How to Care for Snake Plants: An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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Snake plant is one of the most interesting houseplants, easy to grow, undemanding, pleasing to the eye, requires less watering, and thrives with minimal care.

They are commonly called mother-in-law’s tongue, lucky plant, good luck plant, bowstring hemp, devil’s tongue, and sansevieria.

Sansevierias are attractive plants, variegated, and can easily be recognized by their sword-shaped foliage that grows upright. The foliage grows directly from the thick rhizome (underground stem) that runs just below the surface of the potting mixture.

Let’s briefly look at the basic care tips for snake plants.

Shopping for Snake Plants

Where to buy snake plants

A garden centre is often the best place to get snake plants, because they are well-looked after. The care tag attached to it gives reasonably information on required light, water, temperature, fertilizer, and growth rate or patterns. Whereas, in ordinary shops or stores, the quality of plants sold vary greatly. In some case, the pot plant might start to show signs of neglect just few weeks after you brought them home.

What to check when buying snake plants

When buying from an ordinary shop, check to see that the compost is moist. For snake plants, it’s still fine if the compost is almost dry. But if the compost is too dry, it’s a sign of neglect, don’t buy. Check the drainage hole -a few small roots shooting out from the bottom is a good sign, but if many roots are shooting out from the bottom, it’s a sign of neglect, because the plant is matured enough to be potted.

Lastly, be bold to turn the leaves and examine for holes, spots, diseases, yellowing, and wilting. If you see any of these, don’t buy.

Where to position snake plants

It is essential to know the amount of light your plants need before deciding the best spot to position them. Place snake plants on window sill, verandas, balconies, bath tub, kitchen and bedroom. Provided they get adequate light.

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Snake Plant Care

Caring for snake plant is very easy and less demanding because of its natural adaptation to minimal extreme environmental conditions. Let’s quickly take a look at basic care tips for snake plants.

Light

Snake plants flourish best when placed in a medium light shaded from direct sunlight. However, they also do well when exposed to long period of direct sunlight, and certain amount of shade because of their adaptation to minimal harsh environmental conditions. But growth often times may slow down or stop, when exposed to long period of shade.

When a snake plant that was subjected to long period of shade is suddenly exposed to direct sunlight, it may result to leaf burn, because the plant is not yet accustomed to the intensity of light. To avoid leaf burn, you first move your plant from the original shaded area to low light area at home, then to a veranda or balcony, and finally to outdoor under direct sunlight if need be.

Temperature

Sit your snake plants where they can get a steady level of warm temperature of about 65°F to 80°F. Snake plants can tolerate a rise and fall in the amount of day and night temperature. Be sure not to subject them to extreme cold temperature, below 55°F.

Watering

Over-watering is the cause of death of most potted snake plants. When watering snake plant, ensure pots have holes for effective drainage. Water your plants when compost or potting mix is loose and feels dry. Give them a good soak when watering rather than little at a time.

Sit pot in a tray and allow drained water to be soaked up. Discard excess water after about 20 minutes. If pot cannot sit in a tray, collect drained water and recycle once or twice until your plant is well-watered.

A Key Fact

Snake plants can withstand long period of dryness. Its major weakness is too much watering. Over-watering causes root rotting. Be sure not to overwater!

Feeding

Feed snake plants with a weak concentration of liquid fertilizer once a month, especially during the active growth period. Usually, snake plants grown under required compost or potting medium do not need much feeding, a little feeding is just enough. During winter or resting period, snake plants are usually dormant and need no feeding.

Compost for snake plants

Choose a good quality potting mix that is well draining. You can choose either loam-based compost or peat based compost.

Read on to see their benefits and disadvantages.

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Loam-based compost: use loam as the main ingredient. Add little coarse sand or perlite and peat to improve the soil structure, and work-in organic compost or fertilizer to supplement the nutrients in the loam.

Peat-based compost: use peat as the main ingredient. Add a little coarse sand or perlite, and work-in organic compost or fertilizer to supplement the nutrients in the peat.

Loam based compost Vs. Peat based compost

Loam-based compost has weight, and good for re-potting large plants, and provides stability to pot.  While peat-based compost is light, pleasant to handle, but requires careful watering to avoid overwatering. More watering and feeding is necessary for peat compost than loam compost.

Note: Both composts are good for potting snake plants. It all depends on what’s best suited for you.

A Key Fact

Your plant will only be as good as the compost or potting mix they grow in.

When to repot snake plant

Never be too much in a hurry to transplant snake plants. Repot to a larger pot, when you see plenty roots shooting out from the base of the pot, or when the pot is packed with a mass of roots so that little soil is visible.

Potting snake plant

Prepare a new pot that is one size larger than the original pot; cover the drainage with pieces of bark or styrofoam. To remove the plant easily from its original pot, invert the pot and tap the rim on a hard surface. Once the plant is out, look at the root-ball. If the roots are densely bound in a pattern, having the shape of the pot, break up the pattern to loosen the roots and trim off dead or damaged roots with a sterilized sharp knife or scissors.

