Snake Plant Care Tips: A Beginner's Guide To This Resilient Greenery
If you're a houseplant lover, chances are you've come across or cared for a sansevieria, otherwise known as the snake plant.
A derivative of western Africa, Madagascar, and South Asia, these twisty desert plants love heat and humidity and are incredibly resilient in indoor environments. Here, two snake plant experts—Puneet Sabharwal, the CEO of plant subscription service horti, and Gabby Santiago, lead horticulturist at Rooted—share everything you need to know about caring for these strong, slithering beauties.
Types of snake plants.
There are about 70 varieties of snake plant that differ in shape and color—all of which have slightly different care tips. Here are some of the most common:
- Black Coral: One of the tallest and darkest snake plants in color, it contains dark green leaves that appear almost black.
- Black Gold: This one has dramatic blade-like leaves with yellow edges. It's slow to grow but can last for years inside the home.
- Fernwood: This is a hybrid plant that grows out like a spider and has flowers that are sappy, sticky, and sweet. Do note: The leaves are not for consumption!
- Birds Nest: Stocky and compact, this smaller variety has light, funnel-shaped leaves.
Snake plant lighting needs.
As a general rule of thumb, most snake plants thrive in bright, indirect light. "One of the misunderstood factors is that snake plants are considered low-light variants. That's how they're usually sold," Sabharwal tells mbg.
If your snake plant isn't getting enough sunlight, it will tell you with droopy and sad-looking leaves. While you should be careful to not suddenly move your snake plant from a dark corner to a high-light environment, you can train it to grow really well next to a window that receives some brighter light. To do so, Santiago recommends gradually moving it toward your light source while keeping its humidity levels high.
Once it's closer to your window, just stay on the lookout for "sunburn." According to Santiago, "one sign of plant sunburn is a thinning leaf that's starting to blacken or brown. It'll look flimsy, and the tips get crispy."
Snake plant watering needs.
Snake plants are actually succulents, which means they store extra water in their leaves, stems, and roots and can thrive in drier environments. "If you pull snake plants out, you'll notice these giant root structures that are really thick," Sabharwal notes. "Water is stored in those root structures, and the meaty, fleshy leaves also contain a lot of water."
So this is one type of plant that can handle some breaks between waterings. One of the tricks with snake plants is to make sure their soil is completely dry to the touch before watering.
Sabharwal says one of the first things you'll notice about an overwatered snake plant is that the stem connected to the root structure starts to get soggy. "That means there's something wrong. They're very abuse-tolerant," he explains.
Snake plant soil needs.
Since snake plants tend to be slow growers, they don't usually need any fertilizer—though you will want to replace their soil every eight to 12 months to protect against root rot.
As you give your snake plant a fresh influx of soil, check to see if its roots are pressed all the way against the pot. If they are, you'll want to transfer it to a new pot that is 1 to 2 inches wider in diameter. Santiago says you shouldn't need to do this more than once every two to three years, though. (Again, snake plants are slow growers!)
Some other signs that your snake plant could use a new home are if its new leaves come out wilted before they had a chance to mature, or if older growth suddenly starts to look unhealthy and die even though your care routine hasn't changed.
Common snake plant mistakes.
Santiago and Sabharwal have both seen people make some easily avoided mistakes with their snake plants over the years. Here are a few that stick out:
Putting it next to a cold, drafty window.
For one, "you want to avoid cold drafts, or you're going to come home to a dead plant," Santiago says. "If you have your plant outside, make sure you're keeping an eye on the weather" and bring it in if temps dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Misting its leaves.
Fungal issues (called blights or leaf spots) can also happen with snake plants. They'll look like lesions or reddish-brown brown blemishes that are oozing. "People think their plant is rotting, but it's actually fungus eating away," Santiago says.
"We hear that we should mist our plants," she adds, "but snake plants do not like to have wet leaves. They live in very drought-heavy areas where overhead rain doesn't happen often—which is why they're so resilient." To avoid this, Santiago recommends staying away from spritzing and only watering the soil itself.
Letting pests get to it.
Sabharwal says that spider mites are commonly found on snake plants. To get rid of these plant pests (which will look like little white dots), he recommends making a mix of rosemary and neem oils, both of which have antifungal, antibacterial properties. You can also wipe down leaves with a damp towel and a tiny drop of dish soap.
How to propagate snake plants.
There are two main methods you can use to propagate your snake plant in soil, and they should result in new growth within four to six weeks:
Santiago has the most luck with division propagation, which is when you take a mature plant out of its pot and separate pieces off of it. "They will be connected by a very thick rhizome that looks like a root—it's not," she says. Santiago assures that this propagation method doesn't hurt the plant.
Leaf-cutting, on the other hand, requires snapping a full leaf from its root, cutting it into four or five sections, and putting each cutting into a well-draining mix of soil. Make sure to water these cuttings when their soil is dry, and keep them in bright and direct light.
Sabharwal adds that water propagation is never ideal for a snake plant. It causes its root structures to become so brittle that they have a hard time acclimating to soil again.
Snake plant toxicity.
Snake plants are actually quite toxic for pets. Santiago tells mbg that consuming the fluid inside snake plants can cause symptoms like vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and mouth pain in cats and dogs. Pets are usually smart enough to chew the plant and recognize that it's bad, but to be on the safe side, keep your snake plants out of reach of your furry friends.
The bottom line.
Snake plants are one of the most versatile and manageable houseplants out there. Letting your snake plant dry out before its next watering, refreshing the soil as needed, and keeping it away from children and pets will keep your space refreshed for many days and nights to come.
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Carly Quellman is a creative storyteller and movement enthusiast. She received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Sacramento State University after studying architectural design at University of Technology, Sydney. Carly has worked with many top publications and brands including Quoted Magazine, NBC, and Yelp.
When Carly's not covering sustainability topics, she spends her time tackling social impact issues regarding the environment & its inhabitants, practicing self-reflection (on and off the mat), and reading memoirs from Black authors. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.