Gasteria (Gasteria spp.) is a genus of relatively rare, aloe-like succulents. It sometimes goes by the common name of "ox tongue" because it typically has long leaves with a rough texture. Depending on the species, gasteria leaves also are often marked with interesting patterns and colors. Moreover, mature gasteria plants typically produce tubular, curved flowers in the winter to spring. The genus is native to South Africa, where it grows in lightly shaded conditions. As a result, the plant tolerates lower light conditions than many other succulents do, making it a good option for a houseplant. Planting is best done in the spring, though you generally can start them as houseplants at any point. Gasteria is a slow-growing plant, and most varieties stay compact.
|Botanical Name||Gasteria spp.|
|Common Name||Gasteria, ox tongue, cow's tongue, lawyer's tongue|
|Plant Type||Perennial succulent|
|Mature Size||4 to 24 inches on average|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, rich, well-draining|
|Soil pH||6 to 7|
|Bloom Time||Typically winter to spring|
|Flower Color||Typically red or pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9 to 11|
|Native Area||South Africa|
How to Grow Gasteria
If you're like most gardeners growing your gasteria indoors, choose a spot that gets a lot of light but not direct sunlight. And if you live in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11 and wish to plant your gasteria in the garden, select a site that has dappled sunlight, such as beneath a large tree. Moreover, indoor potted gasteria plants can be brought outdoors and placed in a lightly shaded area for the summer.
Be aware that the plants don't react well to water falling directly on the leaves, so provide them with some shelter from rainfall and sprinkler systems if possible. Otherwise, the leaves might start to rot. Likewise, excellent drainage both from the soil and the planting container is key to growing healthy gasteria plants.
These plants appreciate bright light but not harsh sun. Protect them from hot afternoon sunlight. White or yellow leaves can signify that the plant is getting too much sun.
For container plantings, use a cactus potting mix or another fast-draining potting soil mixed with a few handfuls of sand. For garden plantings, somewhat sandy soils are best to provide sufficient drainage
Like other succulents, these plants don't need much water. Allow the soil to almost completely dry out between waterings. If the plant gets rainfall outdoors, usually no supplemental watering will be necessary.
Temperature and Humidity
Gasteria plants generally like warm summers and slightly cool winters (down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Frost can be deadly to the plants. During warm weather, gasteria leaves might turn a lighter, brighter color, which is perfectly natural. Moreover, like most succulents, gasteria plants don't enjoy very humid environments. So if you live in a humid climate be sure only to water your plant when the soil is dry to prevent rot, as the humidity will provide much of the plant's required moisture.
Fertilize once every spring with a cactus fertilizer. Gasteria plants like a bit more organic matter in their soil than most succulents do, so mixing in a bit of compost at the time of planting can be a good idea.
Potting and Repotting
When potting your gasteria, choose a container that has ample drainage holes. Many gardeners prefer unglazed terra cotta pots, which allow soil moisture to evaporate through their walls. This helps to prevent rot issues from overwatering. Also, opt for a shallow and wide container over a deep and narrow one, as these plants grow shallow roots.
Furthermore, because gasteria plants grow slowly and remain small even when they're mature, you likely won't have to repot often. But over time, mature plants will send up baby offset plants, which can eventually overcrowd the container. You can either repot the whole cluster of plants into a larger container, or remove the offsets from the parent plant and place them in separate containers.
Gasteria is easily propagated using offsets. When taking offsets, use a sharp knife or scissors. Cut as close to the parent plant's stem as you can, including as many roots attached to the offset as possible. Then, allow the offset to dry for at least a few hours before repotting it. Plant the offset in a small pot, using the same soil type as what the parent plant has. Put the pot a warm, bright spot, and keep the soil evenly moist (but not soggy) until you see growth.
Common Pests and Diseases
Gasteria plants are susceptible to fungal infections, which usually appear as black spots on the leaves. This is typically the result of too much humidity or water on the leaves. Fortunately these fungal infections usually don't spread quickly, though you still should take steps as soon as possible to correct the plant's moisture level to bring the infection under control.
Varieties of Gasteria
There are numerous species, varieties, and hybrids of gasteria available. Some popular choices include:
- Gasteria verrucosa: This species has distinctive thick and oblong leaves covered with white warts.
- Gasteria maculata: This plant is similar to Gasteria verrucosa but lacks the warty protrusions.
- Gasteria glomerata: This species is a compact plant that remains only a few inches tall.