How to Grow and Cultivate Viper’s Bowstring Hemp
An attractive houseplant known for its hardiness and toughness, Viper’s bowstring hemp is also known as Snake Plant, Mother-in-law’s tongue and Saint George’s sword, and has succulent green leaves with beautiful leaf patterns. Its upright leaves produce an interesting foliage shape. The plants are native to Africa, but they can be grown anywhere except in extremely cold climates. It’s a wonderful addition to your home and a great choice for a busy gardener. Learn how to take care of this stunning houseplant.
Plant Appearance and Growth Rate
This plant has fleshy, evergreen leaves that are usually upright in growth, with a characteristic horizontal stripe of greenish grey along the side. This same leaf pattern can be found on most plants belonging to the Sansevieria genus. This plant produces tough fibers when the leaves are dried out, and the fiber used to make bow strings has been used historically by the natives because of that. That’s why it’s called Viper’s bowstring hemp.
They generally grow slowly to medium in size and need only a moderate amount of attention to stay alive for decades. Viper’s bowstring plants can reach a mature height of as much as 6 feet when growing under favorable conditions.
Uses and Benefits
The upright foliage of this plant allows the plant to fit easily in a small corner of your house or in the office. It makes an excellent indoor pot plant as well as an outdoor plant. Since snake plants are not very winter hardy, you should promote a warmer climate for these plants. You can also plant them directly in the ground, but don’t forget to keep them in a shady area.
Viper’s bowstring hemp is a succulent shrub that stores water in its leaves, roots and rhizomes. It is also drought-tolerant, which means it is stable even without frequent watering. An overwatered plant has a higher risk of rot and eventually dying. The following tips can help you efficiently water the plant:
- It is important to check the top layer of soil (1-11/2 inches) with your finger before watering. The soil should remain dry between waterings.
- You can water every other week or once a week, depending on the climate and surrounding conditions of the plant. For example, plants kept in darkness need less water than those kept in sunlight. If you live in a tropical region, it may be necessary to water more frequently.
- It is recommended to water gently and completely until the drainage holes start dripping. Allow excess water to drain freely for between 30 and 40 minutes before dumping the drainage saucer. Do not let the plant sit in the drained water.
- When temperatures dip low, reduce watering to once a month if possible. During the winter season, water your plants just enough to prevent soil from drying out.
Snake plants can suffer from root rot if water pools around their rhizome or root structure. The drainage capacity of the soil you choose is essential, and coarse, fast-draining soils are excellent choices for these plants. You should not leave your Bowstring hemp in a wet or drenched potting soil for long. Water stagnation will surely cause rot.
Make your potting mix breathable by adding soil ingredients that increase drainage. You can mix pumice, perlite, or gravel into regular soil for increased draining capacity. Include coco coir or peat to retain some moisture while not making the soil mix too dense.
If you buy Viper’s bowstring hemp plants from a nursery, you may need to get a new pot when the plants grow to a certain height, or as they outgrow their current container. Make sure your pot has drainage holes. It is vitally important that the roots are comfortable in the pot and do not drown in water. For this reason, drill some holes in the bottom if your pot does not already have them. Alternatively, if you can’t do that, place your plant in an ornamental pot that’s drainage-compatible and place it inside a larger container, so it looks nice from the outside and also has good drainage.
Additionally, make sure the pot size is proportional to how big your plant is. If the pot is too large, it might cause overwatering problems. The market has an assortment of beautiful containers that come in terracotta, plastic, ceramic, wood, metal, concrete etc. They come in various shapes and sizes. Choosing a container that drains properly, looks good, and complements your decor is crucial.
The optimal light conditions for Sansevieria are indirect sunlight and moderate to bright indirect light. However, this plant can tolerate direct sunlight if not too harsh. Bowstring hemp can also thrive in low light conditions but avoid too dark areas as it stunts the plant’s growth.
The snake plant is best suited for windows that face north or south. It likes a little morning sun and bright filtered light from the sun throughout the day. But don’t worry if you can’t provide it with direct sun. Artificial lighting also works great.
Since it originates in tropical regions, Viper’s bowstring hemp does best in warm climates. During the summer, place your plant in a place with a bit of shade or semi-shade. In winter, it may require some additional heat and dry air.
