Zebra Succulent with Brown Leaf Tips? (How to Solve it)


Zebra succulent brown leaf tips

I love my zebra succulent. I think it’s the favorite of my entire succulent collection because of the beautiful variegation coloration. I have learned a lot first-hand from looking after my succulent collection, but even my zebra plant had a tendency to develop brown tips!

This puzzled me somewhat as I am a veteran succulent grower, and all my other succulents thrive.

So, I did my research, and to be honest, I found a lot of the answers online inadequate and a bit generic. So, I carried out my own experiments and did some testing to determine what was actually causing my zebra plant’s leaves to turn brown at the tips and what I could do to solve it!

In this article, I share with you all my tips and secrets in a step-by-step guide so you can help your zebra succulent (also known as zebra Haworthia, zebra cacti, Haworthiopsis fasciata)…

In a Nutshell…

I found the reason for brown tips on the leaves of my zebra succulents is drought stress because of not watering often enough or watering too lightly. High temperatures, strong air currents, and direct sunlight also contribute to the zebra leaf tips turning brown as a sign of stress.

So I know what your thinking…Aren’t succulents such as zebra succulents supposed to be watered infrequently?

The answer is yes, but you may also notice that our zebra succulents are structurally different from a lot of popular succulents, such as aloe vera, which have much larger, very fleshy leaves that store lots of water, whereas our zebra succulents are much smaller, more compact and have much thinner leaves, which still store water, but obviously much less, therefore they require a different approach to watering to prevent the tips turning brown.

From my testing, I found that all of the following were factors contributing to the leaf tips turning brown:

  • Watering too lightly.
  • Not watering often enough.
  • Air currents from wind if outdoors, or air conditioning and convection currents indoors.
  • The zebra succulent is next to a source of heat, which dries the soil too quickly.
  • Potting soil has baked hard during drought and repels water off the surface rather than infiltrate properly to reach the roots.
  • Excess heat.
  • Exposure to direct sunlight.

Keep reading to learn why your zebra plant leaf tips are turning brown and how to solve it…

Brown Tips due to Under Watering

I think for us to understand why our zebra succulents turn brown, we need to appreciate how they grow in the wild…

Zebra succulents are native to Southern Africa and grow in relatively hot climates with relatively infrequent rainfall and gritty soils that do not retain much moisture are the roots.

However, when it does rain in their native environment, it tends to be a heavy downpour, which soaks the soil significantly so that the roots can uptake the water they require and store it in their leaves to survive drought.

However, from my research, I was able to establish that zebra succulents do not typically inhabit the very harsh, very dry conditions that some of our houseplants grow in, such as some aloe plants. So they may need watering slightly more often than some of the desert dwellers.

One of the secrets to prevent your zebra succulents developing brown tips replicate their natural conditions by soaking the soil with a generous amount of water so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base of the pot.

This ensures that the water has infiltrated the potting soil so that the roots can uptake the moisture they require.

However, what I noticed when I was investigating why the tips were turning brown was that sometimes after watering from the top like this did not ensure the potting soil was evenly moist.

I felt with my finger there were some dry areas of the potting soil where the water was not infiltrating properly and, therefore, not reaching the roots.

Top tip: To remedy this, I let some water sit in the tray underneath the pot after watering for around half an hour, and I found that the potting soil draws up moisture through the drainage holes, and the potting soil is then uniformly moist to the touch.

Since I implemented this step, none of the other leaves of my zebra succulent turned brown, indicating its effectiveness.

If you water too lightly, then only the top inch or so of the soil becomes moist, and the water does not reach the roots, which causes the leaf tips to turn brown.

We have to remember that zebra plants are still succulents and, therefore, susceptible to overwatering. To hydrate our plants but avoid root rot, we need to Water zebra plants when the potting soil has dried, as this recreates the cycle of a good soak of the soil followed by a period of drought.

Typically, I find this means watering your zebra plant once every week to 10 days in the Summer if grown in a pot indoors, but this varies according to different climates and conditions.

My method for watering is to feel the soil through the drainage hole at the base to determine when it has dried out. Once it is dry I give it a good watering. I would note that the soil dries out more quickly for my zebra succulent compared to most of my other succulents.

This ensures the optimal balance of moisture so that the zebra succulent water requirements are met whilst avoiding the effects of overwatering such as root rot.

A proper watering schedule and a generous soak of water prevent the leaf tips from turning brown and can help restore the plant to a healthy appearance.

(Read my article on how to water zebra succulents to learn how to establish the optimal watering cycle for zebra succulents in your climate and conditions).

Air Currents Can Cause Leaf Tips to Turn Brown

This step is crucial. I find a lot of people assume their zebra succulents grow best in full sun like lots of other succulents but Zebra succulents prefer bright, indirect sunlight in rocky areas or shaded by other vegetation rather than full sun in their native habitat.

Therefore, they do not necessarily grow well in open areas with excessive air currents from wind if you are growing outdoors or air conditioning, draughts, or forced air if you are growing indoors.

Whilst the zebra succulent grows in environments with low humidity, it does not usually have to contend with the drying effect of air conditioning, which effectively dries out the moisture from the pot and saps moisture from the leaves at a quick rate.

This results in the leaf tips turning brown as a sign of stress.

