How to Grow and Care for Snake Plants
Dracaena trifasciata, commonly known as the snake plant, is one of the most popular and hardy species of houseplants. Up until 2017, it was botanically classified as Sansevieria trifasciata, but its commonalities with Dracaena species were too many to overlook. The plant features stiff, sword-like leaves and can range anywhere from six inches to eight feet tall. Snake plants can vary in color although many have green-banded leaves and commonly feature a yellow border. These plants are easy to grow and, in many cases, are nearly indestructible. They will thrive in very bright light or almost dark corners of the house. Snake plants generally grow slowly in indoor light, but increasing its exposure to light will boost growth if it receives a few hours of direct sun. Planting and repotting is best done in the spring.
Snake Plant Care
Snake plant is an ideal choice for beginner gardeners because it is difficult to kill. It's great in a container and grows well on the floor or on tabletop displays. Snake plant thrives in warm weather and struggles in cold conditions. This plant is drought-resistant but is susceptible to overwatering which lead to root rot.2 Only water the plant if the soil feels dry. These plants can go two months between waterings in the winter months. In warmer months, water no more than every two weeks.
Snake plants prefer indirect but steady light with some direct sun. They can adapt to full sun conditions and will also survive dimly lit situations.
Snake plants prefer a loose, well-drained potting mix. This plant will do well in sandier soils. Use a potting media low in peat content. Peat works well in many situations, but it can become tightly packed and sometimes has problems rehydrating or draining. An all-purpose cactus potting soil is a good choice.
Let the soil dry between waterings. During the winter, reduce watering to monthly, or whenever the soil is dry to the touch. Err on the side of under-watering; too much water can harm the plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Snake plants prefer warm conditions and will suffer if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the plant in a place where it will be protected from drafts. A temperature range between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit is best. Frost will kill this plant.
Feed with a mild cactus fertilizer during the growing season or a balanced liquid slow-release 10-10-10 fertilizer or a 20-20-20 fertilizer diluted to half strength. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Using sterile pruning shears, scissors, or a sharp knife, remove leaves at the soil line or cut off damaged or mature leaves to encourage new growth. The best time to prune is during the growing season—usually spring or summer. You can prune during the off-season, but because pruning can stress out a plant, it is best to do it when the plant is in a growing period. To control the height of your snake plant, remove the tallest leaves. Also, remove any leaves that are marred. Removing leaves spurs new leaf growth.
Propagating Snake Plants
It's best to propagate during the growing season in the spring or summer. Dracaena plants can be divided easily during repotting if the plant is at least four inches tall. Alternatively, new shoots might emerge from the soil and can be potted independently. You can also propagate snake plants via cuttings. Follow these instructions for both methods.
Propagate via root division:
- Gather a sharp knife, a clean pot, and cactus potting soil.
- Pull the root ball out of the old pot and place the plant on a flat surface. Using your hand, gently brush away the soil from the root structure or rhizome.
- Using the sharp knife, divide the plant into sections, making sure the roots for each section remain intact. Cutting through the plant will not kill the plant.
- Replant the new snake plant sections into a clean pot with cactus potting soil.
- Water it and place it in a partly sunny location.
Propagate new offshoots:
- If you notice any new pups or baby offshoots that the plant has developed, you can plant those separately.
- As with root division, you'll need a sharp knife, a clean pot, and cactus potting soil.
- Pull the root ball out of the pot, locate the offshoot's root, cut off the pup and plant the cut root end in the cactus potting soil.
- Water it and place it in a location with indirect bright light.
- Using sterilized scissors, a sharp knife, or pruning shears, slice off a long, healthy leaf from your snake plant.
- Root the leaf cutting in water by placing it in a clean jar of water, submerging the cut end. Place it in a partially sunny spot and look for root growth.
- Every few days, top off the water, keeping it level. Every two weeks, dump the old water and refill with clean water to inhibit bacterial or algae growth.
- Once roots develop at least an inch long, plant the root end in a well-draining cactus potting mix.
- Water it and place it in a partially sunny spot.
Optionally, you can skip the water rooting method. After cutting a healthy leaf from your plant, allow the cut end to callous over for 24 hours, and then pot it, cut-end down, in the cactus potting mix. It is a slow-growing plant, so it could take two months before you notice new growth.
Common Pests and Diseases
Snake plants are susceptible to many common houseplant pests such as scales, gnats, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies.3 You can avoid an insect invasion if you keep your plant healthy. Insects usually attack a plant when it suffers from environmental issues like incorrect water levels, humidity, and air circulation. If you notice insects on your plant, remove the insects by picking them off, by using a gentle spray of water, or with an organic neem oil to keep the insects at bay.