One of the most popular houseplants for indoors as well as outdoors are Snake plants or Mother in law’s tongue. Although these plants are not rapidly growing species, there will come a time when your Mother in law’s tongue plant will overgrow it’s container. It’s leaves will spread outside the pot, and the foliage might seem to be suffering damage due to the edges of the container. Plants grown in the ground can also spread wildly through their rhizome structure. If this is the case, you may require dividing and rooting your snake plant to avoid the overgrowth.
In this post I explain how to divide and root the snake plant. To know other methods for rooting or propagating snake plants, check out this post.
Is dividing a snake plant necessary?
Before we see when and how to divide a snake plant, let’s see what are the reasons and benefits for doing so. Although many varieties of Sansevieria have upright foliage that doesn’t spread much, some have the ability to grow horizontally as well. Particularly, snake plants that grow outdoors in favorable weather conditions can reproduce faster. Their strong rhizomes (underground stems that spread horizontally) and roots play a key role in the proliferation. Dividing is required to control the growth of outdoor plants.
On the other hand, potted snake plants don’t have much space to spread but they still grow. This can soon make them pot-bound. Although most snake plants like to be root-bound, dividing the roots is required if its roots have no space left to spread. When this happens, the plant becomes uncomfortable and in distress. This can lead to stunted growth. Because the plant is bigger, it might receive insufficient nutrients and moisture from the soil mix. The outer foliage might get damaged if it constantly comes in contact with the rims of the container. When the roots are crowded inside the soil, it makes the soil dense and difficult to drain water. This is specifically bad for snake plants, because they prefer loose soil.
Therefore, after every few years potted plants need to be divided or transferred to a new bigger container.
What are the benefits of dividing your snake plant?
- If you have a well grown snake plant and you need more snake plants free of cost, you can just propagate by division. Dividing means separating a single plant root-ball into two or more plants. Of course the size of your plant will determine how many plants you can divide it into. If the plant is smaller, you can only separate it in half, but if it is larger, then you can easily make 4-5 baby plants.
- Dividing and rooting a snake plant is the most effective and reliable method of propagation. Because the roots are intact, the new plants will start to grow immediately.
- Pot bound plants often encounter a stunted growth. The main advantage of dividing and repotting your snake plant that has overgrown its pot is to promote healthy growth. After diving the roots and planting them in separate pots, your plants grow stronger.
- Another benefit of dividing the snake plant is you get to replace the old soil. If your potting mix is slightly compact, you can mix in some pumice or perlite to make it more breathable. It’s a good idea to replace the soil that has become too old and dense.
When should you divide and root a snake plant?
If your snake plant is mature enough and you wish to create baby plants from it, you can divide it anytime. The time when it becomes necessary to either divide or repot your snake plant is when it shows signs of overgrowth. Be on the look-out for these signs to know if your plant is suffering from insufficient space:
- The roots are peeping through the drainage holes of the pot.
- Roots are showing up on the surface of your container.
- Containers are bulging outwards. Particularly, plastic containers are prone to bulge if there is no space for the roots inside.
- Clay or terracotta pots are forming cracks.
- The foliage looks like it’s stuck in the pot. And the plant doesn’t come out of the pot easily.
If you notice any of these indications in your plant, you’ll know it’s definitely time to divide it. The active growth and flowering season for most Sansevieria is usually during spring and summer time. Therefore, early to late spring seems to be a perfect time for dividing a snake plant. This will give your plant some time to adjust in it’s new home. And allow it to freely grow and expand in the spring and summer. However if needed, this can be done at any time of the year.
Generally, snake plants can grow out of their container every 2 to 3 years. But it really depends on the growth rate of your plant and size of the pot. Meanwhile, just make sure that your plants look healthy in their pots.
After deciding to divide your snake plant, it’s time to get it done. Here are some important things you’ll need for the procedure.
You’ll need some pots, containers or planters to keep the new plants. It’s necessary to choose the correct type of container with proper drainage. Make sure that the pot has at least one bottom drainage hole. This will help to remove the excess water and allow smooth drainage. It’s good to invest in a pot with a stand, tray or drainage saucer.
The size of each pot will depend on the size of plant sections you make. Reuse the current pot if it’s not too big. But be careful while watering, as big containers may lead to overwatering problems. The root ball should cover at least half of the space inside the pot. Many Sansevieria grow rather tall, so consider the depth of the pot as well. If the container is too shallow, the plant will get top-heavy and might tip over. Any kind of pot material works fine, but terracotta has an advantage due to porosity.
