Growing Snake Plants

How to Care for Snake Plants

Snake Plant
Myroslava Bozhko/Shutterstock

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

Too much water and freezing temperatures are two of the few things that can really affect this plant. Soggy soil will cause root rot.

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 for part of all of the year in USDA zones 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.

Planting

How to Plant Snake Plants

  • Choose a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom. Terra cotta pots work well for snake plants, since they allow the soil to dry out more easily 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.
  • Keep the plant in a warm spot with temperatures above 50°F (10°C). In the winter, be sure to protect it from drafty windows.

Snake plant. Photo by Mokkie/Wikimedia Commons.
Photo by Mokkie/Wikimedia Commons

Care

How to Care for Snake Plants

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 well; 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 inches into the soil. If you feel any moisture or see soil stick to the chopstick, hold off on watering. 
  • Water from the bottom of the pot, if possible. This encourage 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.

Caring for Snake Plants

  • The large, flat leaves tend to collect dust; wipe them down with a damp cloth as needed.
  • In good conditions, snake plants are rapid growers and may need to be divided annually.
  • Divide and repot in the spring. Cut out a section containing both leaves and roots and place in a pot with well-draining potting mix.
  • If a snake plant is pot bound, it may flower occasionally. Fragrant, greenish-white flower clusters appear on tall spikes

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 of any rotted roots and leaves, and repot in fresh soil.

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

  • Snake plants, along with 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!
  • Sansevieria trifasciata, a type of snake plant native of 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.” 

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Growing Snake Plants

Botanical Name Sansevieria spp.
Plant Type Houseplant
Sun Exposure Full Sun, Part Sun, Shade
Soil Type Loamy, Sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 8, 9, 10
Special Features