Don't die, little cacti
February 4, 2014 8:28 PM   Subscribe

So I have this little plant that I got a few years ago and I sort of... forgot about him a lot. I know I know - I'm a bad plant mom! He's been up on a window sill tucked behind a curtain so I only remembered to water him very occasionally. Is he dead? Or can he be saved? Does anyone know what type of cacti or succulent (shows what I know, right?) this is, and how much I should be watering him? Also since it's been a while - would replanting help?
posted by cristinacristinacristina to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm seen them sold as zebra cacti - I had a fairly large one until someone stole it off my porch last summer. They tend to be VERY resilient and require minimal watering. I'd give mine a quick spray any time I was around it with the hose, and it went from about 1" to 6" within a few months. Being cacti, they enjoy a lot of sun - I bet if you gave him a good shot of water and put him in the sunniest place in the house, he'd perk right up. The green stalks and smaller buds will definitely thrive and you may want to do research about pruning off dead sections if they don't revive.

Oh, and cacti are succulents (but not all succulents are cacti)
posted by _DB_ at 9:02 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

He's a Haworthia coarctata!

He's alive but could use more water - depending on how long his soil retains water and the ambient humidity and light, say every month to two weeks. He'd like high light/sun, and repotting might be nice if he's drained the nutrients out of his soil or if he was planted in the wrong type of soil (he needs a gritty/airy cactus mix) but he doesn't need a bigger pot. I'd wait to repot until early summer, though, as hopefully he'll withstand the shock better then.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:09 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and when you water you do want to drench the soil (it encourages root growth throughout the pot which stabilizes and strengthens the plant as opposed to the shallow roots that grow if you only get the surface soil moist).
posted by vegartanipla at 9:11 PM on February 4, 2014

Oh, and I just read _DB_'s comment - actually Haworthia are succulents, not cacti. And Haworthia fasciata is what is commonly referred to as "zebra cactus" or "zebra plant" but the latter's also a colloquial name for aphelandra as well. Which is why when looking up care requirements it's always ideal if you have the scientific name of the plant so you know you've got the right one. Anyway, your plant is in the same genus as Haworthia fasciata but is a different species.

Anyway, I'll stop commenting now unless you have any follow-up questions!
posted by vegartanipla at 9:24 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

this has been really helpful! he is in a south facing window that gets LOTS of direct sun in the summer, but because of a tall building next door directly south there is less in the winter. (he's looking outside right now wondering "what is all that fluffy white stuff?") he's potted in half an inch of rocks and what looks like a dry soil underneath (hard to dig that deep given the smallness of the pot.)

follow up question - should i try to break off or cut off the dead parts? or just leave it be? i tried tugging at a few and they are very dry so they pull off relatively easily.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 5:33 AM on February 5, 2014

I've had one for about 20 years. It's at an east window and is watered once a week. I do continuous feeding (via the water), but I don't recommend feeding for yours at this point.. I've repotted once, but don't repot yours!
posted by jgirl at 6:20 AM on February 5, 2014

You can break off/cut off the dead parts, but if I were you I'd leave them on for a few reasons:

1) You may accidentally tear into living tissue because while some may easily give up the ghost, others won't or they will seemingly but oops - live plant came too.
2) The growth pattern of this plant is from the bottom up. Meaning it won't replace the dried up leaves so it'll probably look worse if you take them off.
3) The growth pattern of this plant is such that the dead leaves aren't really blocking light from the living ones. If there were live leaves that were being shaded out by dead ones, then removal of the dead ones would improve the plant's light situation but that's not really the case here.

Once your plant is healthier and offsets a couple more times (grows baby versions out of the soil) you could take the dead leaves off the bigger stems, dig the soil away (you water it a day or two before so the soil's moist and movable) such that you've exposed roots, and pull each bigger stem apart such that you have bigger stem + bare stem where dead bits were + some roots. Then you can replant those parts lower into the soil so that you only have live plant above.

You could also be a bit more risky and just cut the bigger stems such that you have bigger stem + bare stem where dead bits were and plant that into the soil and hope for rerooting out of the bare stem part. Haworthia coarctata does have the ability to do that, but it's slightly riskier due to the chance of dessication/rot before the roots regrow.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:44 AM on February 5, 2014

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