If I had to create an award for the best houseplant for beginners, the humble snake plant or "Mother-In-Law's Tongue" would win it.
You can pretty much ignore this plant for a month and it will be fine. They have a beautiful and striking appearance in your home, and even remove toxins (benzene, formaldehyde) from your home.
Without further ado, let's get into exactly how to care for, troubleshoot, and propagate the wonderful snake plant.
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Snake Plant Overview
|Common Name(s)||Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue, viper's bowstring hemp|
|Scientific Name||Sansevieria trifasciata|
|Height||Up to 40 inches|
|Light||Direct sunlight, filter harsh light|
|Soil||Free draining soil|
|Fertilizer||Fertilize in spring with a 20-20-20 fertilizer mixed in a watering container.|
|Propagation||Cuttings or divide|
Mother in Law's Tongue has thick, vertical sword shaped leaves. The leaves are dark green and are accented with lighter green bars going horizontal along the blade like leaves. Some varieties have a yellowish colored border along the leaves.
Snake Plant Varieties
While most people recognize the snake plant as the one classic green-yellow variegated leaves, there are plenty of different cultivars to choose from.
'Black Gold' has starkly contrasting leaves, with extremely dark-green centers surrounded by light yellow / gold edges.
'Black Jack' has a similar leaf pattern, but grows much shorter than it's 'Black Gold' relative.
'Black Robusta' looks like a fully black-leafed snake plant from afar, but the leaves are actually a dark shade of green. The leaves have flecks of silver sprinkled throughout.
'Cylindrica' is the most unique cultivar, with completely round stems that look like bamboo stakes stuck in soil.
'Futura Robusta' has wider leaves and grows much shorter than other varieties. The leaves are primarily a silvery-green, with dark green stripes.
'Futura Superba' has the classic snake plant leaf pattern, but it grows much shorter. Great for small spaces and apartments.
'Gold Hahnii' is a compact cultiva with thick golden edges and a light green center. A very bright choice!
'Golden Flame' is one of the most interesting cultivars. The new leaves start out a fully bright yellow color and then slowly "fade" to a natural green color.
'Moonshine' is best thought of as an 'albino' cultivar. The leaves are almost pure silver, creating a beautiful contrast to other cultivars.
'Laurentii' is one of the more popular cultivars sold in stores, with bright yellow edges and a zig-zagged green pattern in the middle.
Snake Plant Care
Because the snake plant has succulent leaves, it falls into the category of "set it and forget it" type of houseplants. It doesn't need much care, water, or light, but you still have to give it a LITTLE bit of love if you want it to thrive.
Give your snake plant bright, indirect light if you want it to do well. While it can survive in low-light conditions, it will grow slower and have less color. A good spot for it would be about 3-6' away from a window that gets a lot of light.
Because snake plants have succulent leaves, they don't need a lot of water. Keep the soil slightly moist and never over water. If you water too often your snake plant will become mushy and start to rot quickly.
The best type of soil for snake plants is an African violet soil mixture with a bit of sand added for additional drainage.
If you'd like to mix your own soil, use this recipe:
- 1 part garden soil
- 1 part peat
- 2 parts perlite or builder's sand
To give your snake plant a good chance at thriving, fertilize once monthly during spring and summer. Use a quality houseplant fertilizer that is free of nitrates.
During the winter months, forgo fertilizing completely as the plant grows slowly.
You don't need to re-pot your snake often as it likes to be root-bound. However, if it becomes top heavy and starts to tip over, re-pot it into a pot that is only a couple of inches larger than the current pot.
Sometimes the tips of leaves will turn brown or entire leaves will die. If this happens, all you need to do is cut the leaf of right at the soil surface to remove it completely. There's no point in cutting part of a leaf as it will not grow back from the cut point.
Be sure to use a sterilized cutting instrument!
Snake Plant Propagation
Like most succulent-type plants, propagating snake plants is easily done through leaf cuttings or division.
If you want to preserve the variegation of your snake plant, propagate by division instead of leaf cuttings — if you try via leaf cuttings the plant will revert to green leaves.
Leaf Cutting Propagation Process
Cut a leaf off of your snake plant and slice into 3-4" pieces. Make sure you remember which side of the leaf is the top and which is the bottom.
Put the cuttings right-side-up in fresh soil mix and keep the pot in an area that gets bright, indirect light.
After about 3-4 weeks, the cuttings will start rooting. After a few months, you'll have a fresh batch of snake plants to enjoy!
Like many houseplants, snake plants are susceptible to mealybugs and spider mites. Both of these pests attack the leaves of your spider plant in a similar fashion, sucking the sap out of the leaves.
If you have a heavy infestation, it's best to just start over with a new plant. But if you catch them arly, you can prevent the infestation from growing.
Combat spider mites by misting the plant and wiping them off. For mealybugs, wipe them off with a cotton swab of rubbing alcohol
The most common disease will be a root rot due to over-watering. It's common because gardeners tend to treat snake plants like other types of houseplants that aren't succulents, watering on the same schedule.
The solution for root rot is simple: water less, and repot into fresh soil to allow the roots to dry out. You may also need to cut off any mushy leaves.
You may also run into brown rust spots on the leaves, which is caused by allowing water to sit on the leaves during cold or cloudy periods.
Q. My snake plant isn't growing and I've had it for months. What is going on?
A. If you bought it during the fall and winter months, it's completely natural for growth to slow down. These are the dormant months that new growth is either completely stopped or extremely slow. However, if you are in the spring and summer months and it's still not growing, revisit the care guide above and see if you're not giving your snake plant what it needs.
Q. The leaves of my snake plant are becoming mushy but the soil is dry and I am not over watering it. What's happening?
A. If you are positive you're not over watering your snake plant, then there are two probable causes: your soil is holding too much water, or you have some kind of leaf rot. Check to see if your soil is too peaty and holds too much water, and re-read the diseases section to see if you may have a rot.
Q. The leaves of my snake plant are drooping or wrinkling, what is going on?
A. Unlike most plants, the leaves of a snake plant will droop when they've gotten too much water not too little! However, if the leaves have a wrinkled appearance or start to bend, it's a surefire sign that your plant isn't getting enough water.
Q. Is the snake plant toxic?
A. All parts of the snake plant are mildly toxic. The poison found in the plant can cause the tongue and throat to swell and be numb. In severe cases there may be distress in the digestive tract.
While low doses of the plant normally don't produce any symptoms, large doses can cause vomiting or nausea.
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