Zebra Plant Care – Aphelandra squarrosa

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You brought your stunning Aphelandra squarrosa into your home or are planning to, but wonder if zebra plant care is easy enough?

Read on to learn everything you need to know to keep the wonderful foliage of this plant lush, as well as to see the plant bloom.

How to care for Zebra Plant - Aphelandra squarrosa

A couple of plants are commonly called the Zebra plant or at least the Zebra variety of a plant – like Calathea Zebrina; however, Aphelandra squarrosa are “true” Zebra Plants. The most popular from this group is Aplehandra Squarrosa; there are a couple more varieties worth checking – Like Aplehandra Aurantica or the more rare Aphelandra White Wash – that has whiter foliage. The care for all these Zebra Plants is more or less the same.

The Zebra plant got its name for the prominent white veins over its dark green, glossy leaves, resembling the animal’s print. Its unique foliage is already wonderful on its own, but it takes things to a whole new level when it blooms. You can keep it as foliage or flowering plant depending on your preference and how much care and attention you will provide.

Aphelandra squarrosa

How To Care For Aphelandra squarrosa

Quick summary

Plant name: Aphelandra Squarrosa (and Aphelandra Aurantica)

Common names: Zebra plant and Saffron spike Zebra

Native to: Southern and Southeastern Brazilian rainforest.

Lighting: Bright, indirect light

Care: Keep your plant at average warm temperatures 70°F-80°F / 20-25°c with bright, indirect sunlight. In winter, don’t let the temperatures fall under 55°F / 15°C. Water soil frequently to keep it moist but be careful not to make it soggy. Maintain high humidity in your plant’s environment. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer during the growing season. Propagate by cuttings.

Common problems: Pests such as whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs. Leaf tip browning, loss of leaves, leggy plant, fungal infection (botrytis blight, leaf spots, stem rot, and root rot)

Toxicity: Non-toxic but sap can irritate skin

Indoor Zebra plants can have relatively short longevity, only a few years tops – they will most likely become leggy and leafless even with the best care. If you want to enjoy this plant for a longer period without buying a new one, you will need to propagate it. Propagating your zebra plant will turn its lifespan from a couple of years to indefinitely. Lucky for you, it’s easy to propagate.

Its bold, striped foliage and gorgeous, golden flowers make all the effort worthwhile. The foliage can grow up to nine inches long and two inches wide with pointed tips. Larger leaves will better display the white veins or stripes that the plant is known for. Each golden yellow blossom, which comes from a yellow or an orange bract, can reach up to eight inches tall and two to three inches wide as a flowering plant. Its most distinguishable feature is the magnificent yellow flower which resembles a bromeliad or pineapple.

Bringing the Plant Home

Place the plant away from others for 2 weeks. Even with the most reliable store or nursery, there is a chance of bringing some uninvited guests home with your plant. 

Aphelandra squarrosa Care

Light Requirements of Aplehandra squarrosa

Keep your zebra plant away from direct sunlight but give it lots of bright indirect light.

Aphelandra squarrosa prefers indirect, partial sun exposure. Accustomed to growing under the shade of canopy trees in the tropical forests, Zebra plants are kept from the sun’s harsh rays. Direct sunlight may scorch your plant’s leaves.

On the other hand, long periods under the shade can prevent your plant from blooming. Needless to say, you have to find the perfect balance of sunlight and shade for this tropical plant.

You want to expose your Zebra plant to bright light in the spring and summer months and moderate light during fall and winter.

Zebra Plant Care

How Often Should you Water Zebra Plants?

This plant needs frequent watering, more frequent than most. Soil needs to be damp at all times but not wet. Depending on the conditions of your home and the plant itself and soil, you will need to water this plant a couple of times per week or weekly.

If you observe drooping or falling leaves, this is already a cry for help, and your plant needs watering asap.

Check whether all the water had drained through the pothole when watering. This ensures that the plant will not be sitting on soggy soil for too long as this encourages root rot. Let the soil dry a little before watering again – don’t let it dry out completely. It should still be moist, even the top layer.

Use lukewarm, filtered water instead of hard, mineral-rich tap water. Rainwater, with minimal levels of dissolved minerals, can also be used. You have to try as much as you can to mimic the plant’s natural tropical setting for it to grow healthier.

What level of Air Humidity do Zebra Plants need? And Temperature?

Your Zebra plant needs an environment with high air humidity and average warm temperatures.

Growing in the rainforest floor since the start of time, these plants are used to bathing in dews any time of the day.

Increasing air humidity around this plant will suit it. It thrives in humidity levels over 60% – if you have a hygrometer, make sure that the readings fall between 60 to 70 percent humidity. Your plant won’t die with humidity levels lower than that, but it will not show off its beauty to its full potential.

