Calathea Zebrina : Care and Treatment for the Zebra Plant

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Calathea zebrina would be a perfect display with it striking foliage pattern and a quite large size. For many keen gardeners, this plant is also one of the favorite species of Calatheas. It is also amazing that this greenery is able to thrive well indoor and keep producing green leaves all year around.

Moreover, this is non-toxic plant for human and animals. Having this plant at home can improve air quality too.


Calathea zebrina comes from Calathea genus and Maranta group. It is a native plant of South America where it lives in the tropical forest floor under big tree shade.

The name “zebrina” has a literal meaning of “stripe like zebra”. In 1993, Geoppertia zebrina (recent botanical name) receive the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit due to its natural born features.

Another nickname of this plant include Zebra Plant and Zebra Calathea. Often, people mistake it with prayer plants (Maranta leucoreura) or Aphelandra zebra plants (Aphelandra squarrosa) which have similar name. If you are looking for or want to buy this plant, please use Calathea zebrina term because it is more common.


Growth, Size and Feature

Overall, under ideal condition Calathea zebrina is able to reach 1 meter (3 ft) tall and wide with fountain-like form. This plant has a quite fast growth rate with a good condition. It would actively grows in spring and summer. While in cold months, the growth rate is getting slower or stop temporary till spring comes.


Shape : oval or elliptical
Color : bright green surface, purple undersides, dark green pattern
Pattern : stripe, looks like zebra pattern
Texture : velvety
Size : large leaf length is up to 30-60 cm long, grow horizontally thus create lush look, spread wider in outdoor than indoor/inside a pot
Growth : new leaf rises upward from the rosette center while the older ones spare a room for new growth, long slender stems support the leaves

Note. This plant has a unique habit of unfolding upward during the night. In the morning, the leaves lay horizontally to receive a maximum bright indirect light.


Size : small
Color : white or purple
Position : hidden beneath the foliage
Time : lower chance to bloom indoor

Note. Many gardeners remove the flower stems at once to save the plant energy from growing the flowers.


Bright or medium, indirect light would be perfect for your Calathea zebrina. Whether it is indoor or outdoor, this plant must avoid direct sunlight especially in the midday. If not, hot sun will burn the leaf and fade its bright color.

This plant still tolerates a low light condition. However, your plant will not grow actively and the stems become leggy.

Window direction

A window that face east, north, or west can provide enough lighting on daily basis. Still, you should check how your plant is going from time to time. If you notice the leaves get scorch, move the plant further outside the sunlight reach. Or, use sheer curtain, partial blind, and so on to filter the intense sunlight.

Relocation when needed

Even with a right window, change in season will change the sun exposure. For instance, south-facing window may deliver intense sunshine in winter compare to summer. When it occurs, you need to relocate the plant position so that it would get enough light.

Note. You may want to conduct a small experiment to find the best place to put your Calathea. The rule is simple: in low light condition move it closer to bright window and vice versa. Also remember that plant with darker color will need more light to keep its color and pattern.


As a tropical plant, Calathea zebrina usually lives in warm temperature.

Temperature range

Ideal : 65°F-75°F
Cause damage : under 55°F
Kill the plant : 32°F lower

Note. Particularly in tropical areas: 70°F is good for better growth and above 55°F will let the plant to survive, at least.

There is no word of frost, cold, and draft in Calathea dictionary. It means that this plant loathes temperature fluctuation. Therefore, put the plant away from heating and cooling source like AC, radiator, open window, etc. A sudden change in temperature might cause brown edges, curling leaves, wilting leaves, and yellow leaves.

In non-tropical region, you must bring the plant inside once the temperature drops.

Read also : Calathea Makoyana: Astonishing Peacock Plant


Calathea zebrina needs peaty soil to thrive well. A great soil composition should be able to retain enough moisture and drain water well. In addition to soil, proper watering and pot with drainage holes will keep the soil moist all the time.

Potting mix options

  • African violet mix
  • Potting soil, peat, and perlite (1:2:2)
  • Garden soil, perlite/sand, and peat moss/coir (in equal parts)
  • Peat moss with perlite (2:1)
  • Potting soil, moss, perlite, and bark

African violet mix is a shortcut if you don’t know how to make your own potting mix. We won’t blame you though. Asking local plant store or online shop would help if you are a beginner in gardening.

Since Calathea loves moist soil, some people use a heavy/clayey soil mixture. Consequently, the plant stay in prolonged wet condition. Without immediate action, it will lead to root rot. Contrarily, drought may occur if you use fast-draining soil mix which is usually have more sand in it.

Note. Since coconut coir is a renewable materials, people say that it is better than peat.


Since every plant is different, try to water your Calathea once a week first. Then, you can adjust that later by considering various factors such as season, light, soil, and so on. Here is the detail regarding how to water Calathea zebrina.

Frequency vs amount

In the growing season, Zebra Plants grow actively and produce new growths. High temperature in these months dry the soil faster. Thus, you may increase the watering frequency NOT the amount (1-2 times a week or more). If you throw much water in every watering, it will result in soggy soil.

