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Anyone who has a Calathea plant knows what joy it is to own them – these are the least demanding plants, that are super easy to take care of and yet so stunning.
Calathea Zebrina is no exception!
The Zebra plant is also known as a prayer plant – a quite popular indoor plant.
It is from a Marantaceae family, and you will recognize the plant by large, oval leaves with dark stripes.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about the plant – how to properly take care of it, propagate it and repot it, and provide solutions to the most common problems.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
How to grow Calathea Zebrina
Firstly, you should get to know the plant better, its origin and how it looks like.
As mentioned, the plant is often referred to as the Zebra plant because of the dark stripes on the leaves.
Besides stripes, you will recognize the plant by large, oval, dark green leaves. They are what makes this plant so attractive and popular among both amateurs and professional gardeners.
Also, the underside of the leaves is purple, but it isn’t easily recognizable since the leaves fall horizontally.
If you are lucky, you might even see a few of its white and pink flowers. They are beautiful as the rest of the plant but rarely develop indoors.
The plant can grow up to one meter, so it is considered for a large plant.
Just like many other Calathea plants, this one is also from Brazil and you will have to recreate conditions of Brazilian forests for the plant to thrive.
This means frequent watering, high humidity and a lot of indirect light.
Also, you will have to keep an eye on the temperature – too high and too low temperatures will cause the death of the plant.
If you feel a bit intimidated, don’t be! The Zebra plant is easy to take care of and mimicking conditions from its natural habitat isn’t hard.
Just follow the instructions from the guide! There is also plenty of tips and tricks that to help you out, so keep reading.
Related: Calathea – The Ultimate Caring Guide
Different types of Calathea
All Calathea plants are quite popular indoor plants, and you probably know plenty of them.
Pin stripe plant is one of the examples, and other types have just as unusual, and unique names (based mostly on their looks) such as peacock plant, rattlesnake plant, or prayer plant.
These types have one thing in common – they are easy to grow and look after. If you already own one type of Calathea, you will easily take care of the Zebra plant as well.
If you want to learn more about other types, check out these links:
- Calathea Rubifarba
- Calathea Lancifolia
- Calathea Vittata
- Calathea Medallion
- Calathea Leitzei
- Calathea Makoyana
- Calathea Roseopicta
- Calathea Network
- Calathea Ornata
- Calathea Orbifolia
- Calathea Fasciata
- Calathea Beauty Star
You will notice that they all require similar conditions to thrive, yet each plant has something unique. For example, one will require more light than the other, or yellow leaves are indicating different problems.
Now, let’s dig deeper into what does the Zebra plant need to thrive.
Figuring out when to water the zebra plant is the most difficult part of taking care of it.
The frequency of watering changes during the year and mostly depends on the period of the year, as well as other conditions the plant grows in (such as humidity or temperature).
Related: Best Plant Humidifiers and a Buying Guide.
The growing period for Calathea Zebrina is spring and summer. In those months, you will have to pay more attention to the plant.
When the soil becomes dry, you should water the plant. You shouldn’t be checking only the top layers, but the bottom ones as well.
Keep in mind that the soil shouldn’t become completely dry before the next watering.
If the top layer is dry, but the bottom is lightly moist, it is time to water the plant again.
The amount of water will also affect the plant’s growth so make sure that you aren’t overwatering the plant – in a soggy soil the Zebra plant will struggle to thrive.
Whenever you are watering the plant, pour water until the soil is evenly moist. Also, wait until the water passes through drainage holes and then empty the tray, so it doesn’t sit in a plate full of water.
When the winter comes, you can reduce the frequency of watering per week.
In this period, the plant doesn’t grow so it doesn’t require as much attention.
Usually, once a week is enough for the plant to survive cold months.
You should pay attention to the temperature of the water. Both hot and cold water will damage the plant, so it is best to use room temperature water.
Also, if you plan on using the tap water, check its quality. Because this plant is sensitive to different salts such as chloride and fluoride found in tap water, it might be best to use distilled water, filtered water, or collect rainwater.
Light and temperature requirements
Since it grows in Brazilian forests, this plant isn’t used to too much direct light.
It does require a lot of sunlight to grow, but it shouldn’t be exposed to direct sun rays.
The intensity of sun rays, especially during summer, can damage the plant.
You should keep the Zebra plant in a partially shaded area, where it can get a medium amount of light.
If your house is generally bright and there aren’t many shaded spots, you can reduce the intensity of sunlight with white curtains.
Sheer curtains will prevent sunburns or discoloration caused by too intensive light.
Also, lamps are great for growing the Zebra plant, but make sure to choose one which allows you to set the intensity of light.
Many indoor gardeners use lamps because recreating conditions from natural habitats is hard.
When it comes to temperature, it should be between 65 and 75 Fahrenheit degrees.
Temperatures below and above will cause discoloration and later death of the plant.
