My Over-Watered Snake Plant Needs Help

Snake plants, also called mother-in-law's tongue, are slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants that can thrive in almost any condition but over watering. Their thick, wavy leaves that stand upright in variegated masses lose water slowly and don't require frequent replenishing. Over watering is a common mistake made by well-meaning houseplant owners that can cause oxygen deprivation and root rot.

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The snake plant is named for its undulating leaves, similar to a snake's shape.

Results of Over Watering

Soil has pockets of air that contain oxygen essential for normal root function. Without oxygen, a plant's roots will die and eventually, so will the rest of the plant. When soil becomes saturated with water, oxygen is pushed to the surface and is no longer available to the roots. Too much water sitting in the bottom of a pot can also cause roots to soften and make them susceptible to infection by soilborne fungi and bacteria. These pathogens eat away at the root tissue, restricting the amount of water available to the rest of the plant.

The Right Pot

Containers are an important part of houseplant irrigation. A container without drainage holes not only allows water to sit in the pot, but it prevents salts and other potentially harmful minerals from being flushed out. Drainage holes are critical for a healthy snake plant. The material a pot is made from is also important. Plastic pots or glazed ceramic pots retain moisture longer than unglazed ceramic pots do. Plants sensitive to over watering may fare better in a ceramic pot than a plastic pot.

Dry It Out

If you have over watered your snake plant, the first step is to pour off any water standing in the top of the container and in the drainage dish. Allow the plant to dry out until at least half of the potting medium is dry. Don't let the soil get so dry it separates from the container, however. If symptoms like yellowing leaves and wilting improve, you can resume a normal watering schedule. Water thoroughly, empty any water standing in the drainage dish after an hour or so and water again when the top 2 inches of the soil are dry.

Correcting Root Rot

Your snake plant may have root rot if you let it dry out and it is still wilted and off color. Check the roots by gently lifting the plant out of its container. If half to all of the roots are brown and mushy, just discard the plant. It is too far gone to save. Otherwise, use clean scissors and cut the roots off above the brown, mushy sections. Leave as much of the healthy root intact as possible. Repot the plant in a new pot with a drainage dish. Use new potting medium at a mixture of three parts peat to one part potting soil. Water thoroughly, discard any water left in the drainage dish after about an hour and only water again when the top 2 inches of soil are dry.