For a beginner indoor gardener, snake plants are a fantastic choice. They are easy to care for and loaded with benefits. As a beginner or veteran gardener, you must have heard that indoor plants must have good drainage. However, what does that actually mean? We’ll cover all about it and let you know the answer to the question, “does snake plant need drainage?”
The snake plant is a tropical evergreen perennial hailing from Africa. These plants grow from a spreading rhizome and have long sturdy tapered leaves. The leaves resemble swords with variable coloration, including dark or light green, with and without variegation. Due to its distinctive shape, it’s given the nickname Saint George’s Sword or Mother-in-law’s tongue, both long and sharp objects.
They are the most common houseplant around, and for a good reason. Snake plants are on top of NASA’s list of air purifying plants from a famous study in 1989. Most plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen but become dormant at night. The Snake plant takes no breaks and helps keep your air clean twenty-four hours, seven days a week.
It has also been seen to purify the air of toxins and allergens like formaldehyde or benzene. Living confined in small apartments becomes easier with friends like the snake plant.
Snake plants are the most patient when it comes to their care. Their nature is close to succulents and can thrive despite drought or low light. The precise reason they are recommended for beginners.
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What is Drainage?
Drainage is related to how fast the water in the soil drains out of the pot. It has to do with the soil composition in the pot and how that contributes to the environment around the roots. Roots need air, nutrients, and water from the soil.
Proper drainage ensures that the roots can extract all they need from the soil. We can use the right soil mix and amendments to set up our indoor plants for success.
Why is Drainage Important?
Where do plants truly belong? Outside, in nature. In the ground, plants have infinite space for their roots to spread out. When it rains, the water doesn’t stand in the top foot of the soil long. It is absorbed deep into the ground. There is ample natural matter and nutrients for the plants to take advantage of.
When we take the same plants indoors and place them inside containers, we rid them of all these advantages. Unless we take special steps to help them, they will not grow well indoors.
Things to Consider When Understanding Drainage:
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First of all, plants popular for indoor use, like the Snake plant, are usually tropical with shallow roots. We know we cannot manage huge root systems indoors, so we don’t plant things with huge taproots. Some plants have taproots three or four feet long. Of course, we cannot plant them.
Composition of Soil
Secondly, we must consider the composition of outdoor soil. It is made up of:
- 45% minerals (sand and rocks)
- 5% organic matter (dead plants and animals)
- 25% water
- 25% air
So, how does putting the soil in a pot change things? Since the roots have limited space, they can’t spread out far in search of water. Potted plants need to be watered more frequently. Garden soil holds on to water almost too well.
It’s full of clay that has incredible moisture retention properties. When more dry soil is underneath, ready to absorb the water, it’s fine. However, in pots, there isn’t anything pulling the water down except gravity.
The soil remains saturated for too long, and despite the pots having a drainage hole, the plant roots sit in soggy soil. If this happens at every watering, the roots become susceptible to root rot.
A quarter of the soil outside is air. Roots perform gaseous exchange in the soil. Essentially that means roots need air to “breath,” so to speak. When the soil becomes saturated with water, no room remains for air.
The Perched Water Table
When water drains down any growing medium when it reaches the end or boundary of the medium, some water stands there. That is known as the perched water table. You must understand that the bottom inch or two of the pot will be saturated with water for longer than the rest of the soil.
This is true for both well-draining and poor-draining soil. If the pot is too shallow, the roots will reach the perched water table and be too wet and soggy for their own good.
Why do Snake Plants Need Drainage Holes?
Every plant pot should have drainage holes. If there is no drainage hole, there is no place for the water to go once we watered the plant. You could argue that if we water them less, they are not needed.
However, if we give our plants very little water, all the soil doesn’t get wet. Lots of roots won’t receive water and perish.
That is why we have drainage holes and place saucers under the pots. Sometimes we come across beautiful pots without drainage holes and want to use them. Many things aren’t sold as plant pots, but we could use them as DIY plant pots. These also don’t come with drainage holes.
There is a simple solution. All you need is a terracotta planter that fits inside the decorative pot. The terracotta planter will have drainage holes.
The decorative pot can also be a saucer to catch the excess water as it drains out. Even with drainage holes, we must still ensure the potting mix is well-draining.
Snake Plant Drainage
Let’s discuss creating the perfect draining soil for your snake plant. To do that, we’ll need the following ingredients:
The growing medium is the base of the soil mixture. It can be potting soil, coconut coir, or even gardening soil. This is the source of structural integrity and moisture retention for the plant.
This addition to the soil makes the water drain out faster and keeps our plants healthy. Things like course sand and perlite are brilliant for improving the drainage speed of the soil. When the water drains out effectively, there’s room for air in the soil.
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Types of Drainage Amendments
Here are some drainage amendments you can choose for your snake plant.
Perlite is a type of obsidian. They’re glassy pieces that break up the soil and help water pass through faster.
Course sand is much smaller than perlite and better used for succulent potting mixes. Since snake plants are close to being succulents, sand works fine for them too.
Rice husks are the hard coverings of rice grains. They have the added benefit of adding nutrients to the soil as they slowly break down.
Compost, mulch, or fertilizer are great sources of nutrients for plants. While the growing medium may have some nutrients for the plants, they can get the bulk of nutrients from this organic matter.
Topical fertilization is useful for plants, but it’s even better for the soil to be rich in nutrients.
You can create your own organic matter for potting soil by composting fallen leaves and kitchen scraps. Chop kitchen scraps so that they degrade better. You can use a composter.
However, if you don’t have one, any container with a lid will work. You just need to layer the kitchen scraps with dried leaves and stir the mixture weekly. Once the container is full, leave it for a month, and you have amazing homemade compost to add to the soil.
Also check: Which Tropical House Plant Is Poison for Cats?
Snake Plant Soil Mix
According to our experience, to achieve the perfect soil for your snake plants, you want to mix:
- 50% growing medium like garden soil or coconut choir
- 40% drainage amendment like perlite or coarse sand
- 10% organic matter like compost or mulch
What About the Store-Bought Potting Mixes?
Store-bought potting mix comes with everything you need in well-draining soil already. You can use it instead of mixing your own potting mix. We find in the long run that mixing your own is cheaper. After accumulating experience as an indoor gardener you will also appreciate the extra control involved in mixing your own well-draining soil.
However, if you don’t want the hassle, you can try using ready-made potting soil instead to start with. Finding something specifically for snake plants will be better than a regular all-purpose potting mix.
Using store-bought potting soil also has its fair share of trial and error. Some might work better than others. You can try a couple out and see which works best for you and your plants.
Snake plants, like all indoor plants, need good drainage. Drainage is a complicated concept for beginner indoor gardeners. However, we hope we have made it easier for you. Now you understand drainage and why your snake plants need to thrive indoors. For proper drainage mi your potting mix or use store-bought potting soil. You shouldn’t use garden soil alone since it holds on to too much moisture.
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.