Some indoor gardeners love Snake Plants for their hardiness, their subtle variegation, and their cool spiky shapes – they just wish these plants didn’t grow so tall. Not every home has room for a cluster of five-foot-tall succulent blades! Is there any way to grow a more compact Sansevieria?
Pruning is one option – simply cut the tallest leaves back every so often. You can supplement this by taking the plant out of its pot and trimming away the longest roots at the beginning of each growing season. Always sanitize your knife or scissors before pruning, and don’t remove more than ⅓ of the roots at a time.
If you haven’t bought a Snake Plant yet, you can make your task a lot easier by choosing a dwarf cultivar. Many kinds of Sansevieria never reach more than a foot or two in height, making them ideal for growers who prefer a smaller plant. Keep reading to learn our top 5 tips for keeping Snake Plants short.
Tip #1: Choose a Small Variety
The most well-known type of Snake Plant is a cultivar called “Laurentii”, which produces tall, wavy leaves covered with green zigzags and edged with bright yellow stripes. It’s a common decoration in offices, waiting rooms, and trendy coffee shops, sitting in large pots on the floor and growing nearly as tall as a person.
You might have some reservations about trying to grow something that size in your house or apartment. The good news is that plenty of Snake Plant varieties are just as beautiful, but not nearly as tall. Here are a few great examples:
- Golden Hahnii. This dwarf cultivar looks a lot like the larger “Black Gold” Sansevieria – dark green leaves with bright yellow borders. This is of several “Bird’s Nest” Snake Plant varieties, all of which have slightly different patterns of variegation. None of them get more than a foot tall, and all of them grow in an attractive spiral arrangement.
- Futura Superba. This cultivar is basically a miniature version of the most popular type of Snake Plant. Its maximum height is two feet.
- Moonshine. Sometimes known as the Moonlight or Silver Snake Plant, this plant has a subtle misty gray color that’s unusual among Sansevierias. Its leaves are fairly broad, shaped more like an oval than a sword, and it tops out at two feet tall.
- Starfish. Some Snake Plants produce rounded, cylindrical leaves instead of the more well-known tongue shape. The Sansevieria Boncel or Starfish is a dwarf variety whose foliage looks a bit like small, unripe bananas. It makes for a striking tabletop plant.
- Walking Sansevieria. This miniature Snake Plant has pointed, partially folded leaves in an attractive shade of minty green. What makes it unique is its habit of sending out long, skinny stems that pop out new rosettes of leaves, creating little conga lines of interconnected plants.
Tip #2: Remove the Biggest Leaves
The previous tip isn’t much help if you’ve already purchased a tall variety of Sansevieria. The good news is that Snake Plants don’t grow particularly fast, so it shouldn’t be too hard to keep yours in check with a bit of maintenance pruning. When the leaves get a bit too tall for your taste, just trim them off.
You don’t want to slice off a Snake Plant’s leaf partway down – that will just result in an ugly flat-topped stump. Instead, pick a few of the biggest leaves and cut them as close to the soil as you can. If you’re trimming the foliage closer to the center, you probably won’t be able to get all the way to the base, but that’s okay; the outer leaves will shield the stubs from view.
Depending on the size of your Snake Plant’s leaves, you may be able to use a set of pruning shears, but for really thick foliage you’ll probably need a large garden knife. Whatever tool you choose, make sure it’s sharp. It’s best to make the cut as smooth as possible because a ragged edge is more likely to get infected.
You can further safeguard against bacteria by sanitizing your blades before and after each cut. Wipe them down with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution.
Tip #3: Prune the Roots
Another way to keep the size of your Snake Plant in check is to trim back the roots periodically. This limits the plant’s ability to grow taller, since the root mass will be too small to support really big leaves. Don’t worry – if you do this right, you won’t hurt your plant, and you’ll actually encourage vigorous new roots to emerge.
You’ll only need to prune the roots once per year at most. Early spring is the best time for this procedure. That’s when the plant is just getting started with its growth for the season, so it will be able to quickly repair the damage to its roots.
Tip your Sansevieria out of its pot, keeping a firm grip on the base of the foliage. Give the bottom of the pot a few firm taps if the plant doesn’t slide free easily. Sometimes you may need to scrape the inside of the pot with your garden knife to loosen it up. Clear most of the soil from the roots with your fingers and/or a bit of warm water.
Just as you did when pruning the foliage, disinfect your shears or knife. Then snip or saw off the outermost ends of the roots, first at the bottom and then at the sides. Try to focus on the thinner thread roots rather than the thicker tap roots. Don’t remove more than ⅓ of your Snake Plant’s root mass at a time.
Then return your plant to its pot. You may want to take this opportunity to give it some fresh potting mix. If you do, use a mix intended for succulents, with plenty of coarse particles like perlite and conifer bark chips.
For the next month or two, don’t fertilize your Snake Plant or let it sit in direct sunlight. You need to minimize the strain while it recovers from the operation. Take care not to overwater it, either – let the top 2-3 inches of the soil get dry and crumbly before providing more hydration.
Tip #4: Don’t Fertilize Much
Potted Snake Plants need some supplementary nutrition to replace aging tissues and repair damage, but there’s no reason to fertilize yours heavily if you want it to stay small. Too much nitrogen, in particular, will encourage oversized leaf growth.
These plants aren’t heavy feeders, and most guides recommend giving them a half-strength dose of liquid fertilizer each month. If you want your Sansevieria to stay short, you might want to lower that to ¼ strength, unless you see signs that the plant is suffering from a nutrient shortage.
Tip #5: Rotate Your Snake Plant Regularly
A plant that’s deprived of adequate sunlight often tries to stretch towards the nearest light to increase its exposure. When this happens to your Snake Plant, it will not only get taller than you’d like – it may also be so skinny that it droops under its own weight.
You can reduce this problem by giving the plant a quarter turn every time you check to see if it needs water. This ensures that your Snake Plant gets even exposure to sunlight, reducing the tendency to reach in one specific direction.
Don’t keep the plant in a room that’s extremely dim or extremely bright – too little sun will make it leggy, but too much will encourage rapid growth. Medium-strength indirect light should give you the best results.
With proper maintenance, it’s quite possible to prevent a slow-growing plant like a Sansevieria from outgrowing your space. Even if it’s too late to pick a compact cultivar, you should be able to keep a larger one under control with some basic maintenance. We hope our advice helps you grow the cute, compact Snake Plant of your dreams!