3 Ways to Tell If a Snake Plant Needs Water

underwatered snake plant

The Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata), formerly known as Sansevieria, is commonly labeled an easy-care plant. While snake plant care can be simple, it may take some time to figure out how a new snake plant is doing in your space. 

Due to the snake plant’s native dry habitat “in tropical Africa,” it is easy to overwater snake plants. But how can you tell when your snake plant actually needs water? 

To determine if your snake plant needs water, check if the soil is completely dried out, and check the leaves for drooping or curling. 

3 Signs of an Underwatered Snake Plant

1. The Soil Is Dry From Top to Bottom

Your snake plant should be in a pot with drainage holes. Feel the bottom of your snake plant’s soil through the drainage holes. 

When your plant’s soil is dry, this suggests it is time to water. If you detect any moisture, it is best to wait and recheck it in a week. 

If you do not have your snake plant in a pot with suitable drainage holes, we suggest repotting it into a better pot. 

Snake plants can easily be overwatered when they are in pots without drainage holes. Also, having no drainage holes presents challenges when trying to feel if the bottom layer of soil is dry or not. 

2. The Leaves of Your Snake Plant Are Drooping

This may be an indication that your snake plant is overdue for watering. However, don’t water it yet! 

First, check the soil as mentioned above. If the soil is completely dry and the leaves are drooping, it is time to water your snake plant. 

However, if you notice that the soil is still moist, your snake plant’s leaves may be drooping for another reason. 

See our snake plant posts about root rot, lighting conditions, and humidity for information about other causes of drooping leaves. 

3. The Leaves of Your Snake Plant Are Curling Inward

This may signify your snake plant has gone too long without water. As part of its natural adaptations, the leaves will curl to create a funnel for collecting water when experiencing extreme drought. 

If you notice the leaves curling, check the soil to confirm it’s dry throughout. Also, check your snake plant for signs of common pests, cold stress, or overwatering, as these issues can cause curling of its leaves. 

Because plants can’t speak to us, solving their health problems often involves a process of elimination. 

For example, if your snake plant’s soil is dry throughout and you don’t see any signs of pests or cold stress, leaf curling is likely due to underwatering. 

How to Avoid Underwater Your Snake Plant (Again)

Some houseplant owners will suggest that you water your snake plant after a certain number of weeks have passed. This suggestion is sometimes even listed on the plant care tag when purchasing the snake plant at a big box store. 

However, we don’t recommend you follow this advice. 

The problem with watering on a set schedule is that it doesn’t consider all the variables. These variables include:

  • the lighting conditions
  • soil types
  • the type of pot it is in 
  • humidity
  • seasons of the year 

If your snake plant is getting low light where you have placed it, it will take longer for the soil to dry out between waterings. 

During the winter, the days are shorter, and the sun is less intense. Therefore, your snake plant will need to be watered less frequently in the winter months to prevent root rot. 

Additionally, your snake plant will need more time between waterings if the soil isn’t well-draining, in the wrong pot, and if the humidity is very high. 

For these reasons, we don’t recommend watering on a set schedule. Instead, it is best to check your plant regularly to get a sense of when it is time to water

How To Water Your Snake Plant Properly

  • Bring your snake plant to a nearby sink, and remove the cover pot if you have one that your regular pot is sitting in.
  • Top-water your snake plant with mildly cool or room-temperature water from your faucet. Snake plants don’t require filtered water. Be sure to rotate your plant as the water runs to allow all of the soil to be evenly moistened. 
  • Run water through your snake plant thoroughly until you see water actively drizzling or dripping from every drainage hole. This indicates the water has soaked through the soil thoroughly.

    If your snake plant has been very underwatered, the soil may have become compact and not allow for water to reach the roots.

    If you notice that water is not filtering through extremely dry, packed soil, you may need to loosen the soil with a wooden pick or spoon handle. In this case, water your snake plant for a few minutes longer for a thorough soaking. 
  • Remove your plant from running water, and allow your snake plant to drain in a catch container for 12-24 hours. Remember that snake plants are not safe for pets, and keep this in mind to avoid leaving your draining plant anywhere with nearby pets. 
  • If you decide to allow your snake plant to drain while sitting in its cover pot, you must remove any excess water in the cover pot after the soil has completely drained. Never leave your snake plant sitting in water that cannot escape, as this can lead to root rot. 

Final Thoughts

We acknowledge that it can sometimes be confusing to decipher when it is time to water a snake plant. The signs of underwatering and overwatering can present similarly. Therefore, we recommend a pot with adequate drainage holes to feel the soil and use the soil as a strong indicator of your plant’s watering needs.

Monitoring your snake plant’s leaves for any signs of health problems is a good habit. The leaves will signify underwatering, pests, cold stress, and overwatering. You’ll need to rule out each possibility when you notice an abnormality.

Don’t worry; this becomes second nature once you grow accustomed to your snake plant’s care and normal appearance.

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One Comment

  1. Oh my goodness, what amazing common sense! I never thought to check the soil through the drainage hole of the pot! It’s ingenious! Lol!
    Really, I always check the surface and stick my finger down the side of the pot as far as I can, but worry about disturbing or harming my snake plant’s roots. I should be checking from the bottom! Doi!
    Thank you for this!
    ~Beth S.

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