Blooming Habits of the Mother-in-Law's Tongue Plant
Perhaps as a trade-off for being given such an indelicate name, the mother-in-law's tongue plant (Dracaena trifasciata, formerly Sansevieria trifasciata) is unlikely to reward you with its fragrant flowers. When the flowers do appear, they will likely take you by surprise. Although the blooming habit of this plant is -- at best -- infrequent, with diligent care and a lot of patience, you may be able to coax this plant into giving you a floral show in spring.
Typically, mother in law tongue -- also called snake plant -- is grown as a houseplant. If you live in its perennial range, U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12, you can also grow it in your garden. Its forgiving nature and tolerance of harsh growing conditions is a two-edged sword: Although it can survive drought, poor soil and a range of lighting conditions, it may not thrive to the point of bearing flowers under these circumstances.
Snake Plant Flowers
If you're among the few indoor gardeners who get to see a snake plant blooming, be prepared to be a bit underwhelmed. The flowers are fairly small and not very colorful or showy. They are, however, clustered on flower stalks, which provides a soft textural contrast against the stark vertical leaves of this plant. Snake plant flowers are cream-colored to greenish-white, so there's not much color contrast against the foliage. When the flowers fade, orange berries appear and add some vivid color.
Considerations for Optimal Flowering Conditions
Try these four tips to give your mother-in-law's tongue plant its best shot at flowering for you:
- Choose a container that's only large enough to keep the plant pot-bound, and make sure
the pot has a drainage hole(s). 2. Use a lightweight, well-draining potting mix. 3. Avoid overwatering; infrequent watering is best. 4. Place your plant in bright light, with a maximum of two hours of direct sun each day.
Choose a Suitable Container
Mother-in-law's tongue likes a tight fit in its container -- a condition called being pot-bound. Although you can grow it in a large pot, you may never see it bloom, because its roots may not ever grow to the limits of the pot. Best flowering success occurs on older plants that are pot-bound.
No matter the size of its container, this plant needs good drainage, because it is susceptible to root and crown rots -- fungal diseases that prosper in wet and waterlogged soil. Make sure the pot has a drainage hole so the water drains freely from the bottom.
Use Well-Draining Potting Mix
Because snake plant is not fussy about soil, you can use a soil-based medium or a soilless potting mix, particularly one that is blended for cactuses and succulents.
If you grow mother-in-law's tongue outdoors year-round, which is possibly only in the very warm climates of USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, planting it in a container or in a raised bed improves the drainage.
Apply Water Sparingly
During mother-in-law's tongue growing season -- typically spring through fall -- water it thoroughly until the water drains from the bottom of the pot. Wait until the soil is dry to the touch before watering again. Water infrequently during the fall and winter, just enough to moisten the soil.
The North Carolina State Extension recommends watering this plant once monthly or every two months during the winter. Unlike watering bromeliads, the Missouri Botanical Garden cautions gardeners to keep water out of this plant's center rosette, because it will collect there and it may cause the crown to rot.
Place in Bright Light
Bright light is best. Mother-in-law's tongue can tolerate some direct sun, preferably only a couple of hours in the morning. But it's important to protect it from full sun, particularly in the afternoon.
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist, nursery owner, and writer for the green industry. After studying botany and microbiology at Clemson, she worked in the Horticulture Dept. for the University of Georgia as a Master Gardener Coordinator. Blackstone has been a Master Gardener course instructor for 15 years, teaching her class in phytopathology as part of the required Master Gardener curriculum.