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The mother-in-law's tongue (sansevieria trifasciata) is a very popular house plant that originates from West Africa. It goes by names such as viper's bowstring hemp, Saint George's sword, or snake plant, but don't confuse it with the nassauvia serpensIt. This beautiful evergreen has long, stiff, and dark-green, vertical leaves, which feature striking light-green bands.
Mother-in-Law's Tongue Provides Many Benefits:
- It can be kept outdoors in warm climates, or, if you live in a cooler part of the world, it can be an indoor plant.
- It is very tolerant to low light levels but equally as happy in sunlight.
- Frequent watering is not required.
- It absorbs toxins, such as nitrogen oxides and is great for improving indoor air quality.
- Beginners can work with it as it doesn't require much maintenance and grows quite quickly.
- Occasionally, this plant will sprout small, white flowers—usually when it is a few years old. How beautiful!
Learn how to split and repot your mother-in-law's tongue plant, and how to care for it to make your growing endeavors a success!
Facts About Mother-in-Law's Tongue
Snake plant, viper's bowstring hemp, Saint George's sword
Up to 40 inches
Bright, indirect sunlight (some direct light is ok)
Once a month; keep the soil dry
60° to 80°F (16° to 27°C) Prefers warm to hot temperatures
Free draining soil
Doesn't require it. For fast growth, fertilize once in the spring and once in the summer.
Toxic to dogs and cats
How to Care for Mother-in-Law's Tongue
The best way to look after this plant is to ignore it most of the time. It seems to thrive on neglect. With that said, however, here are ideal care instructions for the meticulous gardener.
How often should I water?
Because mother-in-law's tongue has succulent leaves, it falls into the category of plants that can be left alone without too much water. Err on the side of underwatering or watering only when the soil is dry to the touch. Constantly watering this plant will rot the roots and eventually kill it.
Watering once a month is best. It's far easier to bring a dry plant back to life than an overwatered one.
How much sun does it need?
This plant loves ample sunlight! Place it near a window to give it bright, indirect sunlight. This plant can also tolerate direct sunlight, but not for an extended period of time or else the leaves will burn. Mother-in-law's tongue can also tolerate low-light conditions, but growth may slow or leaves may turn yellow.
What's the best temperature for a snake plant?
This plant is hardy, so even though it prefers warm to hot temperatures, it can tolerate anything between 50° to 100°F ( 10° to 38°C). You may see some wilting or yellowing in colder temperatures.
What type of soil is best?
Because this plant is susceptible to root rot if overwatered, I recommend a fast-draining soil. You can use a mixture of potting soil and cactus mix.
Does it need fertilizer?
You can skip the fertilizer, but if you want the plant to grow a bit faster, fertilize during its growing season: once during the spring and once during the summer—no more than that!
Should I prune it?
If one of the leaves gets cuts, scrapes, or any unsightly marks, you should prune it by cutting off the leaf as close as possible to the soil's surface. You want to get rid of the entire leaf rather than just cutting off a section of it because by getting rid of the damaged tissue, the plant doesn't have to support it. Plus, it looks more aesthetic that way.
What's the ideal humidity level?
Mother-in-law's tongue doesn't mind dry air, but it prefers humidity. This makes it a great plant for your bathroom, but you can place it anywhere. It's so versatile!
4 Ways to Propagate Mother-in-Law's Tongue
Mother-in-law's tongue is easy to propagate when it gets too big for the pot.
1. By Splitting or Division
- Remove the plant from the pot.
- Take a knife and cut the roots to separate the stalks.
- Place the new stalks in their own pots and cover the roots with soil.
- Mist with water.
2. By Rhizomes
- Remove the pot-bound plant.
- Gently knock the dirt off. You will likely discover young shoots (rhizomes) hidden underneath the earth.
- Pull the shoots apart by the roots, and don't worry about being rough with them. I haven't killed any yet! You can also cut them off with a knife.
- Depending on how big your plant is and how many new pots you want, you may want to do one of two things: plant each individual rhizome in a separate pot or plant some of the biggest ones in a large pot together. I have done both because I like some on the floor and the smaller ones on the window ledges.
3. By Cutting
- Cut a leaf off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
- Stick it in a fresh pot and water.
4. In Water
- Cut a leaf off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
- Stick it in a vase of water and change it every few days.
