A note on names: In scientific circles, Snake Plants are now considered part of the Dracaena genus, and the name Sansevieria has been retired. However, many people still know these plants by their former name, so we’ll sometimes refer to them as Sansevierias. We have an article on the subject here.
Snake Plants are tough succulents that can withstand low light, low humidity, and lengthy stretches without water. But what about winter? Can a plant that evolved in the equatorial desert survive months of cold and dark? We’ll go over what you can do to get your Snake Plant through the winter in good health.
Snake Plants can tolerate temperatures as low as 55 degrees, so yours should be fine assuming you heat your home and don’t keep it right on a windowsill while it’s cold outside. Above all, avoid overwatering. Root rot is one of the biggest dangers for Snake Plants, and the risk increases when there isn’t much warmth or sunlight.
If you slip up and your Snake Plant gets exposed to the cold, its foliage will start to curl, particularly the outer leaves. More severe frost damage will turn the leaves mushy and yellow or white. Move your plant into a spot with a more mild temperature and clip away any seriously damaged leaves. As long as the damage wasn’t too extensive, your Snake Plant should make a full recovery. But more on that later.
Can Snake Plants Tolerate Cold?
Sansevierias evolved in hot, arid regions of Nigeria and the Congo, so you might expect them to freak out at the first hint of cold. In reality, they can withstand temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit without flinching.
Below that level, things get a little dicier and curling leaves are the first sign of trouble. This is your plant’s attempt to insulate itself by reducing the amount of leaf surface exposed to the cold air. At temperatures closer to freezing, the plant’s tissues will start to die. This shows up as brown scarring, patches of yellow or white, and a soft, squishy texture.
These more severe symptoms aren’t necessarily a death sentence for the plant. The damage to the leaves won’t go away, but as long as the roots are okay, your Snake Plant will eventually recover.
Will a Snake Plant Survive Outdoors in the Winter?
As you might have guessed from that last comment about the roots, even the thick rhizomes that Sansevierias use to expand underground can’t withstand temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. You shouldn’t leave Snake Plants outside in the winter, at least not if you live someplace where the soil freezes solid.
Your Snake Plant will probably do well on your balcony during the warmer months, but you should take it inside when autumn rolls around. If you’re growing this plant in your garden, a row cover might insulate it enough to let it survive the winter. But we wouldn’t bet our Sansevieria’s life on it.
How to Care For a Snake Plant in Winter
An indoor Snake Plant isn’t in mortal danger from winter weather. However, there are a few hazards to watch out for when it’s cold and dark outside.
The first and most serious is overwatering. Damp soil is the biggest gap in this hardy houseplant’s armor. A waterlogged pot accelerates the reproduction of soil microbes, which can lead to root rot. And Snake Plants don’t take up moisture very quickly, so it’s easy to accidentally water them too often.
This danger gets worse during the winter. The lack of sunlight causes your Sansevieria to slow or stop its growth, which means it’s drinking even less water than usual. So don’t water your Snake Plant unless the top 2-3 inches of the soil are completely dry. If you check the pot and you’re not sure whether it’s dry enough to water, don’t.
Don’t fertilize your Snake Plant in the winter, either. When it isn’t growing, it won’t touch any fertilizer you give it. Those tasty mineral ions will just pile up in the soil, and when they reach high concentrations, they can damage your Sansevieria’s roots.
Note that this only applies to fast-acting liquid or granular fertilizers. If you mixed some slow-release nutrient pellets into the soil earlier in the year, it won’t be a problem during the winter. That said, you should wait until springtime to add more of this type of fertilizer.
Unlike some houseplants – such as the unbelievably fickle Calathea – Snake Plants don’t need a ton of humidity, so dry winter air isn’t usually a problem. Still, it doesn’t hurt to add a small humidifier or a pebble tray if you find the moisture level in the air dipping below 40%.
Finally, remember to keep your Snake Plant away from potential sources of unusual heat or cold. Windows, fireplaces, drafty doorways, and heating vents are the most common dangers. A brief blast of hot or frosty air can still shock your plant and kill off some of its foliage.
Saving a Snake Plant From Cold Damage
What should you do if you accidentally let your Snake Plant get too frosty? Your next step depends on how badly it’s damaged.
If you catch the problem early on and the only impact is a few curly leaves, your plant should be fine as long as you get it back to a comfortable temperature range.
You may be tempted to bundle up your chilly Sansevieria by the fire with a mug of cocoa. Resist this urge – seesawing from too cold to too hot won’t help your Snake Plant. Just put it in a location where the temperature is nice and stable, sitting somewhere between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Severe cold shock will cause the foliage to bleach to yellow or pale white and get mushy. You’ll need to trim away these dying leaves before the rot spreads to the root system.
You can use a pair of pruning shears or a serrated knife, depending on how thick the leaves are. Before slicing into your plant, disinfect your cutting tool with some rubbing alcohol or a 10% strength bleach solution. It’s usually best to snip as close to the soil as you can, both for aesthetic reasons and to make sure you remove all of the rotting tissue.
As long as you keep the damage from reaching the roots, your Snake plant should be back in fighting shape within a month or so. Its curled leaves will straighten back out, and when the springtime rolls around, the root system should start sending up new growth again.
Rooting Snake Plant Leaf Cuttings
If you had to chop off some of your Snake Plant’s leaves due to frost damage, you could take the opportunity to propagate your plant. Like many succulents, your Sansevieria can regenerate from leaf cuttings. If any of the leaves you’ve removed have at least a few inches of healthy tissue, you may be able to turn them into brand-new plants.
Winter isn’t the ideal time of year to do this, but hey, you’re cutting the leaves off anyway – what do you have to lose?
Find a small pot (or a few pots, depending on how many cuttings you’re planting) with a drainage hole. Fill it ⅔ of the way up with coarse, rocky soil. We’d recommend combining 50% perlite, 25% coconut coir, and 25% African Violet potting mix. Then snip the healthy parts of the leaves into cuttings around 2 inches long. Disinfect your blades as described above.
Pop the cuttings right into the pot. It’s often a good idea to place a few in each container, because not all of them will take root. Make sure you remember which end of each cutting was lower on the original plant – the bottoms need to stay pointed down!
Wait 3 days before giving your cuttings any water. Then grow them as you would any other Snake Plant.
Snake Plants can’t survive for long in the cold, but if you keep them indoors, they should survive the winter without missing a beat. The key is to keep them in stable conditions – don’t water much, don’t fertilize at all, and don’t let their temperature fluctuate wildly. Avoid the dangers we’ve described above, and your Snake Plant will stay cozy and content even as the snow piles up outside.