How To Keep Your Snake Plant Whole Not Holy
The snake plant is an amazing house plant – shown by NASA to actually be one of the better purifiers of air that you can grow in your house! The leaves are the primary attraction of these plants – and they do the work cleaning your air. When holes appear in the leaves this can detract from the aesthetics of the plants. Thankfully, it is easy to solve the problem of a snake plant with holes in its leaves.
Understanding Snake Plants
Snake plants are often thought to be one species – commonly the west African plant, Dracaena trifasciata (used to be Sansevieria trifasciata). There are however a very large number of different species of Snake plants that look sort of similar – and in some cases wildly dissimilar. Often what will be sold to you as a Snake Plant meaning Dracaena trifasciata can actually turn out to be one of many other similar-looking species.
Snake plants are in the asparagus family, and the genus Dracaena comprises over 120 species with a range mainly in Africa, Australia, Asia, and a bit of South America. Until recently, the genus was Sansevieria and as always happens with taxonomy, a bunch of taxonomists has decided to rearrange things, and give things new names based on some little bit of data here and there. I grew up with taxonomists and understand the inner workings and d%^k measuring credits that are earned if you can come up with a reason to rename something, or break up a genus, and so on.
How Do Snake Plants Grow
These plants grow underground via Rhizomes and send shoots of leaves to the surface. The Rhizomes are really strong and can punch under rocks, through cracks and holes in walls. These plants, given time, can really get out of hand.
The plants themselves use CAM photosynthesis – this means that they can, when under water stress, dump their photosynthetic energy into the storage molecule, Crassulacean Acid. This happens during the day when the Sun shines. If the plant had to photosynthesize during the day, it would have to have its pores open – and would lose water in the intense tropical sunlight. Non-CAM plants have to have their pores open to let air and carbon dioxide into the leaves so that they can convert the carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen.
CAM plants are however crafty!! Instead, they close their stomatal pores by day, capture solar energy and store this energy in crassulacean acid. At night when it is cooler, they open their stomata to let carbon dioxide-rich air in. They then release the energy from the crassulacean acid molecule and use this to drive their metabolism, making sugars. This has the additional advantage of cooling the plant down – which causes condensation and allows the plant to capture moisture at night.
Here you can see one of my Dracaena species near the gate to my house. I went out now at night while I write this article to try and get a photograph of the moisture condensing on the leaves. This proved to be difficult but you can see how the toilet paper has absorbed the moisture.
The plants tend to grow in well-drained (this is not a rule) soil. They enjoy organic matter in the soil, and they need warm days with a bit of sunlight (dappled is fine) and nights that are cool. This is a general rule for most CAM plants – cool nights work wonders with these plants. This is one of the reasons why regions such as parts of coastal Southern Africa have such incredible diversity of CAM plants! Warm days, cool nights.
If you read on the internet there are a lot of people who say that snake plants get holes in their leaves due to snails, bugs, and so on. That plant of mine is in an area of the garden that is covered in snails and slugs! I have never seen a hole in its leaves – ever. In fact, I have never seen one of these plants get sick ever! This is because I use the following rules with plants to stop them from getting sick:
Brix is a measure of the percentage of dissolved solids in solution (roughly). So if some plant sap has a Brix of 12, it means it has 12% sugars and salts etc in the sap. This is a good number.
Plants that are able to maintain a high level of sugars and salts in their leaves have the energy to do the things they need to do in order to survive. For many plants maintaining high Brix is about having enough light during the day to ensure plant health. You also need to ensure that there are sufficient nutrients in the soil to enable the plants to absorb enough salts with their surplus sugar to get their leaf Brix high. With CAM plants this can be a bit different.
CAM plants need light during the day and they need cooler weather at night. The reason for this is that they will produce a bit of sugar at night, and if the temperatures are a bit high they will metabolise these sugars. If they have a bit of cooler time at night, this slows their metabolic rate and some sugar is left over the next day for them to survive and do things during the day.
TIP number 1 to avoid Snake Plant issues: Warmer day temperatures with enough light and cooler nights. These plants need 10-12 hours of sunlight, so if you do not have this, they will need supplemental light. They don’t need bright intense light, just enough hours of light. Small units such as these will work.
