A Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Mother-In-Law’s Tongue Plant

Snake plant, also called mother-in-laws tongue, is a popular and hardy houseplant with stiff, sword-like leaves. It comes in many types, and many of them have leaves with green bands or stripes and a yellow or cream edge.

This attractive, easy-to-grow houseplant tolerates drought and low light, making it the go-to option for spaces like offices.

With its upright, sword-shaped leaves and easy care requirements, it’s no wonder the mother-in-law’s tongue plant is such a popular houseplant Also called snake plant or Sansevieria, this distinctive looking plant is a great choice for beginning gardeners and experienced green thumbs alike Read on to learn all about growing and caring for this unique houseplant.

Overview of Mother-In-Law’s Tongue Plant

Mother-in-law’s tongue is the common name for the species Sansevieria trifasciata. It belongs to the family Asparagaceae and is native to tropical West Africa. In its natural habitat it can reach heights of up to 12 feet but when grown as a houseplant it typically stays between 2-5 feet tall.

This evergreen perennial has stiff, upright leaves that emerge from the soil in a rosette pattern. The leaves are sword-shaped with a sharp point and have light gray-green coloration with darker green striping. Some varieties have yellow or cream borders on the leaves. The plant gets its common name from the long pointed leaves that resemble a mother-in-law’s sharp tongue.

One of the best things about mother-in-law’s tongue is how adaptable and low maintenance it is. This makes it a perfect beginner houseplant that can tolerate lower light and occasional watering neglect. Let’s look at exactly how to care for this easy-going plant.

Ideal Growing Conditions

While flexible, mother-in-law’s tongue does prefer some specific conditions to thrive:

  • Light: Bright indirect light or a few hours of morning sun. Avoid direct hot afternoon sun.

  • Temperature: Average room temps from 70-90°F. Keep away from cold drafts.

  • Soil: Loose, sandy potting mix that drains quickly. Cactus mix or sandy all-purpose potting soil.

  • Water: Allow soil to dry out between waterings. Water deeply only when soil is completely dry.

  • Humidity: Average humidity is fine. Prefers drier air rather than moist.

  • Fertilizer: Balanced houseplant fertilizer at half strength every 2-3 months during spring through fall.

Plant Care Tips

Caring for mother-in-law’s tongue is simple, but there are a few specific things to keep in mind:

  • Water only when the soil has completely dried out. Overwatering can quickly lead to root rot.

  • In winter, reduce watering frequency. The plant may only need water every few weeks when growth slows.

  • Wipe dust from the leaves regularly to allow optimal light exposure.

  • Repot every 2-3 years in spring using cactus potting mix for drainage.

  • Prune damaged leaves as needed and remove yellow, brittle leaves promptly.

  • Keep away from drafts and windows that get cold. Don’t expose to temps below 50°F.

  • Watch for pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scales. Treat with neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Propagating Your Plant

Mother-in-law’s tongue propagates easily from divisions or cuttings:

  • Divisions: Carefully divide the root ball and repot sections in spring or summer.

  • Cuttings: Take 4-6 inch cuttings and root in water or potting mix. Plant when roots emerge.

  • Pups: Separate pups or offshoots that emerge from the soil and repot individually.

Common Concerns

Mother-in-law’s tongue is quite hardy, but watch for these issues:

  • Overwatering: Yellow leaves, soft stems, foul smell, and eventual collapse. Improve drainage and reduce water.

  • Underwatering: Brown, dry, brittle leaves. Water more frequently.

  • Low light: Sparse growth, floppy leaves. Move to a brighter location.

  • Pests: Chewed leaves, stick residue, or visible insects. Treat with insecticidal methods.

  • Root rot: Mushy brown roots, yellow leaves, plant decline. Repot in fresh mix if salvagable.

The Takeaway

With its sculptural vertical leaves and hassle-free nature, mother-in-law’s tongue makes an excellent houseplant for beginners and experienced gardeners. Providing this plant with bright indirect light, occasional watering, and well-draining soil will keep it healthy for years to come. Follow these tips and you’ll soon have the ultimate low-maintenance specimen thriving in your home.

Potting and Repotting Snake Plant

Every three to five years, or when you see roots coming out of the holes in the bottom of the pot, you should give your snake plant a new pot. Your plant also needs to be repotted if the water drains out too quickly, the roots fill up the whole pot, or the plant has slow growth and a dull look.


Snake plants don’t tolerate temperatures lower than 50°F. When you bring the plant inside from the outside, make sure it stays warm and out of the way of cold drafts. As the plant enters winter dormancy, reduce watering and allow soil to dry out completely before watering.

How To Care For A Snake Plant | Mother In Laws Tongue Plant Care


Does mother in law’s tongue plant need sun?

Partial to full sun, dappled light, or a dark corner, its ideal situation is bright indirect light. While you can place them outside, be mindful that they can burn in the harsh sun. Water When it comes to watering your Mother In Law’s Tongue: less is more. This water-wise wonder prefers dry soil and is best left alone.

How often should I water my mother-in-law tongue plant?

Like succulents, snake plants need little watering and sunlight to thrive. They grow fast in soil with good drainage and are resistant to insects, heat, and warm climates. A potted snake plant should only be watered once every two weeks (or once a month during winter) as over-watering can cause them to die.

What is the difference between a snake plant and a mother in law’s tongue?

Mother-in-law’s tongues and snake plants are actually different varieties of Sansevieria trifasciata. If your plant has a yellow border to its leaves, it’s a mother-in-law’s tongue. If it has green leaves with lighter colored horizontal bands, then it’s a snake plant.

What is a mother-in-law’s tongue?

The mother-in-law’s tongue ( Sansevieria trifasciata) is a popular house plant from West Africa. It goes by names such as viper’s bowstring hemp, Saint George’s sword, or snake plant. Just don’t confuse it with the Nassauvia serpens, a plant native to the Falkland Islands. The snake plant is a beautiful evergreen.

Can a mother-in-law’s tongue plant survive a drought?

Because mother-in-law’s tongue plants can survive some drought, it’s better to water less often than over-water. Over-watering a snake plant can cause root rot. You will know if you over-water your snake plant because the leaves will be yellow and mushy at the base. Sansevieria trifasciata thrive in average room temperatures.

Can mother-in-law’s tongue grow in a bedroom?

The advantage of growing this type of snake plant is that it helps to removes airborne chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and nitrogen oxide. Because mother-in-law’s tongue can clean the air and grow in low light, it’s an ideal plant to keep in your bedroom.

Can mother in law tongue plants grow outside?

Choosing a good spot will keep them thriving for a long time. Mother in law’s tongue plants are very sensitive to cold, so they can only be grown outside year-round in zones 10+. If your region experiences temperatures below 50°F, bring them indoors for winter to prevent frost damage. Prolonged cold exposure will eventually lead to death.

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