Snake Plant Fertilizer: When & How to Give Your Plant Food

You’re trying to do everything right for your Snake Plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Dracaena trifasciata, formerly Sansevieria trifasciata). You give it loose, well-draining soil in a perfect pot, the right amount of water, and bright, indirect light. It’s growing well, but now you’re wondering about fertilizer.

There are so many types of Snake Plant fertilizers out there with different formulations. What are they made of? What kind is best? How often does it need to be fertilized? And is it essential?

Why Fertilize Your Snake Plant?

All plant life needs nutrition to function. And most plants, Snake Plants included, take up nutrients with water and air through their roots and from the atmosphere through their leaves.

Snake Plants grow slowly; if you repot your plant every two to three years, it shouldn’t need much plant food. As time goes on, however, the soil becomes increasingly depleted as you water your plant, and it uses up the available nutrients.

For Snake Plants, fertilizer is like a vitamin supplement. They can exist without it, but it gives them a boost and fills any gaps in nutrition that there might be, especially as time goes on.

Macronutrients and Micronutrients

checking pot for proper snake plant drainage

There are some nutrients that plants need in large quantities. They absorb oxygen (O) and carbon (C), and hydrogen (H) through the air, but the main ones that they get from the soil are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).

These are known as macronutrients and are the key components of the complete fertilizers you can buy.

Macronutrients

You will see three numbers listed on the fertilizer bag, such as 5-10-10. Each number represents the percentage of N, P, and K in the package by weight in that order. So, the bag would contain 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. The remaining weight consists of fillers and micronutrients.

The higher the numbers, the more macronutrients are in each unit of fertilizer. An NPK ratio of 20-30-20 has a higher percentage of macronutrients than 5-10-5. The numbers comprise a fertilizer grade that is standard across the U.S.

Here is what the macronutrients provide for the plant.

  • Nitrogen gives plants their green color and helps them grow strong. It is a necessary component in photosynthesis, the energy-producing function in the plant.
  • Phosphorus helps roots and flowers grow and protects them against environmental stress.
  • Potassium helps plants retain water and strengthens young plants as they develop.

Three other nutrients that are secondary to the macronutrients and also important are calcium (C), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur(S).

  • Calcium provides strength and structure to cell walls.
  • Magnesium activates growth enzymes in plants and is a necessary component of photosynthesis.
  • Sulfur is a building block for the photosynthetic process and in protein production.

Micronutrients

They’re called micronutrients because your houseplant needs these minerals in tiny quantities, making up about 1% of its dry weight. Good quality organic and synthetic fertilizers will have micronutrients along with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and secondary nutrients.

Here are the essential micronutrients that your plant needs:

  • Iron aids in the formation of chlorophyll, the green coloring of plants that makes photosynthesis possible.
  • Manganese also assists in chlorophyll formation.
  • Zinc aids in the growth of the plant’s roots.
  • Boron assists in growth functions, pollination, and fertilization.
  • Copper triggers enzyme activity in plants.
  • Chlorine is necessary for photosynthesis and root growth.
  • Molybdenum assists the plant in using nitrogen to create amino acids.
  • Nickel helps the plant create live seeds.

These macronutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients are the components of most complete fertilizers, and they come in different types and forms.

What are they, and how do they affect the delivery of nutrients to the plant?

Different Types Of Fertilizers For Snake Plants

watering a snake plant

Organic

Organic fertilizers are made from a variety of plant and animal products. They are environmentally friendly, and they add microorganisms to the soil that break down the organic material and make the nutrients available to the plant while improving the soil structure.

They include compost, manure, peat moss, bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion, worm castings, and coffee grounds.

Organic fertilizers deliver nutrients to the plant much slower than synthetic fertilizers, so it’s unnecessary to fertilize as often. They can come in a liquid form, quick-release or long-acting granules, foliar sprays, or spikes that can be inserted into the soil.

Synthetic

Synthetic fertilizers are made from non-living materials with chemical components for the specific N-P-K ratio, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients. There are no microorganisms, so this type of fertilizer doesn’t affect the soil structure.

These fertilizers rapidly deliver nutrients to the plant, so to keep the same level of nutrition in the soil, it’s necessary to fertilize more often. They can come in liquid form, granular, soluble crystals, foliar sprays, and spikes.

Different Forms Of Snake Plant Fertilizer

Liquid

Liquids are the fastest-acting form of both organic and synthetic fertilizers, and they can be used straight or diluted with water.

Watering your plant with a liquid fertilizer is easy to overdo, so it’s always a good policy to dilute it half-strength to guard against fertilizer burn that can damage or kill a plant.

Granules

Fertilizer granules are mixed into the soil and release their nutrients each time you water. You don’t have to fertilize as frequently as you do with liquid fertilizer, but their coverage is spottier if they aren’t distributed evenly in the soil.

