Caring for Sansevieria (aka Snake Plant)

Updated on April 4, 2016


Sansevieria (commonly called Snake Plant or Mother in Laws tongue) is a very popular indoor plant for good reasons.

  • Tolerant of most light conditions.
  • Low maintenance.
  • They are slow to react to mistreatment so even when they have been cared for poorly can last for sometime with slow deterioration before becoming unsightly.
  • One of the less expensive plants found at your local greenhouse. Much cheaper than similar short floor plants in the same category like; Zamia, Aglonema, and Aspidistra.

There are things that one should know about Sans to keep them in great shape, so lets get to know this fabulous houseplant.

Look at All the Sans!

Watering & Root Structure

One of the most critical components to understand surrounding the Sansevieria is the root structure, the root structure dictates a great deal about basic care for most plants Sans are no exception.

Snake Plant has very shallow rhisomes for roots. Typically grown in very deep, 24", tall grow pots, with heavy soil, however the roots of the plant itself only go down about halfway or less into that deep pot. The pot is designed more as a counterweight than anything else for sans of 10" diameter grow pots and larger.

Rhizomal roots spread outward, they do not grow down deep. Keeping this in mind think about watering, if you are to water this plant through and leave it standing in water the standing water in the liner will most likely not get used very effectively, as a matter of fact it is not uncommon for a Sans watered in such a fashion to end up with a nice stinky liner full of stagnant water. It is possible that in a very high light and airflow situation this method might work out alright, after all there still exists some amount of capillary action in the soil that can wick that water up where it belongs if the situation calls for this. Most indoor environments do not provide high light, airflow, or temperature. When indoors best watering practice for the Sansevieria revolves around consistency.

  • Consistency in application all around the soil surface to ensure even distribution of water to the rhizomes throughout the area of the pot.
  • Consistency in the frequency of application of the water.
  • Consistency in the balance of the moisture content in the soil, not too wet, not too dry, and neither condition can exist for too long a period of time.

Aside from good watering practices, Sans don't require much else as far as regular care. It helps to wipe or dust down there sword like leaves from time to time but given the vertical disposition of their leaves they normally collect much less dust than most other houseplants. As far as pests go fungus gnats are really the only threat, and fungus gnats are usually a conditional problem that can be easily fixed with little to no real damage done to the plant itself. There are different varieties of Sans, the more compact the leaf structure on your Sans the less water the plant will use, and you may end up causing rot on really compact floret like varieties if water is left in between the leaves. water the soil surface to the very best of your ability.

Native Habitat of Sansevieria Tropical Africa

Remove Blooms

Common Problems

Sans are indeed hearty and fairly carefree but they do have some typical issues that arise, strangely enough they all start at the root system.

Timber! Leaves tip over: When a Sword plant starts to have more of a horizontal messy look going there are a couple things that may have happened:

  1. Best case scenario is you have had your Sans for a long time and it has used up its topsoil surrounding its roots. The soil provides a bit of the support for this upright plant, if this seems to be the issue add some potting soil (I recommend cactus soil for these guys) to the surface and stand the leaves back up.
  2. More likely your Sans has been subjected to over or underwatering at some point which has damaged its root system which is the primary means of support for the vertical leaves. If this is the case then the plants will most likely continue to deteriorate slowly. You can also add potting soil in this case to prop the leaves back up but that is all that will do the plant structure will continue to degenerate in spite of your efforts. In this case I say, better luck next time especially now that you have all this wonderful new information about the Sans. Coincidentally another big plus of the Sans is it's one of the less expensive houseplants available for purchase in your local nursery.

Bloated stinky leaves: This is typically a sign of too much water at some point that burst all of the plants cells in a selected leaf. With such a thick leaf exterior it just turns into a nasty pouch for necrotic plant material when this happens. Remove these as you find them, as disgusting as they are they need to be taken off the plant or they can cause more trouble.

Completely Brown crunchy leaves: This is a symptom that your plant has been left dry for too long, hopefully not long enough to have done significant root damage. If the problem is persistent you may be chronically under watering or missing the mark on the watering consistency practice in some way. Remove these as you come across them.

Brown Leaf Tips: This is another symptom of Over watering or inconsistent watering. On many other houseplants it is fine to cut this damage away but Mother in Laws Toungue scar very easily so in many cases more damage is done by trying to remove the tips.

Scarring: Sans do scar badly if nicked or brushed against repeatedly. Overall the your plant should remain healthy at it's core in spite of scarring but it can begin to look rough. Try to place Sans where they will not be in direct conflict with foot traffic, pets, children, doors, filing cabinets and the like to avoid scarring.

Remember that if you bring a new Sword Plant to your home or office, it is being moved from an ideal plant setting that generally has more available light, heat, and, airflow than where we live and work so they will naturally have a period of adjustment in which they may react as if they have been over or under watered. This is how a plant restores balance when it's environment changes, only be concerned if the issues are excessive or persists for longer than approximately a month after the plant has been placed in its new home.

Otherwise, enjoy your Sansevieria!

What Do You Think About Sansevieria?

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    • profile image

      kim 3 months ago

      I believe this is the by far the best website for gardening I've ever read. I've been navigating so many different websites but my search ends here :)

      Just right amount of information in every aspect: not too much, not too little. I've bookmarked dengarden and will visit again and again !

      Thanks from S. Korea :)

    • profile image

      Frenchy21 9 months ago

      I am just beginning to learn about them. Love them! I have one that's been in my family for 45 years. I enjoyed your article a lot. Always looking for more information on Sans and where to find them and repot them.

    • profile image

      Lizzy 24 months ago

      Very thorough info.

    • thoughthole profile image

      thoughthole 6 years ago from Utah

      Thank You Lori.

    • LoriSoard profile image

      LoriSoard 6 years ago from Henryville, Indiana

      Excellent details to this article. Voting up and useful.