Snake Plants are great beginner houseplants. They’re tough as nails and will forgive lots of mistakes by their owners. But there is one aspect of their care that you’ve got to get right: watering. Improper hydration is a fast track to a sick or dying Sansevieria. Fortunately, there are some simple rules you can follow to make sure your Snake Plant gets the right amount of moisture.
Overwatering is the most critical problem to watch out for. Make sure to allow enough time between waterings to let the soil dry out, or your Snake Plant can easily develop root rot. Check the potting mix every 5-7 days during the growing season, watering only when the top 2-3 inches are completely dry. During the winter, your plant can go even longer without a drink.
Though you don’t want to water your Snake Plant too often, you should give it a big drink when it’s thirsty. Soak the soil all the way through until water is draining from the bottom of the pot. It’s also important to use the right kind of pot and soil, and to know the signs of an underwatered or overwatered Snake Plant. We’ll address all these topics in detail below!
How Often Should You Water a Snake Plant?
How often should you water your Snake Plant? Answer: whenever it needs water.
Okay, okay, we know that’s not a real answer. The thing is, there’s no simple schedule like “every two weeks” or “every 9 days” that will work for every Snake Plant. All kinds of different factors affect how quickly a plant absorbs water. Here are just a few examples:
- Sunlight levels
- Local humidity
- Container volume
- Soil quality
- The size and age of your plant
The only way to be sure whether your Snake Plant needs water is to test the soil. The simple method is to poke a finger 2 or 3 inches deep and see whether it feels dry. If so, it’s time to give your plant more water. If you feel any hint of moisture, you should wait and check again in a day or two.
The finger test isn’t completely foolproof, though. Depending on the composition of the potting mix, there could still be quite a bit of moisture in the bottom of the pot when the upper layers have dried out. You can get a clearer picture of conditions around the roots by inserting some kind of long, thin probe that can reach the bottom of the pot.
A soil moisture meter is purpose-built for this task, giving you a dampness rating on a ten-point scale ranging from “wet” to “moist” to“dry”. For Snake Plants, it’s best to water when the soil near the bottom of the pot is right on the edge between “moist” and “dry”.
If you prefer a low-tech approach, you can use a plain wooden chopstick or barbecue skewer for the same purpose. Poke it into the soil, wait a few minutes, then take it out. The best time to water is when it comes back with the lower end slightly damp, but not soaking wet.
Watering a Snake Plant in the Summer and Winter
Good news for those who like orderly schedules: although we can’t tell you how often to water your Sansevieria, we can give you a pretty good idea of how often you should test its soil. Here’s our rule of thumb: check whether your Snake Plant needs water every 5-7 days during the growing season.
The “growing season” will vary depending on your climate, but in northern regions, it usually falls between April and mid-October. During this period, your Snake Plant is receiving enough sun to put out new growth, so it will use more water. As its growth slows and stops during the fall or winter, it will get much less thirsty; you only need to check your Snake Plant’s pot every 2-3 weeks during the colder months.
These schedules are just rough guidelines. You’ll get better at knowing when to check on your plant if you pay attention to how quickly its potting mix dries out. We’ll talk more about soil quality further down, but for now, just remember you should test your Snake Plant’s potting mix more frequently if it’s coarse and fast-draining.
How to Water Your Snake Plant
Once you’ve poked or probed the soil and confirmed that your Snake Plant needs water, you should give it plenty to drink. Pour slowly and gently around the outside of the foliage until the soil is drenched and a healthy trickle of water is coming out from the pot’s drainage holes. Try not to get much water in the center of the leaf cluster; it could pool there and lead to rot.
What about water quality? The most important thing is to use cool or lukewarm water. Anything too hot or too cold could stress the plant. Yes, that means we advise against the “ice cube watering” fad that’s all over the internet!
Your Snake Plant will appreciate rainwater or distilled water if you can provide it. Tap water sometimes contains a high concentration of minerals. Those dissolved salts can cause problems if they build up in the soil. That’s one reason we recommend watering in big gulps instead of small sips: the excess fluid helps wash away excess minerals.
You can enhance this effect by giving your Snake Plant a full-on soil flush every so often. This is a more intense version of an ordinary watering, using around 4 or 5 times the total volume of the pot. Pour slowly and steadily, letting the water soak through the soil and drain away. If you give your Snake Plant tap water (or synthetic fertilizer), it’s a good idea to perform a soil flush every 2 months or so.
Some guides recommend bottom watering for Snake Plants. This method involves placing your Sansevieria’s pot inside a shallow tray with an inch or so of water inside and allowing the soil to wick it upward to the roots. We’re not fans of this method because it doesn’t provide the mineral-flushing benefits described above.
If you decide to try bottom watering, you should follow the same guidelines about waiting until the soil is mostly dry first. And make sure not to let your Snake Plant sit in the water tray too long – take it out as soon as the moisture has permeated close to the top of the pot. Around 10 minutes is usually plenty.
Are Snake Plants Drought Tolerant?
You may find it a little odd that we’re advising you to water your Snake Plant as soon as the soil dries out. Aren’t these supposed to be desert-dwelling succulents that can withstand long dry periods?
You’re right: Snake Plants can survive for quite a while without being watered. Their thick leaves and waxy outer layer help to trap and store moisture to keep them alive through droughts. Even if your Sansevieria starts wrinkling and wilting from lack of water, it’s probably a long way from dying of thirst. It’s likely to recover quickly once you give it a drink.
