There is really no excuse — every home and every office should have at least one sansevieria. You don’t need a green thumb, you don’t need good light, you don’t even need to remember to water it often. Taking care of a sansevieria plant is super simple, and the plant delivers so much!
Sansevieria (also called snake plant, Saint George’s sword, viper’s bowstring hemp, and mother-in-law’s tongue – but let’s not promote that last one) is sometimes considered a modern-looking plant. I suppose that’s because of its usually straight-lined architectural personality. It does fit into modern settings very well. But it also has a cozier side. For me, it always brings to mind Grant Wood’s picture of his mother, Hattie Weaver, who is holding a sansevieria plant. I love that picture, and it always makes me want to propagate my snake plants, like I imagine Hattie doing.
There are so many varieties of sansevieria! You’ll find short, stout snake plants and those that stretch eight feet tall. There are yellow-edged and red-edged varieties, those with grayish/green leaves and those with deep green or chartreuse leaves. Whether or not you want to mail-order one, it’s fun to browse the many types of snake plants online. Etsy is a good place to do that.
Here are answers to the basic questions you might have about this hardy, happy plant.
How big do sansevieria get?
Some snake plants reach just six inches while others are over seven feet tall — and every height in between. You can usually get a feel for what your variety will do by looking at it, but the plant seller (or a quick online search) can provide that info, too. Keep in mind that sansevieria are slow growers.
Do snake plants clean the air?
Snake plants have been shown in some studies to clean toxins — specifically formaldehyde and benzene — from indoor air. A sansevieria won’t purify all the air in a room, of course, but the air in the immediate vicinity will benefit. It might be nice to have one by your bed or desk!
How much light does a snake plant need?
Bright indirect light is ideal for a snake plant (and most plants, for that matter). But it’s not a fussy species. A sansevieria will grow in anything from low light (you can tuck it in a shaded corner) to medium sun. Very intense direct sun can burn the leaves, though, so don’t put it in a south window without some protection (like a sheer curtain).
Because it doesn’t need much light, sansevieria also make great office plants. They’ll even survive under fluorescent lighting.
Sansevieria, like other variegated plants, tend to lose some of their color in low light. You might want to choose a variety with darker leaves and less variegation for your low-light areas. Wherever you place it, rotate it occasionally to encourage even growth.
How often should I water my sansevieria?
Not much. The easiest way to kill a snake plant — which is a succulent and so stores water in its leaves — is by overwatering it and giving it root rot. Let the soil dry out thoroughly between waterings. (And I do mean bone dry, as far down as you can stick your finger.) The soil should never be soggy.
It will depend on what kind of pot your snake plant is in and what kind of soil you’ve used, but it won’t need watering more than every 10 days or so. I water my sansevieria (which is in a terra cotta pot) every other week in the spring and summer, and less often — maybe every 3 weeks — in the winter. Don’t just dribble some water on it when it is time to water. Give it a good drink (think a nice rain) until the water runs out the bottom of the pot. Then leave it until it’s good and dry again.
What temperatures do snake plants prefer?
Warmish, but again, the snake plant isn’t very particular. It’ll do fine in any temperature that you’re comfortable in. Ideally, it likes the warmer end of a 55- to 85-degree F range (me too). Do try to keep it out of cold drafts — from doors, windows, and air conditioners.
In very warm climates (growing zones 8 or 9 through 11) the sansevieria will grow outdoors. In fact, it spreads easily via rhizomes under the earth and can become invasive. So if you’re in a warm location and want to grow it outdoors, you may consider keeping it in a pot or in a contained area.
Unlike many plants, the snake plant doesn’t need added humidity. No need to spritz it!
Should I fertilize my sansevieria?
If you like. Some experts say no fertilizing is necessary, others say to give it some general houseplant fertilizer twice a year. Others — and this is what I do — say to fertilize it once a month but only from spring through fall. Let it rest when it’s dormant in the winter. I use an organic houseplant fertilizer.
BTW, while you’re giving your snake plant some extra TLC, note that those leaves get dusty. Use a damp cloth to clean them off regularly. Otherwise the plant won’t be able to photosynthesize!
How often should I repot my snake plant?
Sansevieria rarely needs repotting. In fact, it will do better — and may even bloom — if it’s a little rootbound.
