soil level to avoid wetting the foliage
- For severe infections, apply a fungicide suitable for rust in ornamental plants
- Ensure good hygiene when pruning to prevent spreading via cross-contamination
How To Protect Your Snake Plants From Diseases
Sansevieria trifasciata are hardy plants resilient to many common diseases. However, in the wrong conditions, these plants can weaken and become prone to infection.
Providing optimal growing conditions is the best preventative for protecting your snake plant from disease.
Here are some tips to strengthen your snake plant’s natural defenses:
- Follow a plant care routine and examine your snake plants for any spots, foul smells, or mushy leaves.
- Follow appropriate watering practices. Overwatering is more of a threat than underwatering, as it creates a moist environment that encourages the growth of several pathogens. Avoid a watering schedule; allow the soil to dry between watering to prevent waterlogged conditions. And do not use tap water with chlorine.
- Snake plants thrive in bright indirect light. Direct sunlight or too little light can lead to a weakened plant that is more susceptible to disease.
- Pot your snake plant in uncontaminated, well-draining soil. Perlite and coarse sand can be used for increased drainage.
- Allow for good air circulation by providing adequate spacing between plants.
- Sterilize all your gardening equipment ⁴ to prevent the spread of fungal diseases.
- Provide your plant with the nutrients it needs for growth. A balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half-strength is recommended during the growing season
- Monitor for pest infestations: If you spot pests such as aphids, spider mites, or mealybugs, it is best to deal with them asap. Mealybugs steal sap from your plant and can be eliminated by soaking a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and spot-treating the area/s. Repeat the process until they do not reappear.
- Continue to monitor the health of your snake plant so that you can identify symptoms as early as possible.
Set Your Plant Up For Success
Snake plants are pretty hardy and not particularly prone to diseases. However, they can suffer from several infections under certain conditions.
Most diseases won’t kill your plant if detected and treated early. By recognizing the symptoms of common diseases and following proper care practices, you can easily reduce the impact of infection.
With the proper care, you can enjoy the benefits and resilience of your snake plant for years to come.
Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.