The mother-in-law plant isn’t just excellent for beginners: it’s also extremely easy to propagate. Although there are various ways you can complete the process, we’ll show you the easiest ways to propagate yours. We’ll also tell you everything you need to know about selecting and caring for your plant before setting out step-by-step instructions you can follow.
What’s a Mother-in-Law Plant?
A mother-in-law plant is also commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue, or snake plant. You may hear it called snake’s tongue, devil’s tongue, or the bowstring hemp plant as well. The names generally come from the shape of the long, slick leaves. Some people also call them viper’s bowstring hemp plants, because the plant’s fibers are sometimes used to create bowstrings.
Its scientific name is Sansevieria trifasciata, and this succulent plant can retain a lot of water in order to survive droughts.
Mother-in-Law Plant Varieties
There are a number of mother-in-law plant varieties available. Some grow taller than others, and display varying colors on their leaves. Check out the following popular varieties:
- The Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Hahnii’: Also known as the bird’s nest snake plant. Expect this variety to reach 6 inches tall and form leaves in a cluster shaped like a bird’s nest.
- Next is Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’ : A variegated variety with yellow leaf margins. This one must be divided in order to propagate (rather than from leaf cuttings).
- Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Twist’ : Named for its twisted leaves, this variety is striped with yellow at its edges and grows to 14 inches tall.
- Check out Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ : The narrow leaves feature white stripes, and the plant grows to 3 feet in height.
- Sansevieria cylindrica : The cylinder snake plant has round stiff leaves that arch outward to span several feet tall.
- Or perhaps Sansevieria desertii: Also known as rhino grass, this variety features red-tinted leaves and grows to 12 inches tall.
Benefits of a Mother-in-Law Plant at Home
Not only is the mother-in-law plant a great beginner houseplant, there are numerous benefits to keeping this plant in your home. Sure, each variety of the plant appears stunning. However, snake plants bring virtue and good health into your living space.
First cultivated in China, this houseplant was believed to be blessed by the gods. They’re said to bring strong virtue to those who grow them. In addition, science even backs up some major benefits in keeping the plant. They’re great air purifiers and may be able to combat diseases while removing toxins from the air in your home. NASA studies Sansevieria plants to learn how their air purification tricks can prevent sick building syndrome.
In fact, the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia found Sansevieria can remove harmful benzene and formaldehyde from your air supply. At night, snake plants will release oxygen into the air as well, making them perfect bedroom additions.
Although the mother-in-law plant offers great benefits in the way of air purification, the plant is also toxic to pet dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, and even us humans. Never ingest the plant or you may suffer symptoms such as mouth pain, nausea, and salivation. Larger pets may display signs of vomiting and diarrhea if the plant is ingested.
Smaller pets—including birds, rabbits, etc.—may be killed outright by the smallest bite. If you have pets and still really want to cultivate this plant, keep them well separated.
What Makes this Plant Easy for Beginners?
The main reason this is a great beginner plant is because it’s humble in its care requirements. It’s one of the easiest houseplants you could have because it grows on its own in a warm place. The plant prefers a dry setting with any type of sunlight and temperatures above 70 degrees F. Additionally, it’s so drought-tolerant that you don’t need to water it often.
Snake plants are nearly indestructible, and even enjoy being planted in containers. Groupings of this plant in containers look stunning on a tabletop or growing from the floor. They can reach 8 feet tall, and there are also low-growing varieties you can select for contrast.
Hardiness zones 9 through 11 are best for this plant, as it grows native to tropical areas of West Africa between the Republic of Congo to Nigeria. It prefers anywhere between full sun and low light, and fast-draining, sandy soil with a slightly acidic pH level is ideal. A cactus potting soil will produce the best results—just make sure the media offers low amounts of peat to ensure proper drainage and prevent waterlogging.
Allow the soil to dry completely between watering. Reduce the amount of water the plant receives in the winter months and only water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Too much water can easily kill a snake plant, so try to under-water the plant if possible.
Likewise, you’ll want to barely mist the plant while propagating new plants. Don’t wet your cuttings or divided plants while propagating or they may rot. To avoid over-watering from rainfall, always complete the process inside or on a covered porch during the spring or summer.
Use a mild type of cactus fertilizer throughout the growing season to watch your plant grow bigger and healthier. A slow release 10-10-10 fertilizer will work too, as long as you dilute the mixture to half-strength. Never offer fertilizer during the winter months.
With the right care, your plant may begin to bloom in the spring. That said, blooming is rare. Another great thing about a mother-in-law plant is that it’s easy to repot and propagate. The plants grow quickly and often require repotting during the spring, which is a great time to divide and propagate.
Why Propagate Snake Plants?
Sanseverias adore being pot bound, but there will come a time when repotting is necessary for its health and wellbeing. When the roots begin to ball together, leaving very little soil in the container for the plant to grow, it’s time to divide it into smaller plants.
Often, when you need to repot a snake plant, the roots will appear shallow and the plant may become top-heavy, falling over constantly.
5 Simple Steps to Propagate a Mother-in-Law Plant by Division
Because division is the easiest and safest way to propagate a mother-in-law plant, this article will only focus on dividing your existing plants to create new ones. Beginners will find this method easy to follow using these steps:
Step 1: Gather the materials you need.
To propagate a plant, you’ll need a sharp pair of shears or a small hand saw to cut the plant. You’ll also need repotting basics such as fresh potting medium, containers, and a small hand shovel. A gallon-sized pot works well, along with a well-draining potting mix.
Step 2: Pull the plant from the pot.
Mother-in-law plants grow from thick organs under the soil known as rhizomes. These are the pieces that allow new leaves and stems to grow. Pull the plant entirely from the container to begin working. The amount of new plants you can make depends entirely on the size of the current plant.
You’ll want to locate the rhizomes that are just beneath or very close to the ground. Then, take note of how many there are, and where they’re located, to divide the plant into smaller pieces. They may already have roots forming or show roots that are just beginning to bulge out.
Step 3: Divide the plant into sections.
Use something sharp such as a knife, pruners, shears, or a small hand saw to cut the plant’s base into sections. Whatever you choose to use, make sure it’s sharp and sterile.
Most gardeners simply cut the plant in half, while older plants may house multiple rhizomes that allow you to cut the plant into more sections. Each new plant should house no fewer than three rhizomes and one healthy leaf for the best results. Gently pull the plant apart into smaller sections, working as close to the base as possible and cutting the roots that connect each section to the mother plant.
Step 4: Plant each new section into a fresh pot.
After about two or three days, the rhizome will be healed enough to plant it. Place the new sections into their pots. I prefer to use a gallon-sized container with a mix of half traditional potting soil and half cactus potting soil. Ceramic pots are heavier and can keep the container in place if your plants are tall whereas plastic containers work just as well.
Step 5: Stake tall new plants.
If your new plants are still top-heavy, you may need to stake them upright to prevent the pots from tipping over. Pieces of bamboo work well to create your own small stakes, and offer the plant support you need. In addition, you can use twine to tie the plant to the bamboo.
A Final Word
You can also propagate your mother-in-law plant from cuttings, which is a common method used with other succulents as well. If you’d rather use this method, you can find important information and steps to do so here.