Also, make sure that the plant isn’t exposed to sudden temperature changes – in Brazilian forests, the temperature is warm and constant during the entire year, so it should be in your home as well.
Drafts will damage the plant also, and if you notice either discoloration or curling of the leaves, find another spot for your Zebra plant.
Air conditioners are the best for keeping the optimum temperature of the room that will allow the plant to flourish.
When it comes to soil, you should try your best to mimic the ground it naturally grows on.
The soil of forests is rich with nutrients created by dead leaves and other natural waste.
So, the soil you choose should be just as fertile.
This could be one of the hardest things to mimic, but don’t worry!
There are plenty of organic, fertile soils you can find online that work well for the Zebra plants.
Also, many gardeners are creating their own, but it might be too much of a hassle.
If you are buying the growing mix online, find the one that is peat-based.
It can contain perlite and coconut coir as well.
These ingredients will keep the soil moist, without making it soggy and allow the plant to absorb the amount of water it needs for development.
The best ratio of peat and perlite is two to two.
Also, make sure there is a bit of drainage material in the soil as well.
When you are watering the plant, you should allow water to pass through the soil and drainage holes, and then empty the tray.
Thanks to the drainage material, this process won’t take long, the soil won’t become soggy and you won’t worry about the plant drowning in excess water.
When it comes to fertilizing the Zebra plant, you should be aware of a few things.
Firstly, make sure that the fertilizer doesn’t contain too many artificial salts.
As said, Calathea Zebrina is extremely sensitive to these salts and even if you are feeding the plant once a month, you will see the negative effect.
The fertilizer should be a balanced, ¼ strength fertilizer, soluble in water.
As long as you are checking the ingredients, you can use both organic and synthetic fertilizers.
Secondly, you should make sure that you aren’t overfertilizing the plant.
Even during the growing season, the Zebra plant won’t need too many feedings. Once a month is more than enough for this Calathea type.
During colder months, you won’t need to fertilize it at all – since the plant isn’t growing, it won’t need that extra boost.
If you notice any negative side effects from fertilizing, you can easily solve the problem by flushing the salts.
By adding a bit more water and allowing it to pass through the soil, salts will be removed from the soil. Remember to empty the plate and place a clean one under the pot.
Even if you don’t notice any negative effects, you can do this a few times every year.
When it comes to pruning, the Zebra plant isn’t demanding.
Most gardeners start pruning it after one or two growing seasons, and even then they only have to cut off dead ends on leaves, or remove discolorations.
Pruning is also done when you want to reduce the height of the plant.
As said, the Zebra plant is about one meter tall, and not everyone has enough space for a plant this big.
You can cut off healthy leaves and stems to make it shorter.
Keep in mind that due to large and numerous leaves, the plant will still appear quite big, so it might need some extra trimming.
Also, if you are cutting dead ends, you should frequently check the leaves to see whether they have recovered.
In about a month, you can see the improvement.
One thing you should pay attention to is the shears.
If the shears aren’t clean, different diseases can be easily transferred from them to the plant.
Before you start with cutting and trimming, clean the shears with a bit of alcohol. This is the easiest way to sterilize the shears and protect your plant.
If you want more than one Zebra plant, you can easily propagate the one you already own.
The best time for propagating is during the growing period which is spring and summer.
By the end of the growing season, you will have one than one healthy Zebra plant.
There are different types of propagating: by seed, division, cuttings, or layering. The method that works the best for Calathea Zebrina is by division.
This means taking a few healthy stems from the roots and placing them in a potting mix.
To propagate the Zebra plant, you will need:
- Piece of cloth
- A small pot
- Preferred growing mix.
You should start by removing the plant from the pot and placing it on the cloth.
Make sure that the roots are placed on the cloth and protected.
Untangle the roots carefully, so you can see whether there are some healthy stems and where the central rootstock is.
Clean the shears and use them to cut the plant. Each piece you cut should have a small part of the plant and original roots. Be careful with the shears – roots should stay undamaged.
Fill the one-third of the pot with a growing mix and place all of the pieces in a pot. Pour the growing mix on top of the pieces, and water the plant.
Then you should cover the pots with any piece of plastic, you can use a water bottle or a plastic container. Plastic is great for recreating the conditions from the plant’s natural habitat – it will keep the air humid and filtrate the sunrays so the plant isn’t exposed to direct light.
You can also place the pieces in separate pots – the more pots you use, the more Zebra plants you will have.
It takes about a month to see the growth of the new plant. Once you spot the new growth, take off the plastic container from the pot.
Your new plant will require the same care as the old one, so just stick to the usual routine.
The Zebra plant doesn’t have to be repotted frequently.
Of course, this depends on the size of the pot you placed it in originally.
Since most people purchase a pre-potted plant, when it arrives, they immediately place it in a larger pot.
These plants will need repotting after a year or even two.
However, the propagated pieces will need to be repotted at the beginning of the growing season until they reach the full size.
