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Snake Plant (Dracaena): Home

 
Snake plants (<em>Sanseveria</em>) can thrive in areas of limited light
Snake plants, like this Dracaena trifasciata, can thrive in areas of limited light but prefer moderate sunlight

Snake plant (Dracaena)

An important factor in determining the suitability of a plant to your home and envisioning the care it will need, is to know the origin of the plant. Plants that are native to desert regions will require substantial amount of sunlight and loose, fast-draining soil. Plants from the floor of a rainforest will need some protection from strong sunlight and generous humidity.

The Dracaena species known as snake plants or mother-in-law's tongue were until recently considered a separate genus, Sansevieria, but have been reclassified following molecular examination. They are native to rocky, dry habitats in tropical Africa. The plants most in household cultivation are Dracaena trifasciata (previously Sansevieria trifasciata) and its cultivars and Dracaena angolensis (previously Sansevieria cylindrica), both of which are stiff, erect plants. Each of the leaves have a pointed tip that you should treat gently; if the tip is broken, the leaf-blade stops growing. Snake plant has a well deserved reputation as a very durable plant in varied conditions.

Light:

Snake plants prefer plentiful sunlight, but will put up with some light shade and continue to grow. They should be protected from the hottest, southern sun in summer. Though they can survive poor light conditions, they will not grow without moderate sunlight and will not flower without more generous sun exposure.

Water and Humidity:

Too much water is the most frequent cause of failure. Water moderately, making the potting mixture moist and checking back after 15 minutes to remove any water sitting in the plant's run-off dish.

When the plant is in active growth, allow the soil to just dry between waterings. While the plant is tolerant of extended dryness, succulents do have shallow roots and they will rot easily if over-watered, causing the plant to fall over. In the low-light conditions of winter (October through February), water only as often as is necessary to prevent the leaves from puckering, no more than every two weeks.

Average household humidity is adequate.

Temperature:

These are tropical plants and a warm household, between 65 and 80°F., is ideal. Do not keep below 55°F.

Re-potting:

Snake plants like to be root-bound and can stay in the same pot for several years, while replacing some surface soil annually. Repot once the plant is close to bursting its pot. The proper, quick-draining, soil, however, is essential. Potting soil with one third sand or perlite and up to one third peat added works well.

If your snake plant develops young plantlets growing around the base of the original plant, you can separate these from the parent plant once they are several inches high and have a set of roots. Do this during the repotting process and keep in mind that each plant will want to be snug in a new pot.

Pruning:

Snake plants with dead, damaged or extended, floppy foliage that they can no longer support may be pruned. Remove no more than 1/4 of the plant's total leaf surface by cutting individual leaves to just above the soil with a sterile cutting tool. Keep the cut surface dry while it callouses to avoid infection. The withered leaf stub will remain on the plant. As new, healthy leaves grow, you can cut away more of the old leaves and gradually rejuvenate a plant. Pruning is most successful in the spring when the plant is in a new growth phase, It will heal and generate new leaves for a refreshed appearance more quickly. If you prune later in the year, be patient waiting for results and let the plant have its usual winter rest.

You can also reduce the size of the plant if it has grown a healthy new crown of young leaves. When re-potting in the spring, pull or trim away older, unhealthy portions of the plant along with their associated roots and leave just the vigorous, new center of the plant with its roots. Use a pot with a drain hole and appropriate soil and take care to downsize the pot to make a snug new home for the smaller plant.

Be sure to correct the conditions that encouraged the unhealthy leaf growth so that new, sturdy leaves are formed.

Nutrition:

A liquid fertilizer, fed at half strength, once per month, during the growing period only, is generally advised.

What to Watch for:

  • Do not move a snake plant from a shady position into the bright sunlight or it will scorch.
  • Over-watering is the most frequent problem, especially during the winter, and results in rot, capsizing foliage and plant death.
  • Folding and flopping leaf problems are very common for snake plants and indicate that the plant has been over-watered or sn't getting enough sun while it is in active growth. Often, that happens because the plant is kept in active growth during the winter when it should be taking a rest.
  • Cold winter drafts will also cause rot and sudden plant death.  
  • Each of the leaves have a pointed tip that you should treat gently; if the tip is broken, the leaf-blade may stop growing.

Snake plants can survive the less than ideal lighting of an office space, but will not grow without moderate sunlight

Snake plants can survive the less than ideal lighting of an office space, but will not grow without moderate sunlight

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