You may want to take this opportunity to replace the potting mix, as it tends to become dense and compact with time. Snake plants prefer to be on a dry side. Compact soil may hold more water, making it really easy to overwater the plants. If Sansevieria plants sit in soaked soil for a long time, they are prone to rot. Hence, a loose and free-draining medium is a must for snake plants.
A ready-to-use, soilless potting mix made for tropical plants works well for snake plants. You can mix in equal portions of a cacti and succulents potting mix and perlite. If you have regular soil, you can also make your own potting mix by combining some ingredients like pumice, coco coir, sand and perlite. A handful of compost or manure can be added to enrich the soil with extra nutrients and microbes. Just make sure not to go overboard with fertilizers.
Apart from a pot and soil, you will need some equipment for this job:
- Dull knife – to loosen the plant from its container.
- Pruners or shears – Garden shears, pruners or a knife is necessary to cut the roots and rhizomes.
- Gloves – to keep your hands clean.
- Garden trowel – for digging and scooping up the soil.
- Cloth, mesh tape, marbles, rocks or pebbles – to put on the drainage holes in a pot, so that soil doesn’t escape from the holes.
How to divide and root a snake plant?
Now that you have everything prepared, let’s see how to divide a snake plant. Dividing and planting a Mother in law’s tongue is easy if you follow these simple step-by-step instructions.
Remove the plant from its pot or ground
The first step is to separate the plant from its container. Thorough watering can help loosen the soil from roots. Then use a knife to scrape off soil from the edges of the container. Now lay the pot on the ground horizontally and gently thump the sides of it. Try to pull out the plant from its pot. If possible turn the pot upside down and smack it gently until the plant slides out. For snake plants grown in the ground, use a trowel to loosen up the soil. Be careful not to damage the roots or leaves while doing this.
Examine the roots
Once the plant is out, pull away as much soil as possible until you see the root structure. Make sure the roots are strong and developed. If they are weak or small in amount, your plant is probably too young to divide. It’s better to wait for a few months until the roots are developed. If you still wish to create new plants, try other methods like planting leaf cuttings in water or soil.
Because snake plants are prone to root rot, look for the signs of rot. If you see mushy and dark spots on the roots, it means the rot has already developed. However, it’s easy to fix. Use a clean and sterilized knife or shears to simply trim off the rotten portions. If you find large, bulky roots wrapping around the entire root ball, you can cut them off as well. This is to ensure that the plant doesn’t overgrow in its new pot.
Divide the roots into sections
After removing the damaged portions of the root, look for where the root ball can be easily divided. You can make equal sized portions from a whole root ball, or just cut off smaller portions from the outside. Depending on the size and number of pots you have, decide how big of a section you want. Cut the plant from roots such that there are at least 2-3 inches long rhizomes (thick white parts), some roots and at least a couple of healthy leaves per section. You can use a knife, handsaw or even sharp pruners.
Plant each section in separate containers
Now take a container and ensure that the drainage holes are completely open. Then you need to cover the holes, so that the soil won’t just fall through them. Cover the holes with a small cloth or mesh tape. Or, you can add a layer of marbles, pebbles or rocks at the bottom of a pot. After that, add a thin layer of potting mix. Guess the approximate depth up to which soil should be poured before placing the plant. Then put the plant at the same depth as it was before. Top of the root ball should be just immersed in soil and there should be at least 1 inch distance between the pot rim and the top soil surface. Don’t pack the soil too firmly. You can top it with a thin layer of decorative rocks or marbles.
Taking care of your snake plant after dividing it is necessary to avoid plant stress. It also allows the plant to settle in its new home and prevent transplant shock. Here are a few aftercare tips for your plants.
- If you have already moistened the soil in order to remove the plant from its pot, it will retain some dampness for a few days. So, you don’t need to water the plant right away. It’s a good idea to wait for a couple of days until the soil gets dry.
- Slowly and thoroughly water your plan until the water starts dripping out from the holes. After that, let the soil drain out all the excess water. Click here to learn how to properly water your snake plants.
- Keep your plants in shade for at least one month. You can put them in moderate to bright filtered light. Direct sunlight can be too harsh for the snake plants after they are divided or repotted.
- Hold off on fertilizing immediately. Allow your plant roots to develop for at least a month. If you apply fertilizer too soon, it might burn the roots.