Put a little amount of potting mix inside the new pot to about an inch or two inches high, and slightly firm with your fingers. Sit the plant such that the root-ball sits properly and erect, and then work-in compost around the sides, turning the pots and forcing the compost down. Once done, gently firm the compost with your fingers. Leave about 2 inches space between the compost level and the rim of the pot to accommodate watering and future feeding or topdressing.

After potting snake plant

After potting, move the newly potted snake plant to a partially shaded area. Allow settling for one day, then reposition to a good spot where they can get adequate light before you resume moderate watering.

Snake plant propagation

Snake Plants can be propagated either by easy division or leaf cuttings.

Propagating snake plant by division method

The most common and easiest way to propagate a snake plant is by division method. This method is fast, efficient and easy, when compared to other methods. To propagate snake plant by division method, start with the “mother” plant that is in good health, with no disease or pest problems, then cut through the rhizome with a sharp knife.

Replant each division singly in an appropriately sized pot or container. Use normal potting mix (loam or peat based compost) if rhizomes have roots. However, if rhizomes have little or no roots, use a mixture of peat moss and sand or rooting compost for quick root development.

Propagating snake plant by leaf cuttings

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Ensure the small-sized rooting pots have effective drainage. Fill-up the pot with a mixture of peat moss and sand or rooting compost.

Use a sharp knife to neatly detach a whole leaf from the base of “mother plant.” Chop the leaves into 2 inches long pieces, remembering which way up they are planted.

Root 3 to 4 cut sections to a depth of 0.5 inch into the rooting mix per pot. After rooting, position the pots to light, shaded from direct sunlight. Water sparingly just enough to keep the compost barely moist until rhizome is formed.

Note: formation of rhizomes in leaf cuttings is a slow process. When the rhizome is sufficiently formed, cut off the old leaf section and pot the new growth.

The ideal time to propagate is early spring so that plants have enough time to adjust and settle before temperatures start to warm up.

Propagating snake plant in water

This method of growing plant in water is called hydroculture or hydroponics. It is simple to set up, and can be carried out successfully by a complete beginner.

Let’s take a look at how to propagate snake plant in water:

  • Select pot or container that is tall enough to hold the leaf in place.
  • Identify a young leaf that is in good health, with no disease or pest problems.
  • Use a sterilized sharp knife to neatly cut off the identified leaf from the base of the mother plant.
  • Wash off all traces of compost, being careful not to damage them.
  • Chop the leaf into 2 to 3 inches long pieces
  • Allow the cuttings to air dry for few days to prevent rotting
  • Place each cut sections in water, remembering which way up they are planted.
  • Move the container to bright light, shaded from direct sunlight and wait for root formation
  • Change water frequently once a week

Note: When roots start to shoot out, repot using a peat based potting mix.

A key fact

Plant kept in water over a long period of time seems to conflict with the warnings of dangers of overwatering. If you root a cutting in water it will produce water roots, and once you put them in potting mix it will have to start again by producing ground roots.

Plant rooted in water cannot suffer from waterlogging because their cells have structures for oxygen storage, which help it respire while in water. Whereas the cells of plant rooted in the ground need to keep replenishing their store oxygen from the potting mix.

Snake plant varieties

Here are 4 recommended varieties of snake plants:

Sansevieria cylindrical

Sansevieria cylindrical is a tall growing succulent plant with cylindrical leaves that are evergreen and spear-like. The spear-like leaf is rigid, striped, smooth, elongated, greenish–gray in colour when young, and dark green when old. The leaf is about 1 inch thick and grows up to 5ft in height with pointed tips.

Sansevieria cylindrical is native to Angola, commonly called Dracaena angolensis, African Spear or Spear sansevieria, Cylindrical snake plant, and less commonly called Elephant’s toothpick, saint Barbara sword, and Skyline spear sansevieria.

Sansevieria cylindrical is a good indoor plant. Their spear-like rigid leaves can be braided, giving it a fascinating shape that looks pleasant to the eyes.

Why not give the braiding a trial?

Sansevieria liberica

Sansevieria liberica is rhizomatous (underground stem). The rhizomes bear several thick and stiff leaves. The leaf is striped, pale green in colour with abundance of white transverse bands. The leaf has an acute tip, and grows up to 2.5ft in height.

Sansevieria liberica is native to western Africa and some part of Eastern Africa, commonly called African bowstring hemp, bow-string hemp, bowstring hemp, and leopard lily. They are widely grown as ornamental plant, good as indoor plant, and sometimes used for making ropes, bowstrings and fish-lines.

Sansevieria trifasciata

Sansevieria trifasciata is an evergreen growing plant. The rhizomes bear slightly spiralled leaves that are thick and stiff with pointed tips. The leaf is variegated, marbled-striped, elongated, dark green in colour with yellow or silvery stripes on the leaf margins. The leaf is about 2 inches thick and grows up to 6ft in height.

