Snake Plant Care 101: Everything You Need to Know


A three picture collage of the snake plant showing the leaves, how to test the soil for dryness and watering the plants soil only, being careful not to get the leaves wet in the process.

You’re thinking the next plant you want for your indoor plant collection is a snake plant, but you’re not sure how to care for it. What soil should you use? How often is too often when it comes to watering your snake plant? How much light does a snake plant need? Don’t fret my fellow plant lovers, this article is just for you.

How do you grow a snake plant? To successfully grow a snake plant, you need to do the following:

  • Water it on a two-to-six-week basis when the soil dries out, and make sure you don’t wet the plant’s leaves
  • Provide an indoor environment with indirect yet bright light
  • Use soilless potting mix or African violet soil with sand
  • Maintain temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 to 70 degrees at night
  • Keep relative humidity at around 40 percent
  • Give the plant fertilizer in the warmer months when it grows more
  • Use a porous pot for plant growth and repot every two to six years
  • Try a different pot or mini trellises to get your leaning snake plant growing straight again

In this detailed guide, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about the snake plant. From its humble beginnings to its preferences on lighting and soil, how often to water it, how big it should grow, and what can kill your houseplant, you’ll be a snake plant master by the time you’re done reading.

What Is a Snake Plant?

The snake plant or Sansevieria trifasciata also goes by the name viper’s bowstring hemp. The reason the snake plant is nicknamed that isn’t just because of its looks. The fiber within this houseplant is quite durable and thus made a great product for the creation of real bowstrings. While the snake plant isn’t used for such purposes these days, it’s a plant tough enough to be kept both indoors and outdoors for ornamental purposes.

Other common yet amusing nicknames are mother-in-law’s tongue and Saint George’s sword. As part of the Asparagaceae family and the Plantae kingdom, the snake plant is an evergreen flowering perennial.

Snake plants grow naturally in the Congo, Nigeria, and other parts of West Africa. The plant has long, tall, thin green leaves with pointed edges, almost like oversized grass. The colorings of most snake plants are a light green border along the edges and a dark green center, but this can vary.

Given that it’s originally from a few parts of West Africa, when grown outdoors, the snake plant prefers warmer weather. Indoors, you can grow this houseplant any time of the year, even in colder seasons.

There are many cultivars of snake plant to choose from, including:

The white snake plant or Bantel’s Sensation:

This version of the snake plant has stripes running vertically throughout. These are of course white in color. The leaves look narrower than other snake plants. Also, the white snake plant doesn’t get very big, maybe only three feet.

The rhino grass or Sansevieria desertii:

This cultivar has thicker, hardier leaves, sort of like an aloe vera or other succulents. It’s also huge, up to 12 inches!

The Sansevieria trifasciata twist:

The reason this cultivar is called the twist is a nod to the shape of its leaves. Yes, they twist up. The edges of the houseplant look yellow with horizontal stripes. This one is even bigger than rhino grass, as the Sansevieria trifasciata twist is up to 14 inches!

The cylindrical snake plant:

This snake plant is much smaller. Also known as the Sansevieria cylindrical, the indoor plant grows leaves with stripes. These also have a rounded shape and a dark green hue.

The Golden Hahnii:

Last, we got the Golden Hahnii, a dwarf variety of the standard houseplant. It’s also distinctive for its border color, which is yellow, and the much smaller leaves.

Should you trim its rhizome or hold onto other cuttings, you can grow new snake plants from your old one. That said, the variegation, or stem and leaf coloration, cannot be retained when growing new snake plants through this method.

According to the NASA Clean Air Study, the snake plant can make the air in your home or office healthier. Of the five major toxins that could influence sick building syndrome, the snake plant rids a space of four of them. Sick building syndrome, in case you’re not familiar, is a condition that causes illnesses or symptoms with no attributing cause. Everyone in a building can be affected, with symptoms worsening as time in the building passes.

How Do You Know When to Water a Snake Plant?

You’ll often see “diehard” or “hard to kill” attributed to the snake plant. No, it’s not a big fan of the movie, but rather, these traits are associated with the indoor plant mainly because it doesn’t need a whole lot of water. While it can vary based on the humidity, light, and indoor temperature, your snake plant might only require water every two weeks, but, depending on the conditions, it can go as long as six weeks without being watered. Knowing how long snake plants can go without water is one of the main reasons indoor gardeners call the snake plant a diehard?

