Snake Plant Care

Snake Plant Care

Snake Plants, also known as “Mother in Law’s Tongue,” are among the easiest houseplants to care for. These long-leafed succulents are extremely forgiving with their light requirements and can go weeks—sometimes months—without watering.

Formerly a member of the Sansevieria genus, these plants were reclassified in 2018 as Dracaena, though many gardeners still refer to them by their original name. There are many varieties of Snake Plants, including the ever-popular Laurentii and Black Coral, the silvery Moonshine, and the uniquely mono-leafed Shark Fin.

Soil/Potting: The best soil for Snake Plants is a potting mix formulated for Cacti and Succulents. This will help provide adequate drainage—a crucial component in Snake Plant Care.

Select a pot with ample drainage holes; terracotta pots are excellent for growing Snake Plants as they wick away excess moisture, further helping to prevent overwatering.

Light: Snake Plants are renowned for their flexibility in regards to light requirements. They grow best in bright, indirect light, but can tolerate a range of conditions, from sparse to exceptionally bright sunlight. Plants with more color variegation on their leaves typically require more sunlight, while those with more monochrome leaves can tolerate shadier conditions. Avoid giving your Snake Plants too much direct sunlight, though, as this can burn the leaves and harm the plants.

Watering: Snake Plants make ideal houseplants because they don’t need frequent watering. These succulents can go long periods between waterings—generally up to 3 weeks during growth periods and up to 2 months during times of dormancy. In fact, overwatering is the most common cause of problems in Snake Plants, so it is best to err on the side of underwatering. If you’re ever in doubt, always allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.

Every few days, insert a finger at least 2” into the plant’s soil to check for moisture. If it feels dry, moisten the soil and allow any excess water to drain away to help prevent rot. If possible, water from below, as this will help encourage roots to grow downward. Never allow water to pool between the plant’s leaves, as this can cause them to rot.

Temperature: These tropical houseplants prefer temperate climates from 55°F to 80°F. While they are typically kept indoors, you may choose to move your Snake Plants outdoors during the summer months to help encourage faster growth. Slowly acclimate them to the brighter outdoor sunlight by moving them outdoors for a few hours each day, gradually extending the amount of time they spend outdoors. After about a week of this gradual introduction, your plants should be ready to stay outdoors full-time. Always take care to move them back indoors before temperatures drop below 50ºF to prevent damage.

Pruning: Snake Plants do not require frequent pruning, but you may choose to prune the plant for aesthetic reasons. If you would like to limit the plant’s height, remove the tallest leaves by cutting them at or near the base. If older leaves begin to die, you may prune them to help encourage new growth. Always use sharp, sterile shears to prune leaves as close to the soil line as possible. To avoid unnecessary stress to the plant, prune it only during active growth periods in the spring and summer.

Repotting: When kept indoors, Snake Plants tend to grow slowly and do not require frequent repotting. If you notice roots growing along the top of the soil or emerging from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, or if the plant becomes too top-heavy for its container, it may be time to repot. When possible, repotting should occur in the spring when the plant is entering an active growth period.

To repot your Snake Plant, gently remove the root ball from the existing container and place it in a new container with fresh potting mix formulated for Cacti and Succulents. The new container should be just a few inches larger than the previous pot.

If your Snake Plant becomes too large, you can divide it while repotting. To do so, gently remove the soil from the roots and use a sharp, clean blade to cut the base of the plant in half. Place each half in its own pot with fresh soil and proceed with care as usual.

Fertilizing: When plants are in active growth from spring through summer, use a balanced houseplant fertilizer monthly, diluted to half strength.

Pests/Diseases: The most prevalent scourge of Snake Plants is root rot caused by overwatering and/or poor drainage. When root rot occurs, certain fungi and diseases can spread through the roots and kill the plant. Common signs of rot include soft spots and discoloration at the base of the leaves, yellowing and drooping leaves, and a foul smell. If caught early enough, root rot can be reversed by allowing the soil to dry out completely, and then following appropriate watering procedures as mentioned above. For excessive rot, repotting the plant in fresh, dry soil may be the best strategy to help prevent any further damage. If rot is not caught in time, the plant may need to be discarded.

