Zebra plant is a term commonly used to describe a pair of succulent doppelgängers: Haworthiopsis fasciata and Haworthiopsis attenuata. Both are like tiny aloes, with dark green spiky leaves decorated with thin, bumpy, white stripes.
There’s a lot of controversy over the classification of Zebra plants. It is common for garden centers to sell H. attenuate that are incorrectly labeled as H. fasciata (the latter is much rarer).
But as Juliet said, “What’s in a name?” Luckily for those who care more about cute plants than scientific names, other than soil acidity, these fraternal twins share the exact minimal care requirements.
Zebra haworthia plants are adorable. Outdoors they are divas, but as houseplants, they are low maintenance and thrive in low light. That makes them a great gift, even for a first-time plant parent.
Quick Guide to Zebra Plants
|Sun requirements||Low, indirect light.|
|Hardiness||Zone 10, not cold hardy|
|Primary growth season||Spring and fall|
|Typical sizes||6-8 inches|
|Flowers||Small white flowers|
Zebra plants do not want too much sun. In the wild, they are often found growing under bushes or between tall grasses. Low indoor light is ideal. Like taking care of rhaphidophora tetrasperma, you should avoid harsh direct sunlight, indoors or outdoors.
Proper sun exposure results in a healthy, dark green plant. Overexposure will turn the leaves pale green, and sometimes they develop a reddish tone. If this happens, move your Zebra plant to a location with less light, and it should recover.
Both Haworthiopsis fasciata and Haworthiopsis attenuate are native to South Africa, although they come from different areas. They are not cold hardy.
They are suitable for outdoor planting in USDA zone 10 or warmer, but they are intolerant of both hot and cold weather. A healthy outdoor Zebra plant may survive if it occasionally dips to around freezing overnight, but it will not tolerate more than a night or two of sub-freezing temperatures.
If you anticipate more than a brief freeze or under 30 degrees Fahrenheit, cover it to protect it, or if it is in a pot, bring it indoors.
In temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, Zebra haworthia will go dormant. They are quite drought-tolerant succulents. Ironically, they are susceptible to sunburn.
Zebra plants are non-edible but also non-toxic. They are safe for households with pets and small children.
Primary growth season
In addition to a winter dormancy, which is common among succulents, Zebra plants may go through a summer dormancy. If they are exposed to temperatures around 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for a few days or more, they will likely go dormant until the temperatures drop again.
Zebra plants can grow up to about 6-8 inches in height and width.
Zebra plants are usually grown for their foliage, not their blooms. However, if they go through a proper winter dormancy period, they may send out a stalk with a series of small white flowers in the summer.
If you do not like the flowers, you can remove the stalk near the base with a pair of clean scissors. If you want the flowers but aren’t getting them, move the plant to a cooler location in the winter.
Growing the Zebra Plant
There are numerous varieties of haworthiopsis fasciata, which may contribute to the identification confusion. Some have thick white stripes, while others have red and yellow-toned leaves. However, a few general rules can help you identify the true species of your Zebra plant.
Haworthiopsis fasciata has smoother leaves striped only on the outward-facing side of the leaf. Also, its leaves are a bit fatter and shorter, with fibers running through the middle.
Haworthiopsis attenuata is the complete opposite. It has bumpier, thinner leaves, striped all the way around, with no fibers.
Also, H. attenuata grows a little faster than H. fasciata. It gets about an inch taller, taking the overall form of an oblong rather than a sphere.
Despite these differences in appearance, you should provide almost the same care and environment for your zebra haworthia. (The one exception is soil acidity.)
Where to Plant
You can grow Zebra Haworthia outdoors in Zones 10-11.
But since this plant doesn’t fair-well in below freezing temperature or above 85 for more than a day or so, it is highly recommended to keep it as a container plant.
During spring and fall, place it out in an area of indirect sunlight. Bring it inside your home when summer or winter arrives. Once inside your home, give the Zebra plant filtered light. This plant can tolerate some direct sunlight provided that you gradually introduce it.
If you’re keeping a Zebra plant solely indoors, again, place the plant in an area where it can get a lot of indirect sunlight for at least 4-6 hours a day. Watch out for discoloration from sunburning (the leaves will turn pale green, potentially with some reddening)
This plant will tolerate a fairly low light environment for quite a while. If you are growing it in low light, give it a little window time to help it perk up, or try a grow light.
Like all succulents, Zebra haworthia benefits from excellent drainage. Use a pot with large and ample drainage holes in the bottom.
Although some Zebra plants have a relatively small root ball, they can grow long roots, making them tolerant. So, use a taller container than you might otherwise consider for such a short succulent, one that is about as tall as the leaves are.
One of the few differences between caring for a haworthiopsis fasciata and haworthiopsis attenuata is soil acidity. While both plants come from South Africa, they come from different regions, and that affects their acidity preferences.
Most likely, especially if you bought it at a garden center, you have a H. attenuata, which prefers a neutral pH, around 7. However, if you do find a real H. fasciata, it will prefer acidic soil, with a pH of 6 or a little less. You can make acidic soil by following this guide.
