Snake plants or mother in law’s tongue are quite popular and low-maintenance houseplants. As they grow well in low light, most people like to keep them as indoor ornamental plants. Nonetheless, snake plants thrive in the outdoor settings as well. In fact, bright light available in nature can make them grow and bloom even faster. However, there are a few challenges while raising these tropical plants away from their natural habitat. Here in this post I explain how to care for your snake plant if you wish to grow it outdoors.
The term “snake plant” usually refers to Sansevieria Trifasciata (Dracaena Trifasciata). But, there are many Sansevieria species that are known as different varieties of snake plants. In fact there are more than 70 different species categorized under the genus Sansevieria (now Dracaena). And each of them has a succulent, unique looking and tough foliage. Miniature species or cultivars such as Silver Hahnii, Sansevieria Pinguicula are great as indoor plants. While Sansevieria Trifasciata, Sansevieria Cylindrica look amazing both indoors and outdoors. These plants grow up to 5-6 feet tall and can cover a large area by spreading through their rhizomes.
Benefits and Uses
First of all, what makes snake plants great outdoor plants is that all the Sansevieria varieties are very hardy and drought-tolerant. They can survive a wide range of temperature fluctuations. You can raise them in a partial or full shade. Due to their less fussiness and easy care habits, they are a fantastic pick for gardening beginners.
There are literally dozens of species to choose from. Plus, there are interesting cultivars that have silvery-white color, variegated leaves or unusual shapes. Apart from the distinct gorgeous look, snake plants offer some more interesting benefits.
- Snake plants can absorb harmful toxins that are commonly present in the air. This quality may not be very helpful for outdoors where the air is flowing freely. But it’s still good to have air-cleaning plants around.
- Due to their peculiar photosynthesis process, snake plants release oxygen even at night time. They also decrease the impact of airborne allergens.
- Snake plants are considered lucky plants that bring in 8 good virtues into the house. According to Feng Shui, their pointy leaves shield against negative energy and invite good luck. Place them close to the entrance of your house.
Plant size and Growth
Under optimal growing conditions, Sansevieria Trifasciata grows up to 6 feet. The leaves are fleshy, narrow and pointed towards the ends.Each plant grows upright and spreads 2-3 feet at the top. Around 12-16 hours of bright filtered sunlight seems to encourage the plant growth. If your plants are rooted in the ground, you can let them grow naturally. They will multiply by creating new plants through the rhizomes. Rhizomes are underground stems that grow horizontally and help the plant expand.
For potted plants, there is not much space to spread out. Pruning the plant is necessary if you wish to maintain the plant size. It is required to be done every 2-3 years. Otherwise, you’ll have to repot the plant into a bigger container.
During winters, snake plants are in resting state. The active growth happens in the spring and summer. Spring is also the blooming time for mature plants.
Snake plants originally grow in dry and arid regions. Sometimes they are also found to be growing near the rocks. Being tropical plants, they must not sit in a wet and moist soil for long. Else, the water can rot their roots. It’ll also make the leaves soggy, yellow or mushy. So, choosing a loose, fast-draining and coarser soil is really essential. This will allow the excess water to drain freely, thus reducing the chances of overwatering.
You can make a soil mix by adding perlite, pumice or sand into a regular or garden soil. These additives will increase the draining capacity of soil. A potting mix made for tropical plants, or succulents and cacti also works great for the snake plants. You must replace the soil whenever necessary. For instance, in case of nematode problems, or when a fungal infection occurs near the soil line. Click here for more information on the best soil ingredients and a DIY soil mix recipe for snake plants.
Pot or Planter
Pots intended for the outdoor use must be strong and tolerant to withstand changing weather conditions. Look for the pot materials that won’t easily crack, fade color or simply break. Here’s a guide to find a perfect pot for your snake plant. Having a rough and tough pot doesn’t mean it has to be ugly. You can find beautiful wooden, concrete or terracotta pots that are strong as well. Planters work perfect for outdoor plants. They are bigger containers that can keep many plants. Plus they come in different shapes and sizes.
Don’t forget to make sure that your pot or planter has drainage holes. It is the most important thing to look for in a container. The container should also be proportional to your snake plant, not too big and not too small.
Snake plants are drought-tolerant species, so they can live without constant watering. In fact overwatering is a common reason for problems in snake plants. It can cause mushy leaves, root rot, and can even kill the plant. Exactly how much water your plant needs will depend on many factors. In the growing season of snake plants, you can water them 2-4 times a month. If your snake plants are out in a very dry air and hotter climate, they may need more water.
If possible bring your plants indoors during the winter season. Else, you can cover them to keep in the warmth and prevent frost. By all means protect them from a winter rain. During colder seasons, snake plants require very less to no water. You can water them once a month or after every couple of months. Water the plant during daytime, so the extra water can evaporate easily. Never water during extremely cold winter nights. If there are little showers of rain in the fall, skip watering unless needed.
- The best way to decide if your snake plant needs water is to check the soil. It should feel dry to touch. If the soil is still a little damp, wait for a couple of days.
