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.
It can be confusing trying to pin down exactly what kind of lighting is best for a Snake Plant. Some people will recommend them as excellent plants for a dark office or a windowless bathroom. Others will talk about how they make a great addition to a sunny balcony or garden. What’s the deal? Do Sansevierias belong in bright light or shade? Where should you put your Snake Plant if you want it to thrive?
Snake Plants are at their best when they receive lots of bright, indirect light, along with a few hours per day of direct sun. A window that faces east or west is a great spot for a Sansevieria, and a southern exposure can also work if you take some precautions to keep your plant from getting too hot. However, Snake Plants are quite adaptable, and they can survive for quite a while even in very dim light.
In other words, yes, you can keep a Snake Plant alive in a room that gets very little sun. Don’t expect it to grow much, though. And your Sansevieria’s high-contrast markings may get dull if you keep it in a dim space because brightly colored variegation requires a good amount of light. Read on to learn how to diagnose lighting problems and choose the perfect spot for your Snake Plant.
The Best Lighting for Snake Plants
Snake Plants evolved close to the equator, and they’re happiest when they receive lots of sunlight. You’ll get the most robust growth out of your plant by giving it 8-10 hours of bright light per day.
If possible, at least half of that should be indirect light. That means light that’s not beaming straight from the sun onto your Snake Plant’s leaves. Instead, it’s reflecting off of other surfaces or passing through a partial barrier like a thin fabric curtain. Snake Plants tolerate direct light better than many houseplants, but they can still burn if they receive more than 5 or 6 hours per day.
Your Snake Plant should do well in a south-facing room with lots of natural light, as long as you don’t set it right on a windowsill. The perfect spot is around 3 or 4 feet away from the nearest window. If you decrease the light intensity by hanging some sheer curtains or Venetian blinds you can move your plant even closer to the light.
A west-facing room gets less direct light than a southern exposure, but those rays show up in the heat of the late afternoon, so they can be quite intense. If you’re keeping a Snake Plant near a western exposure, take the same precautions as you would with a south window.
Eastern windows are safer – they let your plants soak up the bright morning sun before the day gets too hot. You can usually put your Snake Plant right on the window sill in an east-facing room.
An easy way to test whether the light is bright enough for your Snake Plant is to hold your hand between the light and a piece of paper. Is the shadow faint and extremely blurry even at midday? If so, this spot is too dim to let your Snake Plant live up to its full potential. If the shadow is dark and has clear, sharp edges, the light is bright and direct.
An illuminance meter will give you an even more straightforward answer. Bright indirect light falls between 1,000 and 2,000 foot-candles.
Are Snake Plants Good in Low Light?
Not everyone is interested in growing the biggest and healthiest Snake Plant they can. Some people are just looking to bring some life and greenery to a dreary room that doesn’t get much natural light. They need something that will stay alive in a dim cubicle, a shady reading nook, or some other poorly-lit space.
A Snake Plant can still be a good choice in this scenario. Sansevierias are adaptable and resilient, capable of surviving on far less light than they’d get in their dream home. It’s no accident that you often find them in office spaces where they sit far away from the windows and get very little natural light. They can soldier on under conditions that would kill most other plants.
Note that if you keep a Snake Plant in low light, it’s unlikely to get much larger than it is when you buy it. Of course, this may be a plus if you’re looking to house it in a compact space!
The Best Snake Plants for Dim Light
The other thing to be aware of when you keep a Sansevieria in dim light is that its coloration will tend toward darker green. This happens because the plant produces more chlorophyll than normal. It needs to make the most of what little light is available.
If you want to place a Snake Plant in a poorly lit spot, stay away from varieties with lots of bright markings. Instead, try one of these darker cultivars:
- Zeylanica. Also called Ceylon Bowstring Hemp, this is a tall-growing Sansevieria that features a simple but attractive tiger-stripe pattern alternating between light and dark green.
- Black Gold. This popular Snake Plant variety does have strips of bright yellow running down the edges of each leaf, but most of the plant is a very deep green that’s well-suited to dim lighting.
- Starfish. The Boncel or Starfish Sansevieria is a dwarf variety that grows its leaves in odd-looking stubby cylinders instead of tall blades. The visual appeal of this plant has more to do with its intriguing shape than its patterning, so it still looks cool even when its stripes are less pronounced.
- Samurai. Sansevieria ehrenbergii grows in a kind of tower or ladder shape with leaves curving off to the sides like miniature canoes. In low light, it may lose its subtle blue-green tint, but it will still have its distinctive jagged profile.
Can Snake Plants Grow in Artificial Lighting?
What if you have a room with no natural lighting at all? Can a Snake Plant survive solely on the illumination from your light bulbs? The answer is…maybe, if you’re willing to make some adjustments.
Office spaces are often better for this purpose than private homes because they’re usually lit by fluorescent or LED bulbs. These types of illumination give off a lot more light in the blue end of the spectrum, which is important for promoting healthy foliage growth. As long as the brightness is above 50 foot-candles, your Snake Plant should be able to survive, though it won’t truly thrive in less than 100.
The light from incandescent bulbs has much more red in it. That’s helpful for root growth, but your Sansevieria’s root system will likely be pretty well-established by the time you bring it home. Blue and yellow wavelengths to nourish the leaves are more helpful. Incandescent bulbs also give off more heat, so you can’t place them very close to your plant. That means their light will be more diffuse and weak by the time it hits the foliage.
You’ll be in better shape if you’ve switched over to energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED lighting. These lights don’t usually provide the full spectrum of light that a plant would get outdoors, but they can provide a more even balance.
