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How to Care for Snake Plants (Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law's Tongue) | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Care for Snake Plants

Photo Credit
Myroslava Bozhko/Shutterstock
Botanical Name
Dracaena spp. (formerly: Sansevieria spp.)
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Flower Color

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Growing Snake Plants: Watering, Lighting, Propagation, and Pests

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Snake plants, also known as “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue” and Sansevieria, are one of the easiest houseplants to care for. This striking succulent plant is very forgiving and perfect for beginners, but they are beloved by experienced “plant parents,” too. Here’s how to care for a snake plant in your home! 

About Snake Plants

Native to southern Africa, snake plants are well adapted to conditions similar to those in southern regions of the United States. Because of this, they may be grown outdoors almost all year in USDA zone 8 and warmer. However, they spread by sending out underground runners and may become invasive, so treat snake plants like you would bamboo; plant it only in contained areas or pots.

Too much water and freezing temperatures are two of the very few things that can affect this plant in a significant way. Soggy soil will cause root rot, and extended exposure to cold temperatures can damage the foliage.

Planting

How to Plant Snake Plants

  • Choose a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom. Terracotta pots work well for snake plants since they allow the soil to dry out more quickly than plastic pots.
  • Use a well-draining potting mix. A potting mix designed for “cacti and succulents” is ideal, as it will be more resistant to becoming oversaturated with water.
  • When repotting snake plants, don’t bury them too deep. The plant should be planted as deep as it had been in its prior container.

Choosing a Location in the Home

  • Snake plants prefer bright, indirect light and can even tolerate some direct sunlight. However, they also grow well (albeit more slowly) in shady corners and other low-light areas of the home.
    • Tip: Avoid moving your plant from a low-light area to direct sunlight too quickly, as this can shock the plant. Whenever you move plants from a darker to a lighter spot, gradually expose them to brighter and brighter light over a week or so. Also, be sure to adjust watering habits accordingly; plants will use more water in warmer, brighter areas.
  • Keep the plant in a warm spot with temperatures above 50°F (10°C). In the winter, protect it from drafty windows.
Potted Snake plant in the nursery. Photo by Mokkie/Wikimedia Commons.
Photo by Mokkie/Wikimedia Commons
Growing

Watering Snake Plants

One of the most common problems encountered with snake plants (and other succulents) is overwatering. These plants do not tolerate soggy soil; they tend to develop root rot. To avoid this, follow these watering practices:

  • Do not water too frequently. Let the soil mostly dry out between waterings.
    • Tip: To know when it’s time to water, don’t just rely on how the surface of the soil looks. Instead, carefully stick your finger or a wooden chopstick a couple of inches into the soil. Hold off watering if you feel any moisture or see soil; stick to the chopstick. 
  • Water from the bottom of the pot, if possible. This encourages the roots to grow downward and deep, helping to stabilize the thick, tall leaves. 
  • During the winter, while the plant isn’t actively growing, water less often than you would in spring and summer.

How to Care for Snake Plants

  • The large, flat leaves tend to collect dust; wipe them down with a damp cloth as needed.
  • Snake plants are rapid growers in good conditions and may need to be divided annually.
  • Divide and repot in the spring. Cut out a section containing leaves and roots and place it in a pot with a well-draining potting mix.
  • If a snake plant is pot-bound, it may flower occasionally. Fragrant, greenish-white flower clusters appear on tall spikes.
Gardening Products
Wit and Wisdom
  • According to NASA Research, snake plants, spider plants, and peace lilies, are reportedly very effective at cleaning the air, removing toxins such as formaldehyde. However, further studies are needed to determine the true extent of these plants’ air-purifying capabilities!
  • Dracaena trifasciata, a type of snake plant native to tropical Africa, yields a strong plant fiber and was once used to make bow strings for hunting. For this reason, it also goes by the name “Bowstring Hemp.” 
Pests/Diseases
  • Root rot due to overwatering is the most common issue.
    • If this occurs, remove any dying leaves and allow the plant to dry out more than usual. Snake plants are resilient and typically recover. However, if the plant continues to die, remove it from its pot, discard any rotted roots and leaves, and repot in fresh soil.
  • Scale insects
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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