If ever there was a perfect ‘beginner’s plant’ for those new to gardening, the snake plant would probably be it.
Tougher than the proverbial old boots, this super-strong succulent (also known as Sansevieria) is not only a breeze to plant, but also requires an incredibly small amount of maintenance, meaning it’ll continue to thrive even if you completely forget about it.
So, if you’re not certain whether gardening is for you, or if you’re looking to liven up your outdoor space but know you won’t have the time to commit to regular maintenance, the ever-hardy Sansevieria is a great place to start.
But exactly how do you grow a snake plant for your garden? What are the optimum conditions to ensure your new plant flourishes, and what on earth has all this got to do with your mother-in-law anyway?
Today, we’ll answer all of those questions and then some in this complete guide to planting Sansevieria in your garden.
- Snake Plants – A Beginner’s Guide
- How to Propagate a Snake Plant
- How to Grow a Snake Plant in Your Garden
- What Kind of Soil do Snake Plants Like?
- Watering Your Mother-in-Law’s Tongue Plant
- How to Tell if Your Snake Plant Needs Watering
- How Much Sunlight Does a Snake Plant Need?
- Different Types of Snake Plant
- The Benefits of Snake Plants
- Common Snake Plant Problems
- Snake Plant Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thought: Growing Indoor Plants Outdoors
Snake Plants – A Beginner’s Guide
If you’re the type of person who enjoys the soft, delicate nature and pretty colors of flowers, the snake plant might not be for you.
The sharp, pointed edges of its leaves have earned this unique plant the somewhat contentious nickname of “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue,” while the yellow border of its stiff, bold green leaves combine to create a strong, almost brash appearance.
Yet this commanding presence is also part of the Asparagaceae family, the Sansevieria trifasciata serves as a captivating focal point in any garden, especially when planted among ferns, spider plants, and other succulents.
Native to West Africa, snake plants are also commonly used as houseplants to add a tropical touch to indoor spaces.
Despite their African origins, snake plants are perhaps best associated with Asia, where the ancient Chinese famously revered them, believing that they represented the virtues of the Eight Immortals of Chinese mythology and would thus attract those virtues (long life, prosperity, intelligence, beauty, art, poetry, health, and strength) into the homes of anyone who owned one.
While there’s no guarantee that planting a Sansevieria will bring about such virtuous qualities, we can promise that these long-lasting plants do have plenty of tangible benefits, including being one of the easiest-to-pot plants you’ll ever come across.
How to Propagate a Snake Plant
A simple pair of pruning shears will prove helpful when propagating your snake plant.
Now that we’ve been fully acquainted with Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, it’s time to plant one of our own, starting with propagation.
There are two basic approaches to this:
1: With leaf cuttings
2: By dividing the rhizomes
Many gardening experts recommend the latter as the best way to propagate a snake plant as this is generally the fastest way to get a new plant.
However, using leaf cuttings can still produce excellent results providing you take care to do it right, so let’s take a closer look at each method:
Propagating Snake Plants with Cuttings
If you followed our recent guide to planting aloe vera, this technique should seem very familiar to you.
Use a sharp, clean knife to take a cutting from an existing snake plant, then leave it in a dry place to callus over for a few days.
Once the callus has formed, it’s essential that you plant the cut end into the soil. If you plant the tip of the leaf into the soil then your plant simply won’t grow.
Propagating Snake Plants by Division
These plants grow from a thick stem called a rhizome which serves as a base for the whole plant, growing horizontally under the ground and sending out various roots and shoots.
The easiest way to get a new plant is to simply break this base apart into separate roots and replant them.
A pair of good quality pruning shears will come in handy here as rhizomes can put up a good fight when you come to divide them.
In most cases, it should be enough to divide the plant into two and plant each one separately, but if the parent plant has been growing for some time then it may have huge clumps of rhizomes which all need dividing up.
As a general guide, three rhizomes and one healthy leaf are usually sufficient to grow a new snake plant.
How to Grow a Snake Plant in Your Garden
Strong and vibrant snake plant leaves like these occur when your plant has the right amount of water, light, and free-draining soil mix.
Of course, if you don’t have a source plant to propagate from, then you can always buy a snake plant from a gardening center or online store and repot it in your garden.
Whichever approach you decide to take, your new plant will flourish best when given just the right amount of light and water, as well as the right kind of soil mix in which to grow.
What Kind of Soil do Snake Plants Like?
As with all succulents, a free-draining soil mix is vital to the growth of a healthy snake plant.
Purpose-made solutions like Hoffman’s popular 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix work perfectly for this, though you could get away with planting in general potting soil providing you treat it correctly by adding in some coarse sand.
Alternatively, a soil amendment like perlite, a volcanic rock-based additive will work instead of sand.
As a general rule of thumb, it pays to err on the side of excess when creating your potting mix. In other words, it’s always better to have too much drainage than too little. If you overdo it and your plant starts drying out too quickly, then adding a little sphagnum moss can help with that.
Watering Your Mother-in-Law’s Tongue Plant
A Sansevieria requires so little water that you’ll get more use out of your watering can as a plant pot.
