The snake plant (Sansevieria, also known as ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’) is widespread in the warm and dry regions of Africa, southern Europe, the Arabian Peninsula and large parts of Asia. The interesting succulent with its decorative leaves and different forms of appearance is considered to be a very easy-to-care-for houseplant. Nevertheless, you should learn how to care for snake plants so that the exotic plant can develop in their full glory for you.
- 1 How to Care for Snake Plants
- 2 How to Propagate Snake Plants
- 3 Common Snake Plant Diseases
- 4 Snake Plant Temperature Tolerance
- 5 Species and varieties
- 6 FAQ’s
How to Care for Snake Plants
Best Location for Snake Plants
Sansevieria prefers a partially shaded to a bright location with the highest possible humidity. A place in a bright daylight bathroom would be perfect, but the plant also feels good on any other window sill. In summer you can also put the succulent plant on the balcony or in the garden, as long as it is warm and sunny enough – the temperatures should not be less than 12°C. In principle, darker locations are also possible, but then the plant will grow much more slowly.
Best Soil for Snake Plants
As a desert plant, the Sansevieria prefers a relatively dry, well-drained and mineral substrate. Cactus soil is very suitable, as is an unmixed mix of compost soil and a third of sand or gravel. For better permeability, add perlite or expanded clay pebbles, etc. to this mixture. Commercially available soil for flowering plants, however, is less suitable, even if the snake plant – adaptable as it is – will grow in it. Garden soil is also not suitable.
How Often to Water Snake Plants
If you are one of those people who often forget to water their plants or are only rarely at home, then the snake plant is exactly the right houseplant for you. The succulent plant, which comes from the tropics, only needs to be watered once every couple of weeks.
The snake plant uses its thick, fleshy leaves as a storage organ and therefore gets by with very little water and with rare nutrients. The best way to water the popular houseplant is as follows:
- Moderate watering is only necessary every two to three weeks.
- Do not water thoroughly!
- Do a finger test before watering: The substrate should be dry to a depth of about one inch.
- In the months with little light, watering should be greatly reduced.
- The darker the location, the less water is needed.
- Never water directly into the rosettes!
- Ensure that excess irrigation water is drained well.
- Avoid waterlogging.
If there are brown spots on the leaves, it is sometimes caused by dryness damage. In most cases, however, a fungicidal or bacterial infection is behind it.
Fertilizer for Snake Plants
Not only when watering, but also when fertilizing is restraint required. Too much fertilizer also causes soft leaves, which then snap off quickly and/or break off. Yellowish to brownish discolorations are also not uncommon in this case.
Fertilize the snake plant no more than once a month between April and August, for which you use a low-dose cactus fertilizer at best. Halve the amount given in the manufacturer’s application description, because Sansevieria does not have a high nutritional requirement and gets by with significantly less. Use a liquid fertilizer that you give along with the irrigation water.
Never fertilize on a dry substrate as this can cause root damage. In the other months between September and March, however, there is no need for fertilization, only little watering.
How Do You Straighten a Snake Plant?
Best Pots for Snake Plants
Since the leaves of the Sansevieria can reach heights of between 100 and 150 centimeters, they often reach a corresponding weight. These tall varieties become quite top-heavy over the years, which is why you should place them in planters made of heavy materials such as clay or ceramics to protect them from tipping over. In addition, the pots should have as wide a diameter as possible, as the thick rhizomes of the Sansevieria spread out just below the substrate surface. The vessel can also be rather flat for this.
When planting the snake plant, it is essential to ensure good drainage in the pot, as the desert dweller can only tolerate permanent moisture and especially waterlogging with difficulty. The planter must have a sufficiently large drainage hole on the floor and it must also be on a saucer or in a planter. Excess irrigation water can flow into here, from which you can quickly remove it after watering. In turn, cover the drainage hole with a few potsherds to avoid clogging due to silting up and also put in a thin layer of gravel or a layer of expanded clay pebbles. Only then do you fill in the substrate.
When to Repot Snake Plants
With Sansevieria, you can tell when it is time to repot by the roots growing out of the pot, but also by the occasional kinking leaves – these break because their rhizome is no longer sufficiently anchored in the substrate for a firm hold. If the plant does not yet need a larger container or is already in a large pot, you should still replace the top substrate layer every year. The best time to repot is in spring between March and April.
Pruning Snake Plants
Some types and varieties of snake plant can get quite high leaves with 100 to 150 centimeters and thus become too big for the windowsill. However, the plants grow very slowly, so it can take a few years to reach a suitable size. If you still want to be on the safe side, choose a variety that stays low, such as the “Bird’s Nest Snake Plant” (Sansevieria trifasciata Hahnii).
Cutting back the leaves is definitely not recommended for Sansevieria, because the corresponding shoots do not sprout again. Instead, an unsightly edge remains that turns brown. Such a cut also represents a gateway for fungi and other pathogens, so that the plant does not only lose its visual appeal. However, instead of pieces of leaf, whole leaves can be cut off close to the substrate, for example, to remove brown and dry leaves or to obtain cuttings.
