How to Grow Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law's Tongue)

Someone spraying a snake plant

 

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Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) are some of the hardiest houseplants around. Also known as mother-in-law's tongue, most snake plants have slender, upright leaves in variegated patterns that grow about 3 to 4 feet high. Along with their attractive, easy-growing foliage, snake plants also offer health benefits when grown indoors. They improve the air quality in your space, particularly while you sleep—even earning the nickname "bedroom plant" because of the oxygen they give off at night.

Because they’re so easy to grow, you can spot snake plants in many homes and public places like restaurants, lobbies, or waiting rooms. When they're in good condition, these plants can lend a lush, jungle-like feel to any space. Keep in mind that this species is toxic to pets, so plant yours safely out of reach of any furry family members.

  • Botanical Name: Sansevieria trifasciata
  • Common Name: Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue
  • Plant Type: Succulent, evergreen perennial
  • Mature Size: 3–4 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Indirect sunlight
  • Soil Type: Free-draining soil (cactus or succulent mix)
  • Soil pH: 4.5–7.0
  • Toxicity: Toxic to pets
A snake plant in a basket on the floor in a room
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Plant Care

Snake plants grow 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 when choosing its place. Plants in bright light require more frequent waterings, while plants in dimmer areas can be watered sparsely.

Fertilize your snake plant every two to three months during the growing season. This species does not need fertilizer during the fall or winter while it is not actively growing.

Best Growing Conditions for Snake Plants

Snake plants tolerate most light levels and can even survive drought-like conditions. They don't grow well in chilly temperatures, however, so keep yours in a space above 55 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. Soggy soil can cause root rot, so ensure your plant's container has plenty of drainage. When you do water your snake plant, do so thoroughly. An overwatered snake plant's leaves will become saturated and limp, while underwatered plants appear dry or crispy.

Pot your snake plant in a free-draining potting mix. A soilless mix (such as one for cacti, succulents, palms, and citrus) is best. Many hardware stores keep cactus soil in stock year-round, but you can also find a 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.

For proper drainage, move your snake plant to a sink, a bathtub, or outside when you water it so excess water can drain completely. This ensures your plant isn't getting too much moisture from sitting in wet soil.

Types of Snake Plants

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 varieties of this household favorite.

Sansevieria trifasciata, native to West Africa, is a common all-green variety that can grow to 4 feet high. Sansevieria gracilis, on the other hand, is a smaller snake plant that tends to stay under 18 inches in height. Meanwhile, Sanseveria canaliculate grows in round, tall, singular spears. You'll also find common varieties like Sansevieria fischeri (small, dark leaves), Sansevieria masoniana (large, circular leaves), and Sansevieria patens (short, vibrant-green leaves).

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How to Propagate Snake Plants

There are two ways to propagate snake plants: by rhizome division or leaf cuttings. This resilient species can be divided up during spring, summer, and fall, but avoid propagating in winter when the plant's growth is dormant. Here's how:

How to Propagate Snake Plants by Rhizome Division

Step 1: Remove your snake plant from its 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 the rhizomes in a new container with fresh soil. A larger container is best to give your plant room to grow. Continue care as usual.

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 plant has yellow edges (rather than the all-green variety), it's better to propagate by division to maintain its unique look.

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

Step 2: Fill a small pot with sand.

Step 3: Insert sections of leaves into the sand vertically (cut end pointing down) so that half an inch to 1 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. Once new growth appears, continue care as usual.

A large snake plant in a basket and a small one in a pot
Farhad Ibrahimzade / Getty Images

Common Problems With Snake Plants

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

Brown Leaf Edges

Snake plants can be sensitive to low temperatures. Brown leaf edges can indicate that your space is too cool or drafty. If you see these, move your plant to a warmer area in your space. It's generally safe to grow snake plants near heating vents in the winter, but keep in mind that your plant may require more frequent waterings in these areas.

Shriveled Leaves

Shriveled leaves indicate that your snake plant isn't getting enough water. Give it a thorough soak—allowing excess water to drain from the pot—and keep an eye on the plant to avoid letting it go too long between waterings. 

Yellow or Drooping Leaves

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 plant shows signs of root rot, remove it from the pot and start fresh with a new soilless mixture. Cut away any brown, mushy roots or leaves, then 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.

While it's a less common cause than overwatering, yellow leaves on your snake plant may also indicate too much humidity. Avoid misting this plant and trim back any affected leaves before moving it to a dry room.

Potting and Repotting Snake Plants

Snake plants should be repotted in late winter or early spring before entering the active growing season. Your plant won't need a new pot each year—this species can grow for three or four years in the same container before repotting in a larger vessel with fresh soil.

Pot your plant in a container made from terracotta or another porous material with holes at the bottom for proper drainage. Thoroughly water the plant outside or in the bathtub to ensure even moisture levels throughout the container without excess water resting at the bottom.

FAQs

Are Snake Plants Easy to Care For?

Snake plants are an easy species to care for thanks to their hardiness when it comes to light and water needs. These plants prefer consistency, so a key factor of healthy growth is to place your plant in a suitable long-term area when you first bring it home.

How Long Can Snake Plants Go Without Water?

While it's best to water your snake plant every other week, this species has been known to survive for up to six weeks without water.

What's the Difference Between Snake Plant and African Spear Plant?

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 or plant nursery.

Can Snake Plants Live Outside?

Since snake plants grow best in warm climates, they can live outside in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 through 11 in shady spots. If you live in a colder region, bring your plant indoors to an area with indirect light before the first frost of winter.

Article Sources
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  1. Four Benefits of Houseplants. South Dakota State University. December 18, 2018

  2. Snake Plant. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 2022

  3. Snake Plant. University of Colorado Extension.

  4. Sansevieria Trifasciata. Cornell University Cooperative Extension. March 2019

  5. Sansevieria Trifasciata. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  6. Fact Sheet: Sansevieria Trifasciata. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. June 10, 2017

  7. Sansevieria Cylindrica. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  8. The Genus Sansevieria: An Introduction to Molecular (DNA) Analysis and Preliminary Insights to Intrageneric Relationships. University of Arizona. January 2016

  9. Sansevieria Masoniana. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  10. Houseplant Problems. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. August 2020

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