During winter, the plant naturally grows slower and even entering dormancy. However, it doesn’t mean that your plant won’t need water at all. You just have to reduce the watering frequency. Wait for the soil to be slightly dry before the next watering.

Type of water

Room temperature water is logically safer for the plant than cold or hot water. By referring to temperature sensitivity, water with contrasting temperature might shock the plant.

Soft water is absolutely more preferable than hard water. Brown leaf tips and leaf spotting are the result of giving the plant water with chemical substance like fluoride and chlorine. Filtered/distilled water and rainwater are better to prevent such effect.

Some people have no problem with tap water since the water source is different. If your tap water is not free chemical, pour in container and wait for 24 hours/overnight. After that you can use it because the de-chlorination process is complete which means it is safe for Calathea.

Testing soil moisture

Basically you must water the plant when it is thirsty. The visible sign you can see is rolling leaves and brown edges. Still, you should not wait till the plant gets too dry.

An important rule to start watering is checking the dryness of the top soil. If top soil is still wet when you poke your finger inside, delay the watering and vice versa. Additionally, use moisture meter if you’re not sure with it.

In terms of rainwater, make sure you collect enough supply in case there is no rain. Buying water distiller could be too much, so try using water from AC as the system has automatically distilled it.

Checking soil moisture on daily basis lower the risk of under watering and overwatering issue.

Aiming for well-drained

  • To keep your living room or windowsill dry during watering, take your plant to the sink, bathtub, or a bowl.
  • Pour water on thoroughly on the soil surface until it starts flowing through the drainage holes.
  • Wait for ±5 minutes and then put the plant back to its initial spot.


It might be a bit difficult to ensure how the humidity level in your home is. Hence, how about using a hygrometer (humidity gauge)? This is a good investment if you have many tropical plants. You can continuously check the humidity level around your plant.

Now, here comes the problem. The use of heating system especially in winter creates dry air. Furthermore, Calathea zebrina is happier with 70%-90% humidity level, which for some of you might be too much. Low humidity will cause brown tips and edges, curling leaves, and imperfect growth.

No worry. Several easy methods are able to keep a minimum 60% humidity and even raise it according to Calathea preference.

Humid space

Place your Calathea in the kitchen or bathroom, but ensure they provide ample light and stable temperature. Another option is to put the plant in terrarium. It is perfect for small size plant. If your Calathea is bigger, consider upsizing your terrarium size. Terrarium does not only raise and keep high humidity but also protecting your plant for curious cats and dogs.


This is one of practical option for you who have huge collection of tropical houseplants. It works automatically with smart setting. Just prepare to pay the electricity bill.

Humidity tray

The easiest one is by placing a tray/shallow dish containing water and pebbles/rocks under the plant. Or, you can buy a pro humidity tray that is available in online shops. It comes with a grid to fix the pot position above.

Joining other plants

Each plant you gather would provide high humidity in natural way through transpiration process. The examples of perfect companion plants are begonia, monstera, and orchid.


Misting will work well if you follow the steps below.

  • Use free chemical water in room temperature.
  • Spray from the bottom.
  • Do this in the morning.
  • Repeat for several times a week.

Caution: Avoid excessive misting as it would make the leaves too wet and invite fungal infection.


Zebra Plant is never a big eater in the first place. However, to support the plant growth, monthly fertilizer sometimes necessary. In addition, numerous gardeners and growers have proven that a balanced water soluble fertilizer diluted at 1/4 or 1/2 strength is effective. Remember to water the plant before you feeding it.

Calathea zebrina plants would need fertilizer in the growing season, but stop feeding them in winter.

Synthetic fertilizer

When it comes to synthetic fertilizer, always follow the instruction on the label/package properly. Dilution works to prevent the plant from root burn because of the chemical ingredients in the fertilizer. It is easier to control the plant intake and it also works fast.

Organic fertilizer

This is a good choice if you prefer organic approach for your plant. One of the most common organic fertilizer is worm compost tea. If you don’t want to make it yourself, you could buy worm compost tea sachets.

First, you soak the sachets in water and wait for several hours. The end result is in the form of compost-infused water. Then, you just feed your plant with it.

Over fertilizing

Sign: brown patches, leggy growth, salts (white colored-matters) on the soil surface

Solution: Periodical flushing would help throwing the built-up salt in the soil. Put your plant in the sink and run the water slowly through it. In around 5 minutes, turn off the water faucet.

Let the excess water drain fully. Make sure to also throw the water on the saucer or catch tray if you use them. Last, take it back to its original location.

Read also : Calathea Rattlesnake : Also Known As Lancifolia


Any new gardeners would be happy to hear that Calathea zebrina doesn’t need extensive pruning and cleaning. During this maintenance routine, you could check the plant health. Thus, you can prevent solve many problematic issues.

Pruning steps

  • Clean the shears using rubbing alcohol to prevent infection.
  • Cut the leaves which are completely dead, damaged, or dying. If necessary, cut the leaves right at the base close to the soil surface.
  • Don’t remove the leaf which is only have small damage or a bit of discoloration. Give them time to recover naturally.

