How To Plant, Grow, and Care for Sword Sansevieria

The sword sansevieria (Sansevieria ehrenbergii or Dracaena hanningtonii) is the perfect plant for succulent beginners. Kevin Espiritu explains everything you need to know to grow and care for this interesting species.

Sword Sansevieria

Contents

The Sansevieria genus (now included under the genus Dracaena) contains several unique and interesting succulent plants. Dracaena trifasciata is the most famous, but there are many rarer species with fascinating shapes that deserve a space in your garden. One of those is the sword sansevieria (Dracaena hanningtonii).

Sometimes called blue sword, this species has long, blade-like leaves that lend it its dramatic name. A dwarf cultivar also exists, sold as the dwarf samurai.

The shape of this plant is unusual, with layers of leaves stacked on top of each other. It makes a beautiful centerpiece in a succulent garden or a great low-maintenance houseplant in colder climates. Whether you’re growing indoors or out, you’ll find all the information you need here.

Overview

Sansevieria genus
Plant Type Succulent
Family Asparagaceae
Genus Dracaena
Species Dracaena hanningtonii
Exposure Full Sun to Partial Sun
Height 4″-6″
Watering Requirements Low
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Sandy, succulent mix

What is Sword Sansevieria?

Close up of a plant sitting on a window sill in front of a sunny window. The plant has tall, wide, pointed leaves with dark green center and light green on the edges.
Native to Africa, these warm weather plants have become a popular staple houseplant.

Sansevierias are commonly known as snake plants, popular for growing indoors as houseplants or outdoors in warmer climates. Previously a separate genus, plants in this group are now under the Dracaena genus, although the names are still used interchangeably. Native to Africa, it grows naturally in warm climates from Libya south to Tanzania.

The fan shape of this particular sansevieria is beautiful. The long leaves curve slightly as they extend outward from the plant. A groove forms along the inner side of the leaf, which can catch water and direct it towards the center of the plant.

Leaf development begins at the center of the plant. Each leaf forms on top of the one beneath it but goes in the opposite direction. This layering effect creates a unique zig-zag pattern along the stem.

Full-sized blue swords have leaves up to three feet in length in the right conditions. A dwarf cultivar called ‘Samurai’ has much shorter leaves but forms the same layers. This stubbier variation comes in either a pure green or variegated leaf coloration. Another variation, ‘Banana’, has a distinctive banana-like shape in new leaf growth.

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While rare, the sword sansevieria can produce greyish-white or grey-green flowers. Rhizomes allow the plant to spread just under the soil’s surface to reproduce. It produces offsets that can be divided and replanted for propagation.

Planting

A woman's hands shoveling a pile of soil into a pot with a tall green plant in it.
These plants won’t tolerate cold weather and should be moved to a warmer area if temperatures drop.

Sword sansevierias are great structural additions to succulent gardens. However, due to their tropical native environments, they don’t tolerate cold well. Plant outdoors in USDA Zones 9 and above, or stick to containers to keep them protected indoors in cooler climates.

Snake plants don’t mind being confined to containers. When potting, choose a container only one or two sizes up from the current pot. It should have plenty of drainage holes to allow excess moisture to escape, preventing root rot.

Remove the plant from its container and gently tease the roots. If there are any small pups, you can remove them to replant in separate containers. Trim any damaged roots or rhizomes and plant them into a fresh, succulent potting mix. Wait a few days to allow the plant to settle before watering.

When planting outdoors, choose a location with sandy soil that drains well. Avoid areas where water collects after rainfall, as these plants are susceptible to rot.

How to Grow

Generally low-maintenance, these plants survive neglect with ease. But if you want to keep them looking their best, there are a few conditions to keep an eye on.

Light

Several terracotta pots with tall bright green plants in them, sitting outside on a cement porch. Each plant had tall, wide, pointed leaves that have a dark center and bright green stripes down the sides.
Snake plants prefer at least six hours of sunlight in order to reach their full potential.

Full sun is ideal for sword sansevierias. They can tolerate partial sun but will grow quickest with at least six hours of direct light per day.

If your plant was grown in protected greenhouse conditions to adapt to low light as a houseplant, it will need some time to adjust to brighter lighting conditions to prevent scorching.

If you are growing indoors, provide as much bright light as you can. Choose a position with direct morning sun, like a large east-facing window, keeping the plant in bright indirect light for the rest of the day.

Like other snake plants, they can tolerate lower light levels indoors. But growth will be slow and the risk of problems like stunted growth and root rot much higher.

Water

A woman watering a plant on a wood shelf with a bright green, plastic, watering can.
Let the soil dry out completely before watering it again and be sure to give it proper drainage.

Like most succulents, blue sword stores water in its leaves. That’s why it’s best to water deeply but infrequently to avoid overwatering.

For potted plants, water deeply when the soil dries out until excess moisture is flowing from the pot. Allow it to drain. Then water lightly and don’t water again until the soil has dried completely.

For in-ground plants, the method is similar. Check the soil a few inches down before you consider watering. Water once the soil has dried, soaking to at least six inches below the surface.

In the winter months, decrease your watering significantly. Don’t allow your plant to sit in soggy soil or pooled water, as it can develop root rot.

Soil

Three small plants in black plastic containers sitting on the grass outside.
These plants will thrive best in sandy, well-draining soil.

The best soil for sword sansevierias is sandy and well-draining to match conditions in their native habitats. Opt for a succulent and cacti mix when potting in containers. These gritty mixes drain quickly but hold onto enough moisture to keep the roots hydrated.

If you don’t have access to a commercial mix, amend high-quality potting soil with coconut coir, perlite, and sand to create the ideal texture for growing indoors.

Temperature & Humidity

A woman cutting off a dry patch of leaf from a potted plant with a pair of plant clippers.
Cold temperatures can cause severe damage to the leaves.

