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First time with sansevieria in the home. Got them primarily because of the low water needs and put them in rooms that aren't frequently accessed.

How should I water them? What I've read online suggest anything from every 2-3 days to once a month. Have one in a dimly lit basement room with slightly higher humidity and warmer than the rest of the home and it seems to be doing fine. Another was in a brighter, drier room which isn't doing too well. A couple of the leaves have what look like dry tips, and one or too that have wrinkled, darkened and feel dry and thin. One of them has also become limp.

I've barely watered them. The soil they're in is very fast draining. As soon as I pour water over the top it starts to drain out the bottom. It looks like some bark, perlite and maybe a little peatmoss but it's mostly large particles. The next day after watering the top bark looks dry. Keeping a moisture meter in it and by the next day after watering the needle goes down to dry.

How do I keep these plants healthy and will the damaged leaves recover at all or do they need to be pruned?

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'I've barely watered them' gives the clue as to why the leaves are shrivelled. Signs of underwatering include leaves which bend over and leaf shrivelling. These plants need less water during winter, maybe every 1-2 months depending on their environment, without wetting the heart of the plant, if they're growing in reasonable potting compost. From spring through to autumn, though, they should be watered moderately whenever the surface of the compost feels dry to the touch. They need average warmth - minimum 50deg F in winter, and will tolerate shade, but prefer bright light with a little sun (beginning or end of day only in hotter regions).

Regarding the soil they're in, either the soil is too light and free draining, meaning it doesn't retain water at all well, or the planting medium is so dry that any water poured in immediately runs through the holes at the bottom without penetrating the soil at all. Given you think there's perlite and peat moss in the mix, its possible its completely dried out and now needs to be soaked to take up water again, so I suggest you pour in water and leave the plant to sit in it in an outer container for an hour, then check and see if there's any water still sitting outside the pot - if there is, tip it away. Cut off severely affected leaves at their bases, and improve your watering regime for the future, particularly for those situated in brighter, warmer situations. Do this by touching the growing medium beneath the bark chips - how dry they are or not isn't really a good guide if they're just sitting on the top, it's the dryness of the soil within that's important.

If you think the bark chips are mixed right through the planting medium, it should still be retaining some moisture because of the peat and perlite - perhaps your moisture meter reads dry within a day after watering because the plant is gasping and has immediately taken up all the moisture provided the previous day, being so dry to start with. Alternatively, change the potting medium, though you still need something that's relatively free draining.

  • The vast majority of what's in the mix is what looks to be small wood or bark chips or maybe coconut husks, It's something along that texture. I did as you suggested and filled the saucer up with water and let it sit for an hour. Even after that, I tried watering to see if the water still poured through and it did. – OrganicLawnDIY Mar 31 '15 at 18:20
  • I'll update my question but I've only had them for a month. – OrganicLawnDIY Mar 31 '15 at 18:31
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    I've got one of these and I've had it years - its growing in perfectly ordinary multi purpose potting compost. I think the reason yours is in such a loose mix is because its true to say that most houseplants die from over, rather than under watering, and that kind of potting medium is meant to prevent that. Were they my plants, I'd repot them, using ordinary compost, and just be careful about watering - at the very least, your moisture meter will give a more accurate readout of what's going on, and touching the top of the compost is a reliable guide to whether water is required or not. – Bamboo Mar 31 '15 at 18:47
  • I'm going to consider repotting them when it gets warmer since I'd rather make the mess outside. Hopefully I can keep them alive for that long. Obviously one month between waterings isn't enough with this potting mix. They held out for at least 2 weeks without any damage so I'm going to aim to water around every 14 days or so until then. – OrganicLawnDIY Mar 31 '15 at 20:02
  • One of the leaves kept falling out and the bark chip potting mix wasn't strong enough to keep it in place. Whenever I'd move it to a sink to water, since it drains so fast it's easier, it would keep falling off. I planted just that leaf in a smaller pot with regular potting soil and so far it's been doing well. When the weather is nicer I'll likely repot the others too.The others seem to be doing better too. Thanks everyone. – OrganicLawnDIY Apr 13 '15 at 16:46
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A moisture meter can be deceptive due to the bark chips and lack of material that conducts the micro amounts of electricity that the meter depends on.

A better way is....your finger...go down an inch or so and use that to determine how moist the soil is.

Sanseveria can rot easily and the leaves look soft and pulpy. If they are under watered then they become dry and papery.

Either way, for a new plant I recommend a high light area until they are thoroughly rooted. A period of at least three to six months should ensure this. Then you can reduce the light levels and water.

The damaged leaves will not recover and should be removed. If they smell when removed then over watering is likely. Leaves which still have some firm tissue can be trimmed back with a pair of scissors.

  • The leaves are dry and papery. One was dry, papery and limp which I called soft, I'll change my question. I've moved them where they get more light and I've been trying to monitor the moisture which is why I'm using the moisture meter. Since the mix is so coarse I find it difficult to judge by touch. Will the leaves that are only partially damaged at the tips recover at all or should those be removed as well? – OrganicLawnDIY Mar 31 '15 at 18:34
  • These are both helpful answers I tried to mark both as accepted but obviously that doesn't work. – OrganicLawnDIY Mar 31 '15 at 19:58
  • @OrganicLawnDIY No problems, Bamboo has a more detailed answer, I've just overwatered more of them – kevinsky Mar 31 '15 at 20:01
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Although underwatering could be the reason, you might also consider that it has too much nitrogen and the leaves are being burned by it. If you've fertilized it much that might be a possibility. If you haven't, probably not.

Either way, you might consider adding more potassium (and just potassium). In addition to balancing nitrogen, it should help the plant to be more drought resistant. Potassium sulfate might be a good kind, seeing as it won't harm beneficial microbes in the soil. However, it may make the plant require more water than usual at first.

Although adding a single fertilizer ingredient is often condemned, you shouldn't have a problem with potassium if your plants are burnt or deficient. Just use a teaspoon of potassium sulfate per gallon of water. The odds of adding that much potassium hurting your plants, I think, are pretty slim with most commercial soils, which usually have a bias toward nitrogen. Most commercial fertilizers usually do, too.

I'm not familiar with the recommended fertilizer/nutrient regiment for this kind of plant, although I recently gave one some potassium sulfate. So, use this answer with caution, and feel free to ask me how it went in a few months, since it's a slow-growing plant.

Giving it more water first will probably be a good idea, just to rule out under-watering. However, I'm pretty sure ours looked different when underwatered. Ours have generally been in low light environments, and the soil wasn't as well-drained as yours, though. So, that might change the look. More light is often better, though. I'm not recommending low light.

The leaves look like they will not recover. However, they may not necessarily get worse.

  • I haven't fertilized these but just as a precaution based on your answer when I did water them I flushed the soil (bark) pretty good. – OrganicLawnDIY Apr 13 '15 at 16:44
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Since the moisture meter may not be accurate, a better way to tell if the soil is dry is by weight. With that extremely fast draining soil you describe, I'd wait till you think the plant needs watering and then put it in a deep container so you can add water almost to the top of the soil line. Yes, you will be submerging the pot! Let it sit in the water for about 10 to 15 minutes and then put the plant in a sink to drain completely. After 20 minutes of draining, pick it up and pay attention to the weight of the pot. That is your moist weight. Test the weight every few days by picking up the pot. You will learn how it feels when it is wet and when it's dry. Keep in mind that if the plant is in a dim light it can be hard for it to handle very wet soil. You may want to wait for summer to try this technique.

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