How to Water Snake Plants

How to water snake plants

I love snake plants, and they are my go-to recommendation for a low-maintenance houseplant! However, I find that they do require a bit of a learning curve when it comes to watering. I work in a garden center, and I have to water snake plants in preparation for sale, so I’ve gained lots of first-hand experience in growing succulents.

I learned that there is no universal watering advice that applies to snake plants, as there are so many variables that affect watering. Instead, we need to tailor our watering to the snake plant according to our climate and conditions.

In this article, I’ll share with you all the tips and techniques that I have for watering in a step-by-step guide…

Let’s get to it! In a nutshell…

Snake plants are adapted to tolerate drought, so water them generously and allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Always give snake plants a good soak rather than a light watering to ensure the water has infiltrated the soil properly to reach the roots.

We need to first acknowledge that our snake plants are succulents that are native to Africa and require the soil to dry out between bouts of watering and well-draining soils to stay healthy and avoid root rot.

Keep reading to learn how to establish how often and how much to water your snake plant according to your climate and conditions…

How Often to Water Snake Plants (Wait Until the Soil is Dry)

As I mentioned, our snake plants are a type of succulent that has special adaptations to growing in hot, arid climates with infrequent rainfall and well-draining soils.

Snake plants store water in their thick fleshy leaves and only open their stomata at night to prevent water loss from the leaves during hot sunny days.

Of course, all these extensive adaptations to drought mean that our Snake plants prefer dryer soil conditions and less frequent watering than most of our other house plants and can be susceptible to root rot. (Root rot is the most common reason I see for them dying).

If the soil is consistently damp then the snake plant leaves turn yellow or brown and have a soft texture as a sign of stress.

To grow snake plants in your home successfully we need to learn how to simulate the watering conditions of its native environment.

Snake plants require the soil around the roots to dry out somewhat between bouts of watering so I only water when the soil is dry. Typically, I have found that this means watering your snake plant once every 2 or 3 weeks, but it could be different for you!

Why is this?

We need to know the rate at which the soil around your snake plant dries out can vary due to several different factors and at certain times of year…

  • The humidity and average temperature of the climate.
  • The size of the pot (smaller pots dry out quickly).
  • The material of the pot (I’ve found that clay dries out quicker than plastic, for example).
  • Whether the snake plant is in the direct current of air-con or forced air (which can sap moisture from the leaves and dry the soil quickly).
  • The capacity of the soil to retain moisture.
  • Fluctuating indoor temperatures due to heating.
  • The time of year (snake plants have a reduced demand for moisture in Winter).

Do not fear! I know this all sounds terribly complicated, but be assured I have developed a method (through some trial and error) for effectively establishing how often to water snake plants according to your conditions. I feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole.

If the soil feels moist then don’t water just yet, but if the soil feels somewhat dry, this is the perfect time for watering.

This is the secret to replicating the moisture cycle of our snake plants in their native habitat in Africa.

How to Tell if You Are Watering Snake Plants Too Often or Not Often Enough

If your water snake plants more often than once per week, you are likely overwatering, as this does not allow the soil to dry out between waterings.

The symptoms of an overwatered snake plant that we need to look out for are leaves turning yellow or brown or perhaps black with a soft, mushy feel to them rather than firm and green.

snake plant
This is an example of an overwatered snake plant. You can see the rot spreading down the leaf. When I felt the soil it was still damp.

If this is happening then scale back the watering of your snake plant and let the soil dry out properly to give the snake plant a chance to recover.

(If your snake plant has black leaves, then read my article, why is my snake plant turning black for the solution).

On the other end of the scale, if you are under-watering (not watering frequently enough or watering too lightly), then what we need to look out for is the snake plant leaves shriveling and can curl or droop and potentially turn brown.

In this case, give your snake plant a generous soak. The secret is to submerge the root ball in a basin of water for 10 minutes to allow moisture to effectively infiltrate the soil and reach the roots to absorb much-required moisture.

When this happened to a snake plant I was looming after, I found that after two or three watering cycles with a generous soak each time, the snake plant leaves should return to a more plump appearance.

Note: I must emphasize that it is much easier to revive an underwatered snake plant than an overwatered plant because of the snake plant’s drought tolerance so always try to keep snake plants on the dry side.

Pro Tip: Are you someone who frequently overwaters your succulents, such as snake plants? The best tip I have is to plant your snake plant in a clay or terracotta pot rather than a plastic or ceramic pot. The reason for this is clay and terracotta are breathable and allow the soil to dry out nicely and evenly. Ever since I did this, I haven’t had any problems with overwatering.

(For more information on the symptoms of overwatering and underwatering snake plants and how to save it, read my article how to revive a dying snake plant).

How Often to Water Snake Plants in Winter

I said earlier that the demand for moisture in the snake plant fluctuates throughout the year.

We need to be aware that in Winter, snake plants require watering less frequently because:

  • There are fewer hours of daylight.
  • The sun is less intense.
  • Water evaporates from the soil at a slower rate than Summer.
  • Snake plants lose less water through their leaves in Winter.

All these factors can cause a state of dormancy for the snake plant in the Winter, and mine practically stops growing.

(Snake plants can stop growing for several reasons read my article on why snake plant is not growing for the solutions).

