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Zebra plant: Grow & Care for Calathea zebrina

Written by Iris

Jul 27 2021

Zebra plant: Grow & Care for Calathea zebrina
Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) is a herb native to Brazil. Its leaves are dark green with yellow-green stripes in the middle. The leaves are very soft. It is an ornamental plant very suitable for indoor cultivation. Zebra plant has relatively high requirements for the growth environment, so to maintain a good-looking velvet arrowroot, it is necessary to carry out meticulous daily management

How to Choose and Prepare a Planting Site

Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) is not cold hardy and is highly sensitive to cold temperatures, so if you live in a zone that gets colder than 40°F (4.4°C) it's best to put this plant in a container. If the temperatures drop during the winter months, you can bring the plant indoors. It does well in bright indirect sunlight. However, you want to avoid direct sunlight as the leaves will burn and the beautiful colors will fade. Because the Calathea zebrina likes high humidity, a bathroom would be a great place to keep this plant.

How to Grow Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina)

Steps for Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) Propagation with Seeds

This is the more challenging way to propagate the Calathea zebrina, but it's possible. First, you want to buy seeds from a trusted supplier… Then, you want to make a soil mix of 1:1 ratio with peat and coarse sand and fill a small planter or propagation tray with the soil. Now you can plant the seeds 0.5″ (~1cm) in the soil. After that, water the seeds lightly and put a plastic bag over the containers to provide high humidity. Next, put the pots with the plastic bag in a spot that gets lots of bright indirect sunlight and keep the soil moist. In addition, you want to add a heat mat under the containers to keep the seedlings warm. The heat will improve the germination success rate. After a couple of months, when the seedlings are 2″ (5cm) tall, carefully transplant them into bigger pots without damaging the roots.

Steps for Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) Propagation with Air Layer

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.

Steps for Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) Propagation with Division

The best way to propagate your calathea zebrina is via division. Unfortunately, stem cutting doesn't work with this plant. The good news is, division is fairly straightforward. But, you need to get used to it because it involves separating part of the rootball.
Here's how to propagate calathea zebrina through division.
  • Follow the steps below in the repotting section to take the plant out of the container.
  • Once out you want to pick out stems that are somewhat grown. Remember, you only want to divide mature mother plants. Additionally, division is a great way of controlling or reducing the size of the parent plant since you take a part of it off.
  • Once you've chosen a segment, carefully separate that section from the main rootball. You can use your hands or a sterilized knife.
  • Once divided, fill the new pot and current pot with fresh potting soil.
  • Then insert both plants into their respective containers.
  • Fill the remaining space with soil
  • Water both plants
Zebra-plant-(Calathea-zebrina)

How to Care for Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina)

Light

Even when grown outdoors in its preferred climate, Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) prefer a shady to partially shady location. When grown as houseplants you should provide bright or medium, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight, especially during the afternoon, which is the hottest portion of the day, or you may notice the foliage losing color or developing burns or brown patches or edges. Although it tolerates lower light, if conditions are too dark your Calathea zebrina may lose its robust growth and produce leggy stems. If this happens, gradually move to a brighter location.

Soil

In its native habitat, Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) grows along the rainforest floor where the consistently moist soil is fertile with fallen leaves and other plant debris. When replicating this soil at home for your potted Zebra Plant, it's best to use a fertile, peaty mixture with good drainage.
Although Calathea zebrina requires a moist soil medium, this doesn't mean to use a heavy soil mixture that has a tendency to retain too much water for too long a period or rot can occur. On the other hand, you don't want to use a fast-draining mix containing too much sand or you will have problems keeping the soil moist.
A mix of one part potting soil, two parts peat and two parts perlite is a good mix for Calathea zebrina. Many African violet mixes are also a good choice.

Water

In addition to a humid surrounding environment,Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) requires plenty of water in its soil in order to survive. You should keep the soil moist at all times during your plant's growing season, watering your zebra plant as much as needed to prevent the soil from drying. Calathea zebrina slows or halts its growth cycle in the winter and thus requires less water, so you should cut back on your irrigation routine starting around November. When watering your plant, you should avoid hard water or water that's too cold. It's best to use distilled water at room temperature.

Temperature and Humidity

Average room temperatures of 65-75ºF (18-24ºC) are best, and no lower than 60ºF (15ºC). Sudden temperature drops and cold drafts should be avoided. This is one of the conditions which can be difficult to get right in many households and to maintain throughout the whole year for this plant. Misting and keeping the soil moist will help, but if you can and if your plant is showing signs that it's needed - use a humidity tray or electronic humidifier. Placing the Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) near other plants will also improve humidity.

Fertilizer

Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) has relatively low fertilizer requirements, but I find it does best when fertilized monthly with a very dilute, balanced fertilizer solution. It is easy to over-fertilize, and this will generally cause more problems than underfertilizing. Don't feed the Calathea during fall and winter as it stops active growth.
All types of Calatheas are susceptible to burns from a buildup of salts in the soil from the fertilizers. If your Calathea zebrina is otherwise receiving proper care and you notice the leaves developing brown patches, you should consider flushing the soil.
Take your Calathea zebrina to the sink and allow the water to run slowly through the soil flushing out the salts. After about five minutes, turn off the water and allow the soil to fully drain and then empty any additional water from the catch tray and place back in its normally growing location. You will probably only have to worry about flushing the soil several times yearly.
Zebra-plant-(Calathea-zebrina)

Pruning

Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) doesn't require much pruning. For the most part you will be trimming away the damaged, dying, discolored or diseased leaves. The reason for doing this are both aesthetic and health. Your plant looks better without these leaves. But, removing them also allows it to focus on new growth as opposed to spending resources and energy or dead or dying foliage. When pruning, always make sure to use sterilized tools.

Pests and Diseases

The zebra plant is fairly resistant to both disease and pests. This is why you want to keep it healthy. And, the best way to do so is to give it the proper requirements above. However, because it likes moist conditions, the risk of overwatering is always there. Thus, its biggest enemy as far as disease goes is root rot. This means you always need to be vigilant when its comes to watering.
A few symptoms of potential root rot include:
  • Parts of the plant become black and look rotted.
  • The lower part becomes mushy and soggy looking
  • Leaves turn dark and black in color
  • When you pull up to roots, you’ll see black, mushy roots
  • A weak and dying plant
Caught early root rot can be treated by trimming off the affected roots and repotting it. While not easy, it gives your plant a chance to recover and revive.
That said, prevention is always better, which is why a lot of the sections above talk about water and drainage.
When it comes to pests, spider mties, aphids, mealybugs and scale are the most common. Again, here early detection is key because pests tend to spread to other nearby plants. So, if one plant is infected, always check those beside it as well.
With pests, treatment will involved insecticidal soap and water. You can also use neem oil. For scale, horticultural oil works well.
Zebra-plant-(Calathea-zebrina)

Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) FAQ

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.

Does Calathea Zebrina need to be pruned?

Yes, but not often. Pruning is usually done during a growing period, to remove any discolorations.

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.

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.