Zebra Plant Care: Growing Aphelandra Squarrosa At Home

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Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa) is a finicky houseplant. It’s grown for its vividly-striped foliage and beautiful golden flowers.

This exotic is a beautiful option for indoor gardening, but only if you know the right tips. Let’s go over the proper care for your zebra plant and prepare you for what you’ll need to do!

Good Products For Zebra Plant Growers:

Zebra Plant Overview

Aphelandra Squarrosa

Common Name(s) Zebra plant, Saffron spike zebra plant
Scientific Name Aphelandra squarrosa
Family Acanthaceae
Origin Southern and southeastern Brazil
Height Up to 6 feet in wild, 1-2 feet in containers
Light Bright, indirect light
Water Keep soil moist but not soggy
Temperature 68-75°F
Humidity High
Soil Well-drained potting mixture with a high peat moss content.
Fertilizer Quick-release, balanced liquid fertilizer
Propagation Cuttings or air layering
Pests Whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, fungus gnats. Also susceptible to botrytis blight, leaf spots, stem rot and root rot (all fungal in origin).

All About Zebra Plants

Many Zebra Plants
Zebra plants are popular for greenhouse growing. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dark, blackish-green glossy leaves with white veins give the zebra plant its name. Just for its foliage alone, it’s a delight to grow!

But when it blooms, it absolutely shines. From a bract that’s yellow or orange in coloration explodes many yellow blossoms. These flower spikes can reach up to 4″ in length and are beautiful.

Originating in southern Brazil, aphelandra squarrosa is truly a jungle plant. It likes the humid climate and covered conditions found in that habitat. In its natural environment, it can act as a climbing plant, but in containers it usually stays under 2′ tall.

It can be quite a feat to coax the zebra plant into flowering, with at most two flowering sessions a year. Still, even when it’s not in bloom it’s lovely, and well worth the effort!

But Is There Another Zebra Plant?

There is, actually! Calathea zebrina, one of the calathea plant types, is also referred to by the common name of “zebra plant”.

But don’t let that fool you. Aphelandra squarrosa and calathea zebrina aren’t related. Calathea zebrina has wider lines on lighter-colored leaves. And, of course, it doesn’t flower!

Most people refer to aphelandra squarrosa as the zebra plant, though. It’s only one variety of calatheas that shares the name.

There’s a couple succulents that also masquerade as the zebra plant. Haworthiopsis fasciata and Haworthiopsis attenuata are both South African succulents, and they look somewhat like aloe in their growth pattern. These are only occasionally referred to as zebra plants.

Zebra Plant Care

Zebra plant
A good view of the leaves and opened flowers of the zebra plant. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aphelandra squarrosa is one of the more difficult houseplants to care for. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

You’ll need to give it a bit more love than ivy, pothos, cast iron plant or other easier types. But with that devotion comes true reward.

Light & Temperature

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. Be sure to avoid direct sunlight, as it can scorch your plant’s leaves.

The perfect temperature for growing your zebra plant is between 65-80 degrees. Happily, this coincides with most people’s preferred indoor temperature range!

Never allow your zebra plant to spend long in temperatures below 55 degrees. It can cause damage to the plant’s beautiful foliage.

If you’re trying to grow your zebra plant outdoors, be sure that it’s in a sheltered location. It needs light, but not direct sunlight. Placement under a thick tree canopy or porch should work well. Growing in a greenhouse is an option as well to increase the humidity.

Water & Humidity

Sensitive to over and under watering, zebra plants can be a smidge tricky to maintain. Keep the soil consistently moist throughout the active growing season, and stay watchful.

In the winter months, you can allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings. The ideal for those cooler months is a barely-moist environment.

For best results, use filtered water that’s just over room temperature. This mimics the temperature of a typical rain.

Your zebra plant is a humidity hog! It prefers humidity around 60-70%. This can pose a problem indoors, especially if it’s near a vent.

Keep your plant out of direct lines of vents and away from heaters. Mist its leaves, but only when you feel that the moisture will evaporate quickly. Try to avoid lots of standing water on the leaves whenever possible.

You can also place a tray of water with some pebbles beneath it. The pebbles keep the pot out of the water, preventing overwatering. The water will provide ambient humidity around the plant.

If all else fails, turn on a humidifier to provide cool, damp air nearby. This keeps your plant happy and healthy!

Soil

Zebra plant flower closeup
A closeup of the aphelandra squarrosa flower. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aphelandra squarrosa likes rich soil that retains water, but drains well.

If you prefer to use potting mixes, I recommend going for an African violet potting mix. There’s enough water-absorbing material in those to keep the soil moist.

