Mother-in-Law's Tongue: How to Care for and Repot This Plant

Updated on April 25, 2019
christin53 profile image

Below are my care and propagation tips for mother-in-law's tongue along with my very own photos!

Pot-bound Mother-in-Law's Tongue Plant
Pot-bound Mother-in-Law's Tongue Plant | Source

The mother-in-law's tongue (sansevieria trifasciata) is a very popular house plant that originates from West Africa. It goes by names such as viper's bowstring hemp, Saint George's sword, or snake plant, but don't confuse it with the nassauvia serpensIt. This beautiful evergreen has long, stiff, and dark-green, vertical leaves, which feature striking light-green bands.

Mother-in-Law's Tongue Provides Many Benefits:

  • It can be kept outdoors in warm climates, or, if you live in a cooler part of the world, it can be an indoor plant.
  • It is very tolerant to low light levels but equally as happy in sunlight.
  • Frequent watering is not required.
  • It absorbs toxins, such as nitrogen oxides and is great for improving indoor air quality.
  • Beginners can work with it as it doesn't require much maintenance and grows quite quickly.
  • Occasionally, this plant will sprout small, white flowers—usually when it is a few years old. How beautiful!

Learn how to split and repot your mother-in-law's tongue plant, and how to care for it to make your growing endeavors a success!

Facts About Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Common Names
Snake plant, viper's bowstring hemp, Saint George's sword
Scientific Name
Sansevieria trifasciata
Up to 40 inches
Bright, indirect sunlight (some direct light is ok)
Once a month; keep the soil dry
Ideal Temperature
60° to 80°F (16° to 27°C) Prefers warm to hot temperatures
Free draining soil
Doesn't require it. For fast growth, fertilize once in the spring and once in the summer.
Fungus gnats
Toxic to dogs and cats
Mother-in-Law's Tongue plant in large pots
Mother-in-Law's Tongue plant in large pots | Source

How to Care for Mother-in-Law's Tongue

The best way to look after this plant is to ignore it most of the time. It seems to thrive on neglect. With that said, however, here are ideal care instructions for the meticulous gardener.

How often should I water?

Because mother-in-law's tongue has succulent leaves, it falls into the category of plants that can be left alone without too much water. Err on the side of underwatering or watering only when the soil is dry to the touch. Constantly watering this plant will rot the roots and eventually kill it.

Watering once a month is best. It's far easier to bring a dry plant back to life than an overwatered one.

How much sun does it need?

This plant loves ample sunlight! Place it near a window to give it bright, indirect sunlight. This plant can also tolerate direct sunlight, but not for an extended period of time or else the leaves will burn. Mother-in-law's tongue can also tolerate low-light conditions, but growth may slow or leaves may turn yellow.

What's the best temperature for a snake plant?

This plant is hardy, so even though it prefers warm to hot temperatures, it can tolerate anything between 50° to 100°F ( 10° to 38°C). You may see some wilting or yellowing in colder temperatures.

What type of soil is best?

Because this plant is susceptible to root rot if overwatered, I recommend a fast-draining soil. You can use a mixture of potting soil and cactus mix.

Does it need fertilizer?

You can skip the fertilizer, but if you want the plant to grow a bit faster, fertilize during its growing season: once during the spring and once during the summer—no more than that!

Should I prune it?

If one of the leaves gets cuts, scrapes, or any unsightly marks, you should prune it by cutting off the leaf as close as possible to the soil's surface. You want to get rid of the entire leaf rather than just cutting off a section of it because by getting rid of the damaged tissue, the plant doesn't have to support it. Plus, it looks more aesthetic that way.

What's the ideal humidity level?

Mother-in-law's tongue doesn't mind dry air, but it prefers humidity. This makes it a great plant for your bathroom, but you can place it anywhere. It's so versatile!

Splitting Your Mother-in-Law's Tongue Plant
Splitting Your Mother-in-Law's Tongue Plant | Source

4 Ways to Propagate Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Mother-in-law's tongue is easy to propagate when it gets too big for the pot.

1. By Splitting or Division

  1. Remove the plant from the pot.
  2. Take a knife and cut the roots to separate the stalks.
  3. Place the new stalks in their own pots and cover the roots with soil.
  4. Mist with water.

2. By Rhizomes

  1. Remove the pot-bound plant.
  2. Gently knock the dirt off. You will likely discover young shoots (rhizomes) hidden underneath the earth.
  3. Pull the shoots apart by the roots, and don't worry about being rough with them. I haven't killed any yet! You can also cut them off with a knife.
  4. Depending on how big your plant is and how many new pots you want, you may want to do one of two things: plant each individual rhizome in a separate pot or plant some of the biggest ones in a large pot together. I have done both because I like some on the floor and the smaller ones on the window ledges.

3. By Cutting

  1. Cut a leaf off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
  2. Stick it in a fresh pot and water.

4. In Water

  1. Cut a leaf off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
  2. Stick it in a vase of water and change it every few days.
  3. Once it begins developing roots, stick it in a pot of fresh soil.


These plants grow very quickly when they are happy. I have had to throw quite a few of them away in the past because I didn't have room for them all.

Mother-in-Law's Tongue plant in small pots
Mother-in-Law's Tongue plant in small pots | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Ann-Christin


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    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      2 weeks ago from UK

      It may be a pest called Thrips that has invaded your plant. The best thing to do would be to remove all the curling leaves and wipe down the remaining leaves with a damp cloth or cotton wool.Also make sure it isn't near other plants as it can spread.

    • profile image


      3 weeks ago

      Why are the leaves on my plant starting to curl?

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 weeks ago from UK

      Hi usually when the leaves start drooping they have been over watered. Try not watering for a while and see what happens although if the roots are damaged I'm afraid the plant is lost as i know from experience.