The best way to determine whether it is time for repotting is by checking the size of the root.
As long as it has enough room to grow, you don’t need to move the plant to a larger pot.
When repotting, use the same growing mix as before.
The best growing mix for Calathea Zebrina is either two parts peat and one part perlite or the same amount of perlite and peat.
After repotting, water the plant, let the water pass through, empty the tray and return the plant to its original spot.
Make sure it is growing in the same conditions as before and continue with regular watering.
Calathea Zebrina problems and solutions
As mentioned, this plant (just like many other Calathea plants) isn’t demanding and you won’t come across too many problems.
However, some of them might occur, no matter how much care you put into the plant.
Here are all of the most common problems gardeners are facing and ways to deal with them.
1. Common diseases
If you are using unsterilized or dirty shears, you might transfer some diseases to the plant.
However, root diseases are more common and you should keep an eye on them.
These diseases are caused by soggy soil, little drainage and overwatering.
To see whether the disease has attacked the plant, check the color of the roots.
Black roots are an indicator of an illness.
You can also see the color of the foliage and check the bottom parts of the plant.
If any of these parts has turned black, the roots are battling a disease.
The easiest way to solve this problem is to repot the plant.
Buy a new pot and place the plant in a new pot.
Regulate the amount of water you are giving the plant along with the frequency of watering.
By overwatering the plant, the disease will occur again and you will have to repot the plant.
Also, check the ingredients of the soil to make sure it has a bit of drainage material. If it doesn’t, when repotting, choose another potting mix that will allow a bit of drainage.
There is also a way to prevent these root diseases.
If you have the right potting mix, all you have to do is water it regularly, without creating a soggy soil.
Each time you water the plant, make sure it is evenly saturated and the plant isn’t sitting in a tray full of water.
2. Common pests
This type of Calathea isn’t susceptible to pests.
It is mostly affected by spider mites, aphids, and scales.
These insects usually attack stems and leaves and feed on the inner juices.
Luckily, they are easy to get rid of.
Each can be treated by different insecticides, so just follow the instructions of the packaging. Before purchasing, make sure that the insecticide is safe for the Zebra plant.
Some insects, such as spider mites can be easily removed with a cloth.
When you notice small, white lumps, you can remove them with a damp cloth – carefully wipe the leaves.
If spider mites return, you should use an insecticide.
3. Brown leaves
Discoloration of the leaves is the most common problem that even professional gardeners are facing.
Brown leaves can indicate a few things: bad fertilizer, dry air, or underwatering.
If the problem is a fertilizer, find a one that is balanced, and soluble in water. Also, make sure it doesn’t have artificial salts.
You might be overfertilizing the plant. Remember, even during the growing period, the Zebra plant doesn’t require too much fertilizer.
Fertilizing a plant once a month will give it enough boost for healthy development.
When winter starts, you can stop fertilizing entirely and wait for another growth period.
Dry air is another cause of brown leaves.
Calathea Zebrina requires high humidity. You can create a humid environment by using a humidifier or placing a plant in a kitchen or near a bathroom. The air of these rooms is already humid, so why not take advantage of it.
Underwatering is the problem easiest to solve. Regularly check the moisture of the soil and if it is dry or unevenly saturated it is time for watering.
During the growing period, the plant will require frequent watering and in winter months, you will have to water the plant about once a week.
4. Wilting of the plant
Wilting is usually caused by the temperature of the room.
In low temperatures, the plant starts to wilt.
Make sure that the temperature of the room doesn’t go below 65 Fahrenheit degrees and the plant isn’t exposed to drafts. Keep the temperature warm and constant throughout the year.
The wilting can be a sign of dry soil as well.
Each day check the moist of the soil, and if you notice that the top layers are dry, pour a bit of water to keep it moist.
5. Curling of the leaves
All Calathea plants are prone to curling and for most types, this is a sign of bad water quality.
If you are using tap water, check the levels of salts before watering.
Distilled or filtered water is the best for watering, and rainwater works well too.
Curling of the leaves is also caused by low humidity. This problem can be easily resolved by using humidifiers or moving a plant to a more humid room.
1. Is Calathea Zebrina toxic?
No, the Zebra plant is non-toxic to both humans and pets.
However, don’t allow your dog to bite on the leaves because it might cause a stomach ache or vomiting.
2. Does Calathea Zebrina need to be pruned?
Yes, but not often.
Pruning is usually done during a growing period, to remove any discolorations.
3. Why is my Calathea Zebrina dropping?
Dropping of a plant is caused by low temperature in a room.
If you notice the Zebra plant dropping, move it a warmer room, so it can recover.
4. Does Calathea Zebrina need misting?
Misting can be done from time to time but it isn’t necessary.
If the humidity of the room is high enough, you won’t have to mist it at all.
However, if you are struggling to keep the air humid, you can mist the plant a few times each month, especially during the hotter days.