Brown Spots on Snake Plants – What’s the Cause and How To Fix

Did you recently notice brown spots on your snake plant? If so, then chances are it’s the result of inconsistent watering, too much sunlight, or a pest infestation.

Snake plants – formally known as Dracaena trifasciata or Sansevieria trifasciata – are gorgeous, easy-to-maintain indoor plants that can boost your focus, purify the air, and add beauty to your home with ease. But they’re also prone to brown spots if not taken care of correctly. While I hope that brown spots are your only problem you encounter, I’ve written about all the other issues snake plants commonly run into over here.

Snake plant leaf with brown spot

Generally speaking, brown spots are considered dead spots either on the plant itself or on the leaves. While your first instinct upon seeing them may be to panic, the reality is that brown spots are naturally taken care of by the snake plant itself. Trust me, over time, these dead spots will fall by themselves, as the snake plant naturally heals itself.

While this is certainly a cool process, you shouldn’t take brown spots lightly, as they indicate the need for change, whether it be the amount of water it’s getting or where it’s placed in your house. Here’s some insight into what causes brown spots on snake plants, as well as what you can do to prevent them.

What Causes Brown Spots on a Snake Plant?

The most common cause of brown spots on a snake plant is too much direct sunlight. Snake plants are famous for being able to grow in both sun and shade, however, they should never be exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods. Otherwise, brown spots could occur.

But what causes the actual browning? The short answer is damage to the plant’s chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what gives your snake plant its distinct green color, so when this gets damaged, the pigmentation is going to be damaged, as well.

Even though you can prevent brown spots by making sure your snake plant is always kept in indirect sunlight, you shouldn’t take these spots lightly. The more damaged your plant’s chlorophyll is, the harder it’ll be for it to generate its own food through photosynthesis.

While sun exposure is, perhaps, one of the most common causes of brown spots on snake plants, there are several others. Keep reading to find out what they are:

Fungal Problems:

Aside from too much sunlight, your snake plant may have brown spots caused by fungus. Generally speaking, there are four different types of fungus that can cause brown spots to form on your snake plants.

Here’s what they are (and how they grow):

Southern Blight

Southern blight, or sclerotium rolfsii, is a soil-borne disease that thrives in conditions that are hot and wet. This fungus attacks the root, turning it brown and yellow. You want to check your plant for excessive heating or drainage problems if you come across this.

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Rust

Heterobasidiomycetes is a fungus that can infect your snake plant. Since they don’t feed on dead organic matter, they go from plant to plant sucking up the sap.

 

Red Leaf Spot

This can be easily identified by the red or brownish-red spots on your snake plant’s leaves. Warm temperatures and humid conditions allow this fungus to grow and thrive if it’s not properly treated.

Solution: Fungicide

If you see signs of fungal problems in your snake plant, treatment is easy on all accounts. If your plant is infected with Southern Blight, I recommend that you apply a fungicide to your plant and try to keep water off of the leaves when you’re watering them.

If your plant is showing signs of rust, you should remove the infected part, and any infected leaves nearby, and limit contact to water. This will not only remove the fungus but keep it from spreading throughout the rest of the plant.

If your plant is infected with red leaf spots, cut off the infected leaves, and use a fungicide that is rich in copper and sulfur as a preventative measure.

Snake plants growing together in pots

Pest Infestation

Ah, pest infestation – a plight to plant growers everywhere…and for good reason. Pests can not only cause severe damage to your snake plant but in some cases, can outright kill it. And because many pests are difficult to see with the naked eye, it’s easy to miss them until it’s too late.

However, that’s not to say you’re helpless when combating a pest infestation on your snake plant. If you have a pest infestation on your snake plant, you’re more than likely going to be dealing with spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, whiteflies, and thrips.

The reason why these pests, in particular, are drawn to snake plants is that they can get a lot of food from them. Oftentimes, snake plant owners will come across a translucent, sticky substance on the leaves and wonder what caused it. And, the answer is all of the pests mentioned above.

As they feed on the plant, they leave behind this substance called honeydew. Before long, it can leave behind sooty mold, which causes dark spots. The good news is that you can easily get rid of these pests. Here’s how:

Use Horticultural Oil

Even if you don’t have a current pest infestation, this is a product that all plant growers should invest in, so they’re properly prepared for when an infestation inevitably happens.

Horticultural oil is placed directly on the plant and as a result, suffocates all of the pests that come in contact with it. Generally very safe to use on plants, some people prefer to buy some already pre-made from a store, whereas others prefer to make their own.

If you opt to make your own horticultural oil, combine a half a cup of liquid soup and two cups of vegetable oil and add it to your own spray bottle. The effects of horticultural oil should work quickly, but be mindful to not use it in cooler temperatures, because it won’t be as effective.

Use Sticky Traps

Brown spot on snake plant

If the oil method isn’t quite your style, try sticky traps instead. If you’ve ever had ants or mice in your house before, you may already be familiar with how these kinds of traps work.

