This attractive houseplant is grown for its unusual foliage, along with its striking flowers. The leaves are large and waxy in a base color of dark green with contrasting creamy white veins, making it easy to see where this plant got its common name of Zebra Plant. It can be quite a challenge to encourage the flowers to bloom, but when they do they are a sight to behold in startling yellow.
The Zebra Plant is quite a fussy plant to grow, and can, unfortunately, die quite easily if it’s specific requirements are not met. Once you have become accustomed to the Zebra Plant’s needs, then it is a fairly low-maintenance plant and will not take too much time and effort to care for, so long as you are getting things exactly as the plant likes. This houseplant isn’t advisable for a beginner gardener to take on, as it commonly dies due to overwatering, underwatering, or too much or too little light.
Confusingly, this is not the only plant bearing the common name of Zebra Plant. A type of Calathea plant, the Calathea zebrina, also goes by the name of Zebra Plant, though its other common names also include Rattlesnake Plant and Peacock Plant. There are some succulents that also occasionally go by the name of Zebra Plant, though this is more uncommon. They are scientifically named Haworthiopsis fasciata and Haworthiopsis attenuata and are similar in appearance to the Aloe Vera Plant.
Typically, when you hear someone referring to a Zebra Plant, they are talking about the Aphelandra squarrosa, which we are talking about here, but it’s worth noting that other plants may go by the same common name to avoid confusion if you are looking to buy a Zebra Plant. To ensure you are getting the correct plant, always look for the scientific name.
Zebra Plant Overview
|Scientific Name||Aphelandra squarrosa|
|Type||Evergreen perennial shrub|
|Common Names||Zebra Plant|
|Ideal Temperature||65- 80° F|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic but can be skin-irritant|
|Light||Partial shade to bright indirect light|
|Watering||Keep soil moist but not soggy|
Caring for Your Zebra Plant
The Zebra Plant is a tricky one to water. It will react badly to being overwatered or underwatered and needs its soil to be holding just the right amount of moisture to keep it happy. During summer months, the soil will need to be consistently moist but never soggy. The biggest mistake people make in trying to keep the soil moist is by watering it little and often, but, in fact, this will only keep the top layer of the soil moist, with the water never reaching the center of the soil. Instead, be sure to give the plant a heavy watering at least once a month, ensuring that all areas of the soil are reached.
Water the plant slowly until water comes out of the containers drainage holes and then, discard any excess so that the roots are not left sitting in water. In between the heavy waterings, you should keep an eye on the plant’s soil and top it up with water to ensure it never dries out. The Zebra Plant will not be happy if it has dry soil during the spring and summer months.
In the winter months, you can relax your watering schedule a little, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out between waterings. Test the soil by dipping in your finger and proceed with watering as long as the soil was not moist to the touch. This will help to prevent overwatering.
The ideal temperature for this plant, when grown indoors, is between 65º F and 80º F. Fortunately, this is the typical temperature range found in most homes, so you won’t have to make any temperature adjustments for this plant to be comfortable. As is often the case with most houseplants, if you are comfortable in your home, then your plant will be too. Just be sure to keep the Zebra Plant away from any heating or air conditioning vents that could make the plant too hot or too cold. Vents that are in use will also cause the plant to dry out too quickly.
To maintain a fairly consistent temperature, it is also a good idea to keep the plant away from areas in your home where temperatures may fluctuate, such as next to an entryway or often used window. The Zebra Plant is quite temperamental and will react badly if it finds itself in less than ideal conditions. For this reason, you need to leave your heating on to keep your plant happy if you vacation in winter, never allowing the temperature to drop lower than 55º F. This is the minimum temperature that the Zebra Plant can tolerate before it will start to display its displeasure by shedding leaves.
The Zebra Plant needs a lot of bright but indirect light, especially if you are hoping for it to bloom. The amount of light the plant receives is directly related to the production of flowers, so it’s important to get this right if the blooms are important to you. Many people understandingly grow this plant purely for the interesting foliage, so if you are less interested in the flowers, then your Zebra Plant will be just fine in partially shaded areas.
Once again, this plant is quite fussy, so try to ensure it gets a good balance of bright indirect light as well as some shade. It will not thrive in complete shade and also will not do well in direct sun. In its natural habitat of the rainforest, it benefits from bright, indirect light, protected from direct light by the tree canopy overhead. The leaves can scorch in direct sun, so try to emulate its native environment as much as possible with some bright, indirect light and some shade.
This plant loves humidity and needs humidity to be somewhere in the region of 70% to truly thrive. High humidity is typically not found in most homes, so you will need to find a way to increase this manually. The most common way to increase humidity for houseplants is to spray it with a light water mist. You can do this with a Zebra Plant, but only when you’re sure that the water will evaporate quickly, because this plant does not like to have water sat on its leaves.
A better option for increasing humidity for the Zebra Plant is to use a pebble tray. Simply place a selection of pebbles on a tray or deep dish and add water. Sit the plant pot on top of the pebbles, and as the water evaporates, the air around the plant will become moister. When using a pebble tray, always ensure that the water level is lower than the height of the pebbles to prevent water from getting absorbed through the plant pots drainage holes and waterlogging the soil.
Remember to keep the water topped up, and your Zebra Plant will continually be in a humid environment without the rest of your home being affected. An alternative solution is to use an electric humidifier. This might be particularly appealing if you have a selection of humidity-loving plants, as they will all benefit at once.
The Zebra Plant likes a well-draining soil which is slightly acidic (North Carolina State University - College of Agriculture and Life Sciences). To make your own soil mix that your Zebra Plant will love, use one part garden soil, one part builders sand, and two parts coconut coir or peat. The sand is essential as it helps the soil to drain well. Alternatively, you could replace the sand with perlite. The acidity of your soil is best kept between 5.5 and 6.5. If it becomes any higher than this, the plant may struggle. You can keep a check on your soil by using tester strips specifically designed to test soil pH.
