Snake plants or mother in law’s tongue are excellent houseplants for homes and offices. Although the term “snake plant” usually refers to Sansevieria Trifasciata (Dracaena Trifasciata), there are many varieties and cultivars that are closely related to this plant. In fact there are more than 70 different species that come under the genus Sansevieria. And each of them has a tough, unique and stunning foliage. Apart from the visual differences, most of the snake plants are similar in terms of favorable growing conditions. Because they all have a tropical African or south Asian origin. In this post I briefly explain how to take care of your indoor snake plants, specifically Sansevieria Trifasciata.
Sansevieria Trifasciata come in many shapes and forms. There are very popular Sansevieria Laurentii as well as dwarf cultivars like Sansevieria Hahnii. All these varieties are hardy and drought-tolerant species. They can survive a wide range of temperature, and can thrive from low to bright lights. They are generally very low-maintenance.
Benefits and Uses
Snake plants are prominently used as ornamental plants indoors. Due to their slow-growth, beautiful leaves and easy care habits, they are a great choice for new gardeners.
Apart from its distinct gorgeous look, the snake plant offers some more interesting benefits.
- It acts as a natural air purifier that absorbs harmful pollutants from the air. There are toxins like formaldehyde, toluene, benzene which are present in many households. A snake plant can absorb these chemicals to some extent.
- Snake plants are considered lucky plants in Chinese culture. According to Feng Shui, they bring good luck and protective energy. They are also known to invite 8 good virtues into the house.
- Snake plants can release oxygen even at night time, which can encourage good sleep. This ability makes it a perfect plant to keep in your bedroom.
- They decrease the impact of airborne allergens.
Size and Growth Rate
Under optimal growing conditions, Sansevieria Trifasciata can grow up to 6 feet. It grows upright and doesn’t spread much. Top width of 2-3 feet is normal. The plant leaves are fleshy, long and pointed towards the ends. Bright sunlight (for 12-16 hours) and room to spread the roots encourages plant growth. However, an indoor snake plant is less likely to grow that huge.
Pruning the plant every 2-3 years is necessary if you wish to maintain the plant size. Otherwise, you can let the plant grow naturally. In that case, the plant will require repotting after every few years. During winters, snake plants are usually in dormant stage. They grow actively in warmer months of the year. Flowering time is late winter to spring season.
Choosing the right soil is important for plant health. For snake plants, a coarser and well-draining soil is recommended. Having an easy-to-drain soil is crucial because overwatering is a big problem for snake plants. You should never let your snake plant sit in wet, drenched soil for a long time. It can surely cause root rot over the period of time.
A potting mix made for tropical plants, or succulents and cacti works great for the snake plants. If you have regular soil, you can also make a DIY potting mix. Add some sand, perlite or gravel for increasing drainage. And include coir or peat to retain some moisture without making the soil mix dense. Replace the soil whenever necessary. For instance, when nutrients are depleted years later or after a fungal infection near the soil line. Click here for more information on the best soil ingredients for snake plants.
A good pot will look great while accentuating your snake plant. For indoor use, ceramic, plastic and terracotta pots are popular choices. However, you can also go for metal, glass or wooden pots. Concrete pots are nice, but they can be too heavy.
More than the aesthetic, it’s important that the pot is functional. The most essential thing to look for is the drainage holes. Make sure the pot is proportional to your plant. Snake plants don’t grow very fast, so it’ll take them a long time to fill the container.
If you want to keep using the hole-less pot, use a smaller good container inside it. Place your snake plant in the inner pot and put it on a drainage plate. After watering the plant, make sure to remove the drained water.
Snake plants don’t require frequent watering. In fact overwatering is a very common cause for problems in snake plants. It can cause mushy leaves, root rot and can even kill the plant.
Normally, you should water your snake plant once in a week or once in every two weeks. The exact frequency and water amount will depend on your plant size and environmental conditions. Cold and humid conditions demand less watering. However, if you live in dry tropical areas, you may need to water more often.
- The best way to decide if your snake plant needs water is to check the condition of soil. The soil should feel dry to touch. If it’s still a little damp, wait for a couple of days.
- While watering, pour the water around the edges and not on the leaves. Thoroughly soak the soil. Don’t add just a bit of water because it’s a succulent plant.
- After that, let all the water drain away. You can do this over a sink, or collect the water in a drainage plate and throw it away.
- Clean the leaves if there’s water on them. Or let them dry with an air draft.
During the winter season, limit the watering to just once a month. Sometimes, plants can go for a couple of months before needing water again. Avoid frost on the leaves, as it can damage them permanently. Water the plant during daytime, so the extra water can evaporate easily. Never water during extremely cold winter nights.
For more information, check out this watering guide for snake plants.
Snake plants can tolerate anything from the bright sunlight to low light environments. You can place a snake plant almost anywhere in your home. However, avoid areas that are too dark. Extremely low light will slowly change the color of leaves. Also it can stunt the plant growth.
Ideal environment for your snake plant is a brightly lit room or a window sill. North or south facing windows are great choices. Few hours of direct sun is good for the plant. You can place it such that it gets some morning sun. However, protect the plant from harsh afternoon sunlight. Direct sunlight is not a necessary thing. Snake plants can grow under bright house lamps or LED bulbs as well.
Temperature is not a major issue for an indoor snake plant. If you feel comfortable with the temperature of your house, your plant is good as well. Common room temperatures are optimal for the growth of snake plants. 60-75°F (15-24°C) is considered an ideal temperature range. But snake plants can easily tolerate some fluctuations.
