Snake plants can survive tough environments and drought-like conditions. But it is important to learn their watering requirements when keeping them as houseplants. For example, new gardeners often experience issues like overwatering. Overwatering can lead to root rot, quickly turning into plant death.
So how do you determine when and how much water to give a snake plant?
It’s quite simple. If it’s hotter outside, check the soil of your snake plant every week. When the top 3 inches are dry, give it a good soak. Pour the water close to the edges of the pot till it starts draining out from the bottom.
If it is colder outside (winter or fall), check the soil of your snake plant every 2-3 weeks and follow the same watering technique.
But there’s more to watering a snake plant than just the basics. If you have more nuanced questions, such as how to check soil for moisture more accurately, or what are the symptoms of under or overwatering, follow along.
This article will answer your questions about the best practices for watering snake plants based on experienced advice.
How Often to Water a Snake Plant?
If you’re looking for a fixed watering schedule for your snake plant(s), you won’t find one. Even if you do, I recommend you don’t follow it.
Why? Different factors, such as weather, humidity, temperature, etc., affect your snake plants’ water requirements. A watering schedule that might work for someone living in Minnesota, USA, might not work for someone living in Doha, Qatar.
Therefore, the most recommended method of figuring out how often to water a snake plant is to check its soil every 5-7 days. Doing so allows you to set your watering schedule based on the unique circumstances of your plant.
Here are a few ways to do that:
The Finger Test
The simplest way to test the soil is to poke your finger about 3 inches deep in it. If the soil is dry, it is your cue to water your snake plant. However, even if you feel slight moisture, you should wait a few more days and check again.
However, there’s an even more accurate method that you can use to check the soil.
Soil Moisture Meter
The finger test will work fine in most cases. But if you want to be accurate, you should check the bottom layers of the soil. To do that, you need a soil moisture meter. It is a long probe that goes deep in the soil and can test the lower layers for moisture.
It gives you a rating with different levels, such as “wet, “moist,” and “dry.” When watering snake plants, ensure the reading is closer to dry.
You can also use a makeshift probe with a wooden skewer or a chopstick.
Simply insert it in the soil and leave it there for a few minutes. Take it out and see if the lower end is slightly damp(not wet). That is your cue for watering.
But the discussion doesn’t end there. Different people recommend different methods of watering a snake plant. Let’s discuss these methods and some personal recommendations.
Techniques for Watering a Snake Plant
The first method and my recommendation is top watering. Once you’ve figured out that your snake plant needs water, pour water gently close to the edges of the pot until the soil is completely soaked. The excess water should start trickling out of drainage holes by this time.
Be careful not to water close to the leaf cluster or the center of the pot, as water can stay there for some time and cause root rot.
It is best to water your snake plant with distilled or rainwater whenever possible. Tap water has a higher concentration of minerals and salts. As you keep using tap water, these minerals build up in the soil, negatively affecting your snake plant’s health.
Therefore, when using tap water, I always recommend watering profusely. The excess water that flows out flushes the excess minerals with it.
You’ll find some gardeners recommending the bottom watering method. It works by placing the snake plant pot in a shallow tray and filling it with about an inch of water. The soil absorbs the water upwards to provide nutrition to the roots.
This method works okay if you’re using distilled water. But since most people use tap water, this method doesn’t work well as it doesn’t allow the flushing benefits like top watering does.
However, if you bottom water your snake plant, don’t let it sit in the tray for too long. Take the pot out as soon as the top layer of the soil feels moist, which usually takes around 10 minutes.
Always use room temperature water regardless of the watering method. Cold or hot water can shock the roots and damage the plant.
Use distilled water for a soil flush every few months to eliminate mineral or fertilizer(synthetic) build-up. Simply use about five times the water you use normally and gently water the plant. Let the soil soak, and excessive water drain out slowly.
Watering Snake Plants in Winter and Summer
Your plant will adjust its watering requirements according to the weather, and you’ll know it by checking the top 3 inches of the soil.
But it is still useful to learn how different seasons affect a snake plant’s water consumption.
Generally speaking, the growing season for a snake plant usually lasts between April and October. As the plant puts out new growth and absorbs more sunlight, it requires more water during this time. It’s best to check the soil every seven days during the growing season.
During fall and winter, the plant needs much less water and dries out more slowly. Therefore, you can delay checking the soil by 2-3 weeks.
Signs of an Overwatered Snake Plant
Overwatering a snake plant is much more likely and dangerous than underwatering. Here are a few signs of an overwatered snake plant.
Consistently Damp Soil
It is an obvious one, and it usually happens when you follow a strict watering schedule you read on the internet.
If the soil is noticeably soggy even after 5-6 days of watering, your plant is either overwatered or has some issues with drainage.
The first step is to fix the watering schedule, and then to see if you’re using well-draining soil and pot with 1-2 drainage holes.
Wrinkled, Droopy, and Yellowing Leaves
When your snake plant is consistently overwatered, the soil becomes waterlogged. It deprives the roots of oxygen and reduces the absorption of water throughout the plant.
Consequently, plant’s leaves become deprived of water and nutrients, and show it by wrinkling, drooping, or yellowing. The yellowing in an overwatered snake plant will begin from the base of the leaves and spread upward.
