All of your snake plant questions, answered.
While we’ve probably all heard that snake plants might be the easiest plants to take care of, I’m here to tell you that there are some big mistakes and misconceptions that you can avoid.
I have had my snake plant for years now and it’s my favorite to propagate and share, normally this is a success. However, I gave my mother-in-law a snake plant baby which was swiftly murdered (ironic!). To avoid a similar story check out the tips on how to take care of snake plants below.
Table of Contents
- How to Water Snake Plants?
- What Lighting Is Best?
- Do I Need to Fertilize?
- Can I Prune and Propagate Snake Plants?
- Do Snake Plants Flower?
- What Are Snake Plant Pests?
- Are There Some Common Problems?
- How to Overwinter Your Snake Plants?
- What Are the Benefits for You?
- How Many Varieties Are There?
Key information: snake plants used to be classified as sansevieria genus, but they are now classed as dracaena trifasciata. They can also be commonly referred to as the cylindrical snake plant.
How to Take Care of Snake Plants?
In short, snake plants, or dracaena trifasciata, are drought resistant plants which tolerate low light levels and are a great beginner’s plant.
There are many similar sansevieria with unique properties, each great in their own ways.
Snake plants, also known as “mother in law’s tongue”, are able to thrive with relatively minimal care requiring water roughly twice a month. They are happy with most temperatures in the 65 – 85 F (18 – 27 C) range, normal humidity levels, and the occasional extra bit of TLC. Your plant will suffer if it encounters cold temperatures below 50 F (10 C).
In this article I’ll give you the full run-down of how often your snake plant needs water, how much light they need, and all of your other burning questions.
What To Look for When Buying Snake Plants
Look for bright, vibrant, dark green leaves and watch out for yellowing or browning on the leaves – this can indicate improper care or that the snake plant is unhealthy.
Snake plants store water in their thick leaves and should be firm and upright.
If it’s mushy, give it a pass
Always, ALWAYS pick up the plant in the shop and look underneath to check the roots.
Again, if they’re mushy give them a pass! You also want to check that the roots are not browning and falling off, this is root rot and will kill your plant unless treated quickly and well.
What to Do After Buying a Snake Plant
I always recommend quarantining your plants and leaving them to acclimate before repotting snake plants into your decorative pots.
I’d recommend a period of isolation for about 48 hours to be safe! When repotting it is important to think about which soil you use.Snake plants will do better in a loose, free draining soil mix. Add perlite to your soil to help with drainage and water retention. Over time soil becomes compacted so it’s a good idea to break up soil even if the snake plant doesn’t need repotting just yet
How to Water Snake Plants?
This plant is native to west africa and does well in drought. However, this means snake plants are susceptible to overwatering.
In my experience this is almost the only way your snake plant will die. When overwatered the soil becomes too condensed and prevents oxygen from reaching the roots. This causes root rot which can attract pests and be fatal to your plant.
In warmer times of the year, water your snake plant roughly every two to three weeks.
In the winter or colder months this plant may only need watering once every month, perhaps even less depending on where you live.
How do I know if my plant needs water?
To tell if your plant needs watering simply use your finger or a skewer to test the soil.
Poke the soil and if the soil feels wet or any sticks to your finger then it’s not quite time to water your plant – check again soon though.
You might also want to get yourself a soil moisture meter (like this one) to more accurately measure the moisture in the soil, but this is not at all necessary! If this is your preferred way of testing then just make sure to water when the reading shows moisture levels between moist and dry.
The leaves of your snake plant will wrinkle and soften when the plant needs water -snake plants store water in their thick, fleshy leaves which is what allows them to be drought-resistant – this is a sign that their water stores need replenishing.
If in doubt, always remember, it’s better to underwater than to overwater.
How do I water my snake plant?
You may have read about bottom watering – or maybe not.
It’s exactly what it sounds like, the pot is placed in a shallow tub of water and left to absorb the water from the bottom of the root system upwards. There are a few benefits – this method encourages the roots to grow down towards the bottom of the pot and helps to ensure all of the soil is evenly saturated.
The main drawback is that you must also flush your plant’s soil every few months if you exclusively bottom water. Tap water and most fertilizers have a high concentration of minerals, watering from the top helps to flush these away.
Overall I like to do a happy mix of both methods for watering, I suggest bottom watering mainly. This is because you can do all of your plants at once in the bathtub. But the occasional watering can is just convenient.
Tips for bottom watering:
- Use distilled water or rainwater if you can (tap water has mineral build up)
- Flush the soil every few months
- Don’t leave the plant in water for longer than necessary, 10 minutes should be enough
Tips for top watering:
- Water in large quantities less often rather than little sips more frequently
- This excess fluid draining out of the pot helps to remove excess minerals
- Use a skewer, your finger or anything else clean that seems appropriate to break up the soil before watering, this helps the water move through the soil properly and aids in aeration and drainage. Plants don’t grow as well in compacted soil
What Lighting Is Best?