If you keep the plants in a greenhouse, make sure to check the temperature during winters. Snake plants can’t tolerate cold as well as they survive hotter temperatures. Be mindful about watering if you get harsh winters in your region. If the temperature is going to drop below 50°F (10°C), cover the plant with a heavy cloth. This will help to retain some warmth.
Click here to read more about ideal temperature, humidity and light conditions for snake plants.
Although snake plants can survive on a little neglect, it doesn’t mean you can totally abandon them. If the snake plant is not properly taken care of, it might attract some insects and bacteria. The thick, fleshy leaves act as a good protection against some insects and physical harm. However, a warmer climate can encourage the spread of pests. Mealybugs, spider mites and thrips are common enemies of a snake plant.
Sansevieria plants are quite tough and hardy. After getting infected, the snake plant can most probably be saved. Pest attacks can be prevented by cleaning the leaves once in a while, keeping the leaves and roots dry and providing enough light and water to your plant.
Good light and water conditions also help to prevent the plan from getting sick. Overwatering a snake plant can cause yellow, mushy and soggy leaves. Roots can get swollen, turn black and start rotting. On the other hand, dehydrating a plant will result in browning of leaves. Eventually leaves can become drier and die.
Fungal diseases are another outcome of overwatering a plant. Fungus can grow on the leaves or soil surface. So, keep the leaves dry, ensure proper drainage and have a good air movement.
There is no need for adding fertilizers frequently to a snake plant. Feeding the plant 2-3 times a year works pretty well. A good time to do this is either just before, or during the growth season. Which means from early spring to summer.
It is recommended to use a half strength diluted liquid fertilizer. At the most, it can be applied every month during spring and summer. You can also mix in some fungicide in the soil to avoid fungal infections.
There are some occasions where you shouldn’t add fertilizers.
- Never fertilize your plant in the winter. Winter is already a stressful season for snake plants. They are mostly in a dormant state. Adding a fertilizer can create unnecessary stress.
- Also, don’t fertilize young plants. Small plants that are just bought from a nursery need some time to get accustomed to the new environment.
- Avoid fertilizing seedlings right after a propagation. Wait for at least one month after the plant is repotted in soil.
Don’t go overboard with natural fertilizers as well. Fertilizers like cow dung, worm compost should be applied sparingly. Throw in a handful of it in the potting soil mix.
A snake plant producing flowers is quite a rare event. Some plants can bloom every year, while others don’t flower for decades. When it happens, it usually takes place during the spring. And can continue to happen annually. Bright light conditions seem to encourage blooming.
The flowers of a snake plant grow on a long, vertical flower stalk. Small white flowers appear in bunches on this stalk. They are delicate, shaped like lilies and can have green or pinkish tones. The flowers have a sweet and pleasant smell which is not inconspicuous, especially at night.
Snake plants are difficult to grow using their seeds. Propagation by parts of a plant is a great way to create new baby plants. Furthermore, this can be done easily in a soil or using just water. Here’s how you can propagate a plant quickly by dividing it from the roots.
- To propagate a plant by division, you’ll have to remove the plant from its container.
- Inspect the roots and rhizomes to see where they can be naturally separated.
- Using a sharp and sterilized knife, cut the plant in half. For bigger plants, it’s possible to make more than two sections.
- Repot each section in a separate container. Water them thoroughly. And you got multiple plants in no time.
Another great way is propagation through leaves or parts of a leaf. However, this process will lose the variegation in the offspring. For making new plants from a single leaf, you’ll need some leaf cuttings.
- Take a long, healthy leaf and cut it into 3-4 inches long sections.
- Plant each section base-side down into the soil or water. The orientation is particularly important to ensure the root formation.
- Make sure that at least 1 inch of the leaf cutting is under the soil or water.
- Water the soil appropriately and replace the water in case of water propagation.
- Then, wait for a month until small roots start growing from the cutting.
- After the roots grow 2 inches long, plant them in soil.
For detailed information on the propagation process, check out this guide.
Repotting your snake plant is necessary to avoid plant overgrowth. It also makes the plant look neat and tidy in a new bigger container. Usually this needs to be done every 2-3 years. Repotting makes the plant stronger by encouraging a healthy root growth.
Here are the basic steps for repotting your snake plant:
- Make sure to get a container with an appropriate size. Usually it should be 1-2 inches wider in diameter than the old pot.
- Add a thin layer of pebbles at the bottom to cover drainage holes. Then put a layer of soil over that.
- Carefully separate your plant from its old pot and place it in a new one. Then fill the rest of the container with the soil mix.
- At the end, water the plant thoroughly and wait for the soil to get dry before watering again.
Click here for an in-depth guide on repotting a snake plant.
Grooming and Maintenance
Snake plants have a slow growth rate and they usually don’t spread wildly. So, they need less and infrequent tidying up. Leave them without grooming for months, and they’ll look totally fine. Dead and damaged leaves can be cut off from the base to maintain a healthy look of a plant.
However, if you wish to retain the size of your snake plant, it will need to be trimmed down. You can prune a snake plant by one third of its original size. This can be done every 2-3 years.
Pets and kids safety
Snake plants are mildly toxic when ingested. They are labelled as toxic for cats and dogs. Although consuming a little part of the plant is not likely to be fatal, it’s better to take precautions. Keep your plants away from children and pets. If they have eaten the plant, immediately see a doctor.
All parts of the plant contain a toxin called Saponin. When consumed, Saponin can cause mouth and stomach irritation. Common symptoms of a snake plant poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, drooling etc. If the plant juice comes in contact with bare skin, it can cause skin rashes and dermatitis. So, make sure to take precautions while handling this plant. Avoid direct contact with cut and exposed parts. Use gloves whenever you are pruning, propagating or repotting a snake plant.