If there’s one thing that makes Sansevieria Trifasciata such a perfect beginner plant, it’s that they require very little watering.
This is especially true if you’re growing them out in your garden, where rain and natural moisture will see to it that your plant gets all the water it needs.
In the winter months especially, you should find that you don’t need to water your plant any more than once a month.
For the rest of the year, once every few weeks should be enough.
If you only take one thing away from today’s guide, make it this:
A snake plant will be pretty happy in just about any environment, but it absolutely hates being over-watered. In fact, it’s often said that the only thing capable of killing it is too much water.
How to Tell if Your Snake Plant Needs Watering
The quickest and easiest way to tell if it’s time to reach for the watering can is to touch the soil.
If it’s all dried out, that’s a pretty good sign that it could do with a dash or two of water.
If it’s still moist to the touch you can leave it well alone.
If you’re still not certain, one nifty little hack you can use is to check your garden rain barrel. If there’s plenty of water in there, that’s a good sign that it’s been raining enough to keep your Mother-in-Law’s tongue happy. If it’s all but empty, go get that watering can.
How Much Sunlight Does a Snake Plant Need?
These resilient plants are known for being fairly flexible when it comes to sunlight.
They typically prefer a steady amount of indirect sunlight which makes them a great choice if you’re looking to add plants to a shaded area of your garden such as near a wall or in a patio area with a pergola.
That said, if you choose to put them out in the middle of your garden in direct contact with full sunlight, they’ll always find a way to adapt and continue growing.
Likewise, if there’s an area of your garden that receives very natural light, a Sansevieria will get comfortable there too, and can actually serve to brighten up that otherwise dull space.
Different Types of Snake Plant
Sometimes known as ‘rhino grass’ for the distinct shape of its leaves, this Sansevieria Desertii is just one of several types of snake plant.
Although we’ve used the name ‘snake plant’ to refer to a single plant throughout this guide, it’s important to mention that there are actually a variety of different cultivars of the Sansevieria trifasciata plant.
On the face of it, there isn’t much of a difference in terms of how to grow them. All of the advice about light, water and soil mix that we’ve given you above works just as well for rhino grass (Sansevieria Desertii) as it does for a Bantel’s Sensation.
However, it still pays to know the difference as each cultivar has its own individual look.
As such, you may want to opt for a particular type of snake plant to create a certain aesthetic in your garden, or mix and match to create a one-of-a-kind effect.
Overall, there are 70 different varieties of snake plant. These are some of the most common:
Sansevieria Trifasciata Laurentii
When most people think of the snake plant, it’s usually the Laurentii variety they think of.
It’s tall, dark-green leaves are trimmed with the yellow-gold edge which gives the plant its name.
Though best known as a houseplant, Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii will grow well in your garden, particularly in shaded areas.
Sansevieria Hahnii (Bird’s Nest Snake Plant)
The shortest variety of Sansevieria, the Bird’s Nest Snake Plant only grows to around six inches in height.
Yet while it might not have the same formidable presence a say a Laurentii or a Cylindrica, it’s actually one of the best types of snake plants to grow in your garden, especially if you live in warmer locations like Florida or Arizona.
Combined with other smaller succulents like lithops, the Bird’s Nest will make an attractive garden border or add some color to a rockery or similar garden feature.
Yet it isn’t just their appearance that makes the Hahnii such a good garden succulent.
This plant thrives in hot, dry environments, and will even flourish in poor soil.
If you live in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, this will make a wonderful addition to your outdoor space.
Also known as the cylinder snake plant, Sansevieria Cylindrica is one of the more interesting-looking varieties of Sansevieria.
While the leaves of other varieties tend to grow fat and wide, this one features leaves that tend to grow round and narrow, creating a look not too dissimilar to bamboo.
Some people like to plait fully-grown Sansevieria Cylindrica leaves together to create complex designs that serve as an interesting talking point in their garden, though in our estimation, the plant looks just stunning just as it is.
Sansevieria Trifasciata Twisted Sister (Twisted Sister Snake Plant)
Sometimes referred to as a ‘Golden Twist,’ the Twisted Sister Snake Plant is instantly recognized by its twisting leaves which often have a tiger-stripe quality about them and the same golden edges found on the Laurentii.
Whereas some plants prefer low to moderate lighting, the Twisted Sister likes nothing more than to show off in the sunshine, with its yellow and green colors proving to be their most vivid in brighter lights.
Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’
If you’re looking for a plant that will really stand out in your garden, then ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ is the way to go.
Its leaves are typically between one and two inches thick, and in the right climate will shoot up, tall and erect, to over three feet in height.
The noticeable white vertical stripes which grow the full length of those leaves give the ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ its other popular name, White Sansevieria.
Though this one prefers to be a house plant, it may also grow small, sweet-smelling white flowers when placed outside during the spring and summer months.
The Benefits of Snake Plants
Snake plants like this one have been proven to improve air quality, creating a compelling argument for bringing your plant out of the garden and into the home
Besides adding an exotic look to your home or garden, the main benefit of snake plants is that it proves incredibly useful in improving air quality.
Back in 1989, NASA carried out a Clean Air Study to find ways of reducing air pollutants within their space stations.
