Growing Mother in Law's Tongue Plant

Also called the snake plant, Mother in Law’s Tongue (Dracaena trifasciata) is one of the most hardy and easy to grow houseplants, able to survive a wide range of conditions, fluctuating temperatures, and inconsistent watering.

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The snake plant has long, sword-shaped leaves with light green bands that can grow up to 40 inches. Some varieties also have a yellow border on their leaves. Due to its hardiness and easy maintenance, it is an ideal plant for beginners. Snake plants remove toxins such as nitrogen oxides from the atmosphere, making them great for improving air quality. 

 

Scientific Name

Dracaena trifasciata (formerly Sansevieria trifasciata

Common Names

Snake plant, viper's bowstring hemp, St. George's sword

Sun Exposure

Shade to partial sun

Soil Type

Sandy, well-drained 

Soil pH

6 – 7 

Height

Up to 40 in 

Origin

West Africa

Hardiness Zones

9 – 11 

Types of Snake Plant

There are many different cultivars of snake plants to choose from. Below are a couple of them and their properties. 

Types of Snake Plant | Vego Garden

  • Dracaena trifasciata ‘Golden Hahnii’ - The golden hahnii snake plant was patented in 1941 and accredited to a botanist known only as Hahn. Due to its compact, golden leaves, it is also known as bird’s nest snake plant. It only grows to about 6 inches tall, making it ideal for apartments and limited spaces.
  • Dracaena trifasciata ‘Moonshine’ - This beautiful plant has unusual, silvery leaves with dark green margins that will darken in the shade. 
  • Dracaena trifasciata 'Laurentii' - This snake plant is a popular variety sold in stores. It has cylindrical, bright yellow leaf margins with variegated gray-green stripes. It is propagated from divisions rather than leaf cuttings. 

Light Requirements: Snake plants prefer bright but indirect sunlight. If placed in low-light conditions, the foliage will fade and grow slower. While it can tolerate direct sunlight, it should not be exposed for an extended period of time or the leaves will burn. The ideal location is 3 – 6 feet away from a window that gets plenty of sun. 

Soil: Snake plants prefer loose, well-draining soil that is sandy in composition. Since snake plants are a type of succulent, cactus soil can be used. Consider mixing it with up to 30% potting soil to add nutrients. If your soil does not drain well, add pumice or perlite to improve drainage. You can also experiment and create your own soil mix by adding the following:

  • 1 part garden soil or potting mix 
  • 1 part peat moss or coconut noir 
  • 2 parts perlite or coarse sand 

While peat moss helps absorb moisture, it can become tightly packed and have problems rehydrating or draining. You should opt for coconut noir when making your own soil mixture. 

Watering requirements: These plants do not require a lot of water. The soil should be mostly dry before watering. It is better to underwater than to overwater it, which can lead to root rot. Reduce the watering frequency to once a month during the winter. Since it prefers humidity, it makes a great addition to a bathroom. 

Fertilizing: Although snake plants do not require fertilizing, you can fertilize them if you want them to grow faster. They only need to be fertilized during the growing season, which is once during the spring and once during the summer. Do not fertilize them during the winter or fall. Apply a mild cactus fertilizer or a balanced liquid slow release diluted down to 50%.

Pruning, Propagation, and Repotting

Snake plants can be planted from seeds, but this is not recommended as they have a low germination rate, and are easier to propagate using other methods. To grow from a seed, fill a 3-inch pot with a well-draining potting mix and sprinkle the seeds on top of it. Place it in a sunny location and cover the pot with a plastic wrap. Remove the plastic covering once seedlings start to grow. Repot the plant once it is 3 – 4 inches tall. 

To prune your snake plant, use a sterilized cutting instrument to remove browned or damaged leaves. If you see the tips turning brown, cut off the entire leaf as it will not grow back. It is best to prune during the growing season as pruning can stress it out. 

Like with pruning, the snake plant should be propagated during the growing season during summer or spring. There are several methods to propagate it which are discussed below. Division is often used when you want to keep the variegated quality of your plant, which reverts to green leaves when propagated through leaf cuttings. 

Since snake plants are slow growing, they do not need to be replanted often. The ideal time to replant them is during the spring. You can use potting soil, cactus potting soil, or a mixture to increase drainage. An indicator that it needs transplanting is when you notice roots creeping through the drainage holes of your pot. If they are in plastic containers, the container may become deformed. 

pruning propagation and repotting of snake plants | Vego Garden

If the plant starts to become crowded, you can repot it by transplanting it to a wider pot. Remove the plant and gently set the root ball into a new pot that is one to two inches wider. If you notice a mass of roots circling the root ball, then use a knife to slice through them and loosen them. Fill the pot with soil. Since snake plants do not need to be immediately watered after planting, unless it is extremely dry, you should wait a couple of days before watering it. 

By splitting or division:

  1. Remove the plant from the pot and place it on a flat surface. Remove the soil from its root structure or rhizome. Rhizomes are modified stems running underground from which roots sprout.
  1. Use a knife and cut the plant into sections. You can also pull apart the rhizomes by the roots. 
  1. Place the sections in a new pot and cover the roots with soil. Depending on the size of your pot, you can place one rhizome in a pot, or several together in a large pot. 
  1. Mist with water and place in a partially sunny location. 

By leaf cutting: 

  1. Cut off a large piece of leaf close to the base of the snake plant. 
  1. Place the cut end in a pot of soil and water. 
  1. You can also submerge it in a jar of water. Place it in a partially sunny spot and wait for roots to form. Every two weeks, pour out the old water and refill with fresh water to inhibit the growth of algae or bacteria. 
  1. Pot it in soil once the roots reach at least an inch long. 

Some Considerations and Issues

Snake plants are poisonous if ingested, especially by cats and dogs. Make sure to place your plants in a location that cannot be reached by your pets.  

Growing Mother in Law's Tongue Plant

Many problems can be attributed to watering. If the leaves are curling, then it is possible that they are experiencing a thrip infection. Examine the leaves for any tiny black spots, using a magnifying glass if needed. Once you have confirmed that there is a thrip infestation, cut off the infected leaves and dispose of them. If the plant is severely infected, throw away the entire plant to prevent it from contaminating others. Wipe down the remaining leaves with a cotton ball or cloth using water or alcohol. 

Another common issue is root rot, which is commonly identified by rapidly yellowing leaves, brown roots, and soft, rotting stems. When this happens, cut off the rotted parts and replant the healthy cuttings in a new pot of soil. If your soil retains too much moisture, add perlite or coarse sand to the soil to improve drainage. 

Growing Snake Plants Outdoors

Snake plants can be planted outdoors if you live in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. They prefer warm temperatures ranging between 55 – 90 degrees and high humidity. They can be grown in raised containers, as edging and groundcover, and as companions for agaves and grasses. 

Growing Snake Plants Outdoors | Vego Garden

The care instructions for plants outdoors are similar to those grown indoors. While they prefer bright, indirect light, they can survive on the patio and other highly lit areas as well. As they do not need frequent watering, water when the soil is mostly dry. If you notice the leaves wilting or turning yellow, it is recommended that you water it. For the soil, you can use a well-draining, regular soil mix. 


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