Many people overlook the significance of fertilizing indoor plants, especially snake plants. Sansevieria or snake plants are well known for being tolerant to neglect. They appear to survive almost any growing conditions. This may lead to a misunderstanding that they do not require feeding. But, that’s not true at all. Being a new plant parent can also cause confusion about your plant needs. It can be challenging to understand when and how to feed your plants. In this post, I’ll review some basics of using fertilizer for a snake plant. Hopefully this will give you some idea about the ins and outs of the fertilization process.
Does a snake plant need fertilizer?
Growing strong and healthy houseplants often requires close control over light, temperature and fertilizer. However, snake plants are quite forgiving in this regard as compared to many other indoor plants. Expert plant growers and beginners appreciate these low-maintenance habits of Sansevieria. But, snake plants still require feeding from time to time. Here are some of the reasons why your snake plant needs fertilizer.
Limited amount of soil
Indoor (and some outdoor) houseplants have a limited storage space in their container. There is a small amount of soil from which they can absorb the required nutrients. Using a good quality soil in the first place is important to ensure they get proper nourishment. Now there are many new fortified potting soils available in the market. They have fertilizers and nutrients mixed in with the soil. And when your potting soil is fresh, the plants may not need any extra fertilizer. But, after a couple of months, your snake plant would have consumed all those nutrients. After this point, it’ll need some supplementing to promote healthy growth.
Nutrients deplete overtime
Every time you water a plant, some nutrients from the soil get flushed away with water. Natural environmental factors like sunlight and wind also contribute to soil depletion. Plus if your potting mix is too loose, the fertilizer itself may wash out easily.
No space to hunt for nutrients
In the outdoor settings, many nutrients are present in nature. If plants don’t find them nearby, they can propagate through rhizomes, or send new roots searching for food. On the other hand, nutrients available to a potted plant are limited by the amount of soil in the pot and whatever supplements you add to it.
Diverse environmental conditions
Houseplants experience different weather and soil conditions than their natural habitats. Depending on the region you live in, your plants may need different supplements to thrive. Proper care as well as fertilizers help to mimic the natural growth environments for the plant.
Better health and immunity
Proper feeding is essential to grow healthy, strong and beautiful plants. Additionally, it prevents pests & diseases from easily attacking the plant.
You might want to read: Best soil ingredients for snake plants
Which fertilizer is good for snake plants?
Plants need nutrients to grow their leaves, roots, and produce flowers. Snake plants require a good balanced fertilizer to ensure fast growth. Ultimately, it also has to do with type and nutrients in the soil.
The three primary macronutrients that are present in most fertilizers are, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Their exact ratio (the N-P-K ratio) is the percentage of each of those nutrients in the fertilizer. This ratio is different for different plant groups such as flowering plants, vegetable plants etc. It also varies depending on the purpose to use a fertilizer. For snake plants, a fertilizer formulated for cacti and succulent houseplants works good. You can also look for a general balanced houseplant fertilizer. Balanced ration means equal amounts of N-P-K. In case of snake plants specifically, find a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 strength fertilizer. Follow the directions on the packaging for tips on how and how much to use.
Apart from N-P-K, some fertilizers also contain micronutrients, like iron, copper, zinc, and boron. Although they are present in smaller amounts, they promote essential functions in plants. Having small amounts of these nutrients is not mandatory, but it can be an added benefit.
Some indoor plant growers never use chemical fertilizers on their snake plants. Instead they use only natural supplements like compost, manure or mulch. Organic fertilizers are a great option, but if you are new to gardening, I’d suggest to stick with chemical ones. With chemical fertilizers, you know exactly what’s going into the soil. You can slowly start introducing organic fertilizers and see how your plants react to it. Remember not to overdo that though.
Alfalfa meal, blood meal, worm compost and corn gluten are some of the good organic supplements for snake plants. They are full of micronutrients, vitamins, plant hormones, good microorganisms and amino acids. Organic fertilizers like seaweed extract, fish emulsion are good sources of nitrogen, but their smell is a bit off-putting. There are odorless types of fish emulsion as well, which can be equally effective. You can also add organic matter such as compost, manure or mulch to improve the soil fertility. An all-purpose, organic fertilizer formulated for houseplants should work just fine. They are available at most gardening or home improvement stores. Or you can order one online.
Types of fertilizers
There are several different types of fertilizers to choose from, which makes it tricky to find the right one. For indoor use, liquid and slow-release granular fertilizers are most suitable. Using sticks, spikes or tablet forms seem convenient, but they don’t always distribute nutrients uniformly to the soil. Apart from water, bacterial and fungal activity also seem to release nutrients. Fertilizer spikes distribute nutrients laterally, so they do not get nutrients to a Snake Plant’s deep roots. Spikes can also hurt fragile roots by concentrating fertilizer in one spot.
These are intended to add directly to the watering can. This provides a precise control over the amount of fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers also have a reduced risk of fertilizer burn. You have to give liquid fertilizers more frequently than granular fertilizers, but they’re more easy to adjust. You can stop feeding during the winter months when the plant is dormant. And in the growth season, increase the doses depending on your plant condition. The disadvantage, however, is that you must remember to do it every time.
You can give your snake plants liquid fertilizer up to once a month in the growing season. Use a balanced 10-10-10 ratio as per the labelled instructions. Or use half strength of 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer. Snake plants absorb liquid fertilizers well and there are no adverse lingering effects. Organic liquid fertilizers are also available. They usually consist of compost tea, worm tea, humic acid, liquid bone meal, liquid kelp etc.
