Snake plant: A care and troubleshooting guide

Learn how to keep your snake plant looking sharp and lush all year round.

Stylish green plants in pots plant nurseries in kl

The next big thing in instagrammable houseplants – the humble snake plant! ©sonjachnyj | 123rf

A common and extremely lovable indoor plant, the snake plant (sansevieria trifasciata), also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue (for its sharp leaves) is one of the latest trends for millennial house plant enthusiasts.

Aside from its distinctively unique architecture, it is also a very tough and tolerant plant with a straightforward, easy-care routine and is not the slightest bit fussy. You don’t even need a green thumb for this. Its sword-like leaves are smooth and stiff, so much so that it is known as ‘bowstring hemp’ in countries where its tough fibres were once used to make bowstrings.

It also comes in 70 unique varieties and the snake plant is said to have air pollutant filtering qualities that are great for improving indoor air by absorbing absorb benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.

In fact, the snake plant is an ideal bedroom plant. We know that most plants release carbon dioxide at night, but the Sansevieria continue to produce oxygen at night. This plant has also been used to cure Sick Building Syndrome, thanks to its constant supply of oxygen. It is no wonder why it’s become a favourite amongst both novice and long-time houseplant owners.

However, do note that it is mildly toxic and should be kept away from curious children and pets.

Despite being a tolerant plant, it is still essential to give it the best care possible to ensure your snake plant grows and stays healthy for many years.

Which snake plant is best?

To answer simply, it really depends on what your preference is. The most common snake plant variety is the sansevieria trifasciata, which are mainly green-yellow leaves but have cultivars with different colours or even curly leaves. Another popular one is the sansevieria cylindrica which has fat, rounded leaves that can reach up to 6 feet tall. Or what about the sansevieria masoniana, also known as the whale’s fin as it has broad, paddle-shaped leaves that grow up to four feet in length. Take a trip to your local nursery and you may find some interesting varieties in colours like moonshine, golden hahnii, and so on.

Read more: How to grow and care for aloe vera plants

What is the best pot and soil to use for snake plants?

snake plant

Always water sparingly, snake plants can thrive on neglect © Kristijan Aranjos | 123rf

They do best in clay/terra cotta pots which allow the soil to dry out quickly as compared to plastic pots. And do ensure that the pots have drainage holes. The plants enjoy a drier environment so a quick-draining soil, like the ones used for cacti/succulents, would work best.

How often should I water snake plant? 

Overwatering is a common problem when it comes to these indoor plants as they detest soggy soil. However, it’s great news for those looking for minimal maintenance houseplant. Water it thoroughly every 10-14 days. Depending on the airflow in your environment, you can determine how dry the soil is by sticking your finger or a chopstick about a few inches deep. That will determine the amount of water needed and how often. It is also best to water from the bottom, by placing the pot in a bowl of water for 30 minutes until it has absorbed enough water. This encourages the roots to grow downwards, therefore, further stabilising the plant.

How much sun does a snake plant need? 

Despite snake plants being lauded for withstanding full sun and handle low-light conditions, that’s just a quicker way to shorten its lifespan. Find a place with bright, indirect sunlight conditions – a kitchen windowsill, by the balcony sliding door or even up on a living room shelf. These flowering plants are also known to produce various coloured flowers in optimum settings. Keep it in a nice, warm area without any direct air drafts and your plant should be happily settled. Do note that most sansevieria have large green leaves that collect dust and would require wiping down with a damp cloth once in a while.

Does snake plant need fertiliser? 

Remember how we said that they are not fussy? It’s true because snake plants don’t require any fertilisation at all if you prefer not to, but this would mean that they would stay relatively the same way for quite some time. Therefore, if you’re looking to grow your plant larger or have a more lush pot, then applying any basic plant fertiliser once a month would be good enough. If you use slow-release fertilisers (comes in the form of little round balls), then you may only need to apply it once every 2-3 months as these fertilisers will take some time to degrade.

How to propagate a snake plant?

snake plant

Treat them well, and they can last for many years to come © piksel | 123rf

Of course! Snake plants grow from rhizomes that are underground and the easiest way is to divide the plant to get more plants. If you’re propagating by division, you will need to dig the entire plant out to ensure the divisions each have a good amount of root and rhizome attached. Another way is through cutting at the rhizome stem without having to dig out the entire plant. Cut the whitish-grey rhizome stem which has a few leaves attached with a sharp knife. Let the cut ‘heal’ and dry out for 24 hours before putting it into the soil.

Lastly, it is also possible to propagate via leaf cuttings. Do note that it’s not as easy to be successful with this method compared to the first two mentioned above. But if you’re game to try, grab a nice and healthy leaf about 6 inches long. Cut the leaf into two equal parts, horizontally – and remember which side of the leaf is facing up and which is rootside down. Leave them out for the cut areas to dry and heal. Then, place the cuttings rootside down into damp soil and keep to your regular watering schedule. The green leaves will stop growing but instead, a new leaf ‘pup’ will emerge at the side of each, giving you a fresh new plant.

Read more: How to grow succulents in 3 quick steps

Why is my snake plant dying?

  1. Root rot issues

When it comes to sansevieria, there is only ever one main issue as mentioned above – overwatering. If you ever notice your plant going limp, turning yellow or becoming mushy, it is a sign of root rot caused by the soil being too waterlogged and the roots unable to breathe. In this case, you need to take it out of the pot to assess the damage to the roots. Remove the mushy/black root parts and pot it into fresh, well-draining soil. Let it sit for a few days before watering it sparingly, and in no time, your snake plant will be back on its feet!

  1. Pests like mealybugs or spider mites

The second reason for a dying sansevieria is pests. These two pests are the bane of all houseplant lovers. They sneak in quietly and can end up decimating an entire array of plants in one swift swoop. Mealybugs are cottony and white, so they are pretty easy to spot on your dark green snake plants. Spider mites, on the other hand, are much, much tinier and are usually only known when there are tiny webs all over the plant, signalling an infestation. 

These pests can cause stunted growth or yellowing in plants (further confusing you making you think you may have overwatered it) if not treated. They destroy plants by sucking on the leaf/stem’s juices while laying eggs and producing sweet nectar that attracts ants. Ants work to protect these pests in return for the nectar, so seeing ants around your plant is a sure sign of pest infestations. In this case, treatment requires some constant wiping down with diluted rubbing alcohol and a blast of insecticidal soap. It may take about 2 weeks of waging wars before you can finally rid yourself of them, so be vigilant and check your plant weekly.

We hope you enjoyed this guide and that you will be inspired to start your sansevieria collection. Remember, although they are low maintenance and virtually indestructible, they would still require a little TLC from time to time.

If you’re looking to grow indoor plants like zz plants, peace lilies and spider plants, click here to find out how.