Snake Plants: How to grow and care for a Sansevieria

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One of the easiest to grow and care for houseplants is the Sansevieria, also commonly called the Snake Plant. If you think you can’t keep any houseplant alive, get yourself a Snake Plant. You can’t go wrong.

These evergreen plants can tolerate some neglect, they do well in both light and shady locations, and don’t mind dry air caused by our central heating.

Because Snake Plants are so easy to care for and with great visual impact, you often see these in places like dorm rooms, restaurants, offices, and hospitals.

If you aren’t convinced by now, there’s more. Snake Plants are low-maintenance, and on top of that, they are one of the best plants to purify the air according to NASA!

How to care for Snake Plant Sansvieria. Large plants in sunny window.

Types of Sansevieria Plants

You’ve got so much choice when you go out looking for a Snake Plant. There are over 60 different species and cultivars of the Snake Plant. There is a Snake Plant to fit every home.

One of the most popular Snake Plants is the Sansevieria trifasciata. This variety has clusters of long upright dark green leaves. Similar is the variegated Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii, this one has yellow bands along the edges of the leaves. When someone talks about a Snake Plant, they usually mean one of these.

Another popular variety is the Sansevieria cylindrica. This one is also known as the African Spear plant. When you see it, it’s obvious why. The upright leaves of this Snake Plant look like green pointy cylindrical spears.

Sansevieria Hahnii is a short growing Snake Plant and is also known as the Bird’s Nest Sansevieria. Its green leaves grow a bit wild, less straight up. They sort of look like bird’s nests.
Same for the Sansevieria Golden Hahnii. Which is similar, but has variegated yellow borders on its leaves.

A special mention goes out to the Sansevieria Fernwood. This Snake Plant variety is a bit harder to find, but it is one of my favorite plants in my collection.

I love the patterned, spikey look, but more importantly, it also happens that my maiden name translates to Fernwood. So no surprise I love this little plant. And top it off, my married name is Green.

Green – Fernwood. I was destined to become a plant lady.

Sansevieria Fernwood plant in white planter
Sansevieria Fernwood

How much light does a snake plant need

Snake Plants can survive in very low light. No wonder they are so popular to keep as indoor plants. That means you can place it in the corner of your hallway, or that empty spot a bit further away from the window, and it will be just fine.

However, if you can, put your Snake Plant somewhere where it gets at least a few hours indirect sunlight each day. Low light does not mean no light.

This is especially important if you have a variegated Snake Plant. If these get too little light, they could lose their yellow coloring.

Occasionally wipe the leaves with a damp cloth to keep the dust off. This will help your plant to soak up as much light as possible.

Snake Plants can handle full sun, but don’t go overboard on summer days where the sun is blazing. If it gets too much sun, the leaves can get sunburn spots and turn crispy.

For more summer plant care tips, read up on how to care for houseplants during hot summer days.

When to water a snake plant

Before we talk about watering your Snake Plant, start by making sure your plant is in a pot with drainage holes on the bottom and has well-draining soil inside. This is very important. Snake Plants, like most plants, don’t like their roots to sit in wet soil for too long.

Snake Plants are very drought-tolerant and very prone to root rot. Wait till the soil is completely dry before watering. Check the soil before you water. They prefer long stretches of no water over getting watered too often.

Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels moist, wait another few days before you water. If it’s dry, it’s time to water!

Water on the soil, not into the crowns of the leaf clusters. Water that sits in the crowns too long can also cause your plant to rot.

In summer you can water a bit more and fertilize regularly. In winter the plant rests, so water less. Read more about how to care for plants during the cold winter months. While you’re at it, get all the basics on how to water your indoor plants.

Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii leaves closeup
Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii

Flowers on a snake plant

Mature Snake Plants can flower when they get enough light and are overall very happy with the care they are getting. Don’t worry if your plant doesn’t bloom. Most indoor Snake Plants don’t flower at all.

If they do, it is usually in spring or early summer. The flowers are small, and come out in clusters on a stalk. You can remove these stalks when they are done flowering.

When to repot a snake plant?

Your Snake Plant will make it very obvious when it is time for a bigger pot.

There are a few things to look out for. You might see roots coming through the drainage holes of your pot. If they don’t have any more room to go down, they will find their way up and you might see roots coming up on top of the soil.

Another sign to repot your Snake Plant is when it literally bursts its way out of the pot. This is common with Snake Plants when they grow too large for the pot they’re in.

What happens is that your Snake plant is making rhizomes underneath the soil. These rhizomes need horizontal space to find their way up to the surface and form new leaves. If the pot is too crowded these rhizomes will push against the inside of the pot.

If your plant is in a plastic pot, you will see or feel bumps on the side. Rhizomes growing tight in a clay pot might actually crack it.

Repot in a pot one size bigger than the pot your plant was in. If your new pot is too large, the soil will hold too much water for your plant to absorb. Standing in wet soil can lead to root rot.

If you want to read more, there’s a whole post with tips and pointers on how to repot your houseplants.

Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii repot with orange roots and thick rhyzomes
Rhizomes and healthy orange roots on a
Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii.

