Plant profiles: Sansevieria (snake plant)

A grouping of a variety of Sansevieria species and cultivars. 

A grouping of a variety of Sansevieria species and cultivars. 

Sansevierias are almost so easy that they don't even need their own care profile. They made the #1 slot on my list of Ten Easy Houseplants for Beginners (which you can read here), but not giving them their own blog post would be doing this uber-hardy plant a disservice. I know very few houseplant hobbyists - from beginners to experienced alike - that don't have at least one variety of Sansevieria! With so many species and varieties, it's likely you'll find one you like that fits your style. Sanseverias go by a few nicknames, the most common being "snake plant" due to their upright leaves that have an almost leathery, scaly texture. It's also known as a bowstring hemp plant and somewhat offensively as a mother-in-law's tongue! Sansevierias hale from tropical Africa and are technically succulents due to their fleshy foliage that stores water and makes them extra drought-tolerant. 

The Sansevieria's leaves are dramatic and architectural, making them a favorite of interior designers and landscapers alike. They look great grouped with soft feathery plants like asparagus ferns (Asparagus setaceus) and training vines like golden pothos (Epipremnum aurem). The most classic species are Sanseveieria trifasciata and S. trifasciata 'Laurentii', the latter of which is edged in yellow or cream. Some trending species I see often on social media are S. masoniana (whale fin snake plant) and S. cylindrica - both of which are unique and striking, and becoming increasingly harder to find due to demand!

While it's true that snake plants are nearly "indestructible" and can withstand a variety of environments and care routines without fuss, there are some best practices to help your Sansevieria lead a long, healthy life. Read on for more! 

  Sansevieria trifasciata  ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ can grow up to 3’ y’all! 

 Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ can grow up to 3’ y’all! 

Lighting: Sansevierias are often marketed as "low light" plants, which isn’t necessarily accurate. Outdoors, they can be acclimated to full sun or shade, and indoors they'll be happy in a sunny southern window or a lower light north window. Bright, indirect light is always best, however. Keep in mind, more light = faster growth. It's a common misconception that snake plants are slow growers - they will grow like weeds in proper light. It's the low light that stunts proper growth! I often see Sansevierias placed in dark corners and windowless bathrooms, which makes me cringe. Try to avoid banishing them to dark areas, which will eventually lead to a long, drawn-out death. Given the proper light, Sansevierias will produce columns of pale, sweet-smelling flowers as well!

Watering: Less is best with Sansevierias! During growing season, water when the plant's potting medium is almost completely dried down (just like you would any other succulent). Always keep in mind that light placement determines how often you'll water. A snake plant in full sun will dry out much quicker than one in a shady area! In the winter, cut back water significantly: about every 4-8 weeks. The easiest and most common way to kill a Sansevieria is by overwatering it. 

Humidity + temp: Snake plants tolerate dry air quite easily and don't need any additional humidity. However, they aren't cold hardy plants and won't tolerate temperatures below 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit for very long. 

  Sansevieria  ‘Fernwood Mikado’ is a compact hybrid with slim, point leaves. 

 Sansevieria ‘Fernwood Mikado’ is a compact hybrid with slim, point leaves. 

Soil + fertilizer: In reality, Sansevierias are so robust that they'll grow in almost any potting medium. But if you want to give your snake plant the best environment, a well-draining soil is key. You can use any cacti/succulent mix pre-made, or add sand and small pebbles to amend a standard potting soil. Also make sure the pot has drainage holes - a snake plant hates nothing more than "wet feet." During growing season, feed your snake plant with a balanced fertilizer about once a month. Cease fertilizing all together during winter. 

Repotting: You won't have to repot your Sansevieria often! They grow quite well in a tightly-fitting pot and you don't have to think about repotting until the roots either warp or crack the pot. I personally prefer terra cotta or unglazed ceramic pots for my snake plants, as they help to wick away excess water from the roots. 

  Sansevieria  ‘Moonshine’ is a slightly more compact variety that adds a pop of mint green! It also looks great in terra cotta. 

 Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’ is a slightly more compact variety that adds a pop of mint green! It also looks great in terra cotta. 

Common problems: As I mentioned above, overwatering is going to be the biggest culprit and lead to root rot or base rot. The base of the leaves will become black/dark brown and mushy. If this is the case, cut the leaf with clean sharp shears just above the rot. That leaf can be propagated & you can cut away the rest of the rotting base.  

Sometimes leaves will grow quite tall and begin to flop over, which is normal. You can embrace the wild look or prune the floppy leaves and propagate them.  

Common pests are spider mites, mealybugs, and scale, which love to feast on the Sansevieria's juicy, succulent leaves! Since snake plants are often subject to neglect, it’s easy for plant owners to not notice beginning stages of pests before it’s too late. Check the plant weekly for any possible pests and wipe down with a damp cloth to keep the leaves dust-free. 

Propagation: The easiest way to propagate your snake plant is by dividing the pups/offsets that are produced. You can use a sharp knife to separate the roots and place the pup into it's own pot. Single leaves have also been known to produce roots from the bottom where they were cut.