The study found that snake plants were effective in removing benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, resulting in much cleaner air.
Later, a joint study between the Institute for Environmental Research at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea and the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia confirmed Sansevieria’s ability to clean the air of formaldehyde and benzene.
Mother-in-Law’s Tongue is also rare in that it’s one of only a small number of plants that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during the night.
As such, you may want to consider bringing your snake plant out of the garden and into the bedroom, where it can improve the quality of airflow and promote a better night’s sleep.
Common Snake Plant Problems
Sansevieria is easy to maintain, but can still suffer with problems like root rot and infestations.
Although it’s one of the most resilient plants you’ll ever encounter, Mother-In-Law’s Tongue isn’t exactly invincible.
There are still a few problems you may need to keep an eye on, including:
Root rot is by far the most frequently occurring problem with snake plants. 99.99% of the time, it is caused by simple over-watering.
It’s usually pretty easy to tell if your plant has root rot. If its leaves are droopy and wilting, that’s a clear sign that something is wrong.
Fortunately, snake plants tend to make a full recovery, so there’s no need to worry just yet.
If you suspect your plant has root rot, remove it from its container and cut off any dead or dying leaves. Then, simply leave it to dry thoroughly before repotting in fresh soil.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, there is a chance that the water is caused by inadequate lighting.
Though your Sansevieria doesn’t need much light, it does need *some*. Leaving it in a dark area for too long will cause similar kinds of problems to overwatering, so consider moving it to an area with a little more light.
Thrips, spider mites, and mealybugs are attracted to snake plants and feed off the sap.
As you can imagine, this weakens the plant and causes leaf shedding.
Again, this is an easy problem to solve.
First, completely remove any infected leaves and get rid of them so that they don’t infect your other plants.
Then, gently wipe down the remaining plants with a cloth or damp cotton ball. Some gardeners recommend dabbing the cloth or cotton ball in alcohol first.
On the other hand, if your plant is heavily infected, then there may not be much of a plant left by the time you’ve removed all the infected leaves. As such, it may be best to cut your losses and get rid of the plant altogether.
Cold temperatures can result in permanent scarring of your snake plant leaves which ruins their aesthetic appeal and causes long-term damage.
So, if you’re planning to grow these plants in your garden, it’s best to do so if you live in an area where the temperature stays above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night time.
If you live in a colder climate, you’ll have better results bringing your plant indoors.
Snake Plant Frequently Asked Questions
How do I Know if My Snake Plant is Healthy?
If your snake plant is healthy, it will have fat, fleshy leaves that are rich in color.
The leaves will be strong and firm. With most varieties, the leaves will be standing tall and erect, though some may curl and twist.
If the leaves have wrinkles, if they’re wilting, or are pale in color, that likely means your plant has been over-watered and needs to dry out.
Is Snake Plant Dangerous?
Left alone in your home or garden, snake plants are harmless plants that won’t cause any problems for you or your pets.
However, they are mildly toxic when ingested.
In human beings, ingesting a snake plant is known to cause nausea and even vomiting. The poison also causes the throat to swell and tongue to numb, resulting in soreness and excess salivation.
Snake plants are more toxic to dogs and cats than to humans. Should your four-legged friend take a bite out of your plant, they’re likely to suffer from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In other words, as long as neither you nor your pets decide to eat your snake plant, you’ll all be perfectly fine.
What’s the Difference Between St. George’s Sword, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue and Viper’s Bowstring Hemp?
There isn’t one. The unique shape of Sansevieria trifasciata‘s leaves has sparked the imagination of many a gardener, leading to multiple nicknames for this distinctive plant.
Snake Plant and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue are the two most popular common names, though some people still refer to it as St. George’s Sword.
The name viper’s bowstring hemp is derived from the simple fact that it is one of the plants used to create the fibers for bowstrings.
All four names refer to the same plant.
Other names you might come across include Elephant’s Toothpick or Tiger’s Tail, the latter being the common name for Sansevieria trifasciata in China and Japan.
Final Thought: Growing Indoor Plants Outdoors
Before we leave you to start growing your own snake plants, there’s one last thing we feel is worth discussing:
Snake plants are much better known as indoor house plants.
Seriously, almost every image you’ll ever see of these plants has them sitting in attractive pot in the corner of a room, or perhaps resting on a window sill to add a little color to a kitchen area
Yet while it’s true that Mother-in-Law’s Tongue does make an attractive house plant, that’s not to say it won’t make a fantastic addition to your garden.
Whether you go for the bold, imposing look of a Laurentii or the pretty and demure style of bird’s nest, your snake plants will bring a tropical feel to your space and are guaranteed to catch the attention of visitors.
However, if you decide to grow them outdoors, you’ll need to pay extra attention to the elements. Remember that too much rainfall can damage the roots, while too much intense sunlight will mean that the leaves lose their lustre.
Keep that in mind, and you’ll have no problem creating a unique look in your garden with one of the most distinctive and easy-to-care-for plants around.
Striking, tough, and incredibly low-maintenance, growing a snake plant in your garden can be a great way to add a distinct look without a lot of work.