aphelandra zebra plant

How to Grow and Care for Aphelandra (Zebra Plant)

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If you are looking for a compact shrub to add to your indoor plant collection, the Aphelandra plant is perfect for you. This Brazilian native shrub is famous for its beautiful broad leaves and attention-grabbing yellow flowers. 

Looking at its foliage alone, this plant has distinct and pronounced white veins. The contrast between the veins and the dark green leaf makes it look like it has zebra stripes, hence being called the zebra plant. Aside from providing a pop of color and pattern into your home, this plant also has interesting and long-lasting flowers. Its blooms are often gold or yellow and arranged spirally. 

The Aphelandra plant is the perfect plant for plant lovers with small spaces available at home. This is made possible by its erect stature and aesthetically pleasing appearance. If you think this is the plant for you, read on to know more about how you can grow and care for it.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameAphelandra squarrosa
Common namesAphelandra, Zebra plant, Saffron Spike Zebra
FamilyAcanthaceae
Plant TypePerennial Houseplant Shrub
Height and Width2–6 ft. tall, 4-5 ft. wide 
OriginBrazil
Flower colorsYellow or Gold
Foliage colorDark Green, White, Variegated
Sun ExposurePartial shade, Dappled light
Soil Type & pHWell-drained, acidic soil
Special featuresGood for Containers, Flowers are bracts and long-lasting, compact shrub  

How to Grow Zebra Plant

Aphelandra plants are often grown in containers and placed near a patio or pools. Being a container plant has its advantages especially when rearranging or redesigning a landscape. It is easier to move around potted plants compared to plants that are directly planted in the landscape. To optimize the beauty of this plant, you must know the cultural requirements it needs, which you can see below.

Propagation

Who would not want to see more pretty zebra plants in the house? If you are planning to propagate your zebra plant, the best time to do it is during spring. Also, there are two main ways of propagating the zebra plant, stem cuttings or air layering. The most common and often done between the two is the former.

Stem cuttings are easier for people who lack experience in propagation because it is relatively simple. The first thing you need to do is to choose the right stem, which is not too mature nor too young and is 3 to 6 inches long. After gathering the stem cuttings, you can either place them in a clear glass of water to see the roots grow and then plant them in soil or directly plant them in a pot. 

If the latter is chosen, the application of rooting hormones may be beneficial to hasten the development of new roots. Also, it is vital to provide high humidity for stem cuttings for them to have a strong root system. After a month or so, the stem cuttings will have new leaves.

The other method of propagation is by air layering. This method is a bit more tricky because the stems will develop while attached to the plant. The first thing to do is choosing a healthy and thick enough stem, the same as the one for stem cuttings. However, instead of detaching and cutting the whole stem, you will only peel the bark. Expose around an inch and then wrap it with sphagnum moss and plastic.

Sometimes, gardeners add root hormones to the wound in a form of powder or liquid. For the liquid rooting hormones, dip a small piece of cotton and wrap it in the wound before the sphagnum moss and the plastic wrap. It is tied to look like candy and would take 1 to 2 months before roots develop. The downside in this method is that the wounded area may only form a callus and not roots.

Soil

Moving on to where the Aphelandra plant gets its nutrients, the soil. It is very important to provide well-draining and acidic soil, especially for container plants. There are a variety of growing mixtures available in the market, but remember to choose the ones that have a loose texture. 

If you have available garden soil in your backyard, remember to pasteurize it to avoid any soil-borne pathogens. Also, adding sphagnum peat may help make your soil more acidic, while adding some organic matter may help with the drainage. To be sure, you can perform a soil test to know what needs to be adjusted.

Pruning

Pruning for Aphelandra plants is performed after its blooming season. The moment the blooms start to wither, it is time to remove them along with a few leaves alongside them. Also, removal of damaged and dead plant parts may be done whenever it is necessary. 

Some growers want to let their Aphelandra grow with minimal pruning. However, it will only promote being leggy or having long stems with very few leaves. One tip for pruning is that you can schedule it during spring so that you can use the cut stems as planting materials and propagate.

Repotting and Transplanting

Generally, potted plants need to be repotted in a year because the plants’ roots may be too compact and could lead to problems. Although the Aphelandra plant prefers a slightly pot bounded root system, it also needs space to grow. Remember that if you restrict the growth of the roots, you are restricting the growth of the whole plant. 

The vital thing to remember is to have the right growing mixture and a pot one size bigger than its old one. When you have these prepared, you may use a garden trowel and dig the soil on the sides of the pot. Remember to carefully loosen the soil without damaging any plant part. Once it is loose, put ¼ of the growing mix into the new pot then place the plant on top. Fill the spaces with more soil, up to a few centimeters from the base of the stem. Lastly, press on lightly to the surrounding soil near the base to make sure that it is well statured even when watered.

In some cases, potted Aphelandra plants need to be repotted even before one year. Remember to keep a keen eye and observe your plant and its growth. If it starts to grow slower or it looks like it is too big for your pot, it is probably time to either prune or repot.

