There are many species in the Calathea plant family, but one of the most popular is the Calathea zebra plant (Calathea zebrina). Often confused with the prayer plant (Maranta leucoreura) or the similarly named Aphelandra zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa), the Calathea zebra plant grows much larger than either and can easily become the showpiece of any indoor garden.
About Calathea Zebra Plants
Calathea zebra plants are natives of Brazil and their bright green leaves can be boldly striped in white, yellow, or pink in a striking feather-like pattern that is sure to catch the eye. As tropicals, caring for zebra plants in the home is not as difficult as some gardeners may think. With proper zebra plant care, these plants can grow up to 3 feet (1 m.) tall and 3 feet (1 m.) wide.
The leaves, which can grow to 2 feet (61 cm.) in length, arise from a central rosette, rising straight up until a new leaf emerges. The older leaves then arc away to make room for new growth. As the plant ages, new rosettes form new leaves that add to the lush look of the plant. The flowers are insignificant. Tiny and white, they are often hidden beneath the leaves and, for many gardeners, removal of the flower stems is part of their regular zebra plant care so that the plant wastes none of its energy on flowering.
The following recommendations on how to take care of a Calathea zebra houseplant will ensure the healthiest environment for your growing zebra indoor plants.
Caring for Zebra Plants
As with all houseplants, zebra plant care begins with the soil. Tropical plants need soil that holds moisture but is also well draining. Without good drainage, the roots will rot. ‘Wet feet’ is probably the major cause of failure when growing zebra indoor plants. A lack of water, however, will cause leaves to curl.
A good potting mix consists of one part soil, two parts peat moss, and two parts perlite. A good quality African violet mix will also meet these requirements. When potting your newly acquired Calathea zebra plant, care should be taken to water thoroughly, allowing the excess to drain from the bottom. From then on, the plant should be kept moist, not wet.
Fertilize occasionally with a half strength solution of liquid fertilizer. Too much and your plant will grow leggy.
Humidity is the next problem to be conquered when growing zebras indoors. Plants should be misted several times a week. If the environment is particularly dry, which often occurs during the winter months, rest the pot on a shallow tray filled with gravel and fill the tray with water without its touching the pot. One of the first signs of low humidity is brown edges along the leaves.
Many gardeners mistakenly believe that high heat and strong light are requirements necessary for the Calathea zebra houseplant and its tropical cousins. Most tropicals, however, only need temperatures above 55 degrees F. (13 C.) to survive and temperatures around 70 degrees F. (21 C.) to thrive. These plants grow in the shaded understory of the tropics and don’t need strong light. Diffused light should be enough. After you’ve been caring for zebra plants a while, you might want to experiment a bit to see how much light your plant needs to bring out the brightest color in the leaves.
As time passes, Calathea plants will also need repotting. This should be done in the spring about every two years. These plants do not like to be pot bound. If there are several rosettes at the base of the plant, now is the time to divide. Use a sharp blade to separate the rosettes and plant each in its own pot.
How to take care of a Calathea zebra houseplant may sound daunting at first, but once you’ve developed a routine, the rewards of this remarkable plant will be well worth your efforts.