Zebra Plant Care – Growing Aphelandra Squarrosa

The zebra plant is a finicky houseplant that is growth both for its striped foliage and beautiful golden flowers.

In this guide, you'll learn exactly how to care for, troubleshoot, and propagate this wonderful houseplant.

Zebra Plant Overview

Common Name(s)Zebra plant
Scientific NameAphelandra squarrosa
FamilyAcanthaceae
OriginSouth America
HeightUp to 6 feet
LightBright, indirect light
WaterOften, never let dry out.
Temperature68-75°F
HumidityHigh
SoilWell-drained potting mixture with a high peat moss content.
FertilizerSlow release, pelleted fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season, or half stregth through summer.
PropagationCuttings
PestsAphids, spider mites

Zebra plants have dark green, glossy leaves that are ovate with pointy tips. The white variegated veins create contrast, making it a striking plant to grow indoors.​

When it blooms, the flowers are yellowish-gold and grow in bracts clustered on a spide that can reach up to 4" long.​

Zebra Plant Care

Aphelandra squarrosa is one of the more difficult houseplants to care for, but that's not to say it's impossible! It just requires a little more love than ivy, pothos, or other low-maintenance plants.

Light

Zebra plants thrive when given bright, indirect light. While it can tolerate a bit of shade, it won't flower as often or as long if it's not given enough light. Because the flowers are so beautiful, make sure to give your zebra plant the best chance to develop them!​

Water

Zebra plants are very picky when it comes to water. They are more sensitive than most plants to over or under watering. 

Water your plant when the soil has just started to dry out. For best results, use filtered water that is slightly above room temperature and be sure not to over water.

Zebra plants prefer a higher humidity than most other houseplants at around 60-70%. There are two good ways to increase humidity for your plant:

  1. Mist the leaves often
  2. Place the pot in a tray half-filled with water​

Soil

Zebra plants like rich soil that retains water, but drains well. An African violet mix is a good choice. The pots should have holes in the bottom for adequate drainage.

To make your own potting soil mixture, use:

  • 1 part coarse sand or perlite
  • 1 part garden soil
  • 2 parts humus or peat.

Fertilizer

During the growing seasons (spring and summer), your zebra plant needs to be fed every 1-2 weeks. Use a high quality, water-soluble plant food.

Repotting

The best time to re-pot zebra plants is once a year in the spring. Use a pot that's only 1" larger than the current pot to avoid giving it too much space.​

Pruning​

If your zebra plant is flowering, keep an eye out for dying flowers and remove them. You can also prune the stem and leaves back once the entire bract begins to die. This prevents your zebra plant from stretching out too much and promotes bushier growth next spring.

Propagation

Zebra plant propagation is pretty simple and can be done via air layering or stem cuttings.

The cuttings should be placed in a mixture of perlite and moist peat, then covered in plastic to retain moisture. Put the pot in an area that gets indirect sunlight.

When taking cuttings, make sure they are at least 4-6" long and kept in an area that is at least 70-80°F.​

Problems

Is the Zebra Plant Toxic?

While not listed on the poisonous plant list, the sap from a zebra plant may cause skin irritation to some people.​

It's listed as toxic to cats and dogs, but it isn't fatal. Regardless, you shouldn't place your zebra plant in an area that cats and dogs can easily access, just in case.​

Pests

Zebra plants are pretty resistant to most pests due to the fact that they like high humidity and many pests don't thrive in that environment. You shouldn't run into issues with spider mites, for example.

However, your plant can be hit with scale, aphids, or whiteflies though. The best course of action is to wipe them off with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol, then spray your leaves with water, then treat with a systemic insecticide.

Diseases

Because zebra plants love high humidity, you can run into many fungal issues. Try your best to avoid letting water sit on the leaves of your zebra plant for too long or you'll run into leaf spot fungus.

You can also over water your zebra plant and create ideal conditions for root rot, which will cause soggy roots and yellowing or drooping leaves. Water less and re-pot into fresh soil if you run into this problem.​

FAQs​

Q. How can I coax my zebra plant into blooming?

A. Zebra plants normally don't bloom often, but can be coaxed into blooming by prolonging their exposure to light during the day. Remove the flower spikes after the flower has died to promote further growth.

Q. My zebra plant has brown edges on the leaves, like they are burned a bit. What is happening?

A. The two most likely causes of brown leaf tips on your zebra plant are too much sun and over-fertilizing. Remember, they light bright but indirect light, not full sun. If you are giving them the right amount of light, you can try dialing back how often you fertilize.

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  • Bonnie Brooks

    Hi

    My Zebra Plant is many years old and I’ve kept it outside in summer and winter. I live in Northern CA. I don’t particularly care about it re-blooming, but it seems like it’ needs to be re-potted. There are some leaves and new ones coming out at the top, but the stalk is long and spindly. From the base of the stalk it divides half way up the plant into two stalks. I wondered when I re-pot it, if I can plant some of the base stalk down in the soil kind of like you can do with tomato plants? Then maybe it will encourage more shoots lower on the stalk?

    Thanks,

    Bonnie Brooks

  • why does my zebra plant has mold growing and mushrooms growing in the soil and brown leaves? thank you very much

  • werner nitter

    Vickie,

    You need to give it LOTS more light. Mushrooms grow best in dark, moist places. The brown leaves indicate lack of light and possibly water. Mine zebra sits in my office getting 10-12 hours of artificial light per day. It’s thriving.

    Bonnie, don’t know.

  • Claudia

    I found my zebra plant has insert. The small and yellowlish insert will become black insert after few days, Is there any one can tell me how to prevent the insert?