The sword sansevieria appreciates warm temperatures and moderate to high humidity. They don’t tolerate cold well. While it can survive temporary chill, prolonged temperatures below 50°F (10°C) will cause leaf damage.

Soft spots, sunken parts of the blade, or edge browning may occur if the plant is exposed to frost. Aim to keep temperatures between 65°F and 85°F (18-29°C) throughout the year.

These plants appreciate a little more humidity than other succulents. Aim for humidity around 50% for lush leaves and strong growth.

Fertilizing

Close up of a woman's hand sprinkling a handful of plant fertilizer into a potted plant.
Sometimes adding a bit of fertilizer during the growing phase will help to regain lost nutrients.

During the active growing season in spring and summer, fertilize every four to six weeks with a liquid succulent fertilizer, diluted to half-strength. This is especially important for potted sword sansevieria, as frequent watering can leach nutrients from the soil over time.

Reduce the frequency in the fall and skip fertilizing in the winter months when growth slows. Always follow the instructions on the packaging and never feed more than recommended to avoid damage.

Maintenance

A tall, green, pointed plant that has been removed from its container and placed on a table, with its roots exposed and piles of dirt around it.
You will only need to repot your snake plant when it becomes rootbound.

As sword sansevieria grows slowly, you won’t need to repot your plant often. Rather than repotting annually on a schedule, repot only when the plant is rootbound or you need to refresh the soil. Dwarf samurai sansavieria rarely needs to be repotted.

Larger sword sansevierias can become top-heavy as they mature and develop long leaves. Opt for a wide pot that can support the plant’s long blades. The process is the same as planting, with a new container and fresh soil mix to boost growth.

Pruning is seldom necessary for this plant. Only trim to remove damaged or diseased leaves and flower stems, if they appear.

Propagation

Close up of a hand holding a thick, green, side leaf that has been cut and now has a smaller leaf and roots growing off of it.
There are several easy ways to propagate these plants.

There are a few ways to propagate this species. Dracaena hanningtonii forms offsets in the right conditions that can be removed and replanted. It’s also possible to propagate by division or leaf cuttings.

Division

Three wide, green, pointed leaves laying on a table surface, with tiny leaves and roots sprouting from the base of each leaf.
Dividing is a process that simply involves, separating the plant into section to replant.

To divide, remove your plant from its pot, or carefully loosen the soil around it in the bed until you can lift it free. Dust excess soil from the roots. Separate the plant into clumps, each with its own fan of leaves and tangle of roots. Plant each clump separately.

Cuttings

Close up of a small black container with a thick, cut green leaf that has three smaller leaf clusters growing at the base of the bigger leaf.
Cutting a leaf and letting it scab over will produce new growth at the base of the leaf.

Select a healthy leaf tip and use a sterile pair of snips to cut it cleanly. Allow the cut end to scab over, which may take a few days. This drying process helps prevent the cutting from rotting in the soil.

Place into a succulent potting mix, about an inch deep, and keep the soil lightly moist until roots develop.

Offsets

A small off-shoot of leaves growing in a pot at the base of a larger plant.
These are the tiny little plants that start to sprout at the base of the parent plant.

Offsets will appear near the base of the parent plant and are easy to separate and replant. These have limited root systems, so keep them attached until they have strong root systems before removing them.

Common Problems

Sword sansevierias are relatively problem-free, making them ideal for newer gardeners. The issues that do come up are usually caused by incorrect care, like excess watering or poor lighting.

Damaged Leaves

Close up of several thick, light green, wide leaves with large round brown spots on two of the leaves.
Again, keep your snake plant in warmer temperatures to avoid leaf damage.

Keep your plants in temperatures above 50°F (10°C) to avoid cold damage to the leaves. These tropicals are not cold-hardy and will rapidly degrade in frosty conditions, resulting in damage to the leaves. Also keep them out of high traffic areas indoors and out.

Mushy Roots

A small potted plant sitting on a marble countertop, that has several leaves rotting and falling off from the base of the plant.
Too much watering can cause root rot and may be very hard to get your plant back.

Excess watering creates the perfect condition for fungal root rots to thrive. For this drought-tolerant plant, too little water is better than too much. Only water once the soil has completely dried out and regularly check on drainage.

Discoloration

Rows of tall green, wide, pointed leaves with brown tips and a light yellow color forming on the leaves.
Intense sunlight can cause discoloration and damage to the leaves.

Sword sansevieria loves sunny spots, but intense sunlight and heat can cause some discoloration in the leaves. It generally isn’t harmful, but doesn’t look great. Keep the plants protected during harsh summer conditions if needed.

Pests & Diseases

Close up of a thick, wide, dark green, leaf that has a very fine coat of white webbing inside the base of the plant.
Mealybugs and spider mites are the most common pests with spider plants.

You won’t often face pest-related problems with Dracaena hanningtonii. In rare conditions, you may encounter a few mealybugs or a spider mite infestation, but these are easy to control if caught early.

For mealybugs, use a cotton swab dipped into rubbing alcohol to remove them from your plant. Insecticidal soap is useful for spider mite attacks. Most non-pyrethrin insecticidal soaps work well.

Diseases are relatively uncommon, but you may encounter root rot in cases of overwatering. Repot into fresh soil and remove all damaged parts of the plant to prevent spread.

FAQs

Why are the leaves of my sword sansevieria yellowing?

Yellowing leaves are caused by prolonged exposure to direct intense sunlight, or growth problems. Provide a little afternoon shade during the heat of the day to ease the sun’s intensity and inspect the plant for signs of overwatering or stress.

Final Thoughts

The sword sansevieria is a great addition to any succulent garden or houseplant collection, depending on your climate. Keep propagating as your plant grows to expand your stock.

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