Cleaning steps

Dust might pile up on the leaves for a while. Luckily, this condition rarely occurs on Calathea zebrina compare to Calathea ornata as an example.

  • First, prepare a clean and soft cloth or paper towel. Next, soak the cloth it in distilled water. Then, wipe the plant lightly and thoroughly. Don’t apply leaf shining product as it could harm the plant.
  • IF your Calatheas have grown too big, giving lukewarm shower will be more efficient than manually wiping them. After the shower water goes through the foliage, let the excess water flows out of the pot. Then, dry the leaves using soft towel/cloth so that the leaves don’t stay too wet for a long time.

Note. There are people who trim the healthy leaves and stalk to reduce the plant size.


Spring is the best time for repotting because of two reasons. First, this is a period where the plant busily grows and produces new young plant. Second, it give more times for the plant to recover from transplant shock.

Why you must repot

  • The roots outgrown outside the pot.
  • The soil dries too faster than usual.
  • The plant is unhealthy.


  1. Water the plant 1 day before for smooth repotting.
  2. Prepare one size larger pot. Make sure it has drainage holes and made of good material. Many suggest using plastic pot as it could hold enough moisture.
  3. Add some fresh peaty-based potting mix but not till full.
  4. Repot the plant in the same depth when it is still in the old pot to avoid stressing the plant.
  5. Fill with the rest of soil. Leave a space around half an inch between the top pot border and soil surface.
  6. Lightly water the plant and put Calathea in its usual place.

Note. Drainage holes is crucial, if your pots don’t have it, drill to create some holes.



Propagation through division is easier and more effective than seed method. It aims to keep the plant size and multiply it. To reduce the stress and shock of Calatheas, repot and propagate them at the same time.

The process is rather similar to repotting. However, you don’t only relocate them in new pot but also divide them into small new plants.

Additional steps

  1. Manually divide the root with your hand or using sterile, sharp knife.
  2. Each clump or root must have stem and 3 three leaves at minimum.
  3. After replanting each section, water them a bit.
  4. Put them in a humid area or cover them with plastic bag to keep a constant humidity and moisture.
  5. In 4-6 weeks the roots would establish and new sprout grow. Then, you can remove the plastic bag and let them grow naturally.


In general, Calathea zebrina plants are quite resistant to plant disease. Nevertheless, when they are weak, which is mostly due to water-related issue, disease will easily attack them.

Cucumber Mosaic Virus

The symptom of having this disease is rugged yellow patterns on the foliage. It indeed ruins your plant looks. Still, this virus could easily spread into other plants. Since there is no chemical cure yet, the only thing you can do is to prevent it.

  • Sterile your gardening tools with alcohol before using it.
  • Wash your hands and tools before and after handling the plant.
  • To block the spread, remove the infected leaves, isolate the plant from others, and check for aphid presence. Aphids don’t only hurt your plan but also able to bring this virus from and to other plants.

Gray Mold

Too high humidity and poor ventilation may cause gray mold creating patches on the leaves. After pruning the affected leaves, keep the ideal humidity (not too humid) and improve air circulation. You can put a small fan in a low position close to the plant to fix the aeration.

Helminthosporium Leaf Spot

Brown leaves with yellow circle will turn bigger when this disease develops. Fungal organisms like Bipolaris and Drechslera species could be the culprit. They would grow under wet condition plus mild temperature. Once it occurs, apply neem oil or organic fungicide.

Root Rot

Overwatering with its various variable has a high risk of resulting root rot. The indications are:

  • yellow and wilting leaves,
  • stunted growth,
  • leaves and stems on the bottom part as well as root turn black and mushy.

You can save the plant if you able to find firm and white roots that show healthy condition. Trim the sick part and repot in new fresh soil and pot. Don’t forget to correct the watering issue.


Pests would easily call your Calathea a home when the plants live in unsupported environment. Aphid, mealybugs, scales, and spider mites would suck the plant sap and build their colony there. Consequently, the infested plants show symptom such as leaf spots.

Exposure to outdoor area, dry or too wet condition, and a close proximity to other houseplants can easily attract pests. The worse is, these pests have such a tiny size. Hence, recognizing them in initial stage is harder. Most of the time, plant owners only find out after the pests have spread uncontrollably.

How to get rid of pests

  • Quarantine the plants.
  • Shower the plant under running water.
  • Wipe each leaf and stem with organic remedy like a dilution of water with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
  • For prevention also spray the plant with the same remedy several times.
  • Repeat both wiping and spraying until ALL pests and their remains disappear.

Note. Always test the remedy in one area first. When using chemical product, follow the instruction properly.

Choosing the right Calathea Zebrina

  • First, make sure you don’t search for other plants with similar characteristics of names.
  • Choose a healthy plant that doesn’t have brown or yellow leaves or any indication of pest and disease.
  • The container/pot must have drainage holes with peaty potting mix.
  • When buying online, check the shops/seller credibility by reading the review.
  • Pick the suitable shipping method for the plant. For example, you can request heat or ice pack depend on when the shipping would be. By adding this in the shipping package, you can maintain a stable condition for the plant until it arrives on your door step.

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