The snake plant, known by its botanical name Sansevieria, is an incredibly easy houseplant to grow. Many forms have upright spikey leaves that are striking as an accent or part of a grouping of low-growing plants, such as pothos. Other types are dwarf varieties with foliage that appears more in a clumping pattern. There are also fun types with foliage that’s more cylindrical in form. No matter what kind you choose, it’s the perfect low-maintenance addition to any home. “It’s one of those plants that’s great for beginners because it’s pretty forgiving if you forget to water it, for example,” says Justin Hancock, a horticulturalist with Costa Farms, one of the largest houseplant growers in the world. “It almost thrives on neglect.”
And, no, they don’t attract snakes! The botanist Carl Thunberg, who traveled extensively in Africa in the 18th century, named the genus after an Italian patron of horticulture who hailed from Sansevero.
Here’s what else you need to know about this sturdy plant.
How much light does my snake plant need?
Unlike many plants, snake plants can take nearly any light level, says Hancock. That means you can tuck it into a dark corner and expect it to do okay, though they’ll grow faster in medium to high light conditions. Actually, it’s a slow-grower anyhow, so whatever size you purchase is the size it will remain for many years. As such, it doesn’t mind being root bound and doesn’t have to be repotted very often, though you can certainly drop it into a more decorative pot to hide the nursery pot it came in, if you like.
Snake plants don’t need a lot of water.
Native to West Africa, the snake plant is used to heat and drought so it doesn’t need coddled. Give it a drink when the top half of the soil is dry— just stick your finger in a few inches so you can tell how it feels. “When you do water, don’t drown it. Give it a just a splash of water,” says Hancock. “You don’t want to saturate the soil because it won’t use moisture fast enough, especially in low light conditions, and can rot if it stays too wet.” You’ll know you’ve overdone it if the stem begins to get mushy and tips over; stop watering and be patient. Only time will tell if the roots have survived to push out new growth eventually.
Should I fertilize my snake plant?
Strictly speaking, you don’t have to feed your plant. “It’s helpful to make it grow faster but not entirely necessary,” says Hancock. Any general-purpose houseplant food is fine. Read the product label, but understand that’s the maximum amount that should be given. It’s best to use ¼ to ½ strength the recommended amount or fertilize less frequently, such as once a month or only in the spring.
Can my snake plant go outdoors in summer?
It’s your choice. Like many other houseplants, your snake plant can go outside once freezing temperatures are behind us. But don’t put it directly in full sun because the foliage will burn and will be permanently scarred, says Hancock. If you do put it outdoors, keep it in mostly shade so you don’t have to reacclimate it to lower light levels again when you have to bring it indoors in the fall. Also, because snake plants can become invasive in certain temperate parts of the country, it’s best to display them in containers, not planted in garden beds.
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