Snake plants tend to thrive in temperatures ranging from 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit (15-29° C). They can be winter-hardy in areas where the temperatures do not fall too low. Winter frost can damage the leaves and even kill the plant if temperatures drop below 40° F (4° C). Cold temperatures can also permanently damage the leaves.
The best choice for your snake plants is a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer, which comes in a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You can also use organic fertilizers, such as worm compost, but use them sparingly.
Mother in law’s tongue is not very fussy about fertilizers. Feeding your plants 2-3 times a year is sufficient. A good time to feed your plants is during spring and summer. Apply a half-strength liquid fertilizer every month during the summer. If you’re using a long-lasting fertilizer, add it once a year at the very beginning of summer, but not more often than needed.
Pests and Diseases
The robust leaves of the snake plant and its resistance to disease mean that a lot of pests do not attack it. Therefore, the snake plant is not prone to serious disease and pest problems. You will most likely encounter mealybugs and spider mites if your plant develops problems with pests. However, dealing with them is not too hard since there are easy methods to get rid of them.
There are other problems associated with snake plants. Overwatering and low temperatures seem to be two of the most common enemies. The leaves of the plant can develop scarring if left in freezing temperatures for too long. Too much water can lead to fungus infections and root rot. Regularly inspect your plants and look for symptoms like brown tips, droopy leaves, or yellowing leaves. This will help you help detect and prevent problems before they get too bad.
Grooming and Maintenance
Although it’s a low-maintenance plant, you should check for signs of disease regularly to be able to control the problem. Although Viper’s bowstring hemp thrives without a lot of maintenance, it doesn’t mean you should neglect it. The leaves may need to be trimmed if they are yellow, damaged or drooping. Some leaves may naturally die, and those need to be trimmed too.
Other than pruning the leaves, your plant does not require much attention. If your plant has grown too big for its container, however, you may need to take some action where needed, such as dividing it and creating new plants, or repotting it into a larger container.
Pets and kids safety
Plants such as mother in law’s tongue are mildly toxic for humans and animals. When chewed or eaten, they can cause some oral and gastrointestinal problems. Keep them away from your children and pets as well.
The bitter taste of the plant will generally discourage your cat or dog from consuming it again. Even if they do, the ingestion is not likely to be fatal. The plant may cause mouth and throat swelling after ingestion. The consumption of large quantities of this substance may result in nausea, diarrhea, drooling, stomach pain and vomiting.
It is necessary to repot a snake plant once it has outgrown its container. Repotting not only makes the plant look neat and tidy, but allows more air to get down to the roots and encourages a strong root system. Snake plants should be repotted once every 2-3 years.
Although you can transplant your Bowstring hemp at any time of year, the best time is in the spring and early summer. Here are some basic steps:
- If your container is too narrow, make sure to buy an appropriate size pot. It should typically be 1-1.5 inches wider.
- The bottom of the pot should be covered with pebbles or rocks to prevent water from leaking out. Then add a layer of soil over that.
- After carefully removing your plant from its current pot, shake off the soil and replant the root ball in a new pot. Next, fill the remaining space with fresh potting mix.
- Make sure that your plant is the same height as before. Don’t bury the leaves. Let the soil level be at least one inch below the pot rim.
- Lastly, make sure that the soil is completely dry before watering the plant again.
It is best to propagate Sansevieria plants by division, as they have a rapidly growing rhizome structure. However, you will need at least one large mature plant with well established roots for this. You can make more than one plant depending on the size so that the roots are naturally separated; inspect the roots to see where they can be separated naturally. Plant them separately in separate containers and pour in some water. This plant can also be propagated using leaf cuttings.
Here’s how you can grow a plant using only leaf cuttings:
- Take a mature and healthy leaf and cut it into sections at least 2-3 inches long.
- Keeping the cut areas dry and letting them callus before transplanting can help it heal faster.
- Next, plant the sections bottom side up in a shallow container with a well-draining potting mix. The leaf cuttings should be buried at least 1 inch deep in the soil.
- The cuttings will develop 1-2 inches of roots in a couple of months and can be transplanted into separate pots in medium light or indirect sunlight.