Care and Propagation of Dracaena Trifasciata, previously classified as Sansevieria
A popular and easy to care for plant, Snake Plants, or Dracaena trifasciata (previously classified as Sansevieria) that are absolutely great for beginners.* Snake Plants are actually a FLOWERING plant. I personally was mind blown the first time one of mine started putting out flowers. It happens very rarely, once a year at most, and usually only outdoors, when they are rootbound and stressed, go figure. Sometimes, it is 10 to 20 years before someone sees one of their snake plants bloom. They go by a variety of names, including Snake Plant, Mother-in-law’s tongue, Saint George’s sword, and Bowstring Hemp, and there are what seems to be an endless list of different varieties.
*For more plants that are great for beginners and why check out House Plants 101
One of the reason for their popularity among house plant enthusiasts and beginners alike is, they are extremely adaptable, tolerating anywhere from full Florida sun, to very little light, as long as you adapt your watering according to the amount of sunlight they are getting (check out my quick care guide below), and as long as they are in a succulent mix/very well draining soil and in a well draining pot. These hardy plants do well in terracotta pots, which helps to absorb the excess water and you should let the soil dry completely out before giving it a good drink, as snake plants store water in their leaves and thick root system (known as rhizomes). They also have a very shallow root system, so don’t choose too deep or too large of a pot! As far as repotting, there are a few signs that will tell you when your plant needs a size up: Roots poking through the drainage hole, the soil drying out extremely fast, roots poking out of the top of the soil, the pot breaking or expanding (if it is in a plastic container, you may notice it becoming deformed) and stunted growth or no growth, particularly during the growing season (spring and summer).
Fun fact: Plants that have thick, hardy leaves, and thick stems, can tolerate being dryer for longer! This applies to plants like ZZ plants, Hoyas and philodendrons, as well as succulents!
You can also propagate these popular house plants by cuttings (both by chunks of the stem or the full stem) or by separation. One of my most favorite parts about owning any propagatable plant (which turns out to be a lot of them!) is the ability to share them with friends and family. There are different methods of propagation and I recommend trying them all! But I am going to share the method that has worked best for me!
Although snake plants make a wonderful potted plant, here in Florida, at least, you should not plant it in the ground, as it is considered invasive, meaning it will run wild! You can keep them indoors or outdoors, as long as they are in a pot! If you’re outside of Florida, you should research your areas list of invasive plants before planting them in the ground. Here is the latest list of invasive plant species both category 1 and 2 for the state of Florida.
- Clean Scissors or Gardening Shears
- A small pot with drainage
- A well draining soil
- Ground Cinnamon
- Rooting hormone (optional)
STEM PROPAGATION IN SOIL
Using a clean pair of scissors or gardening shears, you are going to want to cut the stem as close to the base as possible* (without damaging the original plant or other leaves). You can clean the garden shears or scissors with rubbing alcohol. The stem that you chose to cut off, should be a healthy and well established.
*I am using the method of propagating full stems, cut from the original plant. You can also cut the stems into chunks horizontally, and use the same propagation method. If you do this method, be sure to keep the cuttings in the same direction as they were on the original plant.
After you make your cutting, I recommend dabbing ground cinnamon (yes, regular grocery store ground cinnamon) on the spot where you made the cutting on the plant. This helps to heal and prevents disease and fungus, because cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal! When you are propagating in soil, you should also put the cinnamon on the cutting of the stem you are propagating, this will act as a rooting hormone. Or you may choose to use a rooting hormone powder, if you have some at home!
If you are using a rooting hormone or cinnamon, the process is the same, do not stick the stem directly in the bottle. Instead, pour a little bit of the powder onto a surface (I use plant saucers!), then get the part where you made the cutting a little wet and then dip it into the powder.
Once you have done this, just stick the stem into a well draining soil mixture in a pot with drainage (terracotta pots are amazing especially for this type of plant and they make super tiny ones that are perfect for this, I linked them below!). The soil you use is extremely important with snake plants! Whether you use a pre-mixed cactus and succulent soil or regular potting soil with additives, you want to make sure the soil has plenty of aeration and drainage. There are a variety of soil amendments you can add to achieve this, the one I use most frequently is perlite. It achieves both aeration and drainage at the same time, and is rather inexpensive and easy to find. For this particular instance, I use about 40% perlite to 60% soil, so it is very heavy on the perlite! I have also propagated snake plants in Canadian peat moss, which worked fine as well.
