Hoya Sarawak – (STEP-BY-STEP Growing #1 Guide!)

top view of a hoya sarawak with round and thick green leaves

We picked up a Hoya Sarawak at a local gardening fair and never looked back. He’s a cute fellow with roundish, green leaves that have a waxy feel (like many other Hoyas!).

A couple of quick care notes – this plant we find is pretty easy to grow and establishes roots quickly. They enjoy LOADS of sunlight (West or South-facing windowsills are best), and in our experience, prefer living in LECA over traditional soil mixes.

Warm temperatures and light fertilization is good for growth. But he’s a slow-grower, so be patient!

Hoya Latifolia vs. Hoya Sarawak?

A quick note on Latifolia vs. Sarawak. The Sarawak has more of a heart-shaped, very rounded looking leaf blade with wide tips. If you trace the veins that run parallel to the leaf blade, they tend to bulge outward and look rounded too.

On the other hand, the Latifolia has a narrower shape with longer and pointier tips. The veins that run down the leaf blade are also narrower than the Sarawak’s!

side by side comparison of hoya latifolia (left) and hoya sarawak (right). the hoya latifolia has thinner leaf shape with more pointy tips, while the hoya sarawak has a rounder, more heart-shaped leaf shape.
Hoya Latifolia (left) vs. Hoya Sarawak (right).

But to confuse matters a little – the plants we commonly refer to as Hoya Latifolia and Hoya Sarawak are both technically Latifolias. The Hoya Sarawak’s full scientific name is “Hoya Latifolia sp. Sarawak”, so it is the same species as the Hoya Latifolia, but belongs to a different subtype.

Either way – be careful to pick which type you like before buying! They need the same care. 🙂

How to care for your Hoya Sarawak

Light

Usually, looking for the brightest spot in your home when growing Hoya Sawawaks indoors is a good rule of thumb.

While it can tolerate some shade, this typically leads to sluggish growth, and smaller leaves. 🙁

The best location for the Hoya Sarawak is next to a West or South-facing window. Initially, we had her in an East-facing window… but she couldn’t soak up enough sun. After relocating her to the kitchen (bright, South-facing sun), she grew much more quickly and threw out a couple of big leaves!

For those living in climates with dark winters, you may need to use a grow light to supplement natural light when the days get shorter.

Water

OK take it from us: the Hoya Sarawak prefers when its soil dries out a little between waterings. How often you water will depend on various factors, such as the time of year, temperature and humidity level, and size and age of the plant.

A good general rule of thumb is to water the Hoya once every 14 days during its active growing season. Those thick, waxy leaves store water… meaning that you don’t need to water the Sarawak as frequently as many other popular houseplants like most Monsteras and Philodendrons.

You should always, however, check how dry the soil is before watering, using your finger to feel the topsoil for moisture. The extra 10 seconds of work is worth it (!) – as it prevents overwatering.

close up of a hoya sarawak leaf with patterned veins and thick, succulent-like texture

Humidity

Hoya Sarawak are tropical plants native to Borneo (Sarawak, in Southeast Asia) – where humidity levels can approach 70-95%! So they can’t get enough humidity.

For optimal growth, aim for AT LEAST 60%. Though the Hoya Sarawak can tolerate humidity levels of 40%, it isn’t ideal.

If you want to increase the humidity level around the plant, consider either purchasing a humidifier and running it near the Hoya. Another option is to set the Hoya Sarawak’s pot on a pebble tray.

(Check out 4 ways to raise humidity levels here.)

Temperature

The temperature range for the Hoya Sarawak is on par with most other Hoya varieties. This means a constant temperature level of 65-85 degrees F (18-29 degrees C).

Never subject this plant to temperatures below 60 degrees F (16 degrees C) for long periods of time as this can cause the Hoya to go into shock, and promptly drop its leaves in protest.

Hoya Sarawak also cannot survive in temperatures above 85 degrees (29 degrees C) for an extended period of time.

These higher temperatures can cause the plant to dry out much quicker, slow its growth, and even discolor its leaves.

Growth

Like other Hoya plants, the Hoya Sarawak isn’t a fast-growing plant.

