How to Care for a Snake Plant, a Variety That's Perfect for Beginners
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Snake plants are one of the most popular houseplants in all of North America—so, chances are, you have one in your collection. And if you're new to the world of houseplants? This is a great place to start. Also known by their scientific name, Dracaena trifasciata, snake plants have broad, elongated leathery leaves, which make them attractive to gardeners of all skill levels. At maturity, the low maintenance plant can grow anywhere from 6 inches to 8 feet tall in hardiness zones 9 to 11. It comes in an assortment of unique cultivars that all have their own interesting foliage. No matter the variety you choose, snake plants primarily have the same care requirements.
Related: How to Grow and Care for Monstera, a Low-Maintenance Houseplant That Can Also Thrive Outside
How to Care for a Snake Plant
Snake plants are typically purchased from a nursery as a potted plant rather than grown by seed. Once you bring it home, your plant will require some basic care in order to thrive and grow to maturity.
While snake plants prefer indirect sunlight from a south- or east-facing window, they are extremely adaptable to a variety of light conditions inside the home. "This is what makes snake plants so great," says Daniel Cunningham, horticulturist and creator of The Texas Plant Guy. "Where too little light is generally an issue with several harder-to-grow houseplants, snake plants tend to thrive in those spots."
However, you should avoid placing them in a spot that receives direct western sun, or the plant could dry out over time. "The intensity might burn the leaves," says Cunningham. But don't place the plant too far from those precious rays, or the foliage will stretch toward the light it craves and lose its compact, starfish-like form.
Two factors determine how often your snake plant needs to be watered: the size and material of the pot and the soil inside the container. "If these plants do have a shortfall, it is that they are susceptible to overwatering, so make sure you're not giving them too much water at any given time," Cunningham says.
As a general rule, it's best to water snake plants about once every one to two weeks, allowing them to dry out between waterings. "In winter, it may be best to wait weeks or even months between watering," says Benjamin Godfrey, the garden manager at Cornerstone Sonoma. While you should resist the urge to overwater, it's best to let the plant be your guide. "The leaves should be plump and firm," says Marc Hachadourian, the director of glasshouse horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden. "If they start to look wrinkled and shriveled, give it a drink more frequently."
One way to prevent overwatering is to make sure your snake plants are potted in well-draining soil. A cacti and succulent potting mix, or a mix that includes perlite—a mineral product that improves drainage—will work.
During the growing season—March through November—nourish your snake plant with organic fertilizer. Add fish emulsion to your watering can, or sprinkle worm castings on top of the soil and gently work them into the top layer before hydrating.
"If you prefer liquid fertilizers, fertilize once a month with half of the recommended rate on the label, as snake plants do not require heavy fertilization," says Cunningham. "I generally prefer granular slow release fertilizers applied to the top of the potting soil once in early spring and again in late summer, but they can certainly get by with a whole lot less."
It's best to prune snake plants during the growing season. Do so by using sharp pruning shears to snip off any dead or discolored leaf material, as well as any leaves at the soil line. "For a cleaner look, be sure to cut at a point to match the same shape as the leaves nearby," Cunningham says. If, over time, longer leaves start to lean or spill outside the container, prune them all the way to the ground.
How to Repot a Snake Plant
Repotting your snake plant is necessary to encourage future growth by giving it more soil and room for the roots to grow. You'll know your snake plant is ready to be repotted when it grows too large for its pot or if the roots start coming out of the drainage holes.
When to Repot Your Snake Plant
Choosing the right time to repot your snake plant will dictate how well it adapts to its new home. "The best time to repot your snake plant is in the spring when the plant is beginning to grow again," says Katie Dubow, president of Garden Media and QVC garden guest with Cottage Farms. "Repotting in the spring gives the plant enough time to grow and adjust to its new pot before the end of the growing season."
When repotting your snake plants, the type of container you use is key. Choose a container that is slightly bigger than your current vessel to allow for more growth. "Snake plants don't tolerate oversaturated soils, so a container with good drainage is crucial," says Cunningham. "If you prefer decorative planters, consider housing your snake plant in a plastic container with drainage holes that can fit comfortably into a more ornamental container." If you do this, you must remove the center pot when watering and allow it to fully drain before moving it back to a larger container.
Before repotting your snake plant, you must ensure you have the appropriate supplies, including your new container, potting soil, and a pair of gardening gloves.
- Carefully remove the snake plant from its current pot by gently turning it on its side and pulling the container away from the root ball.
- Loosen any tangled roots and carefully trim any dead or damaged roots from the root ball.
- Place the snake plant in the new pot and fill it with potting soil
- Firmly press the soil around the plant and water it generously.
- Place the pot in a location with bright, indirect sunlight and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
How to Propagate a Snake Plant
So long as they're healthy, you can use the pruned leaves to start new plants. To propagate your snake plant, use clean, sharp pruners and clip 2- to 3-inch pieces from one healthy, long leaf. Nestle the cuttings in containers filled with moist, well-drained soil, and keep them in the sun. A few weeks later, new plantlets should start to form.
The Most Common Snake Plant Varieties
Hoping to bring home a snake plant in the near future? Consider one of these popular varieties.
Commonly known as African spear plants, this cultivar boasts thick, round stalks that grow from a single rosette at the base.
Sansevieria trifasciata 'Mother-in-Law's Tongue'
This variety's leaves are defined by its yellow borders and ultra-sharp edges; it should reach about 2 feet tall if potted in a vessel intended for tabletop display.
Sansevieria trifasciata 'Twisted Sister'
A smaller species in the snake plant family, this variety's vibrant green-and-gold variegated stalks are—as the plant's name implies—slightly curled or twisted.
Sansevieria 'Golden Hahnii'
This dwarf snake plant boasts attractive vertical stripes and multi-colored leaves; it's commonly referred to as the bird's nest snake plant.
Dracaena trifasciata 'Laurentii'
Another snake plant iteration bordered with yellow edges, the Dracaena trifasciata 'Laurentii' has mottled leaves and is supremely simple to care for.