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How To Trim A Snake Plant? (Mother In Law’s Tongue)

Sansevieria Trifasciata is most commonly known as Snake plant or Mother in law’s tongue. However, there are more than 70 different varieties of Sansevieria. And many of them are classified as different types of snake plants. Snake plants are very popular, easy to maintain houseplant that have fleshy, succulent leaves. Depending on the variety, these leaves can grow up to 6 feet tall. If you are keeping the plant indoors, this might be too much growth for the space. Apart from Overgrowth, there might be other reasons that demand pruning a snake plant. Dead and damaged leaves can mess up the appearance. Additionally, diseased foliage must be trimmed to save the plant from infection. In this post I’ll explain in detail how you can trim your mother in law’s tongue plant without ruining its appearance.

How To Tell If Your Snake Plant Requires Pruning?

As mentioned earlier, there are many different reasons why a snake plant might need some trimming. If you are wondering whether your plant require pruning, take a look at some of those reasons listed here:

Size Maintenance

Snake plants can grow to a striking height of 6 feet tall and over. Now if the plants are outdoors, you may not have a problem with such length. But indoor plants can look very large for their limited space. Most Sansevierias can spread through their rhizomes (underground stems). The rhizomes enable them to create new plants and expand over the available space. Although snake plants are relatively slow-growing, at some point you may want to tidy things up.

Damaged Plant

Sometimes when you purchase a new plant online, it may get bruised during the transport. Changing environmental conditions can affect the plant. For instance, leaves of a snake plant can damage permanently due to frost. Underwatering or overwatering can also lead to color and texture change. Sometimes the leaves start drooping or curling. If the problem continues, such leaves may not be saved.

Dead Leaves

Developing new pups (young leaves) and removing old leaves is a natural cycle of a plant. In case of the Mother in law’s tongue, the dying leaves are usually on the outer radius. And, new leaves arise from the center of the rosette. Placing the plant in a very dark area of the house may also cause the leaves to die. Old dead leaves should be removed to preserve the fresh appearance of the plant.

Pests And Diseases

Although the snake plant is a tough and hardy species, sometimes it might get infested with pests. Insects like mealybugs, thrips and spider mites can injure the leaves. Contamination can result in tiny spots, wounds or visible marks on the leaf. Fungal infections can also harm the leaves of snake plants. Damaged leaves are more prone to catch other diseases. In worst cases, you may have to cut off the leaf to avoid further spread of the disease.

Plant Overgrowth

If the plant appears to have overgrown its container, just trimming the leaves might not be sufficient. When you pull the plant out of the pot, the roots are grown big and touching the container sides. This may be the indication that your plant needs root division. You can divide the plant into two or more smaller plants. Click here for a step-by-step way to divide a snake plant.

One important thing to remember is, pruning tends to put a snake plant under stress. So, if your plant is not healthy, first improve the general caring conditions. Get rid of the pests, place the plant in bright indirect light and water it as needed. Especially if you have a smaller plant, let it grow some more healthy leaves before pruning the old ones.

When And How Often Should You Trim Mother In Law’s Tongue Plant?

In general, snake plants are quite slow-growing, so they don’t need pruning very frequently. There are many types of snake plants and each plant is different. The plant size also depends on its growing conditions. Plants that are kept in bright light grow faster than the ones in low light situations. Furthermore, it depends on your personal needs. If you wish to let your plant grow naturally, you can just repot it into a slightly bigger container. Depending on the new pot size, it may or may not require trimming.

On the other hand, if you want to retain the plant size, it should be pruned. Assuming you cut your snake plant by one third of its original size, it will need pruning around every 2-3 years. There are no strict rules here, so just follow your instincts.

Snake plants are very hardy and almost impossible to kill. So, the chances are they can tolerate the pruning very well at any time of the year. However, it is best to do the trimming (and propagation) in the plant’s active growing season, which is spring to early summer. This will ensure a healthy growth after the plant is pruned.

Which Equipment Is Needed For Pruning?

Trimming down a snake plant is quite an easy process and won’t require a lot of tools. Here are some of the basic things you’ll need.

Pruning Shears, Scissors Or A Sharp Knife

First of all, you’ll certainly need something sharp to cut off the leaves. If you are planning to divide the plant, these tools will help for that as well.

Boiling Water Or Rubbing Alcohol

Sanitation of cutting tools is very important to avoid the spread of disease from one plant to another. It also reduces the chances of bacterial infection on exposed parts. Make sure your tools are sterilized properly before using them. Using rubbing alcohol is easy and works great. Else you can steam the tools over boiling water for 20 minutes.


All the parts of a snake plant contain a mild toxin called Saponin. Getting in contact with the plant juices can cause skin dermatitis or rashes. So, it’s a good idea to use gloves for protecting your hands. If you don’t have them, just make sure not to touch any cut part of the plant.