Sticky traps are essentially small cards that you’ll place either at the top of the snake plant or right above it to ensure you capture the most pests. Thrips, for example, tend to be high flyers, so this particular pest eradication method is incredibly helpful (just be sure you’re using blue sticky traps, and not the yellow ones; the yellow ones are designed to attract aphids and whiteflies).

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These traps are even effective in the rain, so if you’re worried about a pest infestation on your outdoor snake plant, use this method to see positive results. Keep in mind these traps are usually only designed for smaller infestations.

Insecticidal Soap

Last but not least, you may want to give insecticidal soap a try. Like the horticultural oil mentioned earlier in this list, insecticidal soap suffocates pests as soon as they come in contact with it.

The only real difference between this and the oil is that you have to make sure your leaves are coated with soap for it to be effective, whereas, with the horticultural oil, you should be fine if you just spray the leaves, not douse them.

Watering

When watering your snake plant, you need to be careful. There are a few different factors that you need to keep in mind when watering your snake plant.

Too Much Water

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t overwater your snake plant. A snake plant only needs to be watered about once a week. More than that and you’ll drown your plant. If you’re not sure if you should water the plant, stick your finger in the dirt. If it’s still wet, don’t water it. If it’s dry, water it.

Too Little Water

You also need to be careful with how little you water your plant. With such a light watering schedule, it can be easy to forget and not check up on your snake plant. If you notice the leaves of your plant start to get crispy and brown, you’ve underwatered your plant.

Hard Water vs City Water

When watering a snake plant, it’s recommended that you go with distilled or rain water over water from your tap. Tap water tends to use chlorine and fluorides to sanitize the water. These can cause issues with your snake plant as they can block your plant from getting vital nutrients that it needs to grow.

Using distilled water or rainwater works best. If you don’t have immediate access to either of these, take your tap water and let it sit in its container for at least 48 hours. This will allow chlorine and fluoride to dissipate, making it safe to water your snake plant with.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer is a great way to help your snake plant grow. However, it’s possible to overuse your fertilizer and cause issues for your plant. This usually pops up as the browning you see on the leaves within a couple of days of fertilizing.

Brown spot on snake plant

In this case, use water to flush out the excess fertilizer, and then don’t fertilize for a few months to allow your plant to rebound. Snake plants don’t need a whole lot of fertilizer either.

If you want to add a little boost, Lisa Marie Gee from Cornell University says that “fertilizing with cactus fertilizer during the growing season is all that is needed.” Cactus fertilizer is typically higher in phosphorus, which is great for indoor plants.

Experts recommended fertilizing only once during the summer, which will provide the ideal environment for the fertilizer to work. Don’t fertilize for the fall or winter. This will help the snake plant grow without going overboard.

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Light

Much like everything else involving the care of a snake plant, a little goes a long way. A snake plant will do best in indirect sunlight. Its favorite kind of spot would be either a window with a curtain in front of it or even a shady spot outside.

If you plan on placing the plant outside in indirect light, gradually introduce it to those conditions. If you place it in that environment too quickly, it can shock the plant and cause it to have issues.

Humidity

Snake plants are very particular about the kind of humid conditions they can thrive in. They prefer an area where the temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees and the humidity sits at 40%.

Granted, if this fluctuates slightly, your plant is still going to thrive but the further away it gets from this 40% humidity, the more it’s going to run into problems. If the humidity drops too low, it will droop.

If the humidity is too high, that’s when fungal infections, bacterial infections, and pest infestations start to occur, opening the door for a lot of ways your plant can start to develop brown spots.

FAQ:

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about brown spots on snake plants:

Should You Cut Brown Spots Off a Snake Plant?

Yes, you should cut the brown spots off of your snake plant. These brown spots mean that those areas on your snake plant are dead, so getting rid of them will make your snake plant appear more aesthetically pleasing. However, it’s not technically necessary to cut these brown spots off because snake plants can heal themselves over time.

To avoid cutting into a healthy part of the plant, simply trim to the edge of the brown spot on the leaf. Just make sure that your cutting shears have been properly sanitized first so you don’t accidentally bring over any pests or fungal diseases.

How Do I Know My Snake Plant is Dying?

Brown spots are one of the clearest signs that your snake plant is dying. However, you should also be on the lookout for:

  • Wilting and/or curling leaves
  • White spots
  • Yellow spots
  • Mushy leaves and/or roots

Do Snake Plants Heal Themselves?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes: snake plants do heal themselves, but the process will take time. Once the leaf is dead, it’s dead and over time, the leaves will fall off the plant themselves.

So, you don’t technically have to cut them away yourself, as the snake plant will eventually take care of the job for you.

However, keep in mind that this really depends on the severity of the damage. If the snake plant is in really rough shape, the natural healing process can take months. This is why many people opt to remove the dead leaves themselves.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to brown spots on leaves and other snake plant problems, the good news is that they often give a sign that corrective action must be taken before it’s too late.

Whereas brown spots may be a sign of serious decay on other plants, on snake plants, they actually may be the key to saving them. These tips can help you prevent brown spots and take the necessary steps to bring your snake plant back to life.

Brock

Brock is the head gardener and editor-in-chief at Bigger Garden. Every year you can expect to see something new in his raised beds, from purple broccoli to cotton candy peppers.

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