Mealybugs, spider mites, southern blight, and leaf spot are other common household pests and infections that can affect Snake Plants. They often present as white or red spots, holes, or webbing on leaves and typically result in leaves curling, yellowing, and eventually dying. Most pests can be prevented by keeping your plant healthy and avoiding overwatering. If you do notice signs of pests, identify the type of pest and treat it accordingly. Mealybugs and spider mites can be removed with an application of neem oil. Fungal infections should be treated with a fungicide to prevent new spores from forming.

General Care: Periodically wipe your Snake Plant’s leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust and help deter pests.

Common Snake Plant Problems and Fixes

Mushy, Yellow, and/or Drooping Leaves usually result from overwatering. This is especially common in winter months when the plants require less frequent watering. Refer to the care instructions above to help prevent overwatering. Drooping leaves despite proper watering, may indicate the plant is receiving too much light. Move it to a new location to help leaves return to their erect state.

Thin, Leggy Leaves are caused by insufficient sunlight. While Snake Plants are forgiving of variations in light levels, they do require adequate light to grow properly.

Foul-Smelling Soil is a strong indicator of root rot. Carefully remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots, cutting away any that appear brown and/or mushy. Repot the plant in fresh soil and review watering instructions to help keep rot from redeveloping.

Misshapen Leaves, Spots, and/or Holes in Leaves are common indicators of pests. Carefully inspect the leaves to identify which pest is present and treat accordingly.

Brown Tips on Leaves can result from a number of variables, including temperature, sunlight, and fertilizer. Frigid temperatures and excessive sunlight can damage leaves and leave brown spots; in this case, move the plant to a new location with indirect sunlight and moderate temperatures. Over-fertilizing can also cause damage to leaves; follow fertilizing instructions above and avoid fertilizing houseplants during fall and winter months. Unfortunately, once a leaf develops brown tips and/or spots, they cannot be reversed. While they do not harm the plant, you may choose to prune damaged leaves to encourage new growth in their place.

Wrinkled Leaves indicate problems with temperature, sunlight, and/or water. While Snake Plants are very drought tolerant, allowing the soil to be dry for too long can cause the plant to become dehydrated, resulting in wrinkled leaves. Alternatively, if the plant is exposed to excessive temperatures or too much direct sunlight, the leaves may wrinkle as a result. Refer to the care instructions above for appropriate watering, temperature, and light levels for your plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Snake Plants flower?

All Snake Plants are capable of flowering, though many do not bloom when kept indoors. When a Snake Plant does flower, it produces very long stalks with dozens of white flowers, reminiscent of Lilies. The flowers produce a potent scent that many find pleasing.

While there is no surefire way to get your Snake Plant to bloom, it is more likely to flower when it experiences mild stress as a result of being slightly rootbound.

Do Snake Plants need light?

Yes, Snake Plants need light. While they are often applauded for tolerating dark corners of the home or office, they do require some indirect sunlight to remain healthy.

Can Snake Plants live outside?

Snake Plants can be grown outdoors year-round in USDA Hardiness Zones 10–12. In other areas, they can be kept outside during the summer but must be brought inside or otherwise protected before temperatures drop below 50ºF to prevent damage.

How often do you water a Snake Plant?

Snake Plants typically require water every 3–8 weeks. They require more frequent watering when temperatures are warmer and the plant is in active growth, and less frequent watering during cooler months. Always check the soil by hand before watering your Snake Plant.

How fast do Snake Plants grow?

Snake Plants grow slowly when kept indoors as houseplants. On average, they grow a few inches in height and develop 2–4 new leaves during active growth periods in the spring and summer. Snake Plants grow more slowly in low light levels. To help expedite growth, move the plant outdoors during summer months when temperatures are suitable.

Are Snake Plants toxic to cats and dogs?

Yes, Snake Plants are mildly toxic to cats and dogs. Excessive ingestion can cause numbness and swelling of the tongue and throat, generally resulting in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. While it is unlikely to cause long-term harm, poisoning from Snake Plants can be uncomfortable, so it is best to keep them away from curious pets.

What are the benefits of Snake Plants?

Snake Plants are regarded highly for their air purifying capabilities. While all plants help filter indoor air, Snake Plants are among the rare few that convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to oxygen at night. For this reason, Snake Plants are excellent houseplants for bedrooms.