Dracaena trifasciata, commonly known as the snake plant, is one of the most popular and hardy species of houseplants. Up until 2017, it was botanically classified as Sansevieria trifasciata, but its commonalities with dracaena species were too many to overlook. The plant features stiff, sword-like leaves ranging from 6 inches to 8 feet tall. Snake plants can vary in color; although, many have green banded leaves and commonly feature a yellow border. These plants are easy to grow and, in many cases, indestructible. They will thrive in very bright light or almost dark corners of the house. These plants generally grow slowly in indoor light, but increasing its light exposure will boost growth if it gets a few hours of direct sun. If planting or repotting, do it in the spring. If you have pets, beware of this plant, which contains saponins, a toxic substance if ingested by dogs or cats.
|Common Name||Snake plant, viper's bowstring hemp, St. George's sword|
|Botanical Name||Dracaena trifasciata (formerly Sansevieria trifasciata)|
|Plant Type||Evergreen, perennial|
|Mature Size||0.5 ft.–8 ft. tall|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Spring (blooms are rare)|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||West Africa (tropical)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
Snake Plant Care
Snake plant is an ideal choice for beginner gardeners; it is difficult to kill. It is an ideal container plant that grows well on the floor or on tabletop displays. Snake plant thrives in warm weather and struggles in cold conditions. This plant is drought-resistant but is prone to overwatering since it can lead to root rot. Only water the plant if the soil feels dry. These plants can go two months between waterings in the winter months. In warmer months, water every three to four weeks.
These plants were first cultivated and treasured in China because, according to folklore, the eight gods bestowed their virtues upon those who grew the plant. In 1989, NASA published a study on snake plants used for air purification and combatting "sick building syndrome." According to joint studies at the University of Georgia and Yonsei University, the snake plant can remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
Snake plants prefer indirect but steady light with some direct sun. They can adapt to full sun conditions and will also survive dimly lit situations.
Dracaena plants prefer a loose, well-drained potting mix. This plant will do well in sandier soils. Pick a potting media low in peat. Peat works well in many situations, but it can become tightly packed and sometimes has problems rehydrating or draining. An all-purpose cactus potting soil is a good choice.
Let the soil dry between waterings. During the winter, reduce watering to monthly, or whenever the soil is dry to the touch. Err on the side of under-watering; too much water can harm the plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Snake plants prefer warm conditions and will suffer if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the plant in a place where it will be protected from drafts. A temperature range between 70 and 90 F is best. Frost will kill this plant.
Feed with a mild cactus fertilizer during the growing season or a balanced liquid slow-release (10-10-10 fertilizer) diluted to half-strength. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Types of Snake Plant
- Dracaena trifasciata 'Hahnii': It is also called bird's nest snake plant, it grows to only about 6 inches tall. Its leaf clusters form a bird's nest clump.
- Dracaena angolensi (formerly Sansevieria cylindrical): This cylindrical snake plant has round, stiff leaves that can reach several feet in length. The leaves arch outward from a central crown.
- Dracaena trifasciata 'Laurentii': This variegated snake plant has creamy yellow leaf margins. To propagate this plant, it must be divided rather than propagated from leaf cuttings.
- Dracaena trifasciata 'Twist': This plant has twisted leaves striped horizontally with yellow variegated edges. It grows about 14 inches tall.
- Dracaena trifasciata 'Bantel’s Sensation': This snake plant grows about 3 feet tall and has narrow leaves with white vertical stripes.
- Dracaena desertii: Sometimes called rhino grass, this plant grows about 12 inches tall with succulent red-tinted leaves.
Using sterile pruning shears, scissors, or a sharp knife, remove leaves at the soil line or cut off damaged or mature leaves to encourage new growth. The best time to prune is during the growing season—usually spring or summer. You can prune during the off-season, but since pruning can stress out a plant, it is best to do it when the plant is at its healthiest. To control the height of your snake plant, remove the tallest leaves. Also, remove any leaves that get marred. Leaf removal spurs new leaf growth.
Propagating Snake Plant
It's best to propagate during the snake plant growing season in the spring or summer. Dracaena plants can be divided easily during repotting if the plant is at least 4 inches tall. Alternatively, new shoots may emerge from the soil and can be potted independently. You can also propagate snake plants via cuttings. Here's how to do each:
Propagate via root division:
- You'll need a sharp knife, a clean pot, and cactus potting soil.
- Pull the root ball out of the old pot and place the plant on a flat surface. Using your hand, gently brush away the soil from the root structure or rhizome.
- Using the sharp knife, divide the plant into sections, making sure the roots for each section remain intact. Cutting through the plant will not kill the plant.
- Replant the new snake plant sections into a clean pot with cactus potting soil. Water it and place it in a partly sunny location.
Propagate new offshoots:
- If you notice any new pups or baby offshoots that the plant has developed, you can plant those separately.
- As with root division, you'll need a sharp knife, a clean pot, and cactus potting soil.
- Pull the root ball out of the pot, locate the offshoot's root, cut off the pup and plant the cut root end in the cactus potting soil. Water it and place it in a location with indirect bright light.
- Using sterilized scissors, a sharp knife, or pruning shears, slice off a long, healthy leaf from your snake plant.