Does my snake plant need light?
Even though some websites may claim that snake plants will survive in rooms without windows this is only possible with an artificial light source. All plants need light to survive!
Snake plants prefer bright, indirect light and can handle a small amount of direct sunlight – a few hours of morning light through a window would be fine! Try to avoid the plant sitting in direct light all day (especially around noon!)
They can however be perfectly happy in a shady corner, they simply don’t grow as tall that way!
To know if your snake plant is getting too much or too little light there are a few key things to look for
|Too much light||Too little light|
|Crispy, brown leaves||Droopy leaves|
|Plant is turning yellow or brown||New leaves are small and growth is slow|
|Leaves curl downwards||Variegation will be reduced|
Do I Need to Fertilize?
Even for a more advanced green thumb fertilizing can seem a complicated topic and it doesn’t help that each plant has different needs. In general, if the plant grows quickly it probably needs more fertilizer than a slow growing plant. Succulents and cacti for example don’t really need as much fertilizer as a fiddle leaf fig (ficus lyrata).
I’ll take you through all you need to know about fertilizing a snake plant.
Only fertilize your plants during growing season (spring to summer). In general once a month will suffice. However the frequency depends on the size of the pot and plant.
Signs of malnutrition include:
- Slow growth
- Weak roots (which may result in your plant toppling over)
- Drooping leaves
It is recommended to use a fertilizer with an equal balance of the active ingredients and to use the fertilizer very diluted – so either a 10:10:10 or an extra diluted 20:20:20.
Most fertilizers contain Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium
- Nitrogen: essential for photosynthesis and new growth
- Phosphorus: encourages root growth and is essential for flowers and fruit
- Potassium: Boosts the immune response and helps to regulate water levels
Can I Prune and Propagate Snake Plants?
Always use sharp, clean tools to cut your plants. If you use dirty tools, you can risk infecting your plant, and that’s not good. So give them a quick clean before you begin. Be sure to prune and propagate in the growing season. This causes less stress on the plant therefore making it less risky when done in spring or summer during active regrowth. Removing leaves often initiates and boosts new growth
Snake plants can be propagated in three ways:
- shake/ brush the soil away from the root ball
- Find a piece of root or rhizome (fleshy growth under the soil)
- Cut the root structure into sections
- Replant each piece in a clean pot with fresh soil
- Give it a generous drink and place in bright indirect light
- You might notice smaller pups growing from the mother plant, you can pull these gently away from the plant or cut them off and simply replant them
- Once again simply water and leave in bright indirect light
- Plants continue to produce stem cells throughout their whole lives, this is why you can cut a plant and it’ll just regrow
- Using a clean knife you should take a slice of snake plant leaf a few inches tall
- EITHER leave the cutting to dry over or place the cutting in water
- The water should not cover the whole cutting just the bottom section
- Replace the water as needed and once the roots have grown just plant it
If you choose not to propagate in water, leave the cutting to callus over for 24 hours and then plant it cut side down and water!
Do Snake Plants Flower?
Many common houseplants flower under the right conditions. Although you’ve probably never seen them because we tend to grow plants in an environment that is unnatural for them. Snake plants are no exception. Most plant owners will never see their snake plant flower because it happens so rarely!
As with other drancenia plants the flowers will only bloom at night, and only once a year, usually around spring time. The flowers will last around a week and may even produce berries as they die off, they are striking and boast a fragrant aroma.
Here’s how to get yours to flower:
- Plenty of bright indirect light
- Water the plant as little as possible
- This stresses the plant which many botanist believe is the key to blooming
- Using a fertilizer high in phosphorus might help too
- Wait it out
- Many plant experts claim that younger snake plants are highly unlikely to flower
- Neglect the plant
- It might seem counterintuitive but by leaving the plant to become pot-bound it will shift its energy away from creating new leaves (as there is no room for them) and use energy to create flowers instead
Warning: the flowers produce a nectar which may attract pests!
PESTS? Unfortunately, yes, like all houseplants these guys may become infested.
What Are Snake Plant Pests?
Preventing pests and dealing with them if they appear.
Snake Plants seem to attract most of the common houseplants like mealybugs, spider mites and fungus gnats. Here’s a more comprehensive guide to seeing if your plant has bugs: RHS pest identification
Top tips for pest prevention
- Quarantine your plants when you first bring them home
- Don’t overwater your plants
- Good air circulation is key
- Every now and then give them a good wipe down with some neem oil or dish soap in water
- Use clean pots, soil and tools
Once you’ve noticed any pests here’s what to do
- Get yourself some of those sticky traps
- These work well to catch flying pests
- Use neem oil on a q-tip to wipe away any eggs/nests/bugs
- Replace the top inch of soil
- Fungus gnats lay their eggs in soil and lay thousands so it’s crucial to get ahead
- Add mild soap or pesticide to your watering can and then give the plant a thorough water to flush the soil
- Just make sure to let the plant drain well
Are There Some Common Problems?