On the weeks you do water it, you should only have to do so once that week. After all, one of the biggest snake plant killers is overwatering. That’s common of a lot of indoor plants, but snake plants, in particular, don’t do well with getting too much water. We’ll talk about what could happen to them later in this guide, so keep reading!

Okay, so how do you know when your snake plant has had enough water or if it needs more? The good, old-fashioned soil test we always advocate for works just fine. You only need a clean, dry fingertip for this test. You want to push your fingertip down into your snake plant’s soil, about an inch deep is fine for this test.

How does the soil feel?

Is it damp or wet from the previous watering?If so, hold off, it’s not time to water your snake plant yet. Depending on your particular light, temperature & plant conditions, the time can range from a couple more days to another week before it will need water.
Is the soil sort of dry but not entirely?It’s close to watering time. Check it the following day(s) to catch it on the day it is completely dry if possible. Watering a day or so late is better than a day or so early with snake plants. Either way they are relatively forgiving : )
Is the soil completely dry?get your snake plant some water, it’s time to water your snake plant.

Besides knowing when to water your houseplant, you also need to know how. Yes, that’s right, the snake plant has special watering requirements. While some houseplants can do alright with getting water on their leaves and/or flowers, the snake plant is not one of them. When you water, it must be in the soil only. Getting the leaves wet, even when watering, can lead to rotting and possibly kill your snake plant.

What Lighting Environment Does the Snake Plant Prefer?

Picture of Fred zimmer feeling the leaves of the snake plant to demonstrate how to determine the specific type of snake plant by the colors, lines and hues of the leaves

While you have to tread carefully when it comes to watering your snake plant, this houseplant is much more forgiving when it comes to its lighting preferences. You could put your snake plant in a dark office corner or pretty much any space that doesn’t get much light & it most likely won’t die, from lack of light. It won’t die, but admittedly, this isn’t the most ideal environment for your Sansevieria trifasciata.

You may notice that a snake plant grown in dim conditions doesn’t ever get as colorful as a houseplant of the same kind that’s grown in more direct light. Also, growth occurs at a much slower rate. So yes, you won’t kill the snake plant outright by putting it in extremely low light areas but you’re not doing it any favors, either.

Alright, so what type of light does your snake plant prefer? Indirect yet bright light is best for this indoor plant. This doesn’t mean plunk it on a sunny windowsill, as that’s too much light. If your snake plant looks droopy, that’s why. It’s overexposed to the sunlight.

Instead, you want to move it several feet from a bright window, somewhere between three to six feet is a good amount of distance. In the winter, when there’s less natural light to go around, you can relocate your snake plant to make up for the reduced daily light. It’s worth mentioning that snake plants seem to like windows facing the South during the colder seasons.

What Is the Best Soil for Snake Plants?

Like almost all houseplants, the snake plant needs soil with fantastic drainage. Otherwise, it’s susceptible to root rot. It turns out the best soil for the snake plant then isn’t a soil at all, but rather a soilless potting mix.

We’ve discussed soilless potting mix on this blog before. It includes ingredients such as sand or bark, vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss. Some have coconut coir instead of peat moss. This isn’t always a bad thing, because peat moss is the only ingredient in most potting mixes that expires.

I recently wrote an article on that very topic titled Does Potting Mix Expire? What you Need to Know. Make sure you don’t use any soilless potting mix past the two-year mark, as it won’t be very good for your snake plant.

If you don’t have any soilless potting mix, that’s alright. You can try making African violet soil mixture instead. It doesn’t require a ton of ingredients, only builder’s sand or perlite (two parts), peat moss (one part), and garden soil (one part).

Wait, soil? Won’t that cause drainage issues for your houseplant? Not exactly, especially since African violet soil mixture contains perlite and peat moss. As we wrote about in the post about potting mix, perlite is a type of volcanic glass that’s sourced from obsidian. It keeps your snake plant’s soil from becoming compacted. That’s a good thing, as water can get trapped in compacted soil.

Peat moss has the amazing capacity to hold a huge amount of water compared to its dry weight, which means your snake plant doesn’t get oversaturated with the stuff. While you can go soilless then, African violet soil mixture works just as well for your snake plant.

