Why is my Zebra Cactus (Haworthia) turning brown?

Loved for their white and dark green Zebra-style stripes, Zebra Cacti are beautiful small succulent plants that look a little like the popular Aloe Vera.

Loved for their white and dark green Zebra-style stripes, Zebra Cacti are beautiful small succulent plants that look a little like the popular Aloe Vera. Whilst they can be pretty low maintenance, it can happen sometimes that they start to develop brown leaves. This can either occur from the tips of the leaves downwards or browning across an entire leaf or section of your plant. If this is happening to your Zebra Cactus, then it definitely signals that something isn’t right with either the environment in which your plant is living or the care routine it’s receiving. 

Before you give up on your Zebra Cactus and become defeated by the brown leaves, let us take you through each of the causes of browning so you can figure out what is happening to your plant as well as fix the issue and prevent it from harming your plant again in future.

Underwatering can cause brown leaf edges and tips

If the leaves on your Zebra Cactus have turned light brown and are quite dry, then it might be a lack of water that is causing the issue. Although Zebra Cacti don’t like sitting in puddles of water as they are succulent plants, they can’t go without a drop of water for too long. Consistent underwatering will cause them to develop brown leaves from the tips and edges inwards.

If the potting mix is very dry and powdery, and you can see that some of the roots have started to look a little crispy, then your Zebra Cactus will need more moisture.

Slowly reintroduce water to your plant over the course of a week but be careful not to go the other way and start overwatering your Zebra Cactus as this can also cause brown leaves (more on that below). If you drown them in water all at once then this sudden change in their environment might actually shock your plant.

Overwatering can also cause brown foliage

If you notice that your Zebra Cactus is developing dark brown leaves that are quite droopy and soft to touch, then it is probably too much water that has caused this. 

Overwatering can very quickly lead to root rot as Zebra Cacti have very shallow and delicate roots. Alongside browning leaves, it can also cause the plant to become unstable and soft. If not caught quickly, this can mean your plant will not be able to survive. If you think you might have overwatered your Zebra Cactus it’s important to check the soil right away and change it out completely if necessary.

Make sure to check the moisture in the soil before you water your Zebra Cactus. The easiest way to check this is by digging your finger into the top two centimetres of the soil to see how damp it is. We also recommend picking up your Zebra Cactus before and after watering. This should give you a feel for when your Zebra Cactus might need a little more water, simply by giving them a lift.

If you aren’t really sure about how to know if your Zebra Cactus needs watering, we recommend picking up a moisture meter. They are super affordable and tell you how much moisture is in the soil.

Heat Stress

If your Zebra Cactus is exposed to really hot temperatures over a long period of time, this can dry out the plant and cause brown leaves. This can happen if your plant is too close to radiators, heating vents or even cookers. 

Zebra Cacti are also the perfect windowsill plant, but be careful if the window is getting too much direct sunlight as this can cause a hotspot to form by the window. Your Zebra Cactus does like warm temperatures but high heat will cause brown leaves so be wary of this too. 

Using a temperature monitor can also help you avoid this problem and keep track of any fluctuations.

Sunburn can also turn the leaves brown

If your Zebra Cactus is receiving too much bright direct sunlight each day you may start to notice yellow/brown patches appearing on the leaves. This is because the plant is being scorched by the intense sunlight. As they are small succulents, a lot of plant parents like to keep them on the windowsill, which for a lot of the year is no problem at all. However, you’ll need to be more cautious of leaf burn during summer. 

Although this problem is irreversible once it has happened, it’s pretty simple to fix for the future. Move your Zebra Cactus to a place in your home with less light and it should begin to recover. 

You can use a light monitor to figure out if your plants are getting the right amount of sunlight. We love this one which is available on Amazon here.

Those are the four most common problems that tend to cause Zebra Cacti to develop brown leaves or brown leaf tips. We get asked a lot whether or not it’s a good idea to remove the brown leaves from your plant.

Unfortunately, as the browning is irreversible, we do recommend you trim away the worst affected areas with clean, sharp scissors. Your plant will be wasting energy trying to revive these dying brown leaves so by removing it, you allow your Zebra Cactus to focus on growing new healthy leaves.  

Read our Zebra Cactus care guide for more information on how to best care for your plant.

Written by Billy Dawson


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