Divide and Propagate Snake Plants

When your Snake Plant is growing too large, or you just want to make more plants for free, you can divide or propagate cuttings from your plant. This is best done in spring, or early summer when your plant is at the peak of its energy.

One very important thing to know here: When you propagate cuttings from a variegated Snake Plant like the Laurentii, with the yellow bands, that color will be lost on the new growth. Your propagated plants will be solid green.

You can keep the variegation if instead you divide your Snake Plant in two or more parts.

Water Rooting Snake Plant Cuttings

Stand back and look at your plant. Decide which leaf you want to take out to propagate. Depending on the height of your plant, one leaf can create many cuttings.

Look for a mature healthy leaf. Remove it with a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears. Cut that leaf into 2-3 inch long segments. Or make a dramatic visual statement by keeping the leaf segments a little longer.

Place these segments bottom side down, in a glass container. Keep just enough water in it to cover the bottom of the leaf.

Place your cuttings in a bright spot with plenty of indirect light. Keep the water clean by changing it every few days. Wait until the roots are a decent size before planting the cuttings in a pot.

Rooting Snake plant cuttings in soil

To root your cuttings directly in soil, you start out the same. Choose a mature leaf, remove it from the plant and cut in segments.

Let these pieces callus over for a day or two. If you have some rooting hormone, this is a good time to use it. Wet the bottom of the cuttings slighty then dip into rooting hormone.

Plant each leaf segment in well-draining soil, not too deep, but deep enough for the piece not to topple over. Make sure you are planting the cuttings right-side up and not up-side-down.

You can plant multiple cuttings in one container. When they’ve grown enough you can put them in their own personal containers.

Place them somewhere with bright indirect light, and try to ignore it for a while. This is a slow process.

What you are looking for is new growth that comes up as offshoots somewhere near your cutting.

Snake Plant Propagation from Division

If your snake plant is large with many leaf clusters, or you have a variegated snake plant and don’t want to lose the coloring, propagation through division is the way to go.

Begin by taking your snake plant from its pot. Gently clear the soil from the roots.

Inspect what you’re working with. Are their many rhizomes that you don’t want to cut through, are the roots looking healthy. Decide where you want to make the division.

To give new plants a fuller look, keep several leaf clusters together in one division. Every part you take should have leaves and roots.

Use your hands to pull apart the roots or carefully use a sharp knife. You will damage some roots, this can’t be avoided. But be gentle and try to do minimal harm.

Plant each part you made in its own pot. Plant them deep enough that they are stable.

Step back and marvel at your new plants.

Sansevieria cylindrica Snake Plant in vintage turtle planter
Sansevieria Cylindrica in vintage turtle planter

Common Snake Plant questions

Are Snake Plants succulents?

Snake Plants are types of succulents. Their native habitat is hot and dry. To survive long times of drought, they store water in their leaves, roots, and rhizomes.

Why are Snake Plants also known as Mother-in-Law-Tongues?

The sharp and pointy leaves are said to resemble the sharp tongues Mothers-in-Laws can have.

Do Snake plants really clean the air?

Back in the 1980s, NASA did a space station air quality study to look at which plants were best able to filter the air. Variegated Snake Plants are on the list of effective natural air purifiers.

Why do Snake Plant Leaves droop

Let’s take a closer look here. Is it an occasional random leaf that falls over, or are a lot of leaves falling over at the same time?

If it’s just a random leaf drooping or falling over, that’s perfectly normal. Especially if it’s a tall leaf. It’s just gravitation. You can stake your leaf to keep it upright.

It gets more serious when multiple leaves are suddenly falling over.
When this happens it usually is a sign that you are overwatering. Rot will set in from the bottom. It gets soft and won’t be strong enough to hold up the leaf.

Brown spots on Snake Plant leaves

Watering too often and or watering with too cold water can cause brown spots on the leaves. Check the drainage of your soil and double-check if your pot has drainage holes. Keep leaves dry during watering and let soil dry out completely between waterings.

Are Snake plants toxic to pets?

Snake plants look very pet-friendly, and our cat never bothers with them. She, like most cats, goes for the grass type plants like the spider plant or ponytail palm.

But, the ASPCA does list the Snake plants as mildly toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. So keep them out of reach of your pets if they like to munch on your plants.

Be informed and read up on how to keep your pets and plants safe.

Where to buy Snake plants?

Different variations of Snake Plants, but definitely the
Sansevieria trifasciata are commonly for sale in most plant nurseries and garden centers.

If you don’t feel like going out to get a plant, stay where you are. There are online plant sellers that sell Snake Plants on Amazon and Etsy.

Group of large Sansevieria Snake Plants the easiest houseplants to care for

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  1. Hi, I have a snake plant cluster that is over 3 ft tall. can these tall leaves be saved or do I need to cut them out. Not sure what to do as I have never had one get this tall

    1. Hi Penny,
      Is the plant in overall good health? Just getting really tall? If the leaves are flopping over, you could decide to stake them to keep them upright. Otherwise, you could propagate the leaves to keep the plant going and create more plants while you’re at it.

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