Do Snake Plants Need Humidity?

You would think that since the snake plant hails from West Africa that it would demand tons of humidity, right? That’s not the case. The houseplant tolerates the average room temperature, which has a relative humidity of 40 percent.

Relative humidity is a means of calculating how much water vapor is in the air. When you see relative humidity as a percentage, that percentage is a chunk of how much water would be necessary for saturation. While 40 percent relative humidity isn’t super low, it’s also not excessively high, either.

Are you curious what temperature you should set your home, apartment, or even office if you’re growing the snake plant? It changes by day and night. During the day, the lowest temperature the snake plant will tolerate is 60 degrees and the highest is 80 degrees. Once there’s no natural light, such as at night, the low temperature for the snake plant is 55 degrees and the high 70 degrees.

By maintaining those temperatures in the environment in which you’re growing your snake plant, it should get relative humidity at the percentage it needs. There is never any reason to mist this houseplant; in fact, we’d recommend that as one of the last things you should do for its care.  

Why? Well, if you remember from the section on watering the snake plant, the leaves are always supposed to stay dry. By misting the plant, the leaves will surely get wet. This can rot them out and kill your snake plant prematurely.

If you can’t get your home or office to the required temperatures above, then use a humidifier or dehumidifier. Misting indoor plants is rarely effective anyway, but with a snake plant, it can be downright deadly.

Speaking of deadly, never let temps dip to 50 or below, as the snake plant’s roots will begin to die.

Fertilizer for the Snake Plant: Yay or Nay? How Often?

Some indoor gardeners never fertilize their snake plant, using compost on it instead. This is one option to consider, but if you’ve never grown a snake plant before, then you might want to stick to more traditional means like fertilizer.

Which type of fertilizer works best for the snake plant? An all-purpose, organic fertilizer formulated for houseplants should do just fine. You can pick this up at most gardening or home improvement stores as well as online.

Now that you’ve got your snake plant fertilizer, how often do you feed the indoor plant with the stuff? That’s a great question. Snake plants like fertilizer to trigger their growth, and they grow the most in the warm seasons like the spring or summer. Thus, you might fertilize your own houseplant once in the spring and then again in the summer. You can also get away with fertilizing only once per the two seasons.

How Big Will My Snake Plant Get?

You’ve followed all the growth instructions we’ve provided so far in this guide. Your snake plant is looking pretty good and quite healthy. Now comes a question: how much growth should you expect for the Sansevieria trifasciata?

Well, it depends on the variety you chose. If you opt for the Golden Hahnii, that’s one of the smallest cultivars, as it’s dwarf version of the plant. Most other cultivars have a more average height of eight to 14 inches.

When Is It Time to Repot the Snake Plant?

Snake plants are grown in pots rather than hanging baskets. When it comes to selecting the pot you’ll use to grow yours, make sure it’s porous. Whether you choose a paper pulp, timber, clay, or terra cotta pot, the porousness of the pot can aide further in water drainage when you water this houseplant.

Once you provide a new, comfy home for your snake plant, how will you know when it’s time to relocate it? Well, we do encourage you to take your time. The snake plant will quite get to like its pot and can become pot-bound somewhat.

Here’s an older post I wrote here on indoor plants for beginners that has tips and pointers on when it’s time to repot your indoor plant. If you notice the snake plant’s soil is failing to absorb water or its roots are growing out of the drainage holes, those are pretty big clues that it’s time for a new pot for your snake plant.

Some snake plant owners will repot as frequently as two years while others will go about six years before repotting. Keep your eyes peeled for the above signs that your snake plant has outgrown its home and only repot it then.

When you do go to repot the snake plant, you want to take your hand and grip it firmly around the leaf base, which is closer to the soil. Do not hold the leaves at the top of the plant or you could cause them stress. There’s also the possibility you could accidentally pull the leaves out, which wouldn’t be good. When you’re holding onto the right part of your snake plant, pull up. Your snake plant should be free from its pot. You can then repot it somewhere bigger.

How to Get Snake Plants to Grow Straight

In all the pictures you see of a snake plant, its leaves look stick-straight and beautiful. However, your own snake plant hasn’t exactly grown straight. Some of the leaves are angled while others are even bordering on sideways. Why does this happen and how do you straighten the leaves?