- Once it begins developing roots, stick it in a pot of fresh soil.
© 2012 Ann-Christin
Rob on September 01, 2020:
Hi, great post. Impressive roots = happy plants. Is the cactus mix a DIY blend or store bought? What are the ratio / ingredients? Thank you for taking the time to answer.
Allysut63 on July 23, 2020:
I have a plant that I was told was called mother in laws tongue, but it does not look anything like photos of MLT. It is 35 years old and growing horizontally for quite a few years now. It has sharp Points so presuming it is a cacti but I could be wrong. Is there anywhere I can Send a photo for advice?
Cyndy Langridge on July 18, 2020:
I have a plant that’s similar but does not have the variegated pattern, but a more solid green leave; although the shape and behavior is the same, down to the occasional white flower. Is it common for it to have solid color leaves?
N Tranter on July 08, 2020:
fabulous site and advise, well done.
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on May 15, 2020:
Yes I would remove the dead stalks.
lynn jo bishop on May 14, 2020:
My MIT has recently flowered looked great , in repotting do i remove the dead flower stalks or not
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on April 23, 2020:
Maybe it has got too tall for the pot it is in you could try putting some stakes in and tying it up to stop it bending. It is an old plant so maybe it's just coming to the end of its life.
Lesley stewart on April 23, 2020:
I have a problem with my mother-in-law tough, she’s bending and flopping she’s quite tall had her since 1995, had lots and lots of plants of her, please can you advice me of what to do.
Linda on March 26, 2020:
I always smile when I remember as a young child learning that my mother's plant was called a Mother-in-Law Tongue. I couldn't remember that so I always called it a Grandma Talks. Probably 40+ years ago, I gave one plant to each mother and mother-in-law for Mother's Day. I still have my mother's plant and it is special to me.
Dog on January 23, 2020:
Had these many years ago. We used to call them snake plants.
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on January 06, 2020:
I do mine in the spring and summer when the plant has started growing again.
AngeJS on December 30, 2019:
Hi I am a total novice to gardening/plants. My Mother-In-Laws Tongue is starting to look a bit big for it's pot but looks like it's thriving, is there a best time of year to propagate them?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on November 02, 2019:
It may be a pest called Thrips that has invaded your plant. The best thing to do would be to remove all the curling leaves and wipe down the remaining leaves with a damp cloth or cotton wool.Also make sure it isn't near other plants as it can spread.
Winniewi on October 30, 2019:
Why are the leaves on my plant starting to curl?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on October 26, 2019:
Hi usually when the leaves start drooping they have been over watered. Try not watering for a while and see what happens although if the roots are damaged I'm afraid the plant is lost as i know from experience.
Diane Vennard on October 25, 2019:
Hi, what does it mean when the leaves start drooping? How can I prevent it from doing this or how can I bring them straight up.
diane polte on October 16, 2019:
Can I leave out doors on covered porch over the winter. Sometimes we get a hard frost in NC Piedmont. Will the plant survive if it is covered?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on October 13, 2019:
Planting them a bit deeper would help and maybe covering the earth with some pebbles to weight it down.
Jemsw on October 10, 2019:
I've had my plant for years - actually I now have 4 of them - & have never bothered to find out how to care for it/them. They seem very accommodating - forgiving any lapses & inattentiveness, on my part (Health issues have limited the amount of care I can provide. I think I have been doing things right most of the time (I keep them on my from steps in summer, lots of light - no direct sun.). They express their happiness with the location with the display of lovely white flowers.
One thing I haven't done is to remove any damaged leaves. I'll be happy to remove them - didn't want to do it just because it was aesthetically pleasing if it was harmful to the plant. They will be very pleased - always like to look their best!
I am having one problem at present.
After separating & repotting one of the plants - the leaves being very long & heavy seems like they may tilt so much it will lift to roots out of the pot. I've used a stake to support the leaves but would like to find a better solution.
I planted the rhizomes at the same depth they were at before but wonder if they should be deeper - they were rather pot bound at the time.
Any thoughts, suggestions are gratefully appreciated.
Erica on September 21, 2019:
Thank you for this very helpful information. My mother had a very large and tall Mother-In-Law Tongue plant when she was killed with my father in a car-train accident when I was 4 and my brothers were 10 and 12. I've always wanted to obtain a nice one plant. I found one at a sidewalk sale about 10 days ago and was thrilled to find it. I felt I needed all the information in this article. I know I will be returning here frequently when I have questions. Thank you so much!
