Snake plants (also known as Mother in law’s tongue) are one the best plants to keep in your home. The Sansevierias have more than 60 different and unique species. They are recognized by their tough, succulent leaves and evergreen foliage. Not only snake plants give your place a nicer look, they also absorb harmful toxins from the air. And the most important thing, they are so easy to grow and care for. These drought-hardy plants are very tolerant and almost impossible to kill.
However, propagating this plant may fail because of some common mistakes people make. Water propagation is even more risky, as there is more possibility of rotting. In this post, I explain how to propagate a snake plant in water, and how to increase its chances of survival.
Why propagate a snake plant in water?
Propagating a plant is a method of creating new plants from the parts of an existing plant. Snake plants are usually propagated by vegetative propagation, which means making new plants from a single parent plant. It doesn’t involve methods that exchange genes, such as using plant seeds. Sansevierias may flower once a year, but it’s not always guaranteed. Snake plants blooming is quite a rare event. Some people can own the plants for decades, and they still wouldn’t see them flower. Plus it is rather difficult to reproduce mother in law’s tongue using seeds. So, propagation by other methods such as using rhizomes, leaves and leaf cuttings is more reliable.
Although propagating in soil has more odds for success, water propagation gives equally good results if done right. In case you don’t have extra soil available at the moment, water propagation is a quick and easy option. Moreover, there is no need to have an extra pot of soil before the planting time. You can use any non-porous container (glass, bowl, mug or old plastic water bottles) available at your home.
All varieties of Sansevieria are hardy and low maintenance species. They can adapt to fluctuating temperatures and light conditions. Research done by NASA suggests that having at least one snake plant per 100 square feet at home or office space is good to keep the air clean. Because of their air purifying quality and attractive look, it’s no wonder if you want to have more of them. Also, propagating them by yourself is an easy and fun experiment.
Last but not least, by propagating at home, you get new plants without going out and spending any money. But don’t forget that growing them will need some extra care, at least in the beginning.
Important things to know in advance
- One problem with propagation by leaf cuttings methods is, when you propagate a variegated snake plant, it will not grow as a variegated type, but will have just the normal dark green color. For instance, if you use leaf cuttings of Sansevieria Trifasciata Laurentii or Golden Hahnii, the new leaves will not have the typical yellow color.
Whether you use soil or water for leaf cuttings methods, the new snake plants will have pure green leaves. Yellow lines can appear when they grow bigger in size, but it may or may not happen.
- Keep in mind the orientation of leaves when you cut them. Insert the leaf cuttings in water in the correct direction. If you put it upside down against the natural flow, the leaves will not grow roots and start dying. This is because water and nutrients intake flows from root to top. To help you remember, you can mark the different parts with a pen.
- Proper sanitation is necessary to avoid any bacterial problems. It’s recommended to sterilize the cutting tools with alcohol. This will reduce the probability of soft rot (caused by Erwinia Carotovora). But if you don’t have alcohol, just make sure the tools are clean.
- Be sure to check the suitable propagation methods for the specific type of snake plant you have. Not all species can propagate through leaf cuttings. One such example is the starfish snake plant. Click here to go to a Sansevieria catalog, where you can find a short introduction about popular snake plants.
Water Propagation methods
The idea behind water propagation is to cut off a leaf (or leaf sections) of your plant, keep it in water until it starts growing small roots and transfer it to the soil after the roots become strong enough. Here I explain 2 ways you can do this.
Using whole leaves
In this method, a complete leaf of a snake plant is used for propagation. If you have a big enough plant and you can spare a whole leaf, go for this method. The only benefit of using a whole leaf is, until the new pups start growing (which takes months), you can have a whole healthy leaf. It looks better in a pot than the half cut leaves.
- Pull out a leaf of your snake plant, ideally from its base. For this, you’ll have to remove the plant from its pot, or loosen the soil until you see the leaf base. Else, you can just cut off the leaf from near the soil surface using pruners or a knife.
- Take some clean room temperature water in a container.
- Put the leaf in water. Make sure the base is submerged at least an inch in the water.
- Change the water every 3-4 days.
Small roots will start to appear at the leaf base in about 3 weeks. Wait till the roots are almost 2 inches long and look stronger. This might take 6-7 weeks. After that you can plant the leaf in a pot with soil.
Using leaf cuttings
This is a great way to make multiple plants using just 1 leaf of a snake plant. With a sufficiently long leaf, you can easily make 6-7 new plants.
- Using a clean tool, cut the leaf to make 3-4 inches long sections and put them in a container. Remember the orientation while you cut them.
- It’s recommended to leave them for about 2-3 days before putting them in water. They form little callous and it appears to make the leaf cuttings more hardy. However, I’ve seen many people directly put them in water and it seems to work well.
- Next step is to pour water in the container, so that the cuttings are submerged at least an inch in water. Be sure to keep them in the right direction, base-side down.
- Change the water every 3-4 days.
It will take almost a month until the roots start to grow. Don’t plant them in soil before they are strong enough. Be sure to have at least 2 inches long roots, then you can re-pot it in soil. It will take about 2-3 months for the roots to become ready to plant.
After successfully repotting in soil, the rhizomes (underground stems) will start growing. Later, around 4 months from the propagation, you may see small new pups (baby leaves) rising from the soil.
How to care for a snake plant after water propagation?
- The most important thing is to replace the container water frequently. Changing the water twice or thrice a week is extremely crucial. If you forget to do that, the immersed part of the leaf will rot. In case there are any small roots, they will start rotting as well. If you see the water changing color, getting cloudy or giving off a bad smell, you need to replace the water immediately. So, keep a water changing schedule and remember to follow that.
- When the leaf cuttings are kept in a container, their base is resting on the bottom of the container. It may cause the new roots to get squished. To avoid this, you can simply stick the leaves to the sides using duct tape, or use small clips to hold them so that they don’t touch the bottom. Another way is to make a triangular cut at the bottom of the leaf. This will allow it to have some space for growing the roots. I came across one more cool method, where they used a plastic mesh to hold the leaf cuttings to avoid a contact with the bottom.
- Normal tap water or drinking water is best for the propagation. Avoid hard and chlorinated water. Distilled water is not good either, as the distillation process removes some useful nutrients and neutralizes the pH of water. Water from the water softening systems is also not recommended, as it can be toxic to the plants.
- Don’t keep the snake plants in direct sunlight for a long time, especially when they are young. The plants should be kept in a well lit but shadowy place. You don’t even need to put them in a greenhouse. A window covered by sheer curtains is a good option. Bright light from fluorescent and LED lamps also work fine. Avoid keeping the plants outside before they have grown healthy roots.
- When you see significant root growth in water, and ready to transfer the plant to soil, use just a normal soil mix. Wait for at least a month before adding fertilizer in your pot soil. The small and delicate roots may not handle strong fertilizers until they get familiar with the soil. In the worst case, fertilizers can burn the plant roots.
- In case you already had a plant in water for a few weeks or months but the roots still look really short, it’s OK. No need to worry as long as the leaf looks healthy and the roots don’t get rotten. Water propagation may take some months for your plant to be ready for repotting. Just be patient and give it some time.
Propagating snake plants in water is quite easy and fun process. I hope this article was helpful for you to avoid some common mistakes. If you have any tips or other methods, please share them in the comments!