Thursday, January 22nd, 2009...11:17 am

Taking Care of Your Mother-In-Law’s Tongue Plant

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“]Sansevieria - Mother-in-law tongue or Snake Plant [Photo by Green Acres Nursery and Supply]

Sansevieria - Mother-in-law tongue or Snake Plant [Photo by Green Acres Nursery and Supply

TheGardenLady received this question from Donna:

I have a  that is turning yellow. I have had it for over ten years and it’s been in the same pot since. It has always done well, but here recently it is becoming sick. There hasn’t been any change to it to cause it. Any suggestions?

Since you say that you have had your Sansevieria Trifasciata plant, commonly called Mother-In-Laws Tongue or Snake plant, for over 10 years, I doubt that you have a gold variety like`Vandal Gold`, a Sansevieria that I have read about but do not know where to buy.

And I am amazed that you have a plant or anything that hasn’t had any change in all that time. There is nothing in TheGardenLady’s house that hasn’t changed in 10 years- including TheGardenLady.

Are you sure that you haven’t been overwatering your plant by watering it too frequently or moved the plant to a different window? Change can be outdoors. Has a shrub in front of the window outdoors, but directly in front of the place you keep the plant, died and been chopped down so that more sun is coming through to shine on the plant?

About the first problem, overwatering: Sansevieria hates, hates, hates having wet roots. They can get a problem called root rot easily especially when they are kept indoors . TheGardenLady had a big pot of Sansevieria that a young artist admired. So TheGardenLady gave the pot to the artist who painted pictures of it. After a year, the plant started dying. TheGardenLady suspected root rot. She suspected that because the young artist watered her plants every week; in one year too much water had been given to the Sansevieria. Its roots never had a chance to dry out. These plants are so easy to care for because they love drought – love it. So if you forget to water it, when the plant is indoors, you will have a happy plant. I have read that you can forget to water it for 2 months during the winter. It wants its soil dry. TheGardenLady has found that, though Sansevieria can be grown in Sun or part shade, hers enjoy just light when it is indoors; and the less sun, the less water it needs.

Mother In Law Tongue Blossoms by Stuffed Cabbage 2006

Mother In Law Tongue Blossoms by Stuffed Cabbage 2006

Also, the Sansevieria does not want fertilizer. Too much nitrogen in a fertilizer is not good for the plant.

However, if you haven’t overwatered your plant and you have the same amount of light that you have had for 10 years, don’t worry if the plant doesn’t look well because the Sansevieria plant is the easiest plant to repot. Perhaps your plant doesn’t have enough root soil after 10 years. Get some inexpensive potting soil and repot the sad plant in a cleaned pot with the new soil.

When TheGardenLady took the pot of Sansevieria home, the plant that the young artist was fretting over, it had root rot. You can tell if it is root rot when the leaves come off easily at the soil level and the rotten root stinks and is mushy – this is a culprit that is easy to identify. Throw the rotten parts away – there is no saving those mushy plants and the root rot can spread. Take the plants that are not rotten and repot them shallowly in the new soil in a clean pot. TheGardenLady had so many Sansevieria plants in that original pot even after throwing away those with root rot, that she missed one plant that was just lying on top of the soil with the roots touching the soil. In the fall when TheGardenLady brought the Sansevieria indoors, she found that the plant just lying on the top of the soil was also thriving.

TheGardenLady takes her Sansevieria plants outside in the spring when the leaves are on the trees and puts them on her deck that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. She doesn’t water the plants all summer unless there is a really bad drought. The Sansevieria gets moisture from the rain. Sansevieria thrives in more water outdoors because it is brighter than it is indoors. In the fall the Sansevieria plants are brought indoors. They happily sit in a north or west window.

Let TheGardenLady and her readers know how your plant turns out.

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26 Comments

  • I have had this plant since 1981 and has moved everytime that i have since then. it is very important to me it came from my brothers funeral at the age of 22 , anyway it is not looking very well right now. I changed the potting soil a few months back but left it in the same pot some of the stalks were rotted at the roots and I tossed them. but the plant is still mostly leaning way over, the repotting has not seemed to help. I only water once a month. Can you provide any advise that will help keep this alive. thank you

  • I want ro know if there is a mother-in-Law (mini or bond) plant? if so, please let me know were I can get it? Thanks’ in advance

  • can you plant the mother law tongue in the ground

  • Hi. I’ve had few of this plant for abt 3 yrs, all outdoor. I’ve told its gd to have it indoor say office as it give out plenty of oxygen. Pls advise whether its a gd idea to put this plant in the office n what care to be given. Thanks.

  • I do not have a reply, although all your advice is great. I did not know the plant did not like water, that is a good thing to know. My question is , should those plants be potted in a container that drains the water or a container that does not? The snake plant, I am talking about.

  • Two things 1. How did you get yours to bloom? I’ve had mine for 3yrs now and didn’t even know they bloomed. 2. What is the best way to make divisions of it?

  • I have been growing Mother-in-law tongue out side for 20 years. 10 years in Clearwater FL and 10 years in NE Florida. Only problems I ever had was a few became mushy after a long rainy period or a long period. They trim back easily and new growth takes over. They like to be crowded and can be invasive.

  • Hello
    I planted mother in laws tongue in planter boxes (with drainage) a few weeks ago, but the tips are already yellow/brown and dont look great! THe plants are outside and get plenty of sun.
    I do not know what i did wrong. I watered them sparingly as i was told they did not like too much water. WHat do i do with the stakes? Can I pull them out to encourage new growth or do I just leave it hoping the problem will rectify itself?
    Please help!
    thanks!!!!