When I lived in my apartment in New York, my zebra succulent had to contend with air conditioning in summer and heating in winter, both of which I think contributed to the tips turning brown. Therefore, I ensured that my zebra succulent was out of the way of any harsh air currents.

Zebra succulents are capable of tolerating breezy conditions, but always locate your zebra succulents out of the way of excessive airflow or sources of heat in an area of your home or garden with bright indirect light, and the plant can recover.

(To learn more, read my article on how to revive a dying zebra plant).

Zebra Succulent Potting Soil Repels Water, Causing Drought Stress

So this is one I discovered myself when my friend bought their zebra succulent from their local store.

As we discussed our Zebra plants require the soil to dry out between bouts of watering as this emulates the natural watering and soil moisture cycle of its native environment.

However, what I have observed is that if it is planted in conventional potting soil, then it can bake hard between bouts of watering, particularly if it contains peat moss, which can repel water off the surface of the soil when it dries out. It can bake hard through sunlight, and heat and just generally dry out completely to the point that water trickles off the surface.

What happened to my friend’s zebra succulent was that I saw the water run off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot, escaping through the drainage holes in the base without absorbing into the soil properly.

Therefore the roots of the zebra plant was not able to access the moisture they require and the leaf tips turn brown and crispy as a sign of drought stress.

The step-by-step solution I implemented was to:

  • Place the zebra succulents pot in a basin of lukewarm water. Avoid using cold water as this can shcok the plant. If you do this, potting soil has time to properly absorb the moisture and actually reach the zebra plant roots where it is required.
  • Go and buy some ‘succulent and cacti soil’ and repot your zebra succulent in this. You can also make your own soil by adding around 50% grit or perlite to normal potting soil, but I prefer to buy it as I find the store-bought special soil has all the right-sized grit mixed in the soil. But I have used both, and they both work. The reason it is effective is because it mimics the soil conditions of the zebra succulent’s native conditions, and the porous nature of the soil means that water can infiltrate the soil effectively.
How to save a zebra succulent with brown leaf tips
Here is my zebra succulent with the ‘cacti and succulent soil’. As you can see, the soil is very gritty, which helps water infiltrate properly and reach the roots.
  • Water your zebra plant consistently whenever the soil feels dry at the bottom of the pot. Because you have repotted your zebra plant in different soil, the rate at which the soil dries changes, so you need to establish how quickly it dries out by feeling the soil through the drainage hole at the base and water whenever the soil has dried out.

Pro tip: If you can feel the soil through the drainage hole in the base, then my other solution is to water your zebra succulent thoroughly and then pick up the pot to assess the weight. When the pot is nice and light, you know the soil is dry, and therefore, you know it’s time to water your plant. I recommend picking up your pot periodically throughout the week so you can precisely get a feel for the weight.

What to do with the Brown Tips

If you follow these steps, then the tips of your zebra succulent should not carry on turning brown. What I find happens is that the brow tips fall off of their own accord. Do not attempt to snip them off your self; otherwise, you are going to damage the plant.

Zebra plants are also excellent at propagating themselves by offsets. So what you can do is wait for off setts to appear and start a new zebra succulent that does not have any brown tips!

zebra succulents
This is one of my zebra succulents that grew a total of 7 offsets that can all be propagated!

(For all the best practices, read my article on how to grow and care for zebra succulents).

Excess Heat

As we discussed, Zebra succulents grow in bright, indirect light rather the full sun. Therefore our plants prefer the milder temperature offered by some shade rather the coping with the stress of intense sun and high temperatures.

Zebra succulents grow best in the temperature range of 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C). Whilst they can tolerate hotter temperatures temporarily (like on a summer’s day), this can increase the rate at which the soil dries so the roots cannot uptake the moisture they require.

Higher temperatures also sap moisture from the leaves, which results in the leaf tips turning brown and crispy.

The reason your zebra succulent has brown tips could be as simple as it is too close to a radiator, so I would ensure that the zebra succulent is in the temperature range of 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) where possible to avoid stress to the plant.

Direct Sunlight

From my observations, this may be the most common reason people’s zebra succulents turn brown at the tips.

I think the mistake that most people make (understandably) is to assume that this succulent needs some direct sunlight like most other succulents.

But because our zebra succulent grows in the shade of rocks naturally, in my experience, they do not tolerate direct sunlight at the height of summer (although mine can tolerate some direct sunlight at cooler times of the year).

Harsh sun can dry out the leaf tips and cause the succulent to turn red or even white as a sign of stress.

A healthy zebra succulent has dark green leaves with white stripes, so if you notice your plant turning red or white, then this is a clear indication of too much sunlight.

As long as the zebra succulent is not sunburnt (which can leave brown, dry patches), it should recover once it is out of direct sunlight.

Key Takeaways:

  • Zebra succulent leaf tips turn brown when they are suffering from drought stress because they do not water often enough or water too lightly.
  • High temperatures, excess wind or air conditioning, and too much sun can also cause the leaf tips to turn brown as a sign of stress.
  • Zebra succulents prefer bright indirect light and temperatures in the range of 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) to avoid brown leaf tips.
  • Always water zebra succulents with a generous soak and locate them in an area that is out of excessive air currents.

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