Prefer to make your own potting soil? No problem! A blend I use blends 1 part coarse sand or perlite to 1 part garden soil and 2 parts peat moss. You can opt for coconut coir instead of peat if you’d like. Leaf mold also works wonderfully.

Your pH level should be in the moderately acid range (5.6-6.0) for best growth. Try to avoid going too acidic on your soil for this plant. Be sure to test your soil pH to keep it in the right range.

Fertilizer

Zebra plants are hungry little things. Those flowers take a lot of food to produce! During the growing seasons in spring and summer, aim for feeding every 1-2 weeks.

It’s best to use a water-soluble quick-release plant food to feed your aphelandra squarrosa. Aim for a balanced fertilizer blend, diluted per the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t fertilize in the winter months.

Repotting

Don’t rush to repot your zebra plant every year. In fact, it grows well even if it’s a bit rootbound! Most types will grow well and flower in a 5-6″ pot.

If you do decide to repot, do so in the spring before the plant comes out of its winter dormancy. Use a pot that’s only 1″ larger than its existing pot. Remove as much soil from the roots as possible without damaging them, and repot in fresh potting mix.

Pruning​

Keep a watchful eye on your flower bract. As flowers die off, it’s important to remove them fast. If left in place too long, the lower leaves may start to droop and fall off. This will leave behind only stems with tufts of leaves at the top.

You can prune the stem and leaves back once the bract dies to a pair of leaves at the plant’s base. This will encourage a bushier growth pattern in the spring.

Propagation

Potted zebra plant with flowers
A beautiful example of a zebra plant beginning to flower. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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

Cuttings should be placed in a mix of perlite and moist peat. Cover them in plastic to retain moisture. These cuttings should be 4-6″ in length. Place them in an area that’s 70-80°F and in indirect sunlight.

To air layer, select a healthy stem and remove leaves in the center of the stem. Be sure you have a couple inches of bare stem available. Then, make an incision about halfway into the stem.

Place a toothpick in the incision to keep it open, and coat the area with rooting hormone. Wrap moistened sphagnum moss around the injured spot. Secure it in place with plastic wrap. Tie the ends of the plastic wrap to the stem to prevent moisture from escaping.

In a month to a month and a half, you should be able to see roots appearing in the moss. You can then cut the stem and repot, but be sure to keep humidity high until the plant is established.

Zebra Plant Flower Production

It’s tricky to coax a bloom out of this type of plant. The zebra plant flower often is already in place when you find it for sale. How do you get your zebra plant to flower again?

Begin by focusing on the plant’s foliage and keeping it alive through the winter. Move the plant to a cooler location for two months in winter. As spring comes, bring it back to a warmer location with lots of bright lighting.

It takes about three months of bright, indirect light before your plant will produce a flower. The intensity of the light is what spurs blooming. The length of the day makes no real difference!

With enough light, fertilizer, and humidity, your plant should bloom in three months. Cut the flower bract back once it finishes flowering. You may be able to entice another bloom out in the fall if your timing is good.

If the water level, humidity, or lighting are off, your plant may not flower. It’s gorgeous as a foliage plant, so that may not be a problem!

Problems

Zebra plant flowers
View of some newly-opening zebra plant flowers. Source: kaiyanwong223

Is the Zebra Plant Toxic?

Zebra plant isn’t toxic, but it can be a skin irritant. It’s best to prune while wearing gloves to avoid getting the sap on your skin. Wash and sterilize your pruning shears to remove any leftover sap once done.

The ASPCA says it’s not toxic to cats, dogs, or horses. Even so, you’ll want to put your aphelandra out of their reach. It may irritate their mouths or paws. Better to be safe than sorry!

Growing Problems

If the leaves of your plant begin to curl or become crinkled, your plant’s getting too much light. This actually can happen! It’s most common in situations where your zebra plant’s experiencing direct sun. Move it to a shadier location so it can recover.

Tip wilt can occur if your potting mix is too dry. This usually happens when you’ve been lightly watering it. The top and sides of the pot have enough moisture, but the center doesn’t.

To avoid tip wilt, do a heavy watering at least once a month. Make sure that the growing medium is completely damp, and allow excess water to drain off.

Leaf-wilt and leaf-drop can occur in multiple situations. If the soil is too wet or too dry, lower leaves can wilt and fall off. If it’s over-fertilized, lower leaves can wilt and fall off. Finally, as the flower bract dies off, lower leaves can wilt and fall off. It’s tricky!