In fact, it is not uncommon for the plant to only produce new growth every 2 to 3 months. This is normal and isn’t due to poor care!

In its native habitat, the Hoya Sarawak can reach 20 feet tall (6 meters!!!), but when it is grown indoors, the average size for this plant is 6 feet (1.8meters), which is still pretty impressive.

You’d just have to be patient!

Flowers – Hoya Sarawak Cream vs. Hoya Sarawak Pink?

Hoya Sarawaks usually have cream or pink flowers. Sometimes growers will indicate this using the name “Hoya Sarawak Cream” or Hoya Sarawak Pink”.

The cream flowers are amazing – they are hairy and fuzzy, with pink centers.

The pink flowers have a waxy, slightly translucent look to them.

different colored flowers of the hoya sarawak - on the left, a cluster of pink flowers, and on the right, the cream fuzzy flower version

Soil or Growing Medium

The growing medium that works best for this plant is one that is airy, drains well, and isn’t compact.

Whilst some people have success with an airy orchid or succulent-based potting soil… we find that using LECA (which allows for maximum breathability) has been a great choice.

(You can read more about using LECA here.)

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12/17/2022 12:00 am GMT

Fertilizer

Hoyas are NOT heavy feeders, so the Hoya Sarawak won’t require loads of fertilizer.

You can, however, give them a balanced liquid fertilizer at half strength once a month during their active growing period (spring + summer months).

Reduce the feeding to no more than once every 6 weeks in autumn, and hold off entirely in winter.

Personally, we are fans of Dyna-Gro Grow, but any gentle fertilizer will do for this Hoya.

Repotting

Because the Hoya Sarawak doesn’t grow quickly, you don’t have to worry about repotting the plant as often as other houseplants.

It can be years before you have to repot this Hoya. Repotting is usually only done when the plant becomes root bound – when you see little roots peeking out of the drainage holes.

Repot in springtime, when light and temperature conditions are optimal for growth. This helps the Hoya Sarawak bounce back from the stress of repotting!

Toxicity

Hoyas, including the Hoya Sarawak, are not toxic to humans or pets.

They do, however, contain a milky sap that can be irritating for sensitive skin… so consider putting on gardening gloves when pruning or propagating your Hoya.

Other pet & kid-friendly houseplants include Calatheas and Peperomias.

Propagation

Stem propagating is the best propagation method for the Hoya Sarawak.

The process is simple!

  • Cut off a healthy stem just above a node (the thicker part of the stem). The stem should be between 4-6 inches (10-15cm) long and have at least one leaf.
  • Remove any leaves from the bottom half of the stem cutting.
  • Place the cutting in a jar half-filled with water.
  • Keep the water jar in a spot with loads of indirect light, changing out the water whenever it starts to get a little murky.
  • After 2 weeks, you should see roots growing.
  • When the roots reach about 2 inches (5cm), replant into a LECA mix.

Pruning

Don’t plan on pruning the Hoya Sarawak too aggressively, as this can actually cause more harm than good.

When you do prune, do so lightly and never remove more than ¼ of the plant. This will cause too much stress on your poor Hoya.

Also – wait until early spring to prune the Hoya if possible, and use sharp gardening shears to slice through those thicker stems…. blunt scissors will cause trauma and bruising!

To prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and pathogens (the kind you cannot see), we also like to dip our gardening tools for 45 seconds in isopropyl (rubbing alcohol).

Common Pests and Issues

Overwatering and Root Rot

Hoya Sarawak isn’t prone to many problems, but the main concern comes from overwatering and root rot.

Root rot is a fungal disease that occurs when a lack of oxygen to the roots causes roots to decay. Fungi feed on decaying roots, causing them to die away.

Roots play a really important role in bringing water and nutrients to the plant. Without this ability, the plant dies.

Root rot is usually caused by 2 main things: persistent overwatering which leads roots to suffocate, or heavy and compact soils that also cut off oxygen supply.

That’s why its so important to check the soil moisture before watering, and to also use a breathable growing medium like LECA!

What to do if you’ve overwatered your plant?

Well – check out our guide on saving an overwatered plant.