- You can root it in water by placing it in a clean jar of water, submerging the cut end. Place it in a partially sunny spot and look for root growth. Every few days, top off the water, keeping it level. Every two weeks, entirely change the water to inhibit bacterial or algae growth.
- Once roots develop at least an inch long, plant the root end in a well-draining cactus potting mix. Water it and place it in a partially sunny spot.
- Optionally, you can skip the water rooting method. You can take your sliced leaf, allow the cut end to callous over for 24 hours, and then pot it, cut-end down, in the cactus potting mix. It is a slow-growing plant, so it could take two months before you notice new growth.
How to Grow Snake Plant From Seed
Snake plants can be grown from seeds, but it's easier, quicker, and more reliable to propagate by other methods. Snake plant seeds tend to have low germination rates. It can take between three to six weeks before you see a seedling. Fill a 3-inch pot with a well-draining cactus potting mix or seed starting mix. Sprinkle the seeds on top of the starting mix. Place the pot in a warm, sunny spot. Cover the pot with plastic wrap or a clear plastic dome to keep in the warmth and humidity. Once you notice seedling growth, remove the plastic covering. Keep the soil lightly moist but not too soggy or wet throughout the germination process. It will be ready to repot once the seedling is 3 to 4 inches tall.
Potting and Repotting Snake Plant
When potting, choose a sturdy pot material as strong roots can easily crack and break weak pots. Dracaena is a generally slow grower that rarely needs repotting, but if given ample sunshine, they might grow rapidly and require repotting or dividing. The best time to repot these plants is in the spring. When repotting, always use fresh potting soil, a cactus potting mix, or a mixture of both.
Snake plant is a tropical plant that can die in temperatures consistently lower than 50 F or if you get wintery frost. Bring the plant indoors before you get freezing temps in your zone. Keep the snake plant in a warm room, protected from cold drafts, and maintain the soil on the drier side. During the winter, snake plant goes into dormancy and will stop growing. In the winter, you will only need to water the plant every six weeks or so.
Scales, gnats, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies are common snake plant pests. You can avoid an insect invasion if you keep your plant healthy. Bugs and diseases usually attack a plant when it suffers from environmental issues like incorrect water levels, humidity, and air circulation. Mealybugs and spider mite infestations suck sap from the plant, weakening it, marring its leaves, and can cause leaf drop. If you notice any bugs on your plant, pick off the visible insects and use organic neem oil insecticide soap to keep the insects at bay.
How to Get Snake Plant to Bloom
Snake plants develop creamy-white, tubular flowers that look a lot like lilies. It flowers annually when its water, sun, and humidity needs are optimally met. However, when these plants are kept indoors year-round, they rarely flower. The change of seasons, namely the coming of spring, kicks the plant out of dormancy and spurs its growth. Its flowers are fragrant, and like other dracaena species, it blooms at night. There is no need to deadhead these flowers; they drop on their own.
Common Problems With Snake Plant
Snake plants are one of the easiest plants to maintain, multiply, and keep for years, whether you've got a green thumb or not. The biggest snake plant health problems center around watering. Overwatering causes plant diseases like fungal infections and root rot.
If you notice your plant's soil smells like it's rotting, it likely has root rot. Scoop out some of the soil and put it up to your nose. Root rot smells foul. You can try to save the plant, but you need to inspect the roots and see if you've saved the root in time. Pull the root ball out of the container. Cut away any brown, mushy roots or leaves. Repot a portion of healthy root rhizome in fresh cactus potting mix or a well-draining potting mix. If you can't save the rhizomes, discard them. Propagate a new snake plant from leaf cutting.
Yellow or Brown Leaves
Healthy snake plant leaves are green, with some yellow streaked variegation. Yellow or brown leaves on your snake plant can indicate several conditions, including overwatering, pests, and root rot. You can remedy each of these conditions if you manage the plant's water level appropriately. Overwatering causes root rot and stresses out the plant, making it more susceptible to pests or disease. Wipe away any visible pest with neem oil or an insecticidal soap
Thrips are a common pest infestation that can cause curling leaves. Use a magnifying glass to inspect your plant's leaves closely. These tiny black bugs are easy to deal with. Cut away severely curled leaves and spray the plant with neem oil or vegetable soap to keep the pests at bay. New leaves will eventually grow in.
Leaves Falling Over or Drooping
Healthy snake plant leaves shoot upward and stand erect, but too much water, insufficient light, or poor potting material can make the plant's leaves droop or flop down. If you don't use a well-draining potting mix, the soil becomes soggy and affects the leaves. Move the plant to a brighter location, reduce the frequency of watering, and change the soil to better draining soil, if necessary.
Are snake plants easy to care for?
Snake plants are one of those plants that need very little maintenance once you find the perfect spot for them. They are easy to keep and harder to kill than many other houseplants.
How fast does snake plant grow?
Generally, the snake plant is a slow grower; however, if you put it outside in summer, it may experience a boost in growth.
How long does snake plant live?
The average lifespan of a snake plant is 5 to 10 years; however, they can live up to 25 years or more.
What's the difference between Nassauvia serpens and Dracaena trifasciata?
Although Nassauvia serpens and Dracaena trifasciata are both called snake plant, the two are completely unrelated. Nassauvia serpens is a perennial shrub in the aster family native to the Falkland Islands. The two look nothing alike.
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