To figure out how to handle this, you’ll have to use the process of elimination. Keep a watchful eye on your zebra plant’s soil, and be sure it stays moist but not soggy or dry. If your watering technique is good, reduce the fertilizer a bit by diluting it more. And be sure to trim off dead flower bracts quickly.

Pests

Whitefly infestation is a possibility. These tiny flying insects will suck on the plant sap, leaving yellow dots on the leaves.

To combat these, remove and destroy badly-infested plant growth. Use yellow sticky traps to catch adults. An insecticidal soap will also help.

Insecticidal soaps also work wonders against aphididae. These pests, commonly called aphids, will also suck on your plant’s leaves. Again, remove badly-infested leaves as necessary.

Fluffy white mealybugs may become an issue as well. These cling to the leaves, and can leave similar damage to whiteflies. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol can help you to remove them. Prevent their return by spraying down the leaves of your plant with neem oil.

Finally, although they’re least common, fungus gnats find the moist, peaty soil appealing. Sticky traps will trap the adults. A soil drench with neem oil can help wipe out larvae.

Diseases

Potted zebra plant
Even without flowers, the zebra plant can be a beautiful houseplant. Source: dayofthedreamweavers

Because zebra plants love high humidity, you can run into many fungal issues. Here’s a short list of diseases you may encounter.

Botrytis blight can form along the edges of leaves, and can contribute to leaf collapse. Spores will form on the leaf material as well, making a gray-tan patch on the underside.

Corynespora and myrothecium leaf spots are both common. Both of these fungi cause water-soaked lesions on leaves. Myrothecium also produces spores in concentric circles on the underside of leaves.

With leaf spots and botrytis blight, your best bet is to use a copper-based fungicidal spray. This may need to be applied multiple times to kill off the fungi. Avoid overhead watering, and mist only when you’re sure the moisture will evaporate.

Phytophthora stem rot creates black, mushy lesions on the stems at the soil line. In time, the plant will collapse due to the damage. This usually happens if water can splash infected soil up onto the stem line.

There’s no cure for phytophthora stem rot, so your best bet is prevention. Ensure you have well-draining soil, and avoid splashing soil onto stems or leaves. Do not allow water to stand around the base of plants.

And finally, we come to pythium root rot. This fungal rot usually impacts weaker plants, causing the roots to turn black and mushy. In time, the upper part of the plant will yellow, wilt, and die off.

Prevention is the key for pythium fungi as well. Overly-wet conditions can create the perfect environment for this fungi to thrive. Avoid soggy soil, instead opting to maintain a moist but not overly wet consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions

Zebra Plant Flowers

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.


Tricky to grow? Only a little. But the end result is so worth it. Those golden flowers and the patterned leaves make for a beautiful houseplant! Have you grown zebra plant before? If so, did you have success? Tell your zebra plant stories in the comment section!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:


Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

The zebra plant, or Aphelandra squarrosa, is a finicky but absolutely beautiful houseplant. Learn to care for it with our in-depth plant guide!
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34 thoughts on “Zebra Plant Care: Growing Aphelandra Squarrosa At Home”

  1. Hi kevin,
    I have a plant that has a single stem; it’s growing well and, apart from it falling over from vertical a while ago, I have had no problems with it (it just kept on growing with the new vertical so it has a bend in the stem.
    Since it has only one growing tip, is it possible to propagate? If I cut off the tip and propagate that, will the original plant recover and regrow from the stem?
    If so, where is the best place to cut? Do I cut off all the leaves and give them to the new plant, or should I leave some of them on the old?
    Do the two new plants need a different watering regime, extra fertiliser, or anything else I don’t normally do?
    Thanks.

    • I’d seriously consider air layering to propagate a new plant. You could do the air layering process at the point where the bend happens, and then clip it off once the roots have formed. If the original plant is able to handle the air layering and has some leaves below the new root development, it should grow back just fine.

  2. I’ve had my Zebra plant for almost two years now, and all I have is a tall stalk with about 5 leaves on the top of the plant. Is there Amy way that I can force it to branch?

    • What I would do is to trim back most of the plant at the end of the winter months, leaving only the two lowest leaves in place. As it starts to grow again in spring, it should push out new growth from the base of the plant. To prevent it from having the upright leaf cluster in the future, trim off the flower bract once it starts to die out. This’ll encourage the plant to keep its basal leaves rather than dropping them.

  3. Can I use Epsom Salt on my plant and can I soak the root ball in a Epsom salt mixture with water before replating

  4. 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?????

  5. 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 ๐Ÿ™

    • 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!

  6. 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.

  7. I have a zebra plant I just bought thats about 14″ tall. It too has lost lower leaves but has new leaves growing ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. @ 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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

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