You are going to want to water the propagation more than you would a normal snake plant, keeping it moist, but never setting in a puddle of water (terracotta pots will help to avoid the over watering). Snake plants store water in their rhizomes and their thick stems. A rhizome (pictured) is a very thick, horizontal underground plant root capable of producing a new plant. Rhizomes are used to store not only water, but nutrients and proteins that plants use for energy. When you are propagating snake plants, they have not formed the mechanisms yet. They can absorb water through the part where you made the cutting, but not store it as long as they can once fully rooted, which is why watering in small amounts , more frequently is important.
Once you plant your propagations, in pots, place them on a window sill, or somewhere it can get filtered / indirect light, you can also place it under a grow light* or outside (under cover so it doesn’t get too much direct sunlight) depending on where you live. Living in Florida, this is feasible for me most of the year.
*I actually use high spectrum, daylight 5000k, 100 watt led light bulbs and work clamp lamps as a cheap alternative to grow lights (links below!)
Remember, the amount of light and your climate will affect the rate of growth. It could take weeks, or months to start showing roots.
Propagation by Division
Another easy way of propagating snake plants is by separation. You may notice that your snake plant starts growing in clusters of stems. Almost giving the appearance of a completely separate plant in the pot. It actually is both a new plant, and part of the original plant! As the snake plant grows above soil, it is growing beneath the soil as well, which includes forming the rhizome, which I described above. The rhizome shoots horizontally, and this is what the new baby plant is growing off of. This creates a tricky situation when you are attempting to separating the plants. Some plants, such as a lemon lime dracena, can simply be divided, without cutting any roots, when they produce a baby plant within the pot. With the snake plant, you will need to remove the plant from the pot and will need to cut the rhizome to seperate it.
Once you carefully remove the plant from its pot, knock some of the soil off of the root system, and identify the rhizome. You will be able to see a noticeable difference between this root and the other roots, which will be very thin almost hair like. The rhizome on the other hand, will be very thick and white in color. Using a clean pair of gardening shears or scissors, make a clean cut in the rhizome. Then, dab cinnamon on both ends of the rhizome, to prevent the wound from fungus and disease.
As for the thinner, hair like roots, you want to carefully separate any that may tangled or woven together. They are very fine so you may break some in the process, just try to limit the amount that you break as you don’t want to shock the plant any more. While you are doing this, be on the lookout for any unhealthy roots, that are mushy or black, this is root rot! (if you are experience mushy or damaged leaves, this could be why! It is caused by improper drainage, too large of a pot, insufficient light and over watering.)
Once you have your plants separated, you are ready to plant them in pots! Choosing a pot is very important when it comes to plants, particular snake plants. They prefer to be root bound, in a well draining container, and they have very shallow roots, so don’t choose pots that are too deep. Use a very well draining soil, which can be a pre-made cactus/succulent blend, or a regular soil with amendments added such as perlite. This is the method I use, and I mix in almost 40% of a large/coarse perlite to 60% soil. Perlite is great for aeration and drainage as long as it is not too fine in texture. I have also used leca in a pinch for added drainage!
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Potting Soil Mixture:
- 8 qt. Perlite: https://amzn.to/2URyrgb
- Black Gold 8-Quart All Purpose Potting Soil With Control: https://amzn.to/2M0DyFo
(Mixed ingredients together in a large container, with a lid so I could save it for future uses)
Pre-mixed cactus and succulent mix:
- Digz Gardening Gloves: https://amzn.to/2XjXIkr
- Ground Cinnamon: https://amzn.to/39PVJaj
- Rooting Hormone: https://amzn.to/2VeGpip
- Mini Terracotta Pots: https://amzn.to/2XEPoKZ
- Terracotta Pots: https://amzn.to/2VbIYBK
- Fiskars Soft Tip Garden Shear: https://amzn.to/2JOHTuk
- Fiskars Pruning Shears: https://amzn.to/2VdkGqL
- Fiskars Micro Tip Pruning Shears:https://amzn.to/2XhSp53
- Light Bulbs in lieu of grow lights: https://amzn.to/2ZJVwEm
- Work light for light bulbs: https://amzn.to/2TMqlnV