  • Anonymous

    my zebra plan gets plenty of light and plenty of water. Why are tips of leaves turning brown and becoming “crisp”?

  • john

    this has to be the worst plant on the planet to grow. I never heard of any living more than a couple of years in a indoor fake enviroment. You have t o take care of them perfect and even if you do most people toss them after the initial bloom wilts and treat it more like a annual. Yuck. even my mom that was a house plant pro could not handle it.

  • Florence

    I recently bought a Zebra plant and want to transplant it to a bigger pot. How big should the pot be and still do well?? ( I know some plants do better in smaller pots.

  • emma

    i have a zebra plant and i’ve only had it for about 6 months. i feel that i’m not giving it the care it needs because the whole top bunch of leaves fell off. the stem got soggy and i finally just cut it off. i wasn’t happy about it but its got another stem growing out on the side. please help me i love my plants and i’d hate to lose this beautiful plant. i feed it weekly and make sure its not over watered and its by a window but not in direct sunlight. i have no idea what to do. does anyone have any suggestions?

  • mindy

    I have had my zebra plant for a year now. When I purchased it, it was blooming and well suprisingly it has rebloomed again this year and probably doubled its size. I live in MO and well I keep it indoors during winter by a window that gets late day sunlight and there is a heater vent near it. Then in the summer I put it on my front porch and it gets evening light there also. I have been very successful and hopefully some help!

  • emma

    i live in tx and the climate here is crazy, i can’t afford to leave my plant outside at all the air is so dry! i tried to turn the soil and maybe air it out and i gave her some plant food when i watered her, i hope that will help it overcome this. anyway thank you mindy for your help, pray my plant lives!

  • Viviana

    Hi, I’ve had my Zebra plant for a few months now. I live in Southern California. Our weather is pretty good but not humid enough so I have put my pot inside a plastic tray with some water and small rocks for added humidity. So far so good. I can tell when it needs water because the leaves start drooping. I’m trying to not let it get to that point and now that winter is approaching, I brought it in so I can keep a better eye on it as well. Emma, have you been over watering it? Did it get any direct sunlight that might have affected it? The soggy problem actually happened to me with a small red cactus I had outside. It rained for 2 days and when I went to see it, the stem was soggy and had turned a yellowish color. Be careful with the watering and good luck.

  • Kennith

    Hi, I have had my Zebra plant for atleast 5-6 years. My plant it now a little over 2 feet tall. The problem I’m having is that it is too tall. It leans too much and it looks like it will break soon. I was thinking of dramatically cutting it down to about maybe 8 -10 inches in height so it’s more easy to manage. If I were to take some scissors and cut it would that kill it? help please.

  • Mrs.Slone

    @ Kennith From what I can find out it seems as if you can cut down and it will not kill it out as long as the roots are not harmed it should do fine also if you plant the part that you have cut off it will take root and grow another one as well kinda like Lucky Bamboo make sure you make a nice clean cut on it hope this helped you out some what

  • Alex

    This thing is tough to grow!! I have killed 3 so far. I forget to water it and the leaves drop and then I end up with this palm tree type thing with one stem that leans to one side.I found the trick is to alternate watering if from the bottom and the top as it seems to really suck up water from the bottom and like that. I am very surprised it says not to get water on the leaves as I mist this tropical plant regularly and it seems to last longer that way. I transplanted my most recent one a couple weeks ago and so far so good. The tips of the leaves are crisping off a bit tho so I am trying to figure out how to remedy that.

    Wish me luck!

  • PlantLady

    Kenneth, sounds like your Zebra plant is absolutely beautiful. You must be doing something right to have kept it thriving that long and for it to have gotten so tall. I agree with Mr. Slone, you can cut the plant and then propagate the cuttings and start more plants. But,, if you’d rather not cut it and want to let it keep growing, you can also use a stake to give it support. Of course, since the plant is probably fairly heavy, staking it would require a large pot to hold the stake steady.

    As far as getting water on the leaves, I think the problem comes when the plants leaves are drenched and it isn’t in an area where the water can dry. All tropical plants like humidity and seem to do much better when they are misted. But, misting just applies a light coverage of water to the leaves. It’s large droplets of water that sit on the leaves for long periods of time that can cause fungus to start growing.

  • Ellen

    I bought my Zebra plant about a month ago and I was told that it attracts bugs and insects. My plant is indoors. Is there anyway to make sure my plant doesn’t get these?

  • Tera

    My zebra plant is four years old and four feet tall. I got my first blom ever this year : ) does anyone know how to strengthen the stalk? Should I tie it to a stake? My zebra has been easy to care for, I water it frequently with warm water and it is always in front of a window facing east.

  • jeanne

    I have a beautiful zebra plant that is health. I have been noticing that the bottom leaves start to turn a light yellow and fall off. This happened once in a while.
    Also how long does it take to flower? I have it since the spring. Can you help?
    Thank you

  • pamela

    I have a zebra plant I just bought thats about 14″ tall. It too has lost lower leaves but has new leaves growing 🙂 My question is my zebra only has one stalk so how do you do stem cutting? Can you just take a leaf and produce a new plant? Ive searced on line with no direcctions that are clear. Thanks for any help you can give me.

    PS I found that my zebra was drooping between watering. I have started watering mine from root up every other day and is doing beautiful!!! New leaf growth started forming 🙂

  • David

    I fucking love my zebra plant. I’ve had it for a year and a half now and it looks amazing and grows like crazy. It hasn’t bloomed in awhile, I just recently put a fluorescent light on it so hopefully it will bloom soon.