When you do pot your snake plant, plant it in a pot that will allow good drainage — terra cotta with a drainage hole is what I prefer. Plastic pots don’t allow the soil to dry out as well. Use plant soil that’s a little on the light side. A soil developed for cacti and other succulents is best, because it’ll provide better drainage than regular houseplant soil. Otherwise, you can lighten the soil you have on hand by adding some perlite or pumice.
Why are my sansevieria leaves curling?
This is a common problem, and there are a few possibilities:
Underwatering. Snake plants don’t need much water, but they do need to drink. And, like all plants, they like consistency. So if your plant’s leaves are curling (the edges might even curl and seal together), it’s probably a sign that the plant has gone too long without watering. Simply give it a good drink, let it dry out thoroughly, and water again. Getting back on a consistent watering schedule — without overwatering! — should help revive the plant.
Thrips. Thrips are tiny black insects (pale yellow when young) — so tiny that you need a magnifying glass to see them. If your plant has curling leaves and tiny black specks on it, you may have thrips. You may also notice rough, uneven patches (where the thrips feed). Keep the infected plant away from other plants. Cut off affected leaves near the base and throw them away.
Remove the thrips by wiping them with a solution of one part rubbing alcohol and four parts water. Dip a cotton ball in the alcohol solution and wipe the leaves. (Some experts recommend using alcohol undiluted, but I think that’s too cooling and drying. If you go this route, I suggest you test it on one leaf before applying to the entire plant.) Six hours or so after applying the solution, wipe the leaves with fresh, clean water. You may need to repeat this treatment a few times.
Fungus. If your plant has curling leaves as well as reddish brown lesions or cottony white growth on it, it probably has a fungal problem. This may be from overwatering. Wipe off the affected areas and repot the plant in fresh soil.
Overwatering. If the leaves are curling downward and they’re mushy, droopy, and/or yellowing, it may mean that you’ve overwatered the plant. Remove the soil from the pot. Remove any mushy roots (you’ve got root rot!) and repot the plant in fresh potting mix. Water the plant consistently but only when the soil is thoroughly dry.
In any of these cases, if your plant is in bad shape, consider propagating unaffected leaves for a fresh start.
How can I make new plants from my snake plant?
It’s easy to propagate a sansevieria. There are three methods:
Division. Simply take the plant out of its pot and gently pull it apart into sections. Each section should have ample leaves and roots. Repot the divisions into their own pots. Spring — right as the plant is starting to grow — is the best time to do this.
Leaf cuttings in soil. Fill a small pot with soil and moisten the soil with water. Using clean, sharp scissors or a clean, sharp knife, cut a piece of leaf about two to three inches long and place the end about half an inch down into the soil. You can dip the leaf in rooting compound first, if you like, but it’s not necessary. What is necessary: The end of the leaf that you place in the soil must be the end that was down when the leaf was growing. You can’t flip the segment over and place the top in the soil; it won’t root. So keep track of which end is up! You can take a long sansevieria leaf and cut it into many segments if you like — as long as you keep track of which end goes down. Place in bright, indirect light, and water when the soil is dry.
It can take months for the sansevieria to sprout new growth, but that adds to the fun when it finally does!
Leaf cuttings in water. Using a clean, sharp knife or clean, sharp scissors, cut leaf segments. Make a notch (a large V shape) in the bottom part of the segment (the part that was facing down when the plant was growing). Place the segment, notched edge down, in a clean jar or glass of water. (The notch will give the roots room to grow.)
Change the water when it starts looking cloudy, at least weekly. The one disadvantage to this method is that the segments can become slimy. If they do, take them out, rinse them well, and refresh their water (and clean the glass container). Place in bright indirect light.
The segments will grow roots and sprout little pups. Pot the new pups once a good supply of roots is established.
(Note that when you propagate certain variegated sansevieria with cuttings (rather than division), they will revert to their plain green origins; the new plants won’t have the same interesting markings.)
Caution: Don’t let your little ones or furry friends eat your snake plant. It’s not poisonous, but it’s mildly toxic and can cause mouth and stomach irritation, possibly vomiting.
I have a sansevieria that’s about 20 years old. I just divided it and gave portions to our daughter and granddaughter. It’s a common “Laurentii” cultivar. I’m eager to try some more varieties!
Do you have any sansevieria? Which are your favorites?
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