- While watering, pour the water around the pot edges, or close to the soil surface. Make sure to thoroughly soak the soil. Don’t add just a little bit of water because it needs less water.
- In case of potted plants, let all the water drain away freely.
For more information on this, check out this watering guide for snake plants.
Finding a perfect place to keep your outdoor snake plant highly depends on your climate. Snake plants can tolerate anything from the bright sunlight to low light environments. However, direct sunlight all year round can be too much. It’s best to keep them in a partial or full shade.
A good place for your snake plant is near the wall of your house, so that it can get bright light but not too much sun. Few hours of mild direct sun is good for the plant, especially in the morning. Try to protect the plant from harsh afternoon sunlight. Click here to read more about light and temperature conditions for snake plants.
Snake plants grow best in warmer environments. The ideal temperature range is around 60-85°F (15-30°C), but slightly higher temperatures can be easily tolerated. Protect your outdoor plants from heat by keeping them in a shaded area.
Snake plants are not very cold hardy. They go dormant in cold weather and their growth is stunted. It’s best to keep them below 40°F (4°C) at all times. Bring your snake plants inside the house in winters. If you keep the plants in a greenhouse, make sure to check and adjust the temperature in the winter season. Be mindful about watering during this time. Extreme cold plus wet roots is a deadly combination for your outdoor snake plant. If the temperature is going to drop below 50°F (10°C), you can cover the plant with a heavy cloth. This will help to retain some warmth.
Pests and Diseases
Being tough and hardy, snake plants can resist many pests and diseases. However, occasionally they may get infected with insects, bacteria or other pests. Outdoor snake plants are in close contact with natural elements. So they are more prone to come in contact with such natural troubles. A warmer climate can also encourage the spread of pests. Mealybugs, spider mites and thrips are examples of some common enemies of a snake plant. Fungal diseases can be an outcome of overwatering a plant. Fungus can grow on the wet leaves or moist soil surface.
Pest attacks can be prevented by keeping the leaves and roots dry and providing enough light, fertilizer and water to your plant. You can also mix in some fungicide in the soil to avoid fungal infections.
Snake plants can survive without fertilizers, but feeding them at least 2-3 times a year will result in increased health and better growth. A good time to do this is during the growth season, spring to late summer. Feed your plant a balanced general-purpose fertilizer. Liquid and slow-release fertilizers are great options. Organic fertilizers like cow dung, manure, worm compost should be applied sparingly. Throw in a handful of it in the potting soil mix. Check out this post for more details on fertilizing.
There are some occasions where you shouldn’t give fertilizers to your snake plants.
- Never fertilize your plant in the winter. Plants are resting during this time and need minimal water and nutrients.
- Avoid feeding young plants. Small plants that are just bought from a nursery need some time to get accustomed to the new environment.
- Don’t fertilize small seedlings right after a propagation. Wait for at least one month after the plant is repotted in soil.
Snake plants planted outdoors in the ground will multiply on their own by spreading through their rhizomes. Potted plants can be reproduced by vegetative propagation methods. Propagation by different parts of a plant is an easy way to create new baby plants. Here’s how you can propagate a snake plant quickly by dividing it from the root-ball.
- First, you’ll have to remove the plant from its container.
- Inspect the roots and rhizomes to see where they can be naturally separated. Remove the damaged parts of the root.
- Using a sharp and sterilized knife, cut the plant in half. For bigger plants, it’s possible to make more than two plants.
- Repot each section in a separate container. Water them thoroughly.
To know about other propagation methods like leaf cuttings or water propagation, check out this guide.
Your outdoor snake plant will need repotting to promote healthy plant growth. Normally this can be done every 2-3 years. Repotting will make the plant look tidier. It also allows the roots to grow freely, which ultimately makes the plant stronger and more resistant.
Click here for an in-depth guide on repotting a snake plant. Here are some basic steps to do this:
- Make sure to get a container with an appropriately big size. It should be 2-3 inches wider in diameter than the old pot.
- Add a thin layer of pebbles or rocks 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 it again.
Grooming and Maintenance
Growth rate of a snake plant is comparatively slow. These plants are also quite tough to withstand outdoor weather conditions. So, there is much less tidying up and grooming required. Wipe the leaves regularly to remove dirt and keep them clean. If the leaves are severely damaged by cold, they may not be revived. Once in a while, you can cut off dead and damaged leaves to maintain a healthy look of the plant.
If you wish to retain the original size of your snake plant, it will need to be trimmed down. You can prune a snake plant by maximum one third of its original size. This can be repeated every 2-3 years.
Pets and kids safety
Snake plants are considered toxic for cats and dogs. Although consuming a little part of the plant is not likely to kill your pet, it’s better to take precautions. Be sure to keep your pets away from the plant. The toxins can also affect humans. So keep an eye on your children when they are outside near the plants.
Snake plants contain a toxic chemical that can cause mouth and stomach irritations when ingested. Common symptoms of a snake plant poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, drooling etc. Touching the leaf juices can result in rashes or dermatitis. Avoid direct contact with cut and exposed parts. Use gloves whenever you are trimming, propagating or repotting a snake plant.