How to Care for a Snake Plant

If you tend to kill plants with neglect, then the tough-as-nails snake plant is the right choice for you. The key to success is knowing when to water.

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This is one snake you’ll actually want in your house. “A perfect plant for bedrooms, the snake plant is practically indestructible—tolerating low light and long bouts without water—and is especially good at adding oxygen at night,” Hancock says.

Snake Plant

This is one snake you’ll actually want in your house. “A perfect plant for bedrooms, the snake plant is practically indestructible—tolerating low light and long bouts without water—and is especially good at adding oxygen at night,” Hancock says.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Costa Farms

Image courtesy of Costa Farms

Virtually indestructible, snake plants grow best when you ignore them. Traditionally these beauties have been known botanically as Sansevieria, but in 2018 botanists reclassified them as Dracaena. You'll see them sold under both botanical names. These low-maintenance plants grow in any light level, including those shadowy corners indoors just begging for some greenery.

There's only one tricky aspect to growing these classic houseplants: mastering snake plant watering. These plants thrive on neglect, so it's best to water only when the soil is almost thoroughly dry. Even then, it won't hurt to wait another few days, especially if you tend to overwater plants.

Snake Plant Benefits

Snake plants boast beauty that's more than leaf deep. These tropical plants are some of the best indoor air purifiers, removing formaldehyde and nitrogen oxide from interior air each night. They're like the housecleaning elves you dream about — except they clean the air while you sleep, which makes them a perfect choice for bedroom plantings.

Like all houseplants, snake plants boost mental health, enhancing a sense of mental well being. Studies from the Floral Marketing Research Fund show that houseplants make people happy, and snake plant is no exception.

Last but not least, snake plants boast the great benefit of not being plant divas. They withstand hot or cold drafts, dry air and underwatering. They're also rarely attacked by pests. If you're looking for a goofproof houseplant, consider adding a snake plant pot to your collection.

Easy-Care Plant

Easy-Care Plant

An easy-care snake plant in a metal planter by the sofa adds a touch of nature to this light and airy second-floor loft in HGTV Dream Home 2022.

Photo by: Robert Peterson, Rustic White

Robert Peterson, Rustic White

An easy-care snake plant in a metal planter by the sofa adds a touch of nature to this light and airy second-floor loft in HGTV Dream Home 2022.

Snake Plant Care

Snake Plant Light Requirements

Snake plants offer versatility that's tough to beat, especially when it comes to light needs. These tough plants thrive in any light level, from low to high. Typically they grow more quickly in brighter light, but strong direct sunlight burns leaves, especially when plants are outdoors. An ideal spot indoors is about 10 feet away from a west or south window. Pay attention to pot tags when buying snake plants. Some varieties, especially variegated ones, need a particular light level to retain brightest leaf color.

Snake Plant Watering

This is the most critical aspect of growing a snake plant. Remember that these diehard plants are succulents and store water in their thick leaves and roots. They thrive on neglect. Water only when the soil is nearly dry. The quickest way to kill a snake plant is through overwatering. Before you think it's time to water, check the soil with your finger. If it feels dry to the touch, you can still safely wait a day or two before watering. If you typically overwater houseplants, definitely wait before watering.

Best Soil for Snake Plants

When potting snake plants, use a commercial potting soil formulated for indoor plants mixed 50:50 with a cactus and succulent mix. You can also add a handful of fir bark, perlite, pumice or clay pebbles. Aim to create a loose, fast-draining soil with lots of air pockets, which is an ideal growing environment for snake plant roots. This type of soil mix also helps prevent overwatering.

Best Snake Plant Fertilizer

You rarely need to feed these slow-growing plants. Give snake plants a dose of any houseplant food twice each year — once in spring and again in summer. Or fertilize with worm compost in a thin layer on top of soil once a year.

Growing Snake Plant Outdoors

Snake plants thrive in hot, dry environs. Consider placing potted ones outside for summer in bright shade. In regions where there's no frost or snow, you can grow snake plants outdoors in containers or as a landscape plant. Tall, spear-leaved varieties look terrific growing in round pots and add a vertical element to outdoor living areas. Use caution growing snake plants outdoors in rainy regions. These plants thrive in dry soil, and prolonged rainy periods can lead to root rot.

In warmest regions, tall mother-in-law tongue snake plant is often planted as a short hedge along walks, driveways or patios. Before investing in growing snake plants outdoors as part of your landscape, check with local nurseries to make sure the plants aren't invasive in your area.

A pair of striking snake plants add texture and a touch nature to the mudroom. The contemporary style of the hardy snake plants fit the decor, and the plants also absorb toxins to help clean the air.

No-Fuss Plants

The contemporary style of this pair of hardy snake plants fit the decor in this room.