Snails and Slugs
A quick trawl through the internet sees a number of people saying that holes in the leaves can be caused by snails and slugs. My suspicion is that if your plants are sick and unhealthy, snails and slugs can probably rasp away and eat the semi rotten dead bits in the leaves thus appearing to make holes. I have never in my life seen a snail able to make a hole in a healthy Dracaena. There is a reason people use these leaves to make rope and bow stings – the leaves are tough!!
Hence if you are having an issue with snails or slugs making holes, your plants need help! They should have a very thick waxy cuticle if they are healthy, and any animal that wants to gnaw at a rope for a living needs to think about its life choices! Healthy Dracaena plants do not get eaten by slugs and snails.
If you really have to, you could put out a little minimally toxic snail bait. I hate poisons even “so-called” organic ones. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
Burning of the leaves
When I see a Snake plant with holes in its leaves, this is my first diagnosis. If these plants get too hot during the day, sections of the leaves can actually cook and die in the Sun. They don’t like lots of direct sunlight, and if it is getting really hot remember they cannot cool themselves with their stomata. When the leaves burn, they go a weird yellow soggy color, and then sections can slowly rot and fall out.
When I was a kid and we lived in the desert I remember my Mom cursing every time a heat wave burnt holes in her beloved “Sansevierias“. Now, 40 years later, she has those plants in a much cooler climate below big trees. They have multiplied and have taken over a large section of the garden. In the dappled shade and low rainfall they thrive and never get any holes in their leaves.
I actually asked my Mom today when I spoke on the phone and said I am writing an article on “A Snake plant with holes in it’s leaves” and her comment was “Too much sun or too much water”.
A Snake plant with holes in it’s leaves is often a symptom of an overwatered plant. Rather confusingly a Snake plant with holes in it’s leaves can also be a symptom of a plant that does not have enough water! My general advice with these plants is to water them gently – until the soil is just damp. Allow the soil to dry, and then water them again. If you struggle with these things use a soil moisture meter such as this one. I would not buy anything cheaper than that as budget meters are a bit wonky.
You really have to neglect a snake plant by underwatering it in order for it to suffer, however. These things have huge rhizomes that can suck up water when it is available. Generally, if you manage to kill a snake plant through underwatering it is an indication that you may be suited to keeping plastic plants!
In summary, a snake plant that has well-drained soil, enough hours of dappled indirect sunlight, a cooler night temperature, and occasional watering will thrive. It will be able to produce a thick waxy cuticle, and it will be full of noxious poisonous compounds that keep pests and fungi away. If your plant has any of the above factors out of alignment, it will be disease-prone. A Snake plant with holes in its leaves is a symptom of an unhappy plant. Correct the above factors and you will never have a snake plant with holes in it’s leaves.
Why does my snake plant have holes?
Snake plants are really tough. If the plant has holes in its leaves, it is an unhappy plant. Make sure it has enough light (12 hours dappled) not too much direct hot sunlight and that it is not too wet, or too dry. The plants like a warmer day and if possible a cooler night -this is because of the way they photosynthesize. If these factors are secure, your plant will be very tough and will not develop holes in its leaves.
What is eating my snake plant leaves?
If a snake plant is unhealthy, its ability to ward of snails and slugs can be reduced and these pests can nibble its leaves. If your plant has enough light, not too much or too little water, and warm days and cool nights it will be able to ward of these pests. If necessary a snail trap or snail bait can reduce this pest problem.
How do you stop holes in leaves?
Holes in leaves are either caused by something eating the leaf, or by the plant having necrotic (dead) patches on its leaves. You need to find out what is eating the leave and remove this (eg kills snails) or you need to make sure that the plant is healthy so that parts of its leaves do not die. Causes of leaf death can range from not enough light to too much direct hot light, or a plant that has stresses roots due to the soil being too wet.
How do you get rid of fungus on snake plants?
Snake plants are incredibly tough plants. If they have fungus, it is because they are being exposed to conditions that are weakening them. Spray them with a plant fungicide and then correct the conditions. They need 12 hours of light - not too hot - and cool nights and warm days. They need well drained soil and they need to not be too wet or get too dry. Water once ever two weeks or so. Just enough to make the soil damp.