Though root rot can cause plant death, if you catch it early enough, resilient plants like Hoya Sarawaks stand a chance of survival!

top view of a hoya sarawak with round and thick green leaves

Troubleshooting

Why are my Hoya Sarawak leaves turning yellow?

The most common reason why your Hoya Sarawak leaves are turning yellow is due to overwatering. This could be because you are giving the plant too much water, the growing medium is too compact, or a combination of both.

The best way to determine if overwatering is the cause of the yellow leaves is to check if the soil feels damp.

If the plant has been overwatered, you must immediately stop watering it and let the soil dry out before you water it again.

What can cause the Hoya Sarawak leaves to turn brown?

Brown, dry and crispy leaves usually signal underwatering.

The good news is that Hoyas are quite tolerant of being underwatered. Water your plant slowly and deeply near the soil line. Monitor the moisture levels of the topsoil – once it dries out, water your plant. It should bounce back in a week or two.

Should I be concerned with leaf spots on my Hoya Sarawak?

A potential issue is bacterial leaf spot. According to the University of West Virginia, early signs of infection are water-soaked legions on leaves.

This bacterial infection spreads most rapidly in wet and humid environments, which, unfortunately, are the very conditions that your plant typically grows!

To reduce the risk of infection, water your plant near the soil line, and avoid wetting the leaves. Refrain from misting your plant.

To treat, quarantine the plant to avoid contamination, snip off infected leaves and dispose of these securely. Then, apply a copper-based fungicide to prevent its spread.

It’s a good idea to sterilize all your gardening tools with 70% isopropyl solution to prevent the infection from spreading to your healthy plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I encourage my Hoya Sarawak to grow faster?

First off, do note that your Hoya Sarawak grows slowly! So slow growth isn’t always a reflection of poor health.

But if you notice your plant growing slower than usual, the first thing to check is light levels. Insufficient light is the main culprit, leading to sluggish growth and smaller leaves.

If you’re growing your plant indoors, make sure your Hoya Sarawak is placed in the brightest spot in your home.

If light levels are not the issue, ensuring:

  • warm, stable temperatures and
  • humidity >60%

are the two other things that we’d check.

What is the best type of pot for the Hoya Sarawak?

Overwatering is a serious issue that can affect the Hoya Sarawak, and it is often caused by poor drainage. Poor drainage can occur because the soil is too compact or the Hoya was planted in the wrong type of pot.

That is why it is important to plant the Hoya in a pot that has drainage holes.

Also, you shouldn’t use a pot that is too big (more than 3 times the size of the Hoya Sarawak’s root ball). Too large pots hold too much water for the Hoya, leading to overwatering.

Should I mist my Hoya Sarawak?

No. Just don’t.

Some articles suggest misting can help keep the Hoya Sarawak hydrated during dry periods, while also increasing the humidity level around the plant. However, we don’t recommend misting, as the effect is very minimal, and wet foliage can lead to fungal and bacterial growth, which is not worth the risk!

If you want to raise humidity levels, use a humidifier.

What is the best method of watering my Hoya Sarawak?

When watering the Hoya Sarawak, do so at the base of the plant (near the soil line) and not overhead. When you water overhead, it causes the soil to splash up onto the leaves.

Again, wet leaves can lead to fungal and bacterial growth – all stuff we’d want to avoid!

Is the Hoya Latifolia the same as the Hoya Macrophylla?

Yep. The Hoya Latifolia was formerly called the Hoya Macrophylla. So they refer to the same species.

Where can I buy a Hoya Sarawak?

Try Etsy for reputable sellers. They do tend to be on the pricier side ~US$50 for a small rooted cutting with 1-2 leaves.

Other Hoyas we Love

Here are some of our favorite Hoya varieties:

Wrapping Up

The best way to encourage your Hoya Sarawak to grow well is to try to recreate its native habitat indoors. This means:

  • putting it in the brightest spot indoors (West or South-facing windowsills are ideal!)
  • warm and consistent temperatures (65-85 degrees C)
  • high humidity levels (>60% humidity), and
  • allowing the topsoil to dry out between waterings.
  • light fertilizing, once month during the growth season at half strength.
  • Don’t mist!

Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.