This plant is hungry, needing a frequent supply of nutrients to keep producing its unusual foliage and striking blooms. During the growing season, you will need to fertilize the Zebra Plant every week or every two weeks. Use a balanced fertilizer so that both foliage and flowers will benefit equally. A fast-release fertilizer suits Zebra Plants especially well.
Use the fertilizer according to the supplied directions, always being careful not to over fertilize, as this can cause fertilizer burn. If you are unsure, always use less fertilizer than you think, as this will be less damaging than accidentally using too much. That being said, if you are intent of having your Zebra Plant produce flowers, then it will be reliant on fertilizer to help with this, so you should not refrain from using fertilizer entirely. Cease using fertilizer in the winter, as this is when the Zebra Plant becomes almost dormant.
Pruning is an essential part of owning a Zebra Plant. It has a tendency to get leggy as it matures, so if you want a full and lush-looking plant, then you’ll need to trim it back to encourage more bushy growth, typically to around 12 inches in height(Missouri Botanical Garden).
The best time to prune this plant is towards the end of its dormant period, in early spring. You can cut back the main stem until only it’s lower set of leaves remain, ready for new growth in spring and summer. The Zebra Plant will also need pruning periodically after flowers have died off. As soon as flowers are spent, remove the bract they were attached to. This prevents the lower leaves from wilting (LA Times).
The Zebra Plant is a houseplant that grows quite well when it is root bound, so don’t be in a hurry to repot it. Instead, to refresh the soil, you could remove the top layer of soil and replace it with fresh potting mix, giving the plant a new burst of nutrients.
Being repotted every two or three years should be sufficient for the Zebra Plant. It can sometimes react badly to being disturbed in the repotting process, which is another reason to refrain from doing it too frequently. When you do repot the Zebra Plant, simply ease it out of its current pot and remove as much of the old soil from around the roots as possible. Take care not to harm the roots, gently rubbing them between your fingers to ease them apart if they became very compacted.
Select a new pot just one inch bigger than the last, and fill the bottom with fresh potting mix. Place the roots of the plant into the new pot and fill around the sides with more fresh potting mix, ensuring that the plant is the same height within the pot as it was in its last container. Gently apply some pressure on the soil around the base of the plant, providing it with some support to keep it in position. Thoroughly water the plant until the water runs through the drainage holes and then, continue care as usual.
This plant can be easily propagated using stem cuttings. Take a cutting from your mother plant of 4-6 inches in length, removing any lower leaves which are present. Optionally, you can dip the raw end of your cutting in rooting hormone. This step is not essential but will improve your chances of successful propagation. Next, prepare a small pot filled with moist potting soil. Press the end of a pencil into the potting soil to create a small hole, and insert your stem cutting. Push some of the soil up around it to support it and prevent it from falling over.
The cutting will want to be in a warm and humid environment, with a minimum temperature of around 70°F. Covering your cutting with a plastic bag or cellophane will help to trap moisture and create humidity. Bottom warmth will also help roots to grow, which can be provided with a temperature mat. Roots should appear within around a month, at which point, you can transplant the young plant to a bigger pot. You will know if your plant has developed roots by tracking any growth on the exposed part of the plant. New leaf growth means that growth is also taking place beneath the surface of the soil.
Another way to check on the cuttings progress is to lightly pull it out of the soil. If it comes away easily, then roots have not formed. If there is some resistance, then it is because new roots are holding onto the soil.
The flowers of this plant are small and yellow, appearing on bracts that can reach 4 inches in length, coming to a cone-like point at the end. It can be quite a challenge to get your Zebra Plant to flower, but it is possible to get two blooms a year out of your plant. When they appear, the yellow flowers typically only last a week before they die, whereas the bract will be intact for around six weeks at a time.
Many people think it is the bract itself that is the most impressive part of the bloom rather than the flowers themselves. If your Zebra Plant is struggling to flower, the usual culprits are lack of bright, indirect light and lack of appropriate fertilizer. Try to experiment with a different spot with your Zebra Plant to see if a better source of light will affect flower growth.
To encourage flower growth, you can put your plant in a slightly cooler spot over winter (though not allowing it to drop below 55° F). Do this for at least three months and then, bring the plant to a warmer and brighter spot when spring arrives. After a further three months of bright conditions, the Zebra Plant will hopefully begin to flower. It is the contrast of these environments along with the vibrancy of the sunlight that encourages flower production.
Unfortunately, as the Zebra Plant can be quite difficult to keep happy, problems with this plant are not unusual. We have addressed some of the most common problems below, though with this plant it is often a case of trial and error, slightly tweaking your care of the plant and seeing if it responds more favorably.
Brown and dry tips on your Zebra Plants foliage is an indication of underwatering. It essentially means that your plant does not have adequate amounts of water to reach the very ends of the plant. Simply remedy this by watering your plant more heavily but not more frequently. Frequent light waterings will not solve the problem; instead, you need to water more thoroughly to ensure moisture reaches all the way through the soil.
Leaves that have curled or crinkled are a result of too much sun. This happens typically when the plant has been subjected to direct light and is the leaves quite literally shriveling up. Simply move your Zebra Plant to a more appropriate spot with protection from direct light, and the plant will hopefully return to health. You can prune off the dead or damaged leaves to keep the plant looking neat.
Have you had problems with your Zebra Plant? Leave us a note in the comments, and we’ll see if we can help! Also, don’t forget to share this page with other plant lovers!