Snake plants are often recommended to new plant parents because they are amazing houseplants and fairly easy to care for. However, their light needs are one of the most common elements that people debate about. Snake plants have often been labeled as “low-light-loving plants” when that is far from the truth!
So how much light does your snake plant really need, and what are the risks of giving your snake plant low light? Find out snake plant light requirements here.
Do Snake Plants Need A Lot Of Light?
Snake plants actually prefer bright indirect light. They can even tolerate some direct light. While they don’t need bright light as succulents do, most plant experts agree they fall into the medium to bright indirect light category.
Let’s consider their natural habitat. Snake plants are native to rocky, dry habitats in West Africa. Our houseplant varieties are cultivars but still need proper light and soil drainage.
Due to their native habitat and shallow root systems, they are drought tolerant and sensitive to root rot.
If you are giving low light, you may notice slow to no growth and signs of root rot.
How Much Light Do Snake Plants Need?
Give your snake plant at least 5 hours of medium to bright indirect light daily.
If unsure of your location’s light levels, you can measure this with a foot-candle light meter. For reference, medium to bright indirect light is 700 – 2000 foot candles.
Snake plants do best in light that is as bright as possible without being in harsh sun rays. Filtered bright light works well, such as having your snake plant in front of a west window with a filtered curtain.
Do Snake Plants Need Direct Sunlight?
Gentle, direct light from the morning sun (2000–3000 foot-candles) can be beneficial.
However, be careful not to damage your snake plant with extended periods of direct light or harsh direct sunlight on summer afternoons.
If you need to test out locations, try small increments of exposure first. With bright indirect light, you can easily see your hand as a mildly blurry shadow in front of a surface like a wall.
How Low Light Almost Killed My First Snake Plant
Snake plants often come from plant nurseries with perfect growing conditions and plenty of indirect light. Sometimes, our snake plants even come in the wrong type of soil that retains more moisture than they should (in order to be lower maintenance for the grower’s watering schedule). It’s not easy taking care of so many plants at the nursery.
Then we take our new plant home, and it doesn’t do well. Naturally, we blame ourselves.
Quick story time…
Years back, I read the label and looked online to ensure I took proper care of my first snake plant. All the common instructions were there: “I like low light”, the label from the big box store said. It also instructed me to water when the soil felt dry and to avoid direct sunlight.
But here was my issue.
The soil for my snake plant took over three months to dry out from when it was watered last at the store! I didn’t know how abnormal this was at the time, and I was giving it low light, just as instructed in the common plant care guides.
I kept my snake plant adjacent to a shaded west window up against the side wall, ensuring that it got no direct sun. It was getting low indirect light throughout the day, and I didn’t consider that light was the problem at the time.
Finally, I watered my snake plant when the soil eventually dried out. Again, the soil stayed very moist for entirely too long.
Next, I guessed that my plant’s soil didn’t drain well enough. While it seemed to drain quickly to me, I considered perhaps it needed more aeration. So, I added more orchid bark and perlite as aeration amendments.
After this, I didn’t water my snake plant because the soil was too moist. Time went on with no growth. Eventually, my snake plant developed root rot, even with the added drainage. I was able to save part of the snake plant, which I still have today.
I later learned this was mostly due to a lack of light.
Why Does Low Light Contribute To Root Rot in Snake Plants?
Isn’t root rot more related to soil drainage?
It’s true. Snake plants must have good drainage to prevent root rot, but it is also crucial to pair this with plenty of indirect light.
If you’ve ever killed a snake plant by accident due to root rot, don’t feel bad! You are not alone, and you probably followed the vague or partially incorrect care instructions.
This goes back to the relationship between light and soil moisture. As our houseplants use sunlight to photosynthesize, they drink the water we provide.
Although the top part of the soil will dry out from air circulation, a snake plant’s roots will absorb some water from a bit deeper into the soil.
However, snake plants have shallow root systems. This makes them less efficient at absorbing excess water in the first place, which is where we agree that excellent drainage helps.
Even with proper soil drainage, your snake plant still needs to use sunlight to photosynthesize, “drink” the moisture from its soil, and grow.
When we give our snake plants low light, we increase the likelihood of roots sitting in wet soil for extended periods of time. This leads to root rot.
Do Snake Plants Ever Live in Low Light?
What about stories you may have heard of snake plants living in windowless bathrooms? Thankfully, these stories are less common now, as almost everyone agrees that all living plants need light. But we still hear these stories on occasion.
Since snake plants are resilient, they can tolerate low light for longer than your average houseplant. The keyword here is “tolerate”.
It is misleading to put “I like low light” on their store care label. They don’t “like” or prefer low light. Just remember that cases in which snake plants seemed to do fine with little to no light are the exception, not the rule.
Also, keep in mind that other factors are involved in a plant’s care as well. Was the person keeping their snake plant in water that got changed out regularly? They may have been able to keep root rot at bay by preventing contamination. Perhaps their plant was sitting directly under an air vent, which helped dry out the soil.
There are too many variables to be sure why some plants survive, and others don’t. Once you’ve seen a snake plant thrive, on the other hand, you won’t want to give low light again!
Bonus: Care Secrets for Healthy Snake Plants
Let’s get into what your snake plant needs to thrive and other tips for a healthy plant.
1. Provide drainage & more drainage!
Select a pot that has multiple drainage holes. Use a well-aerated soil, such as the ratios recommended for snake plant soil mix.
If you use a decorative cover pot, always allow your snake plant to drain completely before placing it back into the cover pot.
This will prevent your snake plant from sitting in water, a recipe for root rot.
2. Avoid tall pots
As previously mentioned, snake plants have fairly shallow root systems.
They are sometimes purchased in a tall nursery pot due to the height of their leaves. This may be the wrong type of pot for your snake plant inside your home with likely less light than the grower provided in a nursery.
You want to avoid having your snake plant sit in layers of wet soil where the roots do not penetrate. The bottom soil can stay moist and lead to root rot.
Snake plants prefer to be in smaller pots, with what plant enthusiasts call “tight feet.” This just means the roots don’t have much excess room or waterlogged soil around them.
FURTHER READING: How To Choose The Right Pot for A Snake Plant
3. Water when the soil dries out completely
If your snake plant care label says, “water when the top inch of soil is dry” or “top half of soil is dry”, simply ignore that.
Snake plants like to dry out completely between waterings. You can feel the lower soil by placing your fingers in the bottom drainage holes. You can also use a moisture meter.
4. Top-water your snake plant
By top-watering, you will know once the water has made it through from top to bottom during watering.
Since I let my snake plant get completely dry, I give it a good drink by running water through it twice. You can run the water first until you see drainage, stop a moment, and then repeat one more time.
This is preferred instead of bottom watering, which can lead to excess moisture at the bottom of the snake plant’s pot. Since it has small roots, the extra water will make it harder for your plant to dry out.
I admit that lots of plants do well with bottom watering, but it’s better to top-water the snake plant.
We appreciate that the houseplant community has continued to disprove common myths about snake plants, the most prevalent one being that they don’t need much light.
Hopefully, you’ve gained knowledge from this post to share with other plant enthusiasts. And you can enjoy having a healthy snake plant in your home. Many houseplants later, snake plants are still some of my favorites!