Suzy on September 14, 2019:
Hi, what type of soil is best to use for snake plants in a pot?
Darren on June 02, 2019:
Rather than seperate it , is it ok to leave it and repot the whole plant , as its large and looks very impressive as it is
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on April 16, 2019:
It all depends on the size of the plant. If it's small use a small pot and replace with a larger one as it grows.
BM on April 10, 2019:
Pls suggest ideal pot size for these plants.
Jackie on April 04, 2019:
My leaves do not stand up straight but droop. What seems to be the problem?
Julia on March 12, 2019:
My mother n law plant is nearly 50 years old. It was my grandma's aunts and then passed to my grandma and now passed to me. Its longest leaf is 52 inches tall. Ive came to your lovely sight to find how to care for it. Im was so scared im going to kill it as i dont have much of a green thumb, but looks like these plants are pretty tough. I think we will do great.
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on February 20, 2019:
I would water it after splitting in two.
krys on February 18, 2019:
is it a good idea to water my MLT plant before splitting it in two?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on September 26, 2018:
Its best to pull it apart and plant the smaller ones.
Paige Seppanen on September 16, 2018:
Can you cut or trim the stalks from the snake plant I have some that are over a foot tall?
KELLY L LICHT on July 23, 2018:
love this plant , I grow mine and seems as though every year I give some offsprings to the mother in law to be friends of mine with a card that I have made up saying things like this.:
Welcome to being a mother in law with this gift of " mother in law plant" or "snake plant". this plant is to remind you as you care for it to not be the snake in your childrens new lives.
it is called mother in law plant to me because of its sharp and sometimes twisted tongue
requires minimal visitation or care ( almost never needs watered)
this plant like mother in laws learn to survive being ignored most of the time and is almost mpossible to kill !!
welcome to the world of mother in laws... try to defy the odds !!
Gary Jeroy on July 14, 2018:
I am going to admit it. I am going to be 68 years old and have always loved these in my grandparents yards. So ;today for the first time I bought my own mother-in-laws plant. I will wait a few months or a good month before I tear it apart and make many more. I have the thank the writer of this story for all the easy steps on keeping it alive and happy. Thanks so much..
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on June 12, 2018:
I would split it up and repot as it sounds like it is getting too big.
June on June 07, 2018:
My snake plant is bending over, do i need to repoy?
Doreen Coldwell on May 28, 2018:
I said to my husband I'd like a motherinlaws tongue his answer was you've got one
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on May 08, 2018:
I would always water plants after re-potting.
Anna Buena on May 05, 2018:
After repotting, should I water it? Fertilize?
Manuel on April 30, 2018:
After repotting, how long does it take for new shoots to grow and fill in the pot?
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on April 28, 2018:
Living in the UK I've never grown these outside. If it were me I would dig it up separate all the new growth which I would then replant. You could try replanting any parts of the mature plant that looks healthy.
Eek on April 25, 2018:
My mlk has flourished in the Texas ground for 4 years. This winter hurt it. While there are little ones shooting up, what do I do with the dead big leaves? Some are still OK.
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on October 15, 2017:
You might be over watering your plant they really don't need much water at all.
Nancy on October 15, 2017:
my snake plant leaves bend over and are droopy, is the only word I can think for it. I've tried repotting in deeper in the soil and this doesn't seem to help
poetryman6969 on February 22, 2015:
That mother in law has a sharp tongue. Thanks for the advice.
Jonni on February 16, 2015:
Short, sweet, to the point, FR-axeEEctly as information should be!
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on January 19, 2013:
Thost I'm glad you found my hub useful. It is rather a strange name for a plant :)
thost from Dublin, Ireland on January 18, 2013:
Can't look at these plants without thinking of my mother in law. With your advice they should thrive. Thank you.
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on June 08, 2012:
Glad it made you laugh we all need one sometimes :)
harinarayan from Kerala, India on June 07, 2012:
very funny heading. Your topic attracts me, When I see the plant, make me laugh.voted up and interesting
Ann-Christin (author) from UK on June 04, 2012:
I think it's called that because of its sharp tongue:)
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 04, 2012:
Great tips on planting and taking care of MIL's tongue. Wonder why it is called so.