This is a likely indicator of root rot. The key things to remember are to snip away dead roots and to repot the plant.
If you think the plant can handle it – you might want to propagate from a leaf cutting just in case it doesn’t survive the root rot.
This is a sure fire sign of thrips which are a pretty common houseplant pest, they’re small black bugs and can be dealt with the same way as I laid out above!
Yellow or Brown Leaves
You might be overwatering your plant, but also you might be under-watering it too!
This might also be a sign that your plant doesn’t have enough light, or that it has too much.
Use your judgement, check out the environment in which it is growing – if the soil is super wet, it’s probably overwatering. If the plant is in bright light, it’s probably got too much sunshine.
How to Overwinter Your Snake Plants?
- Reduce watering frequency
- Stop fertilizing
- Move plants away from drafts
- Near windows and radiators are often bad winter homes for plants
- If you never open certain windows then this can be great so they can still get enough light
- Bring them inside out of the cold or frost
- Move them to the bathroom if humidity levels are too low
- Avoid misting your snake plant as this often leads to pests
- Gradually make changes
- Whether you are changing your plant’s location or watering schedule it is important to make changes slowly as too much happening will stress the plant and cause all sorts of issues
- Keep calm
- If you are panicking because your plant hasn’t grown, no need to worry, snake plants are likely to go dormant over winter but will recover in the spring as the weather gets warmer.
What Are the Benefits for You?
One unique benefit of snake plants over other house plants is that they produce oxygen at night!
Most plants don’t do this as they produce oxygen as a result of photosynthesis which doesn’t happen when the sun is away. Snake plants however use their wide leaves to create oxygen around the clock.
The snake plant has been named by NASA as one of the most beneficial plants to keep in your home as they can remove air pollutants and toxins. Read the original report here!
If you don’t fancy reading the whole NASA report here’s the results table showing the toxin levels before and after snake plants.
In turn this leads to a better quality of sleep making this plant a great one to have in your bedroom.
In traditional folklore it is claimed that the snake plant protects the owner from negative energy and brings fortune – whether you believe in anything spiritual or not – it’s always great to have extra luck on your side!
Unfortunately these plants are not safe for pets and can cause vomiting, nausea and stomach upset for dogs and cats if consumed.
A similar effect is found in humans when ingested in large enough quantities, make sure you keep them far out of reach of babies or pets if you’re thinking of getting one.
How Many Varieties Are There?
From that 70 there are 8 commonly found snake plant options for you. Keep in mind that these plants usually live 5-10 years, but it’s possible for them live up to 25+ years! Here are some of my favorites:
This is the most easily found type of snake plant and can be found with deep green leaves or variegated with yellow stripes.
These plants typically grow up to three feet tall and are native to West Africa.
This cultivar of snake plant is more unique looking and compact compared to the other options.
This is a great option if you want something fun but that will fit well in a smaller space and won’t need repotting and major upkeep.
Bonus points: from what I’ve read people seem to have more luck getting this cultivar to flower.
Unlike the others, this snake plant is native to Madagascar and enjoys bright, filtered light and is not tolerant to cold weather periods. It must be kept inside over the winter.
This type of snake plant is native to Angola.
Since it is the largest option, if you’re looking for a low maintenance but large, striking plant to create a visual impression then perhaps consider a sansevieria cylindrica
The leaves can grow up to six feet tall and they can be grown into many shapes by braiding or twisting the leaves as they grow.
One that’s a little bit different from the others so far, often called the whale fin or shark fin snake plant. This cultivar has broad leaves and needs more bright light than the other types we’ve looked at.
Snake Plants Are Great for Everyone
That was a lot to take in, so – bottom line is that snake plants are drought tolerant, sun loving plants who thrive on neglect. Water them every few weeks and then just forget about them! Fertilizing snake plants is a nice added bonus, every now and then is plenty. Honestly they’ll be fine if you completely forget so they’re a great plant if you’re not that committed to your indoor garden.
The major issues come from overwatering so use a loose, well-draining soil with lots of perlite and make sure the plant doesn’t have wet feet.
Now you hopefully know everything there is to be known about snake plants, go get yourself one (or ten!) and enjoy the easy snake plant life!
Think You Can Handle More Plants?
While snake plants are easy breezy that provide you with a lot of benefits, check out some of the other cool houseplant care guides below. Or get stuck in with as many houseplant care guides you can handle here! After you’ve made your pick of what houseplants will work best in your home, make sure to get the best houseplant gear to keep all your sweet green goblins as happy as can be.
Comment below or let us know your thoughts and feedback here. We love our sleek and sexy snake plants!
2 thoughts on “How to Take Care of Snake Plants: 9 Powerful Tips to Follow”
This article is so clear and is gonna help me so much as a new plant parent! Thank you for giving my snake plant a fighting chance!
So happy we could help! Snake plants are one of our favorites 🙂