So essentially, what we need to do is to reevaluate how often we water our snake plants in winter by checking the soil’s moisture with your finger at the drainage at the base of the pot.

Often, I find that the soil can stay moist for longer, which means you should delay watering your snake plant for longer than you would in the Spring and Summer.

Typically, in my experience, my snake plants require watering once every 3 or 4 weeks in the Winter with a good soak to maintain the optimal watering cycle, but we need to remember to adjust your watering schedule to suit your specific conditions, as there is no general advice that fits every snake plant.

Also, consider that if your indoor plant is next to a source of heat in Winter, then it can dry out much quicker. My snake plant can dry in less than two days if it’s too close to a source of heat, so I moved it to the other side of the room!

How Much to Water Snake Plants

Knowing how much to water your snake plant is essential.

The variability of climate, humidity, and air currents can all influence how often to water your snake plant but how much water you should be watering with stays the same regardless of conditions or time of year.

As I said before, we need to water snake plants with a really generous soak so that water visibly emerges from the base of the pot.

This is the method that I use as it ensures that the water has infiltrated the soil properly so that the roots can uptake the moisture they require.

You can literally see the snake plant’s leaves increase in size as it stores its moisture reserves in them after a good drink!

I’ve been taught that a generous soaking also promotes the roots’ establishment in the soil, further increasing the snake plant’s resistance to drought.

If, by contrast, you water too lightly, it causes the top inch or so of the soil to be damp, but the soil underneath can stay dry so that the roots cannot uptake the moisture they require, resulting in drought stress and causing the leaves to shrivel and turn brown as a sign of stress.

(Succulents can sometimes shrivel due to over watering, so read my article Why are my succulent leaves shriveling for how to tell the difference).

I find it helps to keep in mind that watering with a generous soak followed by allowing the soil to dry out recreates the watering cycle of snake plants in their native environment with a sudden deluge of rain followed by a period of drought and hot weather in their dry tropical environment.

Well Draining Soil is Key To Avoiding Overwatering

I have discovered firsthand that the correct watering frequency and quantity should be used in conjunction with the proper well-draining soil to keep your snake plant healthy and avoid root rot.

One of the mistakes that I made at first is to replant succulents such as snake plants in conventional potting soils. The problem is that they retain too much moisture for the drought resistant snake plant and results in root rot with the leaves turning yellow, brown or black and drooping.

I have also discovered that it is important to avoid potting mixes that contain peat as peat soil repels water when it has completely dried out (as the soil should between watering your snake plant), which causes water to run off the surface and prevents moisture from reaching the roots, causing drought stress.

I noticed this because when I was watering the snake plant, the water was immediately trickling from the base of the pot very quickly after watering, and I discovered the water was not infiltrating properly.

From my research, I found out that snake plants grow in gritty or sandy soils that drain quickly without holding too much moisture.

So I transferred my snake plant to succulent and cacti oil which effectively emulates the well draining soil characteristics of the snake plants native environment.

snake plant soil
This is the potting soil I use for snake plants. It is very effective at mitigating root rot from overwatering.

This alleviated the problem I had with the peat soil, which caused water to trickle off the surface as the gritty potting mix allowed water to infiltrate much more effectively.

With a potting soil mix specially formulated for succulents, it is a lot easier to achieve the optimal balance of moisture to avoid root rot and maintain a healthy snake plant.

Water Snake Plants in Pots with Drainage Holes in the Base

I know this may seem obvious to a lot of you reading this, but I feel I should mention this as I see beginner indoor gardeners make this mistake a lot!

Snake plants do not tolerate their roots being in damp soil, so snake plants must be planted in pots with drainage holes in their base to allow excess water to escape after watering.

Watering generously so that water emerges from the base of the pot is a great way to ensure that you have watered snake plants with enough water and feeling the soil at the drainage hole is the bet way to establish how often to water your snake plant.

If your snake plant is in a pot without good drainage, water will pool around its roots, causing root rot.

I should highlight that water can still collect around the roots if:

  • The drainage hole becomes blocked with compacted soil or roots. If your soil is draining slowly, check to see if the drainage hole is clear so excess water can escape properly.
  • Saucers and trays underneath the pot. if you are using a saucer or tray underneath the pot of your snake plant to prevent water from spilling in the house, then this can prevent excess water from escaping from the pot. Always empty the saucer or tray regularly so that the soil can dry out to prevent root rot.
  • Decorative outer pots. I have seen snake plants sold in stores planted in a plastic pot with drainage holes but presented in a decorative outer pot without drainage holes. Outer pots can prevent water from escaping, so either empty the pot regularly or plant it in a pot with drainage holes.
Snake plant decorative outer pot drainage holes in the base.
Snake plant in a decorative outer pot without drainage holes. in the base.

If you have any more questions, insights, or experiences when it comes to watering your snake plants, please leave a comment below! I love to hear from you!

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Key Takeaways:

  • Snake plants require watering with a generous soaking so that excess water emerges from the drainage holes in the base of the pot. Water snake plants with a good soak and let the soil dry out between bouts of watering.
  • Plant snake plants in special succulent and cactus soil to ensure good drainage and prevent root rot.
  • Snake plants should be planted in pots with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape.
  • The symptoms of an underwatered snake plant are shriveled leaves that curl inwards and get thinner than they should. Overwatered snake plants also turn yellow, brown, or black, and their leaves droop.

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