However, don’t mistake drought tolerance for drought love. Repeated underwatering can slow and stunt your Sansevieria’s development. If you want to see the big, beautiful foliage that your Snake Plant can produce, don’t let it go without water longer than you have to.
Bottom line: if you’re ever uncertain whether your Snake Plant needs hydration, it’s safer to wait. It’s a lot more likely to die from too little water than from too much. But don’t deliberately deprive it of hydration when the soil is clearly dry.
How to Tell if Your Snake Plant is Underwatered
We’ve already touched on one potential sign that a Snake Plant is getting too little water: slow or nonexistent growth. Sansevierias typically add 1-3 inches of height per month during the growing season and produce 2-4 new leaves in a year. That’s not exactly lightning-fast, but if the plant hardly seems to be growing at all, you might not be watering it enough.
As your Snake Plant’s thirst gets more urgent, its foliage will develop a rumpled appearance. Its fleshy leaves can only stay taut and smooth when their cells are filled with water. The more moisture the plant loses, the more saggy and wrinkled it will look.
The leaves may start to droop toward the ground as their tissues go slack. The foliage might also curl or fold up as a defense mechanism against dehydration. This response reduces the amount of leaf surface in contact with the air, slowing down evaporation.
Portions of your Snake Plant may begin to die of dehydration, usually starting at the tips and edges of the leaves. The affected foliage will fade to yellow, white, or brown and develop a dry and crispy texture.
Be aware that many of the symptoms above could also result from things like sunburn, temperature stress, or damage to the roots. Anything that interferes with your Snake Plant’s ability to take up or retain water can cause dehydration.
That’s why you should always check the soil before you conclude that your plant is underwatered. By the time a Snake Plant is so thirsty that it’s wilting and turning brown, the soil will usually be crusting over and peeling away from the edges of its container because it’s completely dry. Give your plant a drink and see if it revives; if not, you probably have a different problem on your hands.
How to Tell if Your Snake Plant is Overwatered
Depriving a Snake Plant of water will hurt it, but giving it too much water is far more dangerous. So how can you spot an overwatered Sansevieria?
The soil is your first clue. If you’re checking on it regularly as we recommended above, you probably have a pretty good idea of how quickly or slowly it’s drying out. When the soil remains noticeably damp 5 or 6 days after you’ve watered it, there’s something wrong – usually a problem with the drainage of the soil or the pot (more on that later).
Other early signs of overwatering are more or less identical to signs of underwatering. Too much water in the soil stifles the roots by denying them oxygen, so the rest of the plant can’t get enough water. This causes the kind of sagging, wrinkling, discolored foliage you’d see in a thirsty Sansevieria. Yellowing is particularly common in overwatered Snake Plants, usually beginning near the soil and spreading upward.
Those signs are bad enough, but you should be especially alert for symptoms of root rot. This condition is common in overwatered Snake Plants because opportunistic microorganisms can reproduce at a rapid rate in sludgy soil. It’s crucial to recognize root rot early. It can kill your plant if it has enough time to spread throughout the root system.
Root rot symptoms include:
- Sour or musty odors from the soil
- Leaves turning soft at the base
- Infestations of fungus gnats
- Brown, slimy spots on the leaves
- Foliage dropping off the plant
The only sure-fire diagnosis of root rot requires pulling your Snake Plant out of its pot and checking for roots that have turned brown, gray, black, squishy, or smelly. And the only cure is to trim off every infected root.
Wipe down your blades between snips with a disinfectant like 10% bleach or 3% hydrogen peroxide, or you’ll be giving the pathogens a free ride to healthy spots. After you’re finished, repot the plant in fresh soil and a clean container. You can find step-by-step instructions on treating root rot in Snake Plants here.
Soil and Water
By now, you may have gathered that overwatering has less to do with how wet the soil gets and more to do with how long it stays wet. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right kind of potting mix for your Snake Plant.
Your Sansevieria will do best with a rocky mix that includes lots of air pockets and allows water to drain through quickly. Soils intended for succulents are your best bet if you’re going with something off the shelf.
DIY houseplant owners may prefer to whip up their own blend. We recommend the following recipe:
If you’re especially absent-minded and have a tendency to underwater your plants, you could add in a bit of African Violet potting mix to make the soil a bit more water-retentive. Don’t include too much or it will get soggy; a combination of 25% African Violet mix and 75% succulent mix should work well. Read more about ideal soil for Snake Plants in this article.
Your choice of pot matters too. The most important thing it needs is a drainage hole in the base – even the fluffiest, most well-aerated soil will get waterlogged if the water doesn’t have an outlet once it reaches the bottom!
A terra cotta pot will also reduce your odds of overwatering. This porous, unglazed clay soaks up moisture from the soil and releases it into the air, helping the potting mix dry out faster.
As long as you’re careful to test the soil before watering and keep watch for signs of overwatering and dehydration, you should have no trouble keeping your Sansevieria properly hydrated. You can also give yourself a major leg up by providing a coarse, fast-draining potting mix. We hope our advice helps you quench your Snake Plant’s thirst and help it grow strong.
Want to read more? Click here to read Four Signs Your Snake Plant Needs a Drink of Water. Or check out Step By Step Instructions to Save your Snake Plant from Root Rot.