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

Aphelandra Squarrosa
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​

Zebra Plant Flowers

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.

The zebra plant, or Aphelandra squarrosa, is a finicky but absolutely beautiful houseplant. Learn how to care for it in this in-depth plant guide.

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28 thoughts on “Zebra Plant Care – Growing Aphelandra Squarrosa

  1. I have read a lot of good tips. I have had my plant going on 2years my work family gave her to me when my mom past so call her mommy. She is about 3 ft tall occasionally I forget to water before I leave on Friday and she is droopy on Monday. I have under Florissant lighting which she seems to love. She has only bloomed for me once What am I doing wrong?????

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I’m really really stuck with my zebra. I’ve had it for about 10 years and am afraid it’s past saving. My mother repotted for me early September (I typically repot in the spring) and I went up one pot size, as I usually do every other year or so. Needless to say, it was good for the first week or two, but I noticed drooping on the new growth stem while the older stem/leaves looked healthy. Another week goes by, the older leaves begin to droop. Additionally, I was noticing small white crests on the soil which concerned me. Approx 4 weeks after the repot, I suspected the plant was drowning. I removed from the soil to find the soil had been packed in SO tight, she didn’t put the rocks in the bottom (as I usually had for drainage), and I could literally squeeze some water out of the soil (even though I hadn’t watered in nearly 1.5 weeks). This was not normal for my plant, which has historically been a water hog, needing water 1x per week. I repotted the plant into it’s old pot, fresh soil around the edge of the root ball (to help absorb the moisture), larger rocks on the bottom for drainage, and hoped for the best. That was about two weeks ago. I have barely watered this plant out of fear. The first week, the soil was definitely not seeming to dry out as much as I had hoped. This week, I see the top of the soil has more white crests on the top than before. There are patches of dry looking soil and also dark moist looking soil. The leaves are dead and the stems are shriveled. I am hoping there is still a root system and was planning on repotting today. I have never dealt with root rot, but am wondering if I need to be prepared. I have read to rinse the roots, cut away ones that are mushy, and maybe dip in fungicide before refreshing the soil. Certainly, I know at the point, my plant is likely in major shock. Looking for any input you can share. Thank you!

    • Honestly, it sounds like you have it under control as far as what to do to try and save your precious zebra. Everything you said is what I’d do. As a last ditch effort, I’d cut off all dead growth on both roots and stems and see if you can ‘restart’ the plant from a smaller state. But that’s only a last ditch, because that would be extremely shocking. Good luck with it 🙁

    • Use isopropyl rubbing alcohol at 70% concentration, and use cotton swabs to rub it off – I don’t think spraying would be very effective. Give it a try!

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