Many succulents are short and squat because they’ve adapted to grow in arid climates, but not the snake plant! It’s a tropical plant that’s known for its beautiful tall leaves and color variations. Some varieties have leaves with thick, buttery yellow edges, while others have striking dark green stripes. Interior designers love this plant, and so do we―it compliments pretty much any style of decor and looks great in arrangements!
Succulents are known for being hardy, and snake plants are no exception. They’re one of the easiest types of succulents to care for, so we love to recommend them to new gardeners and people with black thumbs.
Even if you forget to water your snake plant for a month, you probably won’t kill it, so don’t let your lack of gardening prowess stop you from owning this wonderful plant!
Even though snake plants are tough, you’re still going to need our advice to keep your plant looking its best. In this article, we’ll give you lots of helpful care taking tips with some fun snake plant facts thrown in for good measure, so keep reading!
Sansevieria Trifasciata— the Snake Plant
History and Origin
Snake plants are native to tropical West Africa and are an important part of African culture. Nigerians believe that the plant provides spiritual protection. They use it in a ritual to remove the evil eye, a malevolent stare that casts a curse on its victims. This succulent is also associated with several African gods, including the god of war.
The Chinese also think that this plant brings good luck like the jade plant. They believe that the gods will bestow the eight virtues, which include long life and prosperity, onto its caretakers. Even if this succulent didn’t bring us good luck, we’d still keep it around because it’s so pretty!
Snake plants are a type of Sansevieria, which is a genus made up of seventy different flowering plants. These plants are grouped together because they all have shared characteristics like narrow, upright leaves and short, thick roots.
Because the snake plant belongs to the genus Sansevieria, its full scientific name is Sansevieria Trifasciata. The second word in its name, Trifasciata, comes from Latin. It means “marked with three bands.” Several snake plant varieties are variegated, which is just a fancy way of saying that their leaves have different colored streaks. These colorful markings are why snake plants got the name Trifasciata.
In addition to its scientific name, the snake plant has a few nicknames. It’s often called mother-in-law’s tongue because of its sharp, pointed leaves. If you ever buy this succulent for your mother-in-law, don’t tell her what it’s called!
Snake plants are also known as viper’s bowstring hemp because they have strong fibers that were once used to make bowstrings.
How to Care for Snake Plants
Best Soil for Snake Plants
Snake plants are sensitive to water and prone to root rot, so it’s important to plant them in soil that drains well. Commercial succulent or cactus soil is great for them because it has added sand that helps with drainage. Read our best soil article to understand what the best soil mix is for your succulents.
You can also make your own succulent soil from scratch. You’ll save some money and get to control exactly what goes into it, so try it out if you can. There are lots of homemade soil recipes floating around on the Internet, but we like to use three parts of potting soil, two parts of coarse sand like builder’s sand, and one part of pumice.
We won’t lie, though―as much as we love a good DIY, we usually use commercial succulent soil because it’s more convenient.
Repotting Snake Plants
Unlike other succulents, snake plants prefer to be a little squished in their pots. You don’t have to repot these guys until they’re busting out. Wait until you see obvious signs of overgrowth, like excessive top heaviness that makes your plant topple over or roots that stick out of the drainage hole. You can expect to repot your snake plants every three to six years.
Here’s some nifty geometric planters in case you want to get fancy.
Repotting a snake plant is pretty easy, but there are still a few things you need to know. Snake plants like to be root bound, so each time you repot yours, choose a pot that’s only a few inches larger than the old one. The pot you pick should definitely have a drainage hole because snake plants can rot if they sit in any water.
When you’re ready to repot, get your succulent soil and fill the new pot about a third of the way full. Support your succulent by placing your hand on top of the soil and gently turn the pot over. Your plant should pop right out, but if it doesn’t, try tapping on the sides of the pot a little. If it just doesn’t want to come out no matter what you do (we’ve all been there), try watering it. Soaking the soil will loosen the roots and make it easier for you to get your plant out.
Now, place your plant in the new pot and see where it sits. If your plant sits one to two inches below the pot’s rim, you’re good to go! If not, add or remove soil until it’s positioned properly. Allow your succulent some time to adjust to its new pot before you water it―a few days is usually enough.
Hold off on fertilizing it for a few weeks, too, so that you don’t damage its unestablished roots.
How Much Water Does a Snake Plant Need?
Succulents need a lot less water than other kinds of plants, and they also need a different watering schedule. Succulents do best when you let their soil dry out completely between waterings, which usually takes about a week.
Snake plants require a bit less water than other succulents, so you may want to water yours every week and a half to two weeks instead of every week.
How to Water a Snake Plant
To water your snake plant, fill up a watering can and pour water onto the soil until it starts to run out of the drainage hole of the pot. Make sure that your succulent doesn’t sit in any water―if you keep your pot on a saucer, lift up the pot once or twice a day and drain any excess water. Make sure that the soil is dry to the touch before you water your succulent again.
Considering that succulents need less water than other plants, it sounds a little strange to flood your snake plant with water every other week. But trust us―this watering schedule works!
If you’re still unsure how much water you’ll need, read our complete watering guide for succulents here. (It’s helped over 2000 succulent lovers to date!)
Snake Plant Light Requirements
Snake plants love indirect sunlight, but they’re pretty adaptable and can survive in full sun and low light conditions. Because they only need indirect sunlight to thrive, they make great houseplants like these.
To keep your snake plant healthy and happy, try placing it near an east facing window. These windows provide a few hours of direct sunlight in the morning and indirect sunlight for the rest of the day, which is perfect for this plant. If you want to keep it close to a brighter south or west facing window, just make sure that you shield it from the sun’s rays by closing the blinds a little. Too much direct sunlight will burn the leaves of your snake plant.
