The Calathea zebrina, or Zebra plant, is an incredibly sought after indoor plant. Prized for its exciting, striped foliage, this evergreen perennial is the perfect addition to an indoor space or greenhouse.
It’s an avid grower, especially when kept in a warm and humid environment, needing only a little extra attention from time to time. Undemanding, non-toxic and full-growing, here is everything you need to know to cultivate, care for and grow zebra plants.
What Are Calathea Zebrina?
Part of the Calathea species, the Calathea zebrina is part of the Marantaceae family, originating in tropical regions of Mexico. Also referred to as a prayer plant, the Calathea zebrina has large, ovate leaves with a velvety texture and light green stripes.
These gorgeous striped leaves bear a strong resemblance to the coat of a zebra, which has given it its common name of zebra plant. This is a clump-forming plant from which it produces long stems and large leaves.
These leaves have a purple underside, which is often not visible due to large, slightly dropping leaves. At night, these leaves fold, which reveal their intricate pattern even more so.
Although often unlikely, the zebra plant does produce inconspicuous flowers which bloom in a soft, purple or white. This, however, is not the biggest appeal of the plant.
How to Grow Zebra Plants
These plants are perfect for growing indoors as they thrive in a warm and humid environment, provided they’re given enough light and space to grow. At maturity, these plants reach as much as 12 inches tall, so compact spaces aren’t ideal for this plant.
Pick a warm and shaded spot in your home. Naturally found growing under the canopy of other tropical trees, these plants enjoy a decent level of medium, indirect light.
Avoid keeping your plants in direct light, especially a harsh afternoon sun, as this can cause scorching on the leaves and dry out the soil. You’ll also want to avoid growing your zebra plants in any area with heavy drafts.
Sudden dropping temperature and drafts can cause the foliage to wilt and damage the roots. An ambient temperature around 65°F to 75°F is an ideal growing temperature.
Pick a potting medium that is moist yet well-draining. These plants are used to soil with rich organic matter. However, you’ll want to avoid any extremely heavy soils.
Consider choosing an African Violet soil mixture or create your own soil mixture with 1 part general potting mixture, 2 parts peat moss and 2 parts perlite for the best results.
(Speaking of African violets, check out our African violet growing guide to learn more about this low maintenance plant.)
If you’re planning on growing your plants outdoors, perhaps on a balcony or patio, it will need a little more attention. Plants need to be sheltered in winter.
Consider bringing your plants indoors just for the winter to avoid issues or frost-damaged foliage.
Repotting Calathea Zebrina Plant
Zebra plants enjoy being pot-bound, so they won’t need to be repotted too often, especially as repotting can cause them to take strain. However, plants can be repotted every 2 years or if overgrown.
Repotting should be done in spring for the best results, as this is when the plant begins its new growth cycle. Be sure to pick a pot that is not much bigger than the previous pot and has sufficient drainage holes.
Here is what you’ll need to do:
- Fill the lower third of the new pot with a fresh potting mix. Water it well to settle the soil.
- Gently pull your zebra plant from its container, taking care not to damage the roots or herbaceous stems. Gently shake the base of the plant to remove any loose, old soil.
- Place the calathea into its new pot. Backfill with the remaining soil. Try your best to keep the plant at the same depth as it was in the previous pot.
- Press down the soil to remove air pockets and water thoroughly.
Be sure to give your zebra plant extra special care after repotting to ensure that it thrives.
Propagating Zebra Plant
Repotting provides the perfect opportunity to propagate a new zebra plant. Zebra plants are best propagated by means of division, which can easily be done while they’re out of their pot at the time of repotting.
Be sure to only divide thriving plants that are overgrowing their original pot.
Follow these steps for the best results:
- Once the parent plant has been removed from its pot, gently shake to loosen any soil which is remaining.
- Divide the root system by gently pulling the roots apart. It is also recommended to make use of a sharp, sterilized blade which can help to divide the plant in half.
- Replant into two separate pots with fresh potting soil. Follow planting instructions as above.
- Keep your young plants in a warm and humid area for optimal growth.
The young plants generally take around 4 to 6 weeks to begin to develop new roots. Be sure to keep the soil moist as the roots develop.
Caring for Zebra Plant
Now, Calathea plants are known to be slightly more fussy than some other tropical, indoor plants. However, the extra effort is absolutely worth it when you get to enjoy their exquisite foliage.
Managing your watering and humidity levels is the trickiest part of Zebra plant care. These plants love moisture but need the right level to avoid developing rot or fungal infections.
Water your plants well during the growing season, taking care that the top layer of soil is drying out fully in-between. In winter, you can cut back on watering as the plant goes into dormancy.
Keep an eye on your foliage, and if it begins to droop, you may be overwatering. Calatheas can have issues when being watered with treated water. So, most growers advise using rainwater or distilled water.
Ensure your water is always at room temperature to avoid shocking the roots. If humidity is a concern, which it can be when grown in areas outside of the bathroom, there are a few ways you can improve humidity:
- Consider keeping your pot on a few large pebbles, which you regularly pour water over. This can help keep the roots moist.
- Spray your zebra plant regularly with a mister or leave it near a humidifier (Check out the best humidifiers here).
- Cluster your zebra plant together with other calathea plants. This will help all the plants improve their humidity.
These plants need a general humidity that is higher than 60% for ideal growth. During the growing season, it’s also a good idea to fertilize your zebra plants with a good, general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer.
In order to avoid over-fertilizing, dilute your fertilizer to ¼ strength. This will give your plant enough nutritional nudge without causing any damage.
Pruning is not needed with this species and is most often only done to remove any dead, damaged or diseased foliage.
Common Zebra Plant Problems & Pests
As with other indoor plants, zebra plants can be susceptible to common indoor pests like spider mites, mealybugs and the like. Improper care can also lead to fungal or disease issues.
Here’s how to troubleshoot common issues:
- Curling Leaves. Curling, crispy leaves are a sign that your plants aren’t receiving enough water. Take a look at your watering routine and consider increasing it.
- Browning Tips. Browning tips are a sign that your zebra plant isn’t receiving enough humidity or that the airflow isn’t good enough. Consider moving your plant into a better spot and taking measures to increase the humidity.
- Drooping Leaves. Drooping leaves can be a cause for concern. Although it is most often the initial sign of rotting, drooping leaves can also be caused by too much dry air. Again, consider locating your plant into a new spot and improving the humidity.
- Limp Stems. Limp stems and droopy leaves can be a sign that your plant is suffering from root rot. In the early stages, rotting can be combated by repotting and cutting back on watering. If this doesn’t help, your plant may not survive.
- Infested Leaves. Problems with spider mites, aphids, and the like can all be treated with a natural insecticide or neem oil. Consider starting with a good gust of water and then treating the individual leaves with an earbud or cotton pad. Severely infested leaves should be removed.
Looking forward to growing more Calatheas? Check out our list below:
Enjoy Growing Calathea Zebrina Today
Whether you intend to grow your zebra plant alongside other stunning calathea cultivars or as a feature plant, be sure to give it the moisture, humidity and light that it needs to thrive.
It’s time to turn your home into a wonderful, tropical paradise with the eye-catching spectacle that is the Calathea zebrina.