How to Care for Snake Plants
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!
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 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.
Too much water and freezing temperatures are two of the very few things that can really affect this plant in a significant way. Soggy soil will cause root rot and extended exposure to cold temperatures can damage the foliage.
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.
- Tip: Try to 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, do so gradually, slowly exposing it 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, be sure to protect it from drafty windows.
Photo by Mokkie/Wikimedia Commons
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 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.
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
- 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.
- Sansevieria trifasciata is the most common species of snake plant. It has tall, dark-green leaves with light grayish-green horizontal stripes.
- 'Bantel’s Sensation' — Narrow leaves have white vertical stripes and grow to about 3 feet long. This variety can be hard to find.
- Sansevieria hahnii:
- 'Bird's Nest' — Short, wide leaves of dark and light green form a tight nest shape, like that of a bromeliad. Leaves only grow 6 to 8 inches long. This variety does need much light to grow well.
- 'Golden Hahnii' — Like the standard 'Bird's Nest', but with leaves variegated along the edge in yellow.
- Sansevieria cylindrica:
- 'Cylindrical Snake Plant' — As its name suggests, this species of snake plant has cylindrical leaves that end in a fierce point.
- 'Starfish Snake Plant' — The starfish snake plant has cylindrical leaves that fan out from its base, giving it a starfish-like shape.
- Sansevieria masoniana:
- 'Whale Fin' — These interesting snake plants have large, wide leaves that resemble the fin of a whale breaching the water's surface.
- 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."