Soluble Crystals

Soluble crystals are a popular type of synthetic fertilizer. They dissolve quickly in water and deliver a fast-acting nutrition boost to the plant.

As with liquid fertilizer, it’s easy to go overboard and give the plant too much, so it’s best to use half the amount of what the instructions recommend.

Foliar

Foliar fertilizers are sprays or mists you apply directly to the plant’s foliage. They are absorbed quickly and can act to supplement any soil deficiencies. They are often formulated for certain types of plants, such as all varieties of snake plants, orchids, or succulents.

Spikes

Spikes are easy to use, but their delivery of nutrients to the Snake Plant’s roots is restricted and only covers the area where they’re located in the soil.

What Is the Best Fertilizer For Snake Plants?

Both organic and synthetic fertilizers with a balanced formulation of 10-10-10 will help to keep your Snake Plant in tip-top shape.

Organic fertilizers have the added value of microorganisms and are environmentally friendly, but synthetic fertilizers tend to deliver the nutrients faster. Both types have their advantages.

Liquid or soluble crystalline fertilizers flow through the soil and reach all the roots uniformly, but granular fertilizers that are watered in can be convenient and effective if distributed evenly.

The granular form can be a great choice for Snake Plants since they grow slowly and only need a small amount of added nutrition to supplement their soil.

How Often Should You Fertilize Snake Plants?

The frequency of fertilizing depends on the amount of light the plant is getting, the temperature, the time of year, the type and form of fertilizer, and the ratio of N-P-K.

The more light available to the plant, the faster it photosynthesizes and uses its water and nutrients. In the spring and summer, when it’s warm, the light is bright, and the plant is actively growing, you can fertilize it:

  • Every 2 to 3 months with liquid or soluble crystalline fertilizer, or
  • Once with granular, or
  • Several times throughout the season with foliar fertilizer, or
  • Once with spikes

If the plant is in medium light during the growing season, its metabolism will be slower. You can fertilize it:

  • Every 3 to 4 months with liquid or soluble crystalline fertilizer, or
  • Once with granular, or
  • Twice with foliar fertilizer, or
  • Once with spikes

If the plant is in low light location during the spring and summer, only fertilize it once in the spring with any type or form of fertilizer. But during the fall and winter, when the light is naturally low, and the temperatures drop, the plant has slowed its growth.

This is the time of year that you won’t fertilize at all.

How To Fertilize Your Snake Plant

repotting a snake plant

How to fertilize your Snake Plant is as important as what type and form of fertilizer to use.

All the bags or bottles you buy will have instructions about how much to use, how to mix it with water if it’s a concentrated liquid or soluble crystalline, and how much to apply if it’s granular, foliar, or spikes.

Follow these instructions, but consider the time of year, the amount of light your plant has, and the ratio of N-P-K in the fertilizer.

So keep the numbers low and balanced for your Snake Plant food, such as 10-10-10. It’s better to have a less concentrated fertilizer and fertilize it fewer times than to overdo it and risk your plant ending up with fertilizer burn.

Liquid Fertilizers

Some liquid fertilizers can be poured directly into the soil and are immediately available to the plant. Others must be diluted first before you water your plant with them.

Soluble Crystals

Soluble crystals are mixed with water per instructions. A little goes a long way – the proportions are often a quarter teaspoon to a quart of water you mix in your watering can.

Granules

Granules are convenient but tricky to apply. Use a small amount for a Snake Plant, and sprinkle them on top of the soil. Then, with a spoon, mix them into the top two inches of soil as evenly as possible.

The more evenly you apply the granules, the more coverage of fertilizer you will have in the pot. They will dissolve slowly in the potting mix every time you water your plant.

Foliar Fertilizers

Foliar fertilizers specially formulated for Snake Plants or tropical plants can be sprayed on the leaves twice a year during the spring and summer. They are especially helpful for young shoots that are just emerging.

Spikes

Spikes are easy to use. Follow the instructions and insert the recommended number evenly into the soil once in the spring. They will deliver nutrients down to the roots every time you water the plant.

Fertilizer Burn

snake plant drooping

Fertilizer burn or scorch happens when the Snake plant’s soil is overfertilized. Too many mineral salts build up in the soil and draw water out from the roots, desiccating and damaging them. This can also cause the leaves to develop yellow and brown spots, shrivel, dry out, and droop.

Fertilizer burn usually happens quickly. So if you catch it early enough, you can remedy the problem.

Set the pot in the sink and run water through the soil and out the drainage holes for 10 to 15 minutes to flush the fertilizer away. You may have to repeat this treatment more than once if it has built up and a crust has formed on top of the soil.

Another option would be to change the potting soil completely. Cut off any damaged, shriveled roots and leaves, and repot your plant in fresh soil in a clean pot. Then, give your plant a rest and don’t fertilize it for a couple of months.

When it’s the right time to fertilize, go very lightly so the plant will benefit and not burn.

nancy
Nancy Maffia
Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.