  • I have had my mother’s-in-law for about 5 years. I put it out one summer and it did ok but when I brought it in for the winter it flourished. I never set it out again (besides it got too big). I knew the plant does not like water but I was initially afraid to not water it. I had a few stalks die from over watering so I removed the dead branches and stopped watering it. I water it now about 1 cup ever 2 months or so. The healthiest plant I have seen was in an artists studio completely away from any windows. It was lush and thick with clean white edges. So don’t be afraid to leave the plant alone.

  • What about the leaning over and falling apart. I have one in the office it’s about 5 feet tall and I brought it home. People were watering it too much. I have trimmed the leaves down to 2 1/2 feet and tied them together but they continue to fall. What do I do next?

  • I’ve had a mother-in-law tongue for 40 years it went from a 8″ pot to a 20 gal. huge planter. It multiplied so many times you can’t count them. Same house for 30 years but moved around. Water about once a month

  • I’ve got mother in law tongue plants growing along a fence in Florida. I moved here 5 years ago and they were very healthy. For the past five years, I’ve done nothing and they flourished. This year they started drying up at the tips. I thought that this was due to the cold winter. As I was pruning off the tips I noticed a lot of little black & orange grass hopper bugs. Apparently they may be the cause of the damage. Has anyone got any advise about the bugs or the pruning of these plants.

  • Where can I find a mother-inlaw’s Tongue to buy?

  • Hi, when I was a little girl my Grandma had one of these plants, I remember it because I would sit near the house plants to play dinosaurs, I figure I was about 5 years old I am now 32 so that would make the plat at least 27 years old. I had not seen the plant in years and recently when I was cleaning out a room stuffed with things in my Grandmas house near a window I found the plant clinging to life, it looks deflated but still green much if it was dried up. I removed the dried out plants and gave it fresh potting soil it has only been 3 days so not much change. Just wondered if there is anything else I could do for it hope it’s not a lost cause.

  • I love my Mother-in-law tongue plant, I have had it for more years than I can remember.It has a bloom coming up the middle.I have never seen this before, and not sure how to care or if I need to do anything for it?

  • I have had my plant over 35 years. I ahve given parts of the original plant away over the years and this is the first year that my plant has flowered. It is sitting on my front porch in the 80degree+ weather and it seems to love the rain water more than tap water.
    The more that I give away the more it grows, it is almost six foot and I love it.
    I also came from a loved one that passed away and I hope the plant will live on for generations.
    Thank you

  • Hello,
    I have had my Mother-In-Law Tongue plant for 25 years now. I brought it back from my Dad’s in Florida. It is very pretty and well but has not grown a bit. I water it once in awhile. What am I doing wrong not to make it spread out or grow? It has about 9 leaves on it and is the same pot with the same soil except me filling up new soil when it dimishes. Help! and TIA.
    Geri

  • Does this plant grow outside? I live in New Zealand. (Auckland)

  • I have my sisters mother-in- law tongue plant, she died in 1969….My Brother has half and my half always did well, constantly bent over but healthy….I made a huge mistake and left the plant out during a one night freeze…we live at the beach in North Carolina, and I was not worried….the plant went down hill fast even after I brought it inside….found some healthy spikes, replanted it…not to many left…what are my chances of a complete recovery………

  • I just brought a plant back to MO from NC. It had been left alone for 3mo, no water, no care. I noticed this morning one stem was wilted at the top and the entire plant is listing to one side. Should I remove the wilted stem and re-pot the whole plant into something bigger? This plant is over 30 yrs and is very special to my ailing daughter and to me. Any advice will be appreciated.

  • I have a snake plant that had a couple of leaves turn yellow. There are other plants in the pot. I took the entire plant out of the pot, and a rizone (sp) was rotting, so it threw the leaves and rotting part of the rizone away. There were a couple of leaves that I think I can save, so I cut them away from the rotted portion and repotted them in a small pot. The remaining healthy rizones and leaves I repotted with new soil in the same pot (washed with detergent first). I also have two small pots of snake plants that I wanted to add to the larger pot with the new soil. Because of the discarded rotted plant, there was some room. I read that these plants really like to be pot bound…so these plants are definitely pot bound. My question is: I added some perlite to the soil for drainage, and I added some granules of Osmicote fertilizer and mixed with the soil. I found out later that snake plants really don’t like to be fertilized, so I wonder if I have to take everything out and repot again. Or…maybe it’ll be ok? I just did this today, so no effect yet, being is was just done. Thank you.

  • Becky Guccgione
    May 20th, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    can the be put outside if not in full light or will it hurt it ?

  • can the be put outside if not in sunligth

  • I’ve been dividing my mother in law tongue plants for years. I get babies sometimes but now I’m getting a flower! Why???? And are there consequences such as those with coleus flowers?

  • Tip for growing sanseverias: beyond being careful with watering, heavy potting soils that retain water can cause root rot, even when the plant is watered sparingly. I routinely pull a new sanseveria from it’s black plastic pot and inspect the soil and roots. If the soil isn’t sandy and porous, I carefully remove as much as possible and add back in succulent potting soil that has pearlite added. These plants need bright light, but can be burned by direct afternoon sun if not acclimated to intense light levels. When replanting, these succulents do not need deep pots and can be grow in terra cotta rectangular planters – combine several plants to make an impressive display if you use a tumbled pebble top dressing. Cheers!

  • I have been growing mother-in-law tongue plants in large clear vases in water for years. They grow large and also have new growth. I change the water and wash the plants off approx. every 2 to 3 months.

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