People say you can drop a calloused leaf of a snake plant on a heap of garbage, and it will still survive, forming roots and eventually growing into beauty. And while the parable is a bit over-exaggerated, snake plants indeed thrive in neglect. They can grow in an extremely arid soil that seemingly misses any nutrients. Saying this all, we still experience problems with snake plants, and one of the most common is the splitting of leaves. In this article we will look at this issue, why it occurs, and what you can do to prevent it.
Before diving into details when it comes to particular causes and remedies for each one, let me briefly summarize the three main reasons why leaves of your snake plant may split: Over-watering, mechanical damage, abrupt temperature changes. Based on my experience with the plants, as well as talks with other succulent growers, one of the three is to blame for 95% of cases when the leaves of your snake plant start to split. Having said that, you should never forget that nature is not Mathematics, and in rare cases something else is to blame for the condition of your Snake plant. Anyway, let’s proceed to three main causes and remedies.
Over-watering as a no. 1 reason why the leaves of your snake plant may split
For a beginner to succulent growing this may sound like a non-sense. After all, why would excess water cause drying and splitting of leaves? Shouldn’t it be the complete opposite? Shouldn’t lack of water cause this? Let me tell you how it really is. The thing is that beginner growers miss one crucial part in the chain of cause and effect. Over-watering does not directly cause drying and splitting of leaves. What it does causes, however, is root rot, which is especially common if you keep your snake plant in a pot without drainage hole (* check also: Do snake plants need pots with drainage holes?). And once the roots rot, they cannot anymore transfer any water, or nutrients, to the leaves of the snake plant. Logically they will start drying and splitting.
What can you do when you identify over-watering as the reason for this? Well, it depends on the severity of the issue, and how long it’s been going on. If just a few of the leaves split, and you’ve been over-watering the plant for a few weeks only, it can typically still be saved. Remove it from the original pot, cut away rotten part of roots, and plant it in a new pot, with some good succulent soil, and with a drainage hole. Snake plant is versatile, and if there’s still some life left in the plant, it will eventually recover. Having said that, if the issue is too serious, and the entire rooting system is rotten, all you can do is throwing the plant away, and starting with a new one. Lesson learned, and no doubt you won’t repeat the same mistake again.
Mechanical damage as no. 2 reason for snake plant leaves splitting
If mechanical damage is to blame for the problem, you will typically notice just a few of the leaves splitting, like one or two or three. If you notice any issue on majority of leaves, you can rule out mechanical damage. Now, what kind of damage I am talking about? It can be different things. First of all, hail storms and dust storms. A snake plant is versatile, but the leaves are relatively fragile, especially in a young plant, or one that does not exactly thrive in the environment. Hail or even sharp particles of dust (in a dust storm) can cause mechanical damage to leaves, such as holes and cracks that eventually grow into splits and the entire leaf splits into two. If you have your snake plants outside and had some storms recently, this can be a reason.
Second common issue is mechanical damage by pets, especially cats. Cats are playful animals that love to explore their environment. And while most succulents are safe for cats, cats aren’t necessary safe for all succulents. If your little kittens do not find any toys around the house, they may come to play with your snake plant, tasting it, and trying the sharpness of their claws on the leaves of the plant. I’ve seen once a cat splitting the leaf of a snake plant open with a single, well directed move of its paw, so no doubt this can happen. Hence if you have cats at home, you should take notice.
Luckily enough, remedies for mechanical damage are relatively simple. If pets are to blame, make sure they have enough toys to play with, and also enough food, and hence they aren’t attracted to your succulents. And if a storm or other weather event created the damage, you can prevent it from reoccurring by hiding your snake plant under some roof when the weather forecast is bad. Best of all, unless the storm (or the cat :)) damaged the roots, the splitting of few leaves of your snake plant won’t be fatal for the plant. Just remove the damaged leaves and move on.
Abrupt temperature changes can also cause leaves splitting in snake plants
Snake plants can tolerate temperatures between 5 degrees Celsius to 35 degrees Celsius, though they prefer the range between 18 and 28, which is fine for us growers, since most of us keep such temperature in our homes. What they do not like, however, are abrupt extreme temperature changes, which do happen sometimes both outside and inside. Imagine having 20 degrees, two hours later five degrees, and another eight hours later 30 degrees. Such things do happen (sadly such extreme events will only intensify with the phenomenon of global warming).
Extreme temperature changes can trigger strong stress response in your snake plant, which can result in discoloring of leaves, and even in leaves splitting. If the changes are severe and the stress reaction too, your snake plant may actually not survive the incident. Having said that, in this case prevention is the best cure. If you know something similar is going to happen, and temperatures will change in this manner, it is better taking your snake plant inside or to some place that maintains a more steady temperature. Once things return back to normal, you can return the plant to its original spot.
It isn’t hard growing snake plants, but no plant is immortal, and no human infallible. We make mistakes (in this case over-watering is the no. 1 mistake) which may cause damage to the plant and splitting of leaves. On other occasions our lovely cat is to blame, or the weather. The key is always to analyze the situation and understand what happened. In some cases it is easy to address the problem and you can save your snake plant, in other cases you will have to start from scratch. You lost the plant, but you gained experience, and no doubt won’t make the same mistake again… Hope this helps, and good luck with your Snake Plants!
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