If you have a Haworthiopsis attenuata, you can use a well-draining succulent or cactus mix or make your potting medium. Your H. attenuate will love this simple potting mix recipe:
- One part succulent/cactus specific potting soil, or a 50/50 mix of:
- Ordinary potting soil, and
- Sharp sand
- One part gritty amendment, such as perlite, pumice, pebbles, bark chips, pieces of broken pots, etc.
Maintenance and Repotting
Over time a Zebra haworthia’s leaves can have dried brown tips. But don’t worry. These do not necessarily indicate that the plant is unhealthy – it is a natural part of the life cycle.
So, what should you?
Simply snip these tips. You can either use scissors or pinch them off with your fingers. You may also choose to remove flower stalks.
Zebra plants take a while to grow. But once they’re well-established, new leaves will sprout more quickly, especially during growing seasons. You will only need to repot every 2-3 years.
Zebra haworthia is susceptible to transplant shock, so be gentle. Water the plant a day in advance of potting or propagating to ensure the roots are hydrated.
Correctly watering your Zebra haworthia will ensure it grows at the preferred, slow rate. So, whatever you do, don’t overwater. Overwatering will speed up its growth rate, leaving you with a deformed plant. Fun fact: overwatering is also a common problem with fairy castle cactus.
You’re also putting your plant at risk to root rot, bacterial and fungal problems, and a higher chance of a pest problem.
Although Zebra plants are drought tolerant, with long roots to absorb water from below the dry surface, you don’t want to leave the plant dry for an extended period. Let the potting mix dry before rewatering.
Use the “soak and dry” method:
- Place the pot in a sink. You must use a pot with drainage holes in the bottom.
- Gently water the plant until water streams out the bottom.
- Wait a few minutes for the water to absorb throughout the soil as much as possible.
- Drench the soil again to make sure the potting mix is completely saturated.
- Let the pot drain thoroughly.
- Move the plant back to its home.
- Let the potting mix dry fully before watering again.
During the plant’s primary dormancy, which is winter, water even more sparingly. But, it will go dormant again on hot summer weather or if it’s exposed to temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit each day.
So, water sparingly and on an as-needed basis during summer and winter.
Be careful when watering to make sure no excess water is left on the leaves or in the drainage saucer under the pot, as these can result in rot.
The Zebra plant has low feeding needs. You won’t need to fertilize it for the first year after buying it or repotting it in a fresh potting mix.
During its second year, you can fertilize it but only during spring and summer. If it goes dormant in the summer heat, stop fertilizing and only resume until the growing season ends in the fall.
Use a liquid fertilizer, preferably an organic cactus fertilizer, every month or two.
Pests and Disease
Zebra plants are generally healthy, resilient plants. Most problems come from overwatering. Overwatering or allowing water to gather in the plant’s crown can lead to root rot or southern blight. Overfertilizing is equally as bad as it can cause yellowing and burned roots.
Sometimes Zebra plants get mealybugs or scale. But most likely, you can expect a healthy and disease-free Zebra Haworthia as long as you water it appropriately.
Zebra haworthia loves to self-propagate. It typically produces offsets (also known as chicks or pups), typically in the spring and fall when outside. In the climate-controlled indoors, it may have pups at any time.
To propagate from pups:
- Water the plant one day in advance to make sure the roots are hydrated.
- Choose a large pup, preferably with some roots attached. If you find it hard to access the area between the pup and the mother plant, remove the plant from the pot. Do so only if necessary, as the plants are susceptible to transplant shock. Ideally, use it as an opportunity to repot the mother plant or freshen up her soil.
- Remove it from the mother plant with a gentle twist, or if needed, insert a sterile knife between the mother plant and pup, pulling them apart.
- Gently detach the pup’s roots if they are tangled with the mother plant’s roots.
- Leave the pup lying on a plate or table in the open air for several days after cutting it. Keep it dry and out of direct sunlight to allow the raw area to heal over, forming a callus. This step, curing the cutting in the open air, is essential to avoid bacterial or fungal growth at the cut end.
- After the callus has formed, you have the option of dipping the cut end in a rooting hormone. It is typically unnecessary, but it can speed up the process, especially if you picked a pup without its roots.
- Plant the callused end in moist, well-draining soil. Keep it out of direct sunlight.
- Don’t overwater, but avoid letting the soil dry out. Also, mist the pup occasionally with water. It prefers a bit more humidity than fully-grown Zebra plants.
- Once it is growing and well-rooted, you can move it to an area with more sun exposure but gradually avoid sunburn.
Propagating pups is the easiest way to make new Zebra haworthia, but you can also propagate it from seed or individual leaf cuttings. However, it may take a propagated leaf nine months to produce any visible new growth. If you do want to propagate from leaves, check out this video.
The Wrap Up
Although it may seem complicated at first, it’s not impossible to grow a Zebra plant indoors or outdoors. You’ll just need to stick to its preferred soil, sunlight, and water requirements, and you can have a healthy and thriving Zebra plant with minimal maintenance!
The Zebra Haworthia is an all-around winner.