How to Care for Aphelandra

Here are some aphelandra zebra plant care tips you can follow.

Water

As a relatively low-maintenance plant, Aphelandra prefers to be watered frequently in moderate amounts. Regularly check if the soil is moist but not flooded. It is very important to avoid supplying too much or too little moisture as it can lead to problems.

Sunlight

Since the zebra plant is a houseplant, it prefers to be placed in an area where bright but indirect light is available. It may also be placed in patios with dapple light seeping through other plants. Avoid exposing your plants to bright and direct sunlight as it may cause burns and wilting.

Temperature and Humidity

The perfect temperature for the growth of this plant is 15-25 degrees celsius or room temperature. Additionally, the minimum temperature this plant can withstand is 13 degrees Celsius or 55 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the plant loves to be in a room with high humidity. It is most happy in 60% to 70% relative humidity, which most humidifiers can provide. 

During winter, some growers opt for artificial light and warmth. If this is the route you will be taking, remember to meet the necessary humidity levels because the combination of low humidity and artificial heat is not favorable for the Aphelandra plant.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer application should be scheduled, especially for potted houseplants such as this one. The reason behind this is because they only have a limited source of nutrients from the soil in their pots. Having said that, a diluted complete fertilizer should be given every other week during Aphelandra’s growing season. Mark your calendars and set a reminder to feed your zebra plant every two weeks during summer and spring.

Pest and diseases

Common Insect Pests of Aphelandra

The five most common insects may pester your plant namely, spider mite, thrips, whiteflies, aphids, and scale insects. The mentioned insects are very common in other houseplants too, which is why there are available remedies in the market if the infestation gets worse. Some growers opt for buying pesticides while others go for home remedies, such as wiping the plant with mild soap and water. This home remedy may work with low infestations but it is not guaranteed.

Leaf Drop

A common sign of this problem is the excessive shedding of leaves. If you observe this with your Aphelandra plant, it may be caused by low air temperature, lack of soil moisture, or excessive light exposure. To solve this problem, adjust the mentioned parameters one by one to find out the root cause and prevent this from reoccurring. 

Leaf Discoloration

When your zebra plant changes its leaf color, it is often a cry for help. This is true when the leaves turn brown caused by low humidity. Moreover, its mature leaves turn yellow when too much water is given to the point of suffocating the roots.

Leaf Curling

Often accompanied by the browning of leaf margins, leaf curling is a sign of too much light and not enough water. Relocating your plant may be the best solution, along with more frequent watering.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

The Aphelandra plant carries different varieties that differ in size, foliage color, and flower color. Some may be more unique than others but they are all equally beautiful. Some of the top Aphelandra types and cultivars and their short description are listed below:

  1. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Leopoldii’ – white leaf venation and deep green base leaf color; reddish-brown stem; red bracts and yellow flowers.
  2. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Louisae’ – deep green leaves with yellow stripes, gold bracts, and flowers.
  3. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Brockfeld’ – compact with dark green leaves and yellow leaf veins.
  4. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Fritz Prinsler’ – Made in Germany; green foliage with yellowish-white veins; a result of a cross between the Louisae and Leopoldii cultivars.
  5. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Dania’ – Made in Denmark; offspring of Fritz Prinsler; maroon stem; green leaves with creamy white leaf veins; long-lasting yellow flowers
  6. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Ivo’ – Parental plant is the Fritz Prinslerl; darker green leaves
  7. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Red Apollo’ – foliage has a combination of maroon and yellowish-white accents; light-sensitive.
  8. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘White Wash’ – light green foliage; leaves appear to have a white screen; an offspring of the Snow White cultivar.
  9. Aphelandra squarrosa ‘Snow White’ – dark green base leaf color with white veins and white mottles that look like snow; yellow flowers

Conclusion

Choosing the Aphelandra plant as a houseplant will surely add a more natural feel. However, it is vital to know what the plant needs. This article serves as a guide or a baseline to ensure the plant’s growth but you should always remember to listen to your plant. Symptoms such as yellowing, stagnant growth, etc., are often a cry for help. If unsure, consult a professional horticulturist.

The Aphelandra plant is one of the easiest plants to grow inside your home. Moreover, it adds a pop of color and could easily be layered with other plants. What makes it even better is that this plant has different cultivars you can choose from. 

Also, almost all of them require the same maintenance activities. This similarity is good if you are planning to get more than one kind of Aphelandra. It makes it easier to grow because there are little to no special requirements. Some growers choose different cultivars of Aphelandra and arrange them in groups of 3 or 5. This type of landscape style looks best if there is a bare wall or space that needs some softening. 

In either case, whether you choose to grow one or more Aphelandras, remember to give the care and love to see its full potential. Save this article for future reference and share this with your friends if they are interested too!

Check more easy house plants to grow on our website.

*image by sweemingyoung/depositphotos

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