How to grow and care for Snake Plants Indoors

Houseplant, Snake Plant, Mother-in-law's Tongue

Botanical name: Dracaena trifasciata
Synonym: Sansevieria trifasciata
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae

Snake Plant also called Mother-in-law's Tongue or Saint George's Sword is a slow growing, low maintenance and extremely hardy houseplant which is also a good air cleaner. It can withstand low light, dry air, draughts and periods without water. The major drawback for this plant is root-rot due to overwatering. Snake Plant has been shown to be excellent for air purification; for removal of formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toulene and trichloroethylene from indoor air. It is also produces high levels of oxygen at night as it is a CAM (Crassulacean Acidic Metabolism) plant. CAM plants are plants that harvest Carbon dioxide at night and use it during the day to make their food. As they make their food they store the oxygen they produce in the process and release it at night. This is an adaptation of CAM plants to their drought-prone climate which enables then survive the harsh climate. Snake Plants are native to tropical regions of West Africa from Nigeria east to Congo where it grows as an evergreen perennial plant forming dense stands and spreading by means of rhizomes. The leaves are stiff and succulent. There are many varieties of Snake Plants. Sansevieria trifasciata and Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii are the more common varieties. The sword shaped leaves give an architectural look making them suitable as room dividers. The bold foliage provides an excellent background for plants with a ferny foliage or small flowers. The low-growing rosette varieties like the Sansevieria Golden hahnii and Sansevieria hahnii are much less common but they are suitable for the windowsill. These low-growing varieties produce fleshy leaves about 4 inch long.

How to Grow Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Light

Snake Plant prefers bright light with some sunlight but will still grow in shade. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants

Water

Water Snake Plant moderately during the growing season and allow the top 2-3 in. of soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering during the cold period to maintain the soil barely moist. Avoid waterlogging and wetting the crown as it can lead to Root-rot Disease. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Temperature

Average warmth between 16-290C during the growing season is ideal for Snake Plant. Snake Plant is very tolerant to temperature changes but keep it away from draughts. Learn more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

Average room humidity is ideal for Snake Plant. It has no need for high humidity. Occasionally clean the leaves by damp-wiping with a soft cloth.

Feeding

Feed Snake Plant monthly during the growing season with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Withhold feeding in the dormancy stage. Find out more on how to feed houseplants.

Repotting

Repot the plant at the beginning of the growing season only when it becomes crowded in its current pot. The plant can be divided for propagating new plants at this time. Use a pot 1 size larger and one that has a drainage hole to prevent waterlogging as it can lead to Root-rot Disease. The soil should be rich in organic matter and free-draining.

Pruning

Pruning Snake Plant involves removal of any dead or diseased leaves. Cut the leaves at the soil level to maintain the plant neat and tidy. Learn more on how to prune houseplants.

How to Propagate Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Snake Plant can be propagated at the beginning of the growing season from splits or from leaf cuttings.

Propagating Snake Plant from splits
Take Snake Plant out of its pot and using a sharp knife, cut through the roots to divide the plant into sections. Ensure each section has adequate roots. Pot each section in its individual pot, place in a cool place. Maintain the soil moist through out until the new plant is well established.

Propagating Snake Plant from leaf cuttings
Take Snake Plant leaf cuttings of about 2 in. length. Allow the cutting to dry out (callous) for a few days. Stick the lower cut end in moist free-draining soil. Place in a cool place and maintain the soil moist until there is new growth from the base of the cuttings. Allow substancial growth before transplanting the new plant. The new plant grown from a leaf cutting will lose its variegation; it will not resemble the mother plant.

Common Problems in Growing Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

  • Brown and crunchy leaves
  • Underwatering is the cause of brown and crunchy leaves in Snake Plant. Remove the affected leaves and avoid overwatering. Water moderately while allowing the top 2-3 in. of soil to dry out between waterings. Never allow the soil to dry out completely.

  • Bloated and stinky leaves
  • Bloated and stinky leaves in Snake Plant is due to waterlogging. The excess water causes the plant cells to explode within the leaves leading to bloating and odor. Remove the affected leaves. Check the drainage of both the soil and the pot. Ensure the pot has a drainage hole and the soil is free-draining. Reduce watering and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.

  • Brown leaf tips
  • The causes of brown leaf tips in Snake Plant are inconsistent watering or overwatering. Adjust the watering schedule and let the plant recover on its own. Don't remove the brown tips as it leads to scarring.

  • Leaf scarring
  • The cause of leaf scarring in Snake Plant is too much touching of the leaves or brushing against them. Avoid touching the leaves unnecessarily and place the plant away from the line of traffic.

  • Brown blotches on leaves
  • Brown blotches on Snake Plant leaves are due to a non-infectious disorder which starts at the tips working downwards along the leaf. The cause is not know and there is no known cure.

  • Rot at base, leaves yellow and dying back
  • Overwatering leading to Root-rot Disease is the cause of rot at the base and leaves turning yellow and dying back in Snake Plant. Remove the plant from the pot, cut off the affected part and treat the roots with a fungicide solution. Repot the plant in fresh soil. Place in a warmer place and maintain the soil on the dry side. If the whole plant is affected discard the plant as it cannot be saved.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Snake Plant are Mealy Bugs and Spider Mites.

Toxicity

Snake Plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) aka (Dracaena trifasciata) are mildly toxic to both humans and pets. They contain saponins which if ingested may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

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