Rather than a symptom, root rot is a disease caused primarily by overwatering. You should be especially careful about it because once it sets in, it can quickly damage your plant.
Root rot happens when the soil is waterlogged and the roots have a restricted oxygen supply. Lack of oxygen coupled with a moist soil creates an ideal environment for fungal organisms looking to feed on your plant’s roots. Once the fungal infection sets in the roots, your plant starts experiencing root rot.
Here are some telltale signs that your snake plant has rotting roots:
- Leaves feel soft and mushy at the base.
- Slimy and brown spots on the leaves.
- Musty or sour-smelling soil.
- Appearance of fungus gnats.
- Plant’s leaves dropping off gradually.
Lastly, you can confirm root rot by pulling your plant out of the soil and checking the roots. They are already rotting if they have turned black, brown, gray, smelly, and squishy.
Fixing Overwatering and Root Rot in Snake Plants
If you notice symptoms like wilting, drooping, or yellowing(around the edges), simply leave your plant to dry out. Wait till the lower layers of its soil are completely dry. Once dry, leave the plant for a few more days before watering again.
On the other hand, dealing with root rot, especially if it is extensive, requires a bit more work.
Remove the plant from the pot if you notice the leaves turning yellow and mushy from the base (or other symptoms listed above).
Grab pruning shears and wipe them with a disinfectant such (3% hydrogen or 10% bleach). Find out the roots that smell bad and feel mushy, and cut them off. When you’re done, prepare a container with fresh well-draining soil and drainage holes, and repot the plant.
Signs of an Underwatered Snake Plant
Even though underwatering is not as common in snake plants, here are a few symptoms to spot it:
Slow or No Growth
A healthy snake plant grows at a rate of 1-3 inches per month. Generally, it produces 2-4 new leaves every year. I understand this is an incredibly slow growth rate and hard to notice.
But if, after six months, your plant has not grown at all, it means that it is being consistently underwatered. It is only focused on surviving rather than thriving.
Since the snake plant is a succulent, it stores water in its leaves. In its natural habitat, this allows the plant to live out periods of drought. As the plant becomes thirstier, its stored water starts to get depleted.
As the plant keeps losing water, its leaves lose their typical glossy and taut look and become wrinkled.
Another reaction of the plant being dehydrated is its leaves losing their ability to stay upright, resulting in a gradual droop and curl.
It is a defense mechanism that allows the plant to shield its leaves’ surface from air and slow evaporation.
Browning Tips and Edges
During extended periods of dehydration, snake plants’ leaves, their tips, and edges, start to lose their green color. They gradually fade to yellow, brown, or white, turning dry and crispy around the edges. If consistently underwatered, the leaves may also start dropping off.
Fixing Underwatering in Snake Plants
Recovering an underwatered snake plant is quite simple. All you have to do is give it a good soak. Water the plant close to the edges of the container profusely until excess water begins to drain out from the bottom. Wait a few days and see if the plant starts recovering. If not, it’s probably suffering from something else.
For example, exposure to excessive sunlight, damaged roots, or extreme temperature yield similar symptoms. All these things can dry out a snake plant, so you must rule them out one by one if underwatering is not the issue. Check how much sunlight does your snake plant need.
Factors Affecting the Watering Schedule
As I mentioned earlier, no schedule suits all snake plants worldwide.
Here’s a scenario. Let’s say you shift your snake plant somewhere it gets less sunlight than it used to. At this point, following the same watering schedule will most likely damage it. You have to water your snake plant after understanding its environmental conditions.
Here is a brief discussion of the key factors that may affect the watering schedule of your snake plant:
- Light: The more sunlight your snake plant gets, the quicker it loses water.
- Humidity: The more humid the environment is, the slower your snake plant loses water.
- Soil: Ideally, the soil should be a well-draining mix for houseplants. Other types of soils may lead to water drying out slowly or waterlogging.
- Temperature: The higher the temperature, the sooner your plant dries out.
- Pot Size and Drainage Holes: The pot size also affects the watering schedule. The soil will dry out quicker in a larger pot, and vice versa. Always ensure that your pot has 1-2 drainage holes for extra water to drain.
The easiest way to fix a watering schedule for your snake plant is to befriend and stay in touch with it.
The more you check on it, the better you’ll understand its watering needs. If you’re getting a snake plant for the first time, start by checking the soil every seven days, even if it is cold outside. Soon you’ll be able to “read” your plant and won’t need to check it as frequently.
Lastly, this article will always be here if you run into watering-related problems with your snake plant!
- Can I mist my snake plant?
Misting is best done on tropical plants. Since the snake plant is a succulent and stores water in its leaves, misting is unnecessary and may even be harmful.
- How often should I water my snake plant in winter?
The exact watering schedule depends on the particular circumstances your plant is in. That said, you can delay checking the soil for dryness for up to two weeks in winter. Once you establish a schedule that allows the soil to dry out completely, you can stick to it throughout the winter.
- Can I give sugar water to my snake plant?
Some gardeners suggest giving sugar water to plants as an alternative to fertilizer. However, a houseplant fertilizer is best for snake plants, as there is no evidence to suggest that sugar water benefits a snake plant.