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Watering The Snake Plants (Sansevieria)

A snake plant, also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue is a sturdy and low maintenance houseplant. There are many different varieties of snake plant, and they make a stunning addition to your home or office. However, the botanical name of the commonly known variety of snake plant is Dracaena trifasciata (previously called Sansevieria trifasciata). Originated in Africa, these incredibly hardy plants can withstand varied growing conditions. Overall they require minimum care. Nevertheless, improper watering is one of the main reasons snake plants can rot and start dying. Learn all about how to water the Sansevieria, prevent underwatering or overwatering, how to fix your dying plant and make it strong and healthy.

How to water a snake plant?

The Sansevieria are easy to maintain and require less attention than many houseplants. They need a fairly less frequent watering. I can’t stress enough how important it is not to overwater the snake plants. Not overwatering doesn’t mean giving just a little bit of water. It means don’t water the plant before the soil is completely dry. Water the snake plants only whenever they seem to need it. So the ideal way is to give lots of water, but do it less frequently. Water should be given early in the day, so that the foliage will dry quickly.

How much water does a snake plant need?

It highly depends on the size of the plant and how much soil is there. The general guidelines are:

  1. Water the plant thoroughly such that at least top 1.5 to 2 inches of soil is completely soaked.
  2. Make sure you water the potting soil evenly. Don’t just focus near the roots.
  3. Pour some water slowly, let that pass through, then pour more.
  4. After the top soil layer is wet, let all the excess water drain out. It might take 15-20 minutes.
  5. Wait until the soil is completely dry to touch before watering again.

How often can you water the plant?

As mentioned earlier, the mother in law tongue plants should not be watered frequently. Yet, there are many factors that can decide how often you can water your plants. These factors can be type of soil mix, temperature, humidity, plant size, season of the year and pot size. If you have kept the plant indoor, it also depends on your home environment. In the winter season, the air is drier and less water evaporates during daytime. So, the plants need much less water than in summers. During spring, when the plant is growing or even flowering, it may need more care.

As a general rule of thumb, one can water a snake plant once a month in winter and about every 1-2 weeks during the rest of the year.

That may sound like a very less amount, but it’s appropriate for these plants. In fact, during winter they can go without water even for a few months. The snake plant needs water only when it’s soil is completely moisture-less. You should be very cautious when watering the Sansevieria plants. It’s usually better to err on the dry side. Because, improper watering is the most common reason behind many problems the snake plant owners face.

snake plant watering

Why do snake plants need less water?

The Sansevieria genus consists of around 70 species of plants. Native to Africa and south Asia, these plants have inherent tolerance to extreme weather. Most of them are succulents, while some hybrids may be called semi-succulent. Almost 50 of these species have water-storage tissues in their central mesophyll leaf region. The water storage cells consist of wall bands that provide structural support. Being a succulent, the snake plant stores water within its plump leaves. It has thick leaf cuticles to reduce water loss by evaporation.

Another reason behind the sparse water demand, is a unique photosynthesis method adopted by these plants. This special photosynthesis process is called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM). It is a way to generate energy without using water.
In a normal photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to produce glucose and oxygen. However, in the CAM method, plants make malic acid during the night time, and use it to make sugars in the sunlight. This process allows the plant to generate energy while minimizing the water loss. 

Should you mist the snake plant?

Snake plants prefer both dry air and dry soil. There is absolutely no need for misting, especially at night time. These plants do well in low to average humid environments. It’s a good idea to keep them away from air vents and winds.

To make sure that you are watering properly, check the soil with your hand. If it’s still damp, there’s no need for watering. Also, be careful while pouring the water. If the spilled water stays on the foliage for long, it may form mold or rot. Don’t water the plants after dark. Watering during daytime allows the excess water on leaves to dry out.

This can happen particularly in the case of Bird’s nest (Hahnii) cultivars of Sansevieria Trifasciata. As these plants have rosette shaped wide leaves in a dense circular arrangement, they are more prone to retain water.

How to spot under-watered or overwatered snake plants?

All the parts of snake plants, such as leaves, roots, and rhizomes (underground stems that spread horizontally) can store water. This ability makes it prone to overwater, but also enables the owner to be negligent about watering.
Although the mother in law’s tongue plants demand low maintenance, it doesn’t mean you can completely abandon them. Individual care and affection will make your plants grow strong, lively and healthy.
If the plants receive improper amounts of water, they will usually show these signs and symptoms of illness.

Droopy leaves

Many plants form droopy leaves when they aren’t getting enough water. On the contrary, the leaves of a snake plant will start drooping when they get too much water.

Wrinkles and bending

If the leaves of a snake plant have a wrinkled appearance, look shriveled and start to bend over, it’s a good bet the cause is under-watering.

Soggy or mushy leaves

Overwatering a snake plant can turn the leaves soft, soggy and mushy at the base. This might even be a sign of root rot.

Leaves falling over

When the leaves of your snake plant become mushy and start to fall over, it is a clear sign of overwatering.

Rotting roots

Overwatering is a common reason to cause rotting roots in snake plants. The roots turn brown and soggy. As root rot progresses, leaves start to turn yellow, droopy and mushy. If this continues, the plant can eventually die.

Brown tips or edges on leaves

When the snake plant is under-watered, the first visible sign is browning of leaf tips. If the plant gets further dehydrated, the edges of the leaves start to turn brown.

Leaves turning yellow

If the leaves are turning brownish yellow from the tips, it’s because of the lack of water. But, when the leaves are yellow and mushy from the bases, then the plant is overwatered.

How to revive an overwatered plant?

Appropriate watering is essential for the well-being of your snake plant. But in case you gave too much water to your plant, don’t panic. Even if the plant is showing some signs of damage, it’s probably not too late.

  • If you notice this happening, the first thing to do is to dry out the soil. Let the water evaporate so that at least 1-2 inches of soil is dry.
  • Remove the plant from it’s pot and inspect the roots and soil. If the roots look fine, you can continue watering the plant carefully.
  • Pour water along the inside edge of the pot to keep the leaves dry. Allow the pot to drain freely before replacing it on the drainage dish. Don’t water until the top of the soil is dry.
  • If your soil is too dense and water cannot drain easily, change the soil. You can use a ready-made mix for succulents, or make your own potting mix.
  • If you suspect that the roots are rotting, all the leaves drooped and turned yellow from the base, then it’s difficult to save the roots. In this case, you can cut off the good parts of a leaf, and propagate them to create new plants.

Last but not the least, remember to cut down on the watering to prevent further problems.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Garlon M Harvey

    You, noranything else I can find on snake plants tells how MUCH water to use.

    1. Jocelyn

      I’ve killed 4 Snake plants (all due to over watering). Each plant really does require a different method of treatment, and it is your responsibility to learn what your plant requires based on its size, condition and housing location. I started out with 8oz due to the size of my baby Snake plant, and as it drank more I gave it more (based on the dryness of its soil). As of this morning, my plant received 24 oz of room temp water. I’m not a plant expert, I’m just sharing with you my experience with my Snake Plant(s)
      Real Talk-True Review

  2. Anthony

    Intelligently written and informative. Answered many questions that could not be found anywhere else. I would love to find a similar site for Hoya plants.
    Only problem is that now I’ll want to go out and buy many more plants. Where will I find the space?

  3. Bryanna Sharot

    Hello! My moonshine isn’t doing too well. As the outer leaves are drooping and wrinkly, I understand it is underwatered. Do you think there is a chance of saving those leaves, though? I took the plant out of the pot, and it is still wet from when I watered it a week and a half ago. What should I do?

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