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How to Grow Sansevieria

Updated on February 12, 2016
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Sansevieria or Mother-in-law's Tongue
Sansevieria or Mother-in-law's Tongue | Source

One of the easiest, if not the easiest, houseplants to grow is the sansevieria, more commonly called snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue. There are actually 70 different species, but only two are usually grown as houseplants here in the US. The smaller ones with curly leaves are called birdnest. The taller one, with upright leaves 3 to 4 feet tall, are more commonly seen. The all green leaved plants are called snake plants and the gold bordered leaved plants are called mother-in-law’s tongue.

Sanseveria produce flowers, but they are tiny so the plants are grown for their foliage rather than their flowers. The tiny flowers grow in a bunch on long stems or racemes, eventually producing berries. In their native habitats, the flowers are pollinated by moths. Because the flowers are small in size and number, not many seeds are produced.

Rather than growing from seed, sansevieria reproduce by spreading through underground rhizomes. The smaller types don’t spread as much but the taller types spread aggressively and can become invasive in the landscape.

Sansevieria or Bird's Nest
Sansevieria or Bird's Nest | Source

Grow Outdoors

Sansevieria are native to tropical regions in Africa and southern Asia. If you are lucky enough to live in USDA growing zones 9 through 11, then you can grow sanseveria outdoors. They are tough, easy to grow plants but their one non-negotiable requirement is good drainage. If they are over-watered or planted in a wet area, they will rot and die. On the plus side, their preference for dryness makes them excellent candidates for desert or xeriscape landscapes. The thick cuticle on their leaves prevents them from drying out in arid conditions.

Sansevieria prefer full sun, but will grow in light to moderate shade. If you are growing mother-law-tongue, it is less likely to sport its jaunty gold borders in the shade. It needs sun to manifest its full variegation. Too little light can also result in weak, spindly plants.

There are three options for preventing your sansevieria from becoming invasive in your yard. You can dig it up every two to three years and divide it. You can plant it in containers which can be sunk into your garden up to their rims. The containers remain out of sight while keeping your plants in check. Or you can surround your plants with barriers extending at least 12 inches into the ground to prevent the roots from spreading into surrounding areas.

Sansevieria or Snake Plant with berries
Sansevieria or Snake Plant with berries | Source

Grow Indoors

Most of us grow sansevieria as houseplants. They are well-adapted to life indoors where light levels can be low. Your sansevieria will do best in a sunny spot but even a room with little sunlight is suitable. Just be sure not to over water them. They are tough plants but two things will surely kill them: too much water or no water at all.

They are also very sensitive to cold temperatures. Keep them in a warm room away from drafty windows and doors during the winter. Temperatures below 50°F will injure or kill them.

Sanseviera will quickly outgrow or even break their containers. You should divide and repot them annually, always using a container that is shallow and wide. They have a very shallow root system. Repotting should be done in the spring. At the same time, you can fertilize them using a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or 8-8-8) that is diluted to half strength. You can fertilize again near the end of the growing season in August.

Sansevieria are easy houseplants to grow. They are great for beginners or for people who have not been able to successfully grow houseplants. They require minimal care, thriving in conditions that are less than optimal for most houseplants.

© 2015 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Flourish, that's a wonderful idea. Share the wealth! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Chefsref should probably email, Facebook, Tweet, etc. an invitation to all his Granny's living relatives with a link to this hub as to what it is, that it can be a houseplant or be grown outdoors. He should offer them some of dear old Granny's MIL Tongue. It could be like Genealogy meets Horticulture. Just an idea.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Mine is also a gift! It has been happily living in the same container for almost 10 years! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 3 years ago from Citra Florida

      I dunno,I may want to know how to get rid of this plant. I have a very large pot of Sansiveria that my mother gave me about 20 years ago.

      My mother got the thing from my grandmother in 1938. My grandmother had already had the plant for 30 years at that time. So the plant is well over 100 years old. I have divided it numerous times, given away those divisions and planted some in the ground. Here in Florida it survives winter fairly well just needing protection from a hard freeze. So... outside I don't water it and don't fertilize it still it thrives on neglect.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Poetryman, I'm discovering that foliage color and shapes are just as attractive as flowers. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      I tend to like plants with big, showy flowers but these are interesting nonetheless.