    • profile image

      Diane Vennard 

      3 weeks ago

      Hi, what does it mean when the leaves start drooping? How can I prevent it from doing this or how can I bring them straight up.

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      diane polte 

      4 weeks ago

      Can I leave out doors on covered porch over the winter. Sometimes we get a hard frost in NC Piedmont. Will the plant survive if it is covered?

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 weeks ago from UK

      Planting them a bit deeper would help and maybe covering the earth with some pebbles to weight it down.

    • profile image


      5 weeks ago

      I've had my plant for years - actually I now have 4 of them - & have never bothered to find out how to care for it/them. They seem very accommodating - forgiving any lapses & inattentiveness, on my part (Health issues have limited the amount of care I can provide. I think I have been doing things right most of the time (I keep them on my from steps in summer, lots of light - no direct sun.). They express their happiness with the location with the display of lovely white flowers.

      One thing I haven't done is to remove any damaged leaves. I'll be happy to remove them - didn't want to do it just because it was aesthetically pleasing if it was harmful to the plant. They will be very pleased - always like to look their best!

      I am having one problem at present.

      After separating & repotting one of the plants - the leaves being very long & heavy seems like they may tilt so much it will lift to roots out of the pot. I've used a stake to support the leaves but would like to find a better solution.

      I planted the rhizomes at the same depth they were at before but wonder if they should be deeper - they were rather pot bound at the time.

      Any thoughts, suggestions are gratefully appreciated.

    • profile image


      8 weeks ago

      Thank you for this very helpful information. My mother had a very large and tall Mother-In-Law Tongue plant when she was killed with my father in a car-train accident when I was 4 and my brothers were 10 and 12. I've always wanted to obtain a nice one plant. I found one at a sidewalk sale about 10 days ago and was thrilled to find it. I felt I needed all the information in this article. I know I will be returning here frequently when I have questions. Thank you so much!

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      Hi, what type of soil is best to use for snake plants in a pot?

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      Rather than seperate it , is it ok to leave it and repot the whole plant , as its large and looks very impressive as it is

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 months ago from UK

      It all depends on the size of the plant. If it's small use a small pot and replace with a larger one as it grows.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      Pls suggest ideal pot size for these plants.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      My leaves do not stand up straight but droop. What seems to be the problem?

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      My mother n law plant is nearly 50 years old. It was my grandma's aunts and then passed to my grandma and now passed to me. Its longest leaf is 52 inches tall. Ive came to your lovely sight to find how to care for it. Im was so scared im going to kill it as i dont have much of a green thumb, but looks like these plants are pretty tough. I think we will do great.

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 months ago from UK

      I would water it after splitting in two.

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      is it a good idea to water my MLT plant before splitting it in two?

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      14 months ago from UK

      Its best to pull it apart and plant the smaller ones.

    • profile image

      Paige Seppanen 

      14 months ago

      Can you cut or trim the stalks from the snake plant I have some that are over a foot tall?

    • profile image


      16 months ago

      love this plant , I grow mine and seems as though every year I give some offsprings to the mother in law to be friends of mine with a card that I have made up saying things like this.:

      Welcome to being a mother in law with this gift of " mother in law plant" or "snake plant". this plant is to remind you as you care for it to not be the snake in your childrens new lives.

      it is called mother in law plant to me because of its sharp and sometimes twisted tongue

      requires minimal visitation or care ( almost never needs watered)

      this plant like mother in laws learn to survive being ignored most of the time and is almost mpossible to kill !!

      welcome to the world of mother in laws... try to defy the odds !!

    • profile image

      Gary Jeroy 

      16 months ago

      I am going to admit it. I am going to be 68 years old and have always loved these in my grandparents yards. So ;today for the first time I bought my own mother-in-laws plant. I will wait a few months or a good month before I tear it apart and make many more. I have the thank the writer of this story for all the easy steps on keeping it alive and happy. Thanks so much..

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      17 months ago from UK

      I would split it up and repot as it sounds like it is getting too big.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      My snake plant is bending over, do i need to repoy?

    • profile image

      Doreen Coldwell 

      18 months ago

      I said to my husband I'd like a motherinlaws tongue his answer was you've got one

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      18 months ago from UK

      I would always water plants after re-potting.

    • profile image

      Anna Buena 

      18 months ago

      After repotting, should I water it? Fertilize?

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      After repotting, how long does it take for new shoots to grow and fill in the pot?

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      19 months ago from UK

      Living in the UK I've never grown these outside. If it were me I would dig it up separate all the new growth which I would then replant. You could try replanting any parts of the mature plant that looks healthy.

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      My mlk has flourished in the Texas ground for 4 years. This winter hurt it. While there are little ones shooting up, what do I do with the dead big leaves? Some are still OK.

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from UK

      You might be over watering your plant they really don't need much water at all.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      my snake plant leaves bend over and are droopy, is the only word I can think for it. I've tried repotting in deeper in the soil and this doesn't seem to help

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      4 years ago

      That mother in law has a sharp tongue. Thanks for the advice.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Short, sweet, to the point, FR-axeEEctly as information should be!

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from UK

      Thost I'm glad you found my hub useful. It is rather a strange name for a plant :)

    • thost profile image


      6 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Can't look at these plants without thinking of my mother in law. With your advice they should thrive. Thank you.

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Glad it made you laugh we all need one sometimes :)

    • harinarayan profile image


      7 years ago from Kerala, India

      very funny heading. Your topic attracts me, When I see the plant, make me laugh.voted up and interesting

    • christin53 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      I think it's called that because of its sharp tongue:)

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      7 years ago from Dubai

      Great tips on planting and taking care of MIL's tongue. Wonder why it is called so.


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