Below are my care and propagation tips for mother-in-law’s tongue along with my very own photos!
What Is Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Snake Plant)?
The mother-in-law’s tongue (sansevieria trifasciata) is a very popular house plant that originates from West Africa. It goes by names such as viper’s bowstring hemp, Saint George’s sword, or snake plant, but don’t confuse it with the nassauvia serpens. This beautiful evergreen has long, stiff, vertical leaves that are dark green with striking light-green bands.
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Benefits of the Plant
- It can be kept outdoors in warm climates, or, if you live in a cooler part of the world, it can be an indoor plant.
- It is very tolerant to low light levels but equally as happy in sunlight.
- It does not require frequent watering.
- It absorbs toxins, such as nitrogen oxides, and is great for improving indoor air quality.
- It doesn’t require much maintenance and grows quite quickly, so beginners can work with it easily.
- It will occasionally sprout small, white flowers—usually when it is a few years old. How beautiful!
Learn how to split and repot your snake plant, and get tips on caring for it to make your growing endeavors a success!
Facts About Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
How to Care for a Snake Plant
The best way to look after this plant is to ignore it most of the time. It seems to thrive on neglect. With that said, however, here are ideal care instructions for the meticulous gardener.
How often should I water?
Watering once a month is best. Because mother-in-law’s tongue has succulent leaves, it falls into the category of plants that can be left alone without too much water. Err on the side of underwatering or watering only when the soil is dry to the touch.
Constantly watering this plant will rot the roots and eventually kill it. It’s far easier to bring a dry plant back to life than an overwatered one.
How much sun does it need?
This plant loves ample sunlight! Place it near a window to give it bright, indirect sunlight. This plant can also tolerate direct sunlight, but not for an extended period of time or else the leaves will burn. Mother-in-law’s tongue can also tolerate low-light conditions, but growth may slow or leaves may turn yellow.
What’s the best temperature for a snake plant?
This plant is hardy, so even though it prefers warm to hot temperatures, it can tolerate anything between 50° to 100°F (10° to 38°C). You may see some wilting or yellowing in colder temperatures.
What type of soil is best?
Because this plant is susceptible to root rot if overwatered, I recommend a fast-draining soil. You can use a mixture of potting soil and cactus mix.
Does it need fertilizer?
You can skip the fertilizer, but if you want the plant to grow a bit faster, fertilize during its growing season: once during the spring and once during the summer—no more than that!
Should I prune it?
If one of the leaves gets cuts, scrapes, or any unsightly marks, you should prune it by cutting off the leaf as close as possible to the soil’s surface. You want to get rid of the entire leaf rather than just cutting off a section of it because by getting rid of the damaged tissue, the plant doesn’t have to support it. Plus, it looks more aesthetic that way.
What’s the ideal humidity level?
Mother-in-law’s tongue doesn’t mind dry air, but it prefers humidity. This makes it a great plant for your bathroom, but you can place it anywhere. It’s so versatile!
4 Ways to Propagate Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
This plant is easy to propagate when it gets too big for the pot.
1. By Splitting or Division
- Remove the plant from the pot.
- Take a knife and cut the roots to separate the stalks.
- Place the new stalks in their own pots and cover the roots with soil.
- Mist with water.
2. By Rhizomes
- Remove the pot-bound plant.
- Gently knock the dirt off. You will likely discover young shoots (rhizomes) hidden underneath the earth.
- Pull the shoots apart by the roots, and don’t worry about being rough with them. I haven’t killed any yet! You can also cut them off with a knife.
- Depending on how big your plant is and how many new pots you want, you may want to do one of two things: plant each individual rhizome in a separate pot or plant some of the biggest ones in a large pot together. I have done both because I like some on the floor and the smaller ones on the window ledges.
3. By Cutting
- Cut a leaf off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
- Stick it in a fresh pot and water.
4. In Water
- Cut a leaf off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
- Stick it in a vase of water and change it every few days.
- Once it begins developing roots, stick it in a pot of fresh soil.
They Grow Quickly!
These plants grow very quickly when they are happy. I have had to throw quite a few of them away in the past because I didn’t have room for them all.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Ann-Christin
Rob on September 01, 2020:
Hi, great post. Impressive roots = happy plants. Is the cactus mix a DIY blend or store bought? What are the ratio / ingredients? Thank you for taking the time to answer.
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Allysut63 on July 23, 2020:
I have a plant that I was told was called mother in laws tongue, but it does not look anything like photos of MLT. It is 35 years old and growing horizontally for quite a few years now. It has sharp Points so presuming it is a cacti but I could be wrong. Is there anywhere I can Send a photo for advice?
Cyndy Langridge on July 18, 2020:
I have a plant that’s similar but does not have the variegated pattern, but a more solid green leave; although the shape and behavior is the same, down to the occasional white flower. Is it common for it to have solid color leaves?
N Tranter on July 08, 2020:
fabulous site and advise, well done.
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on May 15, 2020:
Yes I would remove the dead stalks.
lynn jo bishop on May 14, 2020:
My MIT has recently flowered looked great , in repotting do i remove the dead flower stalks or not
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on April 23, 2020:
Maybe it has got too tall for the pot it is in you could try putting some stakes in and tying it up to stop it bending. It is an old plant so maybe it’s just coming to the end of its life.
Lesley stewart on April 23, 2020:
I have a problem with my mother-in-law tough, she’s bending and flopping she’s quite tall had her since 1995, had lots and lots of plants of her, please can you advice me of what to do.
Linda on March 26, 2020:
I always smile when I remember as a young child learning that my mother’s plant was called a Mother-in-Law Tongue. I couldn’t remember that so I always called it a Grandma Talks. Probably 40+ years ago, I gave one plant to each mother and mother-in-law for Mother’s Day. I still have my mother’s plant and it is special to me.
Dog on January 23, 2020:
Had these many years ago. We used to call them snake plants.
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Ann-Christin (author) from UK on January 06, 2020:
I do mine in the spring and summer when the plant has started growing again.
AngeJS on December 30, 2019:
Hi I am a total novice to gardening/plants. My Mother-In-Laws Tongue is starting to look a bit big for it’s pot but looks like it’s thriving, is there a best time of year to propagate them?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on November 02, 2019:
It may be a pest called Thrips that has invaded your plant. The best thing to do would be to remove all the curling leaves and wipe down the remaining leaves with a damp cloth or cotton f4vn.com make sure it isn’t near other plants as it can spread.
Winniewi on October 30, 2019:
Why are the leaves on my plant starting to curl?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on October 26, 2019:
Hi usually when the leaves start drooping they have been over watered. Try not watering for a while and see what happens although if the roots are damaged I’m afraid the plant is lost as i know from experience.
Diane Vennard on October 25, 2019:
Hi, what does it mean when the leaves start drooping? How can I prevent it from doing this or how can I bring them straight up.
diane polte on October 16, 2019:
Can I leave out doors on covered porch over the winter. Sometimes we get a hard frost in NC Piedmont. Will the plant survive if it is covered?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on October 13, 2019:
Planting them a bit deeper would help and maybe covering the earth with some pebbles to weight it down.
Jemsw on October 10, 2019:
I’ve had my plant for years – actually I now have 4 of them – & have never bothered to find out how to care for it/them. They seem very accommodating – forgiving any lapses & inattentiveness, on my part (Health issues have limited the amount of care I can provide. I think I have been doing things right most of the time (I keep them on my from steps in summer, lots of light – no direct sun.). They express their happiness with the location with the display of lovely white flowers.
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