Slow-release fertilizers are also called controlled-release fertilizers. They slowly seep nutrients into the soil over the course of time. These fertilizers come in many forms like capsules, pods, spikes etc. The individual pellets have coatings of different thicknesses that take different time to dissolve. So it releases the fertilizer in low doses over a long period of time. The benefit is you have to fertilize less frequently. A single application can last up to 6-8 months. Read on the label how long they will feed, and don’t add more before that time has passed. These types of fertilizers are great for small pots, as there’s less area to cover and you don’t have to worry about nutrient distribution. One downside of slow-release fertilizers is they can be a bit more expensive than the liquid fertilizers.
For the snake plants, choose a slow-release plant food in granular forms. Unlike pods and spikes, granules can be distributed more evenly. Some brands offer potting soil containing slow-release fertilizer. If you get this, follow the label instructions to use in the correct amounts. Look for the one with equal amounts of N-P-K. When used with caution, it will help your plant without the risk of root burning.
These are dry granules of pure fertilizer that can be mixed into the soil. Granular fertilizer dumps all of its nutrients at once when the pot is watered. This can make it hard to control how much the plants are receiving at once. They are especially helpful for making a first potting mix, where you can add granules throughout the pot. Granular fertilizers for houseplants are found mostly in the granules and spikes formulations. They also come in organic forms made from naturally derived ingredients.
Granular fertilizers are not a great choice for feeding snake plants. I don’t recommend them over the other two types, as there is more risk of overdose and burning.
Best time to fertilize a snake plant
Symptoms of improper watering, light or infections are pretty evident in snake plants. But, knowing when your plants need to be fertilized is a little trickier. Snake plants are slow-growers and a stunted growth due to lack of nutrients can be difficult to notice. So, instead of waiting for a distress signal from the plant, it’s better to follow a regular fertilizing schedule.
Snake plants grow the most during the warmer months of the year. This is the time when they need the extra nutrients to trigger their growth and bloom. Although indoor plants experience more consistent temperatures, changes in weather and the growing cycle influence them similar to the outdoor plants. So for both indoor and outdoor snake plants, warmer seasons are usually best to fertilize.
Spring and summer are the perfect months to feed your plants. In fall, snake plants don’t necessarily need fertilizing. But, if you wish to, you can use very dilute doses. Don’t fertilize the plants in the winter because snake plants are dormant during cold weather. During this time, they don’t need any extra nutrients.
How often do you feed the plant?
After you get your fertilizer, the question is how often do you feed the snake plant? A snake plant doesn’t require much fertilizer, but will grow a little more if it’s fertilized a couple of times in a year. First of all, read the feeding instructions carefully for the general idea. You can fertilize your snake plant once in the spring and then again in the summer. For healthy indoor plants, it’s also possible to get away with fertilizing only once a year. To give your snake plant a good chance at thriving, you can fertilize at most once a month during spring and summer. Don’t feed more than that, as it is probably too much to handle. There is a greater risk of burning tender roots.
Each individual snake plant has slightly different needs when it comes to fertilizing. Outdoor plants will require more fertilizer, as they face higher fluctuations in the environment. They tend to grow more because of ample bright light. Also, there are more ways of nutrient depletion due to atmospheric factors. Increase the frequency of feed and not the concentration, as long as it’s within the limits.
On the other hand, plants kept in low light require less fertilizer. In low light settings, a snake plant uses little water and few nutrients. This is true for plants kept in dim areas, and also true with regards to the seasonal changes. As the daylight time decreases, your plants will need less and less feeding. Skip the feeding altogether in winters as snake plants are resting during this time.
How to fertilize the snake plant?
Here are some tips and considerations to keep in mind while feeding your snake plant.
- Check the packaging on the fertilizer to follow the correct dosage and method. It may depend on the height of the plant, pot diameter etc.
- The ratio of 10:10:10 is most preferable. If you have 20:20:20 strength fertilizer, use the half dose. Use similar concentration for indoor and outdoor snake plants.
- When using water-soluble fertilizer, do not pour the water all in one spot. Try to evenly coat the entire soil surface.
- While applying granular formulations, take a recommended amount of granules and spread them uniformly on the soil surface. No need to bury them unless it’s mentioned on the package. They’ll release nutrients every time you water.
- Empty the saucer beneath your Snake Plant’s pot immediately after the water drains out.
Fertilizing schedule for snake plants
Each specific plant is unique in terms of its growth. How much fertilizer is necessary for each plant also depends on other factors like light and temperature. If you live in a tropical climate that is warm year-round, continue fertilizing your plant in the winter. Depending on the light conditions, apply half or full strength doses.
This guide below will give you a general idea on fertilizing, if you are living in the non-tropical regions.
Spring fertilizer plan
In the beginning of the spring, snake plants don’t yet require large amounts of nutrients. This is the time when they are getting ready for the growth season. You can feed a plant 1-3 times with liquid fertilizer during the spring (once a month at most). In case of multiple applications, the first one should be made at half the recommended strength.
Summer fertilizer plan
When summer arrives, you can switch to regular fertilizer time and dosage. Diluted liquid fertilizers can be applied bi-weekly or monthly. A single application of slow-release fertilizer should be enough.
Fall fertilizer plan
Apply a half-strength liquid fertilizer once in the fall season. Feel free to skip this if not required.
Some important tips
- Soil can accumulate salt after fertilizing over a long time. Too much salt can damage the plant roots. To prevent this, flush the potting soil once in 1-2 years and drain it thoroughly. You can do this while repotting time.
- Weed regularly to prevent competition for water and nutrients.
- Don’t fertilize young snake plants, especially after the propagation. Wait for at least 1 month.
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Thanks, Janeen Hipkiss for snakeplantcare.com