How To Grow (and Propagate) Snake Plants

Svetlana Glazkova

 

Svetlana Glazkova

Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) are some of the hardiest houseplants around. Also known as sansevieria or mother-in-law’s tongue, the most common varieties have slender, upright leaves in variegated patterns growing about three feet tall.

A related species, Sansevieria cylindrica (African spear plant), has round—rather than flat—leaves and pointed tips. You might have seen this variety braided at your local florist shop or plant nursery. In its native country, wild sansevieria is a favorite food of elephants. 

Because they’re so easy to grow, we see snake plants everywhere—restaurants, lobbies, waiting rooms—but they’re not always cared for properly. Snake plants in good condition can lend a lush, jungle-like feel to any space.

Even better? They improve air quality in your space, particularly while you sleep—even earning the nickname "bedroom plant" because of the oxygen they give off at night.

  • Botanical Name: Sansevieria trifasciata
  • Common Name: Snake Plant, Mother-In-Law's Tongue
  • Plant Type: Succulent, evergreen perennial
  • Mature Size: Three to eight feet
  • Sun Exposure: Indirect sunlight
  • Soil Type: Free-draining soil (cactus or succulent mix)
  • Soil pH: 4.5 to 7.0
  • Toxicity: Toxic
GETTY IMAGES/OSCAR WONG
GETTY IMAGES/OSCAR WONG

Snake Plant Varieties

When you think of snake plants with signature yellow edges, Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’ is likely the variety that comes to mind. In addition to its round-leafed cousin, Sansevieria cylindrica, there are also dwarf, solid-colored, and other unique varieties of this household favorite.

Sansevieria trifasciata, native to West Africa, is a common all-green snake plant that can grow to about three feet tall. Sansevieria gracilis, on the other hand, is a smaller variety that tends to stay under 18 inches in height. Sanseveria canaliculate grows in round, tall, singular spears.

You'll also find varieties like Sansevieria fischeri (small, dark leaves), Sansevieria masoniana (large, circular-shaped leaves), and Sansevieria patens (short, vibrant green leaves) that are common types of snake plants.

How To Care for Snake Plants

Snake plants do best in bright, indirect light, but they can thrive in low-light spaces and sometimes tolerate direct sun. The amount of water your snake plant needs is relative to how much light it gets, so take that into consideration as you choose your snake plant's place. More light means that it will need more frequent (but still rare) waterings, while plants in dimmer areas will need less water.

Fertilize your snake plant every two to three months. Snake plants can be repotted during any season, though they can go three or four years before repotting in a larger vessel with fresh soil. 

Best Growing Conditions for Snake Plants

Snake plants can tolerate most light levels, and can even survive drought-like conditions. They don’t grow well in chilly temperatures, so keep them in a space above 65 degrees.

These plants need very little water overall. During spring and summer, allow them to dry out between waterings; in winter, water less—just enough to keep the leaves from getting shriveled. 

Pot your snake plant in a free-draining potting mix. A soilless mix (for cactus, succulent, palm, and citrus plants) is best. Many hardware stores keep cactus soil in stock year-round, but you can also find soilless potting mix at your local nursery or garden center. Make your own by mixing sand, peat moss, and vermiculite or perlite in equal amounts. 

Since soggy soil can cause root rot, this is a great opportunity to use a pot made from terra cotta or another porous material. When you do water your snake plant, water thoroughly.

For proper drainage, move your snake plant to the kitchen sink, bathtub, or outdoors to water it so all remaining water drains completely—this ensures your plant isn't getting too much moisture from sitting inside a wet tray.

How To Propagate Snake Plants by Rhizome Division

There are two ways to propagate snake plants: by rhizome division or leaf cuttings. You might divide your snake plant when up-potting in the spring or summer, but this resilient plant can be easily repotted year-round.

Step 1: Remove your snake plant from the pot, then use your hands to gently remove the soil from the rhizomes (stems with protruding roots). 

Step 2: Use a sharp, clean gardening blade to separate the rhizomes. 

Step 3: Repot rhizomes into a new container with fresh soil. A larger container is best to give your plant room to grow.

How To Propagate Snake Plants by Leaf Cuttings

Most snake plants can be propagated this way without problems, but some varieties will lose their signature foliage markings when cutting leaves. If your snake plant has yellow edges (rather than the all-green variety), it's better to propagate by division to maintain its look.

Step 1: Cut a leaf from your plant at a slight angle into three-inch sections. Take care to keep the sections in their original orientation until Step 3. 

Step 2: Fill a small pot with sand.

Step 3: Insert sections of leaves into the sand vertically, with the bottom cut end pointing down, so that half an inch to one inch of the leaf is beneath the soil. 

Step 4: Water often enough to keep the soil only slightly moist. You should see new shoots emerge in four to eight weeks.

GETTY IMAGES/FARHAD IBRAHIMZADE
GETTY IMAGES/FARHAD IBRAHIMZADE

Common Growing Problems

While these easy-care plants can thrive under most conditions, it’s important to know the warning signs when your plant needs extra care.

Snake plants can be sensitive to low temperatures. Brown leaf edges indicate that your space is too cool. If you see these, move your snake plant to a warmer area in your space. Shriveled leaves indicate that your snake plant isn’t getting enough water. Give it a thorough soak, and keep an eye on the plant to avoid letting it go too long between waterings. 

You’re more likely to encounter the symptoms of overwatering—drooping, yellowing, or mushy leaves—when the roots below the surface are rotting due to too much soil moisture. Because root rot begins below the soil where you can't see it, it's best to let your plant dry out completely between waterings.

If your snake plant shows signs of root rot, remove it from the plant pot and start fresh with a new soilless mixture. Cut away any brown, mushy roots or leaves, and repot healthy rhizomes in the fresh mixture. If the rhizomes can’t be saved, discard them. Save a few healthy leaves and use them to propagate new snake plants.

Is a Snake Plant Toxic?

Relatives of this plant may be a favorite meal for elephants, but snake plants are not safe for most pets. While they're a beautiful and air-cleaning addition to your home, your snake plant is likely not as beloved as your four-legged family members. Snake plants are toxic to dogs and cats, so keep them out of your pet's reach.

According to the ASPCA, ingestion of snake plants can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in dogs and cats. If you suspect that your pet has chewed on or swallowed a portion of this plant, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) immediately.

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