Snake Plant Root Rot
It is one of the most common and damaging maladies snake plants suffer from. Although these plants are believed to be very tolerant to most environmental conditions, it is devastating to their health when they rot. Rotting roots can literally destroy a plant from the ground up. The best way to eliminate root rot is to prevent it from happening in the first place. I will describe how snake plant root rot occurs, how to diagnose and treat it, and the most important thing, how to prevent it.
What is a root rot?
The roots of plants absorb water, nutrients and oxygen from the soil. However, when the soil is too dry for a long time, they begin to slowly suffocate. The weakened roots become decayed due to pathogens. Affected roots turn to a brown or black mush that can’t get nutrients from the soil. The whole plant dies as it lacks necessary nutrients to grow.
The Causes of Root Rot
There are two main causes of root rot – being exposed to wet soil for too long and having fungus present in the soil. Soil that is wet can be the result of a variety of different factors. This occurs due to a lack of oxygen. It causes plant roots to die and eventually turn to rot. Another source is fungal growth, which may lie dormant in soil, but suddenly take off when given a moist environment. There can be several factors that can contribute to root rot in snake plants, however sitting in moist soil for a prolonged period of time seems to be the most common one.
Watering too frequently
A snake plant that’s getting water before most of the soil has dryed is a classic setup for rot. Sansevieria flourish in droughts, require less water than most houseplants and shouldn’t be watered like most houseplants. The best way to water them is to do it deeply but infrequently. Weekly or biweekly is good enough. This keeps the soil’s top layer dry, preventing root rot. Constantly wet soil causes root rot.
You have to be very careful while watering snake plants in winter when they’re dormant. You just need to water them around once a month during this time. Continuing to water it the way you did in its growing phase could result in accidental over watering. Check out this watering guide for more information on how to water Sansevieria.
A good Sansevieria container must provide enough drainage to allow excess water to escape. Pots for snake plants must be filled with drainage holes to facilitate water flow from the plant. Remember to place a saucer underneath the pot and empty it when the water has run out. If the water stays in the saucer too long, it can still soak through the soil below. Placing the pot on pebbles helps raise the water level and raise the pot base above the water line.
Although container plants tend to be at greater risk of root rot due to overwatering, garden plants are not immune from root rot. You can prevent most root rot issues in your garden by taking precautions to improve soil drainage before planting.
A snake plant should be planted in the proper sized container. You may be tempted to provide your roots extra growing space to save on future repotting efforts. However, a big pot means too much soil and excess moisture, which is not advisable to plants like the Sansevieria.
Pick a pot that is just large enough to hold the roots of the snake plant. And you should repot the snake plant every 2-3 years by increasing the pot diameter by a half inch to two inches. Here’s a simple guide to picking the perfect pot for your snake plant.
Old and dense soil
Pure garden soil is too dry to allow sufficient drainage for plants such as snake plants. Snake plant potting mixes need to be porous and very fast-draining. It is important to understand that dense soil tends to stay waterlogged for long periods of time, allowing harmful pathogens to grow in it, which causes and encourages the spread of root rot. Old soil also becomes compacted, which makes it more prone to retaining moisture.
One of the problems with old soil can be salt overload. When hard or salty water is used, dissolved minerals accumulate in the soil. The salts not only reduce the ability of the soil to retain water, but they also cause extra plant stress.
Using contaminated tools
Use sterilized tools for pruning, propagation, and repotting snake plants. The non-sterile tools can carry pathogens that can infect healthy plants. It is important to disinfect your equipment before reusing it again on another plant in order to avoid making the exposed plants more vulnerable and prone to infection.
Not changing the water during propagation
During the propagation process, some snake plant roots may rot. This is commonly seen when leaf cuttings are used. In water, snake plants require frequent water replacement. If the water is not changed every 3-4 days, the leaves’ ends begin to smell fishy and start withering.
Root Rot Symptoms
However, the first symptoms of root rot occur below soil surface, so corrective action must be taken early. Unfortunately, the problem is not often noticed by plant growers until it is advanced and manifests in other forms. In order to resolve the root rot in your snake plants as soon as possible, act immediately when they start showing signs.
Appearance of the leaves
Snake plants are slower-medium growing plants, so it’s not unusual for the growth rate to slow down further. Yellow leaves are one early warning sign that the plant roots are struggling. But in the Sansevieria plant, yellowing is an indication that root rot may still be far from the complete root system. The entire trunk of the plant is either still unaffected.
Leaves become damaged when its roots are damaged, which causes them to become wilted, soft and mushy, turn yellow or fall off. The outer leaves usually get affected first before the rest of it. Occasionally you may need to check the roots of your snake plant if it is seeming to droop and turn yellow without obvious reasons.
To prevent serious damage to your plant, you always need to check the roots and soil if you see any leaf discoloration. Loosen the root zone and gently remove the plant from its pot. You should inspect the roots of the plant carefully, the first sign of root rot is a bad smell of decay emanating from the roots or from the soil.
Plant roots with healthy roots usually have an earthy odor, but as the disease progresses, your snake plant may develop an odor of rotting plant material. If you do not treat it promptly, it becomes increasingly obvious. Whenever you suspect the smell, you may be able to spot the problem sooner.
Dark mushy roots
You should examine the roots carefully after taking the snake plant out for examination. Healthy roots of the snake plant are light yellow to white, and firm to touch. During the disease, the leaves become limp and change color. The roots affected by root rot look brown or black, and that can be felt if you touch them.
A bad case of root rot turns healthy roots completely mushy. Healthy portions of the roots turn darker and mushy as the roots slowly die. You may not even be able to pull the plant up by the roots if they are severely damaged.
Appearance of the soil
Plants with too much moisture to the soil indicate a possible root rot problem down below. Feel the soil with a finger or a moisture meter and seek out any signs of moisture. If it stays wet for days after watering, then it can cause more problems down below.
Too much water, too wet soil, or poor drainage can cause root rot. Fungi in the soil make the problem worse. Too much moisture is a breeding ground for fungi. A fungal disease called red leaf spot and southern blight commonly attacks weakened snake plants. Visible fungus appears on the plant surface and may accompany some root rot.