Watch out for browning leaf tips which results from low humidity.

The Zebra plant wants the moist, tropical heat for it to bloom. Letting your plant stay at temperatures below 55°F / 15°C. is a no-no. If the average temperature in your home or chosen location is around 70°C or 20°C during the day and the temperatures don’t drop drastically at night, it will suit your plant’s needs. 

Don’t forget to keep your plant away from drafts as they can cause extreme changes in temperatures. 

Because this plant is native to tropical regions, it is not resistant to frost and can die from it.

Cleaning and Pruning

The leaves can break off fairly easily by accident, so we would advise you to avoid cleaning the leaves. Misting the leaves will keep them dust-free. Rinsing the plant very gently with lukewarm water is another option.

Pruning is necessary when you see the flowers dying or when the plant becomes leggy. You will have to remove both the stems and the leaves of the dying bract to encourage bushy, upward growth instead of wide, horizontal growth.

Some leaves may fall off through time, but that is okay. It’s natural for old leaves to go so that the plant can focus the energy on the new ones.

However, dropping leaves can also be indicative of soil dryness, colder air, and temperatures, or too much sunlight. In these unnatural cases, make the appropriate adjustments.

How Often Should you Fertilize Zebra Plant

If you are up for the challenge of making your plant’s flowers bloom and its foliage looks healthier for a long time, use well-balanced, water-soluble fertilizer regularly. As for how often to use – follow the instructions on the fertilizer box – each fertilizer has its own thing.

Do this during the spring and summer for better chances of the plant flowering.

Cut back with fertilizing during winter. Your plant can become overfertilized in the winter as it goes dormant because of the temperature.

Alternatively, you can use slow-release fertilizer for a more carefree routine.

When and how often should you repot Aphelandra squarrosa?

If your plant is happily growing for years, it is wise to repot it to bring nutrients to the soil. Before you repot, you must know that your potting medium should drain well but still be moist enough to keep the plants happy.

Repot every 2 to 3 years.

You can also top up the soil, if you notice it starts to decrease at the top over time.  

Caring for Aphelandra squarrosa (Zebra Plant)

What kind of soil does Zebra Plant Need?

The soil needs to drain well as well as retain moisture. Most stores already carry great soil mixes that are suitable for tropical houseplants. You can use those.

If you are mixing your own, use general purpose soil and add in perlite, moss or coir fibres…

How to Propagate?

Place the stem ends in pots with moist soil. Put these pots on top of a heating mat. If your room does has temperatures constantly around 20 °C, you can leave the pots where they are, without the need of a heating mat.

Increase the moisture level and humidity of the new plants by covering them in a make-shift dome or clear bag.

Is Zebra Plant Toxic to Cats, Dogs, or Humans?

No, it’s not. However, it’s sap can cause skin irritations. Refrain from touching the plant with bare hands when pruning. Keep a pair of gloves with your pruning kit so you’ll remember to wear them every time.

Pests and Common Issues for Aplhelandra Squarrosa

When it comes to zebra plant care, there are some issues you should be on the lookout.

Aphelandra squarrosa and other humid-loving plants are not immune to pests and fungal problems brought about by the moist environment.

Whitefly is the primary menace of your Zebra plant. When this pest is present and thriving, you will see yellow spots on the leaves of the plants.

If you see white fluffy clusters on the stems, you have mealybugs – plant-sucking pests that are less common if you keep the humidity very high.

Leaf undersides are also susceptible to sap-sucking insects such as aphids. 

Botrytis blight is expressed as large dark green to gray patches on the edges of a leaf. You usually see this in the winter, perhaps also during spring or fall. If you notice wet-looking dark or brown spots, your plants unfortunately have Corynespora leaf spots. Another leaf spot you should keep an eye for is one caused by Myrothecium roridum.  These look similar to the Corynespora leaf spots, but they are more aggressive. If you take a look on the infected leaf’s underside, you’ll find irregularly shaped, black fungal fruiting bodies with white fringes arranged in concentric rings. Prevent these spots by removing any water source overhead and spraying your choice of fungicides.

Your plant’s root and stem are also unprotected against rotting. The Phytophthora stem rot caused by Phytophthora parasitica is seen as black, slightly mushy lesions or blisters. This rotting starts at the soil line and may reach up to the petioles of the lower leaves. When this happens, complete collapse of the plant is inevitable. Wilting or yellowing of the upper portions of your plant is caused by Phytium spp. This is the Pythium root rot. The rule of thumb is to use pathogen-free materials. But if you have already contracted these rot diseases, obtain an accurate diagnosis first then request for a fungicide prescription.

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