Among the various forms of sansevieria, they are the most popular. Native to tropical western Africa (Nigeria and some part of Congo), commonly called Saint George’s sword or Viper’s bowstring hemp because of their shape and leaf margin. They are widely grown as ornamental plant, good as indoor plant, and sometimes used for making bowstrings.

Sansevieria trifasciata has several cultivars. The popular cultivars are:

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’ 

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Twist’ 

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ 

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Craigii’

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Golden Hahnii’

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Silver Hahnii’

Sansevieria zeylanica

Sansevieria zeylanica is an evergreen growing plant. The rhizomes bear slightly spiralled leaves that are stiff and loose. The leaf is striped, elongated, gray green to dark green in colour with cross bands. The leaf is about 1 inch thick and grows up to 2.5ft in height with pointed tips.

Sansevieria zeylanica is native to south-east Asia, commonly called Ceylon bowstring hemp, Zeylanica snake plant, and Fan snake plant. They are widely grown as ornamental plant, good as indoor plant, and sometimes used for making ropes, bowstrings and fish-lines.

A key Fact

Care should be taken not to break or damage the tip of snake plant leaf. A broken tip stops growing.

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Common Pest and Diseases of Snake Plant

Plant diseases are caused by pathogens which can either be a virus, bacteria or fungi. Fungal attacks on plants often come from the soil and most times are difficult to treat. Every plant as well as snake plant is prone to pests and diseases. This is particularly so if plants are not well rooted and in the best planting medium, or if plants are over-watered. It is easier to completely eradicate plant diseases if detected early.

Pest problems

Mealybugs, spidermites and vine weevils are the major pest problems commonly associated with snake plants

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are sucking insects that feed on plant sap. Their activities result to yellowing of leaves and total leaf loss.

Treatment -Mix water, liquid dish soap, and Neem oil in a spray bottle. 5mls of Neem oil and 3 drops of dish soap. Apply the treatment and repeat after 3 days until the 3rd application.

Spidermites

Spidermites are tiny sucking insects that feed on plant sap. They make silky webbing on the leaves. Thereby leaving patches on leaves. The patches gradually turn pale yellow to black irregular spots. Their activities result to yellowing of leaves and total leaf loss.

Treatment –trim off affected leaves. Mix water, liquid dish soap, and Neem oil in a spray bottle. 5mls of Neem oil and 3 drops of dish soap. Apply the treatment and repeat after 3 days until the 3rd application.

Vine weevils

Vine weevils are chewing organisms that live inside the potting mix. They feed on roots and storage organs.

Treatment –pick off and destroy adult weevils before applying appropriate pesticide.

Disease problems

Leafspot

Leafspots are frequent diseases of snake plants. Infected leaves turn brown or black, sometimes with a yellow halo or lesions. The spots enlarge gradually and spread to the entire leaves.

Treatment – Trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight, and then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill leaf spot, but prevent the spores from germinating.

Southern Blight of Snake plant

Southern blight is caused by the soil borne fungus Sclerotium rolfsii. Southern blight is a serious disease that can damage the entire plant if left unattended. The fungus Sclerotium rolfsii form lesions on the leaves. The lesion spreads slowly to the entire plant. Infected leaves turn brown or black, shrivel and die.

Treatment -trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight then apply sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread.

Snake plant Benefits

Air purifying plants

Snake plant as good natural air purifiers was as a result of a research conducted by NASA in 1989. A comprehensive study was done on various plants. Interestingly, snake plant was listed among the major air purifying plants

How snake plants do purify the air

Just like us, plants undergo a breathing process, but in reverse. During the day, plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. They use this carbon dioxide they get from us to make their food. While at night, plants compete with us for oxygen.

That is, they take in oxygen at night and give out carbon dioxide, except for some plants like snake plants, aloe vera among others. Snake plant purifies the air around us at night by taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen.

That’s why, it is always recommended to have these plants sited in the bedrooms.

Remove toxic air pollutants

It is quite interesting to have some plants like snake plant that is capable of removing significant amount air pollutants from the environment. Some of these air pollutants are carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, xylene etc.

Act as anti-cancer

According to research that was conducted by NASA. Snake Plant can remove over 87% in 24hours of these poisonous toxins involved in the respiratory problems. In essence, snake plants can act as anti-cancerous by reducing the amount of cancerous toxins we take in. 

A Key Fact

Snake plant helps to filter indoor air, even at night to create a healthy airflow. Hence, the ideal plant for the bedroom decor.

Source of fibre

Traditionally, snake plant fibre is used for making ropes, bowstrings and fish-lines.

Toxicity

Unfortunately, snake plant makes the list of poisonous indoor plants. According to ASPCA, snake plant is toxic to dogs and cats. If you are a lover of sansevierias, be sure to apply caution if they are accessible to your pets.  Sansevierias can cause excessive salivation, pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea if ingested.