The taller the snake plant cultivar, the more common it is to see tipping or leaning leaves. This is perfectly normal as long as the leaves aren’t also yellow, crispy, or otherwise unhealthy. The issue is also quite fixable.

What some indoor gardeners do is choose a slightly deeper pot for their snake plant. Then, the pot acts as the support structure for the houseplant to hold itself steady. If you just repotted your snake plant and don’t want to turn around and do it again, you can also use mini trellises in the soil around your houseplant. These support structures will encourage straighter growth.

Common Snake Plant Afflictions and How to Treat Them

To wrap up, we thought we’d talk about the problems you may have with your snake plant. A lot of these issues have happened to every indoor gardener at some time or another. If you catch a problem early enough, it’s possible to fix it. We’ll tell you how to do that as well.

Funguses

If you don’t watch your snake plant temperature or how often you water it, then a slew of fungal conditions can afflict the houseplant. You can generally tell it’s a fungal issue if your snake plant has a growth that looks like a spider’s web (it will be white, too) or lesions that sink in. The leaves can also turn brown or even red. These symptoms are indicative of red leaf spot and/or southern blight.

By keeping the temperatures where we recommend them (remember, the snake plants’ temp requirements differ by day and night), watering only when necessary, and not wetting the leaves, it’s possible to prevent fungal infections.

As for treating a preexisting case of plant fungus, you can try solutions like sulfur dust, baking soda, water and skim milk (nine parts to one part), or water and hydrogen peroxide (nine parts to one part). Please make sure you only use the three-percent kind of hydrogen peroxide, though!

Leaf Scarring

You should know by now that the snake plant has some pretty delicate leaves. They can scar, and irreversibly so, if the houseplant is exposed to too much cold weather. Given that you’re growing your snake plant indoors, there’s a much lower likelihood of leaf scarring. That said, you again have to watch your indoor temps both day and night. Never let them get lower than 50 degrees.

Root Rot

Ah yes, the classic root rot is one of the biggest killers of snake plants. You must use soil with good drainage for this houseplant or water can get trapped and oversaturate the roots. Also, make  

sure you avoid watering too often. The soil test, which we described at the beginning of this guide, will be your best friend.

To save your snake plant, repotting it with fresh, less wet soil or potting mix is the way to go. Should the roots get too mushy, though, your plant may be a goner.

Related Questions

Do snake plants get pests? If so, which ones?

There are a lot of great things about snake plants, but they don’t come pest-free. Spider mites and mealybugs love the long, attractive leaves of the snake plant. They’ll try to make this houseplant’s pot their new home, munching on the leaves.

If you notice spider mites, this is the only time it’s okay to get the snake plant’s leaves a little wet. By dabbing a cloth in warm water and maybe mixing in a little dish soap, you should remove all mites from the houseplant. Do make sure you dry the leaves immediately so they don’t rot.

What if it’s mealybugs that have infested your snake plant? A touch of alcohol, even a drop, should kill them or at least ward them off.

Why should you rotate your snake plant’s pot?

Earlier in this guide, we talked about the lighting requirements for your snake plant. It needs indirect yet bright light. If you put your houseplant pot a good distance from a window, only the front of the plant is going to get light, correct?

Indeed. That’s why many indoor gardeners recommend that you rotate the pot about a quarter turn every now and again. This way, all sides of your snake plant get the adequate light they need. How frequently should you turn the pot? About as often as you water the plant, so every two to six weeks.

Should you trim or cut the leaves of your snake plant?

With some houseplants, you can trigger fresh growth if you trim the leaves or stems. Is the snake plant one of them? No, it isn’t. When you cut the leaves of this indoor plant, new ones won’t appear in their place. If anything, doing more than incredibly sporadic trimming can hurt your houseplant rather than help it. You’ll slow down the snake plant’s growth considerably.

So now that you’ve read this entire post on the snake plant, I hope you feel like you have a much better idea of how to care for them. Personally I’ve found the snake plant to be a great addition to my indoor garden and I highly recommend buying or propagating one for yourself. It’s brought me joy for years and with some luck and following my own suggestions above, it’ll be bringing me joy for many years to come.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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