How to Propagate Snake Plants
Sansevieria can be easily propagated by leaf cuttings and, in the case of large plants, by dividing them.
Propagation by cuttings
When propagating snake plant cuttings, you need patience, because the slow growth of the plant means that it takes a few years until a sizable plant has emerged. However, it is also a lot of fun to raise the tiny one yourself from the start. And this is how it works:
- Cut off a whole leaf just above the ground.
- Divide this evenly into pieces about ten centimeters in size.
- Make a mark for “top” or “bottom” with a pen.
- Dip the lower cut edge in a rooting powder (optional).
- Place the cuttings with the lower edge several centimeters deep in a growing medium.
- Place the nursery pot in a bright and warm, but not directly sunny location.
- Keep the substrate evenly moist, but not wet.
After a few weeks, the cuttings develop the first roots, and the first offshoots appear a little later. Now you can remove the piece of leaf, as the actual plant grows out of the rhizome that has emerged. By the way, variegated varieties should always be propagated by division, since their cuttings usually develop green leaves of a single color.
Propagation by division
Specimens that have grown too large can be divided without hesitation, which is best done in connection with repotting that is due anyway. Have a separate pot with a suitable substrate ready for each new individual plant. This is how division works:
- Lift the snake plant out of the planter.
- Carefully remove the substrate from the roots.
- Look for small side shoots or offshoots or side rosettes, which should preferably be separated.
- If necessary, cut it off from the mother plant with a sharp, disinfected knife.
- If the plant is still too big, you can divide it all up.
- Each piece of rhizome should have at least one shoot, preferably more than two.
- Plant the pieces separately immediately after dividing them.
- You can use cactus soil or a mixture of soil and sand for this.
Rooting powder is not necessary in this case, after all, the pieces are already rooted. Afterward, care for the new Sansevieria like the adult snake plant.
Read more here:
How to Separate Snake Plant: Beginners Guide
Common Snake Plant Diseases
Sansevieria are very robust plants that only become ill due to major care mistakes. A pest infestation, on the other hand, is rare but can occur. Mealybugs and spider mites, in particular, occur occasionally, although you should not shower off the affected plants if possible.
- brown discolored/soft leaves: root rot due to waterlogging, but also too low temperatures
- yellow discolored/slack leaves: overwatering or overfertilization
- brown spots on the leaves: dryness
- moist, soft spots on the leaves: fungal attack
If a fungus infects the snake plant and its leaves become soft as a result, the plant can usually no longer be saved. However, you can cut off the tips of the leaves and use them as cuttings for new plants.
Snake Plant Temperature Tolerance
The Sansevieria can be cultivated in the room all year round, whereby the temperatures in the low light period are ideally a maximum of 18 to 20°C.
Since the snake plant is not hardy, it must overwinter frost-free at around 13 to 16°C with very sparse watering. Of course, you can continue to grow the succulent plant in a warm living room, but the plant is best left in a cooler room when the lighting is poor. During this time, the snake plant stops growing. As soon as the days in spring get longer again and the hours of sunshine increase, gradually increase the temperature and the watering.
Species and varieties
The species Sansevieria trifasciata has been cultivated as a houseplant for many decades; there are numerous ornamental forms of it in different heights, types of growth and leaf colors. In addition to the green-leaved forms, the subspecies laurentii is particularly popular, with leaves with wide, light yellow borders. This species can become quite tall with heights of more than one meter, while the varieties of the subspecies Sansevieria trifasciata hahnii remain comparatively small with an average height of up to 20 centimeters. Hahnii shapes also come in very different colors.
On the other hand, Sansevieria cylindrica is still relatively new as a houseplant with its round, columnar, upright leaves. This cultivated form also remains quite compact and is therefore ideal for the windowsill at home. The leaves of this species are often offered in braided form, which, however, does not correspond to the natural habit. There are also some interesting ornamental forms of the rare Sansevieria kirkii, which has very narrow and rather short leaves.
Do snake plants flower?
In old age, snake plant sometimes blooms, but only very rarely. These white, yellow, pink or greenish-white flowering panicles appear in winter or in early spring, with each shoot only blooming once. Provided that nocturnal pollination by moths has taken place, the flowers produce reddish berries in autumn. These contain seeds from which new plants can be grown.
In contrast to many other succulents, the flower-bearing shoot dies, but not the plant. Blossoms on snake plants are very rare in indoor culture and therefore always a specialty.
Is Sansevieria toxic to cats and dogs?
Like so many exotic ornamental plants, Sansevieria is also poisonous – especially for small animals such as dogs and cats.
Basically, all parts of the snake plant are highly poisonous, especially the leaves containing blood-decomposing saponins. Dogs and cats in particular are tempted to nibble on the thick, fleshy leaves. Poisoning usually manifests itself as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cramps can also occur. If you suspect that your dog or cat may have poisoned itself from the snake plant, see a veterinarian immediately.
Nibbling on a Sansevieria can also be fatal for small rodents such as mice and rats. The plant is also poisonous for guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, and humans.
How long do snake plants live?
Snake plants can live more than 50 years, although the average lifespan range from 10 to 20 years.