Outside, the best place to put your snake plants is in the shade. While they can be planted in areas that get full sun, we don’t really recommend it. In full sun they’re much more likely to develop symptoms of sun damage, like dark brown spots on their leaves. You’ll also have to water them more often because the heat from the sun causes the soil to dry out faster. If you’re not always great at remembering to water your plants, keep them in the shade!
If you’re dying to plant this gorgeous succulent in a sunny spot in your garden, we get it! We think it would look fab out there too. Just make sure you keep a close eye on it and have shade cloth on hand in case it starts to burn.
Snake Plant Temperature Requirements
Just like real snakes, snake plants don’t like the cold! They can’t tolerate temperatures below 40°F. If you leave them outside in freezing temperatures, the water inside their cells can freeze, expand, and burst their cell walls.
This will cause tissue damage and make the leaves look brown and mushy in certain spots. Your plant can even die if it’s left outside in the cold for too long! If temperatures in your area drop to forty degrees, make sure you bring your outdoor snake plant inside or put some frost cloth over it to keep it as warm as possible.
If you keep your plant inside, that’s ideal. Snake plants do best in temperatures between seventy and ninety degrees, so indoor environments are perfect for them. They’ll reward you for keeping them indoors by purifying the air you breathe. They remove toxins like formaldehyde from the air and release lots of oxygen, improving the air circulation in your home.
Best Fertilizer for Snake Plants
Fertilizer can encourage your snake plants to flower and help them grow faster. You can fertilize them as often as once per month during the spring and summer months.
To get the best results, use a balanced fertilizer. You can tell that a fertilizer is balanced if it has three identical numbers on the package, like 8-8-8. These numbers indicate that the fertilizer contains equal proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, the three main nutrients in fertilizer. We recommend that you pick up an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 formula and dilute it to half strength before applying it to your succulent.
Succulents can sometimes get infested with pests like mealybugs. Plants that are kept outdoors and ones that are overwatered are more susceptible to infestations, but any plant can become infected.
The two main pests you need to watch out for are mealybugs and spider mites. They stymie your plant’s growth and suck the sap from its leaves, wounding them in the process. If they’re left on your plant long enough, they can even kill it. That’s why it’s so important to get rid of these nasty little critters as soon as you spot them!
Mealybugs are often mistaken for mold because they’re white and fuzzy. If you see lots of white, fuzzy spots on your plant, grab some isopropyl alcohol and put it in a spray bottle or on a q-tip. Spray or wipe the affected areas with the alcohol. Do this as many times as it takes to get rid of all the mealybugs.
Because they’re so small, you probably won’t be able to see the spider mites on your plant, but you will be able to see the damage. Spider mite damage appears as small yellow and brown spots on your plant’s leaves. These mites are related to spiders, so they’ll also leave webbing on your plant that looks similar to a spider web. If you see any of these warning signs, start spraying your succulent’s leaves, especially the undersides, with water and insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Propagating Snake Plants
One of the reasons why we love succulents is because you can get baby plants from them for free through a process called propagation.
Division is one of the most popular ways to propagate snake plants because it preserves the variegation patterns of the mother plant. If you want your new snake plant’s leaves to have the same thick yellow borders as your old plant, then don’t propagate it with leaf cuttings or rhizomes―divide your plant instead.
Propagating Leaf Cuttings
To take a leaf cutting, grab a sharp knife or a pair of shears and cut a leaf off of your plant. You want to make the cut pretty close to the bottom of the plant.
Now, take that leaf and cut it up again into a few different sections. As you’re cutting, make sure that you note which end of each section is the bottom. The “bottom” of each cutting is the side that was closest to the roots of the main plant when it was still attached.
If you plant the top sides of the cuttings in soil, they won’t root, so that’s why this step is so important. We like to take a non-toxic sharpie or pen and mark which sides we need to plant so that we don’t get confused.
Leave these cuttings to dry out for a few days. Then, fill a planting tray or pot with succulent soil and plant the cuttings bottom side down in the soil. You should keep them in bright, indirect sunlight and mist them with a spray bottle once a day to keep them moist.
Propagating succulents from leaves isn’t an exact science, and not every leaf will take, but you should see some roots and buds after a few weeks. Once your baby succulent grows a bit larger, you can water it the same way you water your mature snake plants.
Propagating Rhizome Cuttings
Propagating rhizome cuttings is pretty much the same process as propagating leaves. If you’re not familiar with rhizomes, they’re kind of like roots, except they grow horizontally. Plants that have them use them to store nutrients. Rhizomes sometimes sprout up through the soil near your main plant and grow new leaves. They can be cut and used to grow new succulents.
It’s important to wait until a rhizome sprouts a leaf before you cut it. Once that happens, take a sharp garden knife and cut the rhizome as close to the bottom as you can. Allow the cutting to dry out for a few days, and then plant it in soil, cut side down. Water this cutting the same way you watered the leaves.
Dividing Snake Plants
You can also cut your snake plant in half with a sharp knife to gain a brand new plant. Like we mentioned earlier, division is the best way to ensure that your new plant will have the same variegation as your main plant.
Cut your plant and its root structure in half right down the middle. Plant each half in its own pot with some succulent soil. Allow these plants to take root for a few days before you water them, and then water them as normal.
By now you’re probably dying to run to your local garden center and pick up one of these plants. We don’t blame you! Snake plants are beautiful, low maintenance houseplants that anyone can grow and enjoy regardless of their gardening skill level.
We love their gorgeous tall leaves, color variations, and greenish white flowers. We hope that this guide has helped you figure out how to take care of a snake plant once you get it home from the nursery, whether or not you have a green thumb!
Leave a comment below about what you enjoyed learning about in this article, we’re curious! And if you have a new snake plant after this, let us know the progress of your succulent baby, happy planting!