Photo by: Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography

Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography

The contemporary style of this pair of hardy snake plants fit the decor in this room.

How to Repot Snake Plants

Snake plants are slow growers and rarely need repotting (they actually grow better when pot-bound). Plants in low light might need to be repotted every 5 to 10 years. For snake plants in brighter light, expect to transplant every 3 to 6 years. Many gardeners simply wait until the plants multiply and break their pots —then they know it's time to repot.

A good snake plant pot is short and porous (think terra-cotta). Snake plants don't sink deep roots; they tend to spread out as they grow. If you use too deep a pot, you risk having a large soil volume that stays too wet and makes it easier to overwater.

If you're repotting a snake plant that has grown too wide for its current pot, go up one pot size only if you're not dividing the clump. For instance, if it's in a 4-inch pot, the next size pot is 6 inches (they usually increase by even numbers). If you're dividing a crowded clump, you can replant one of the divisions into the original pot.

Be careful to position plants at the same depth in soil they were growing before. Fill in around the plants with the new soil mix you created, and tamp it down lightly. Dribble just the tiniest amount of water into soil to help plants settle, but wait a week before you give it a good soaking.

How to Trim Snake Plants

There's really no reason to prune snake plants. Sometimes leaf tips become brown and crispy. If you want to snip those edges off, make your cut to mimic the natural leaf shape. With tall mother-in-law snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata), occasionally a leaf will fall over. Often that's a sign of overwatering, but not always. With plants outdoors, wind can knock leaves over. Sometimes leaves just become too top heavy for the roots. When a leaf topples, prune it at soil level or maybe even try to detach it from the main plant if it comes loose readily. You can use that leaf to create more snake plants.

How to Propagate Snake Plants

It's very easy to multiply your snake plants. Each plant can sprout new plants alongside the larger mother plant. This happens over time as the plants mature —it's why a clump slowly fills a pot side to side. To transplant a baby plant (called a “plantlet”), gently lift it from soil and clip the root attached to the mother plant. Wait to transplant plantlets until they have a few leaves.

Each leaf of a snake plant also has the ability to grow a new plant. You can cut tall snake plant leaves into 2- to 3-inch-long pieces and grow a new plant from each piece. If a leaf falls over, when you cut it to remove it from the plant, use sharp pruners or scissors to snip it into several pieces. Mark the bottom of each piece when you cut it; that part will produce roots. An easy way to mark pieces is with a waterproof marker, using an arrow to indicate which end goes up in the pot.

Snake plant cuttings need to callous for several days to let the fleshy leaf surface dry out. This also helps prevent rot later. Once the cut end looks dry, it's time to plant. Fill small pots with your custom-made snake plant soil mix. Dampen soil before tucking the bottom end of your cutting into the mix. Bury the leaf base about one-half inch deep. Keep pots in a warm spot near your brightest window. A root zone heating mat keeps soil warm and helps promote root formation. Water any time the soil is fully dry.

Some variegated varieties lose their distinct color when you take leaf cuttings. The bird's nest snake plant 'Golden Hahnii' usually loses its gold edge when grown from leaf cuttings, reverting to the original all-green 'Hahnii' cultivar.

Another way to propagate snake plant is by taking cuttings and placing them in water. This method takes longer than growing from cuttings and you risk having your cuttings rot.

Cut a longer 4- to 5-inch leaf section for rooting in water. Let the cut end — the bottom — callous a day or two. Place the callused end into room temperature water, making sure to keep the cutting upright as the roots will grow from the cut end. Keep the water clean and topped off as you wait for roots to form. Don't use softened water, and take time to wash the glass with soap once a week or so. The rooting process can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks (most gardeners report 2 months). Transplant cuttings to soil when roots are 2 inches long.

Snake Plant Varieties

Snake plants are familiar, popular houseplants. One of the most common types is the gold-edged green snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii') with leaves that stand straight and tall as soldiers. You'll also find snake plants that are short with triangular leaves (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Gold Hahnii') along with ones where the leaves almost form a cup as they grow (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Hahnii').

Leaves might be solid green or boast a blend of variegated tones, including silver, gold, white and green. Newer varieties include 'Bantel's Sensation' snake plant with 36-inch-tall green leaves variegated with white and cream stripes, and the playful Glowee with leaves that glow in the dark. Don't miss the round leaves of Cylindrica snake plant (Sansevieria cylindrica), which rise from soil like pencils.

Do Snake Plants Flower?

Snake plants can produce flower spikes. It doesn't happen often, but usually occurs when a plant that receives bright light is stressed. Flower spikes open from the bottom up and each blossom produces a sticky nectar. Succulent experts believe (they don't really know) that a snake plant that blooms eventually dies, but not before producing plantlets.

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