How to care for Haworthia
Native to southern Africa, this diverse genus, which was named for a famed British botanist and entomologist, makes a perfect addition to the collection of any succulent enthusiast, from the beginner to the seasoned grower. Though these hardy plants can tolerate a range of conditions, there are a few key points to keep in mind in order to ensure that your Haworthia not only survive, but thrive.
Typically quite petite in size, with most varieties of this slow-growing genus topping out at about 2 to 8 inches tall and wide, Haworthia are members of the same subfamily as Aloe, and share a similar growth habit. The leaves can range from firm, pointed, and deep green, like the well-known Haworthia ‘Zebra Plant’, to bluish-green with blunt ends capped in translucent windows to help facilitate photosynthesis, like the unique Haworthia Cooperi ‘Pilifera.’ Most develop in a rosette-shape, with leaves spiraling out from a central point – though some varieties offset so freely, that they begin to resemble a dense clump of foliage, rather than a single distinct rosette!
Like many succulents, Haworthia are not only able to tolerate, but in fact prefer, an infrequent water schedule. This is especially true for varieties like Haworthia Cuspidata, with its incredibly thick fleshy leaves that will actually let you know they need more water by beginning to wrinkle when their soil has been too dry for too long! The best approach to watering for all Haworthia is the ‘soak and dry’ method, in which the soil is thoroughly watered until the excess runs from the pot’s drainage hole, only once it has first had a chance to completely dry. In the winter months, stretching the periods between watering even longer is recommended, as the plant transitions into dormancy.
Take care to water the soil directly, rather than pouring water over the leaves, as moisture trapped within the plant’s rosettes can predispose it to rot or pests.
Part of what makes Haworthia such an exceptional succulent for beginners – or even experienced succulent growers who simply have more dimply lit homes – is their unique ability to thrive in shadier conditions, as compared to most succulent types. Bright or filtered morning sun is best for these beauties, as the more direct afternoon sun can cause their leaves to sunburn. The exceptions to this lower light policy are the variegated Haworthia varieties, such as Haworthia Cymbiformis ‘Star Window Plant’ Variegata, as the beautiful white and cream variegation reduces the amount of chlorophyll available in the leaves to facilitate efficient photosynthesis.
Further, while Haworthia can tolerate warmer temperatures, provided they are shielded from too much direct sun, they absolutely must be protected from frost during the winter months, or their leaves will scar.
In addition to adequate drainage in their pot or container, Haworthia require porous soil in order to prevent root damage from consistent exposure to wet organic matter. At a minimum, a store-bought cactus mix should work well, or you can further amend this mix with material such as course sand, perlite, or pumice.
Another exceptional trait of the Haworthia is their ready production of offsets, which can be removed from the parent succulent in order to start a new plant. Once the offset has developed to an adequate size to handle easily, simply use a sharp, clean knife to cut the offset away as close to the juncture with the parent plant as possible. Place the offset in a dry, indirectly lit space for a few days, so that the “wound” at its base can develop a callous. After this point, it can be potted into moist soil, and allowed to grow out its own root system. Take care not to let the offset become too dry for too long, until it begins to show signs of new growth – at which point, it can be watered using the ‘soak and dry’ method, just like a more mature succulent.