Keep in mind that CFLs are usually sold in two categories – “warm lighting” bulbs, which skew more toward yellow and red, and “daylight” bulbs, which are more balanced. As you can probably guess, daylight lamps are better for raising houseplants.
When you’re trying to raise a Snake Plant using CFLs or LEDs instead of sunlight, you should keep the plant within a foot or two of the lamp if possible. But there is a type of lighting that can help a Snake Plant thrive even in a room with no windows: Grow lights! Read on for more information on lighting your plants with grow lights.
Grow Lights for Snake Plants
The previous section is for people wondering if they can support a Snake Plant with the existing ambient lighting in their home or workplace. But you can make your plant a lot happier by adding a dedicated full-spectrum grow lamp.
In general, the best grow lights use LEDs. They’re more expensive up front, but they last longer and they’re more energy-efficient, so they’re generally a better choice in the long run. Our recommendation is the Sansi 15W LED Bulb, which is inexpensive and easy to find. You can keep it a foot or two away from your Snake Plant and still provide plenty of illumination.
Those looking to grow a Snake Plant solely under artificial light will want to provide between 12 and 16 hours of illumination per day. If you’re just looking to provide an added boost to a plant that’s getting some sun, you may be able to get away with only 8-10 hours. The simplest way to control this schedule is with an outlet timer that you can set and forget.
Keep an eye on your Snake Plant’s health and growth after you set it up under the lamps. You’ll probably need to fiddle with your lighting schedule a bit to figure out how much daily illumination it needs to keep growing strong. You may find our in-depth article on grow lights for houseplants helpful.
Is Your Snake Plant Getting Enough Light?
Watch out for the warning signs of an under-lit Snake Plant. Pay close attention to your Sansevieria’s condition to help you avoid starving it.
Slow growth is the first hint that your Sansevieria is undernourished. However, this isn’t always easy to observe, because even normal Snake Plant growth is pretty slow. Sansevierias tend to gain, at most, 2-3 inches of height per month. And they may only send out 2-4 new leaves throughout a single growing season. But if it’s mid-July and your Snake Plant is the same size it was in April, there’s a good chance it’s not getting enough sun.
Other indicators include the leaves drooping or their coloration getting dark and dull. Pay attention to conditions in the pot, too – if the soil is taking a long time to dry out after you water your plant, it might mean that there’s not enough sunlight in the room. This is an especially alarming sign because waterlogged soil can lead to root rot. You may want to review our post on diagnosing and treating root rot in Snake Plants.
Over time, a Snake Plant that’s starved for sun will develop an odd growth pattern. Its leaves grow longer and skinnier than normal – they’re stretching out in a desperate attempt to catch some rays. This condition is called etiolation or “getting leggy”. As it gets more severe, the leaves may become too thin to support their own weight, slumping over to the sides. Read more on etiolation in Snake Plants here.
If you’re going to move your Snake Plant to a brighter location, make it a gradual transition. Start by giving the plant an extra hour or two of indirect light, and increase that amount a little more each day. If you place an under-lit Sansevieria right next to a south-facing window, the sudden surge of direct light could burn its leaves.
Is Your Snake Plant Getting Too Much Sun?
Speaking of which, what does it look like when a Snake Plant receives more sun than it can handle? A mild solar overdose might give the plant a bleached look. The parts of the foliage that used to be dark green will fade to a lime color, while the lighter sections turn gray or white. Because the Snake Plant is getting way more light than it needs, it starts shedding some of its chlorophyll.
Harsh sunlight can also dry out the plant’s tissues and create crispy brown or tan dead spots. Be careful – withered patches like these could also come from things like underwatering or excess fertilizer. But if the damage seems to cluster on the parts of the plant that face the window, you’re probably dealing with sun scorch.
When you notice these trouble indicators, move your plant out of harm’s way, but that doesn’t mean sticking it in complete darkness. You should place it in a spot that receives no direct sun for at least the next week or two. Give the plant a thorough watering, too, unless the soil is already damp. A sunburned Snake Plant is likely dehydrated.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to fix the sun-damaged parts of your Snake Plant. If you don’t like the way they look, you can cut them off. Disinfect your clippers or knife before making any cuts, or else your plant could get infected. Rubbing alcohol or 10% bleach are good sanitizing agents.
Before you start clipping, remember that a Snake Plant’s leaves grow from the tip. If you trim them back, they’ll stay the same height and shape from then on. You may be better off snipping damaged leaves all the way to the soil to make room for new growth.
But don’t cut off too much at once, or you’ll deprive your Snake Plant of energy – a leaf that’s only partly sunburned can still absorb sunlight through the healthy portions. In general, you should try not to remove more than ⅓ of the foliage.
Temperature, Moisture, and Sunburn
Mild temperatures can help reduce the risk of your Snake Plant getting scorched by direct sunlight. The perfect temperature range for a Sansevieria is between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to keep your plant toward the lower end of that range if you’re going to let it get a lot of sun.
Humidity is also helpful. These desert plants don’t need a whole lot of moisture, but they’re a lot less likely to get burned if you can keep the ambient humidity above 40 percent. An electric humidifier is the best way to compensate for dry air, but your plant can also get a little relief from a pebble tray.
Sansevierias do need some light to live, and they need quite a bit of it to reach their full size and display their boldest patterns. However, they’re much better equipped to survive in dim spaces than your average plant. As long as you watch out for the danger signs we’ve described above, you should be able to keep a Snake Plant alive in almost any room of your house.