Many people love snake plants because they’re hardy and difficult to kill; even people with so-called “black thumbs” can usually keep a snake plant alive. With their lovely coloring and air purification properties, snake plants are a lovely addition to any home. They require little water and can grow in low-light conditions, which makes them a favorite for those who live in apartments, but what size pots do they need?
When repotting a snake plant, choose a pot that’s no more than ¼ – ⅓ larger than your plant’s root ball. These plants like to be “crowded,” but if the pot is too small, you risk root rot and possible damage to the pot.
The rest of this article will focus on the basics of snake plants and their care: what they are, how to grow them, and why you might want to have one or more in your home or office.
- What Is a Snake Plant?
- Benefits of Snake Plants
- Final Thoughts
What Is a Snake Plant?
Snake plant is the common name for Dracaena trifasciata, once known as Sansevieria trifasciata, and often referred to flippantly as “mother-in-law’s tongue.” While there are likely many varieties of snake plants available at your local plant nursery, the most common type has long, stiff, sword-shaped leaves that are dark green with lighter green bands and a yellow border.
Most household snake plants can easily grow to 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) in height, although some varieties may be less than a foot tall and others closer to 6 ft (1.82 m). They are evergreen and perennial.
Prior to 2017, the plant was classified as part of the genus Sansevieria. Now, however, scientists have classified the plant as belonging to the genus Dracaena, which is part of the family Asparagaceae. Many books and plant guides have not yet been updated to reflect this reclassification.
It’s important to note that snake plants are mildly toxic to humans and animals; if ingested, they can cause nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Always keep snake plants out of reach of children and pets.
What Type and Size of Pot for Your Snake Plant?
Opinions differ on the best type of pot for growing snake plants. Some home gardeners recommend terracotta because it absorbs extra moisture from the soil and can therefore help prevent root rot. Others prefer plastic; under ideal growing conditions, the roots of your snake plant may grow faster than you realize, and terra cotta pots have actually been known to break when the roots get out of control.
Be sure your pot has a drainage hole with a saucer underneath to catch excess water. Snake plants are extremely low maintenance, but overwatering and inadequate draining can and will lead to root rot.
The pot size depends entirely on the size of your plant. It’s true that snake plants like to be “crowded,” and they generally won’t thrive in a pot that is too big for them. Select a pot that’s a little larger than the plastic container it came from the store in (or its current pot, if you’re replanting). You want your pot to be no more than ⅓ larger than the root ball of your plant.
Snake plants generally do not require frequent repotting, and it can actually be detrimental to do so unnecessarily. Most gardeners recommend waiting until you can actually see the roots poking through the drainage holes at the bottom before moving the plant to a new pot.
The Right Soil and Sunlight for Your Snake Plant
Use a potting soil that promotes draining. Some people prefer to grow snake plants in a soilless potting mixture, such as peat moss or sand. Snake plants generally don’t need much fertilizer; any common houseplant fertilizer, applied once or twice a year, will be adequate.
Snake plants prefer steady, indirect sunlight but can also grow in indirect light and low light. They prefer warmer temperatures (70-90°F or 21.1-30.2°C is ideal).
The Correct Water Amount and Schedule for Your Snake Plant
Be careful not to overwater your snake plant. They only need water once the top few inches of their soil is completely dried out, which is maybe once every few weeks or even only once a month. With snake plants, it’s far better to underwater than it is to overwater. Try not to get water directly on the leaves, if possible; just like the roots, the leaves prefer staying dry.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest issue that snake plants deal with is root rot caused by overwatering and inadequate drainage. Snake plants are resistant to most pests and diseases, although they are susceptible to mealybugs and spider mites. If those pests are found, a simple insecticidal soap can get rid of them.
How to Propagation Your Snake Plant
It’s relatively easy to propagate new snake plants. One method is to take a leaf cutting—cut a straight line across a healthy part of the leaf, wait two days or up to a week for the end to dry and “callus” over, and then insert into slightly damp soil or sand. Within a few weeks, it will grow a new root.
The other method of propagating new snake plants is via division. Down at the base of a snake plant, beneath the soil level, are organs called rhizomes, which is essentially the main stem of the plant and where energy is stored to grow new shoots.
If you remove the snake plant from the pot completely, you can cut it in half with sharp shears, then plant each half in a separate pot. So long as each half has at least three rhizomes and one healthy leaf, you will end with two separate plants.
Benefits of Snake Plants
Houseplants are always beneficial to have around. Not only is indoor greenery pretty to look at it, but it also has documented health benefits. House plants have been shown to reduce depression, reduce stress, and boost your overall mood, among other benefits.
Snake Plants Can Increase Humidity
Many house plants increase indoor humidity via a process called transpiration: water is taken from the soil and into the roots, where it then travels up the stems and leaves and eventually evaporates out into the air.
While snake plants are not one of the most humidity-boosting plants, they likely still increase moisture in the air. This can improve dry skin and help those who suffer from allergies or asthma.
Snake Plants Increase Air Quality
In 1989, NASA released its Clean Air Study, which studied the effects of various house plants on indoor pollution. The original intent was to determine how plants could be used to purify and improve the air quality inside space stations, but anybody can benefit from the air purification provided by various houseplants.
According to the study, snake plants are able to remove benzene, formaldehyde, and other organic pollutants from the air. While household conditions are obviously not the same as a simulated space station, any amount of air filtration is beneficial. In addition, snake plants produce oxygen, primarily at night. They are an excellent plant to keep around to improve indoor air quality.
Snake plants are beloved houseplants for a reason. They require pots that are proportionate to the size of the actual plant, not too big, and they prefer being slightly crowded; if repotting, choose a pot that’s only a little bigger. Snake plants are easy to care for, requiring infrequent watering and thriving in lower and indirect light settings. Pretty much anyone can care for these lovely plants.