Old Newspapers Or Cloth

This is just to prevent your working surface from getting stained. Place a few sheets of newspapers before you start working, as it can create some mess. If you are doing the pruning outside, there’s no need for this.

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How To Trim The Snake Plant?

The process of trimming a snake plant is quite easy. Simply put, identify the leaves you want removed and cut them off just above the soil line by using a sharp sterilized tool. Be careful not to harm the adjacent leaves. Also avoid partially cutting the leaves. Don’t just cut the imperfect parts and keep the rest of the leaf. Leaving the leaf parts exposed can invite various pests. It makes the plant prone to diseases. So, don’t worry about small defects and cut off only highly damaged leaves. Which leaves to cut will depend on the reason why you are trimming the plant.

Maintain A Healthy Look Of A Plant

Snake plants are slow-growing plants and don’t need frequent pruning. At the same time, because the leaves last for years, any damage can stay on the leave for longer. If you wish to remove the damaged or diseased leaves, first inspect the plant carefully for the signs of harm. In case you see wounded leaves and tiny black dots on them, it is possibly due to insects. For minor wounds, you can wipe the leaf with alcohol soaked cloth to get rid of insects. Check and repeat every week until it is fixed. This probably won’t need trimming and the leaf will heal soon. A little soggy and mushy leaves of a snake plant can be saved by reducing watering. Slightly brown tips on the leaves indicate underwatering and can be fixed as well.

  1. On the other hand, if the leaves are extremely soggy, mushy, drooped, dead, turned completely yellow, got red dots all over them or have dried out, it’s better to cut them off.
  2. Take your sterilized tool and cut the leaf as close to the soil as possible.
  3. Partially cut leaves are unlikely to grow back. So, while you are at it, prune them off completely from the base.
  4. Remember that you don’t need to remove every single leaf that has a tiny imperfection. Slight damage will heal all by itself after identifying and removing the root cause.

In case of infected leaves, make sure you dispose of them properly. Don’t keep them near other healthy plants to prevent contamination. If there is a fungal infection, be certain to check the soil as well. Fungus like Southern blight can affect the soil surface too. In that case, you might have to replace the soil.

By pruning off the dead and sick leaves, you can restore a good, healthy look of your plant. Taking good care of your plant will keep the plant healthy for a long time.

Reduce The Plant Size

Snake plants grow in size by spreading out from their rhizomes (stems). New leaves are created from the rosette and it progressively enlarges the spread of the plant. Soon you might notice that the plant has completely filled its container. Because of receiving less nutrients, light and no place to spread, the plant may become stunted. Overcrowding can lead to your plant becoming root bound, which can impact the health of the plant. So, if your mother in law’s tongue plant has become too tall, or seems to be spreading widely, it’s time for a little trim.

For maintaining the size of your snake plant without repotting or dividing it, regular pruning is the only option. Luckily you don’t have to do it very often. Follow these simple steps to get your plant in a perfect shape.

  1. To reduce the spread of the plant, start off with the leaves around the edge. The leaves of snake plants grow in rosettes. That means new pups arise from the center, and oldest leaves are usually on the outside. This makes things simple, as it is easy to cut around the edges without harming other leaves.
  2. Use your sharp tool to individually cut each leaf close to the soil surface. Removing the leaf from it’s base, will make the plant look nicer. Stubby leaf stumps don’t grow back and don’t look great either.
  3. Hold each leaf straight up with one hand, and make a clean horizontal cut using the other hand. You may have to apply some pressure, as snake plant leaves are tough and thick.
  4. After removing some outer foliage to reduce the width, see if the plant matches your expected height. Because older leaves are taller and tend to be on the outer edge, the plant may not need further trimming. If not, go for the tallest leaves.
  5. Target each leaf that you think is too tall, and prune it off with scissors or pruners. Using a knife might be difficult to cut the leaves in inner parts. Cut carefully while trying not to damage other nearby leaves.

Continue the process till you get a satisfactory result, which is a plant with moderate dimensions.

What To Do With The Leaves That’s Been Cut?

You’ll be left with a lot of leaves after a successful pruning operation. Is there any way to utilize them?

  • First of all, dispose of the infected leaves and sterilize your cutting tools. If you suspect any disease, it’s a good idea to safely get rid of the plant leaves. Make sure they don’t come in contact with healthy plants. It’s also recommended to isolate the sick plant till it gets better.
  • In case of older, dead, dry and physically damaged leaves, you can throw them in a compost pit if you have one. It will make a nice homemade fertilizer.
  • If you have some healthy leaves or sections of leaves, you can use them for making new plants. Cut 4-5 inches long sections from a good leaf. Remember their correct orientation and plant them 1-1.5 inches deep in a fast-draining soil. If planted upside down, they will not root. In about 2 months, they’ll have some decent sized roots. After that you can plant each one section in an individual pot. This way you can make a few extra snake plants for your home or office. Or consider sharing them with your friends and family.