Native to Brazil, zebra plants are tropical plants that are known for their thick, shiny dark green leaves striped with striking white veins. As stunning as they are, zebra plants can be challenging to take care of.
These plants thrive in consistently moist soils, which most zebra plant owners struggle to achieve, often overwatering their plants.
Luckily, if you can recognize the signs of an overwatered zebra plant, you can treat your plant early on and prevent the problem from exacerbating.
So, in this post, we’ll give you an in-depth guide on the signs to look for in your zebra plant to know if it’s had too much water, as well as how to save it. Read on!
Because overwatering is a common cause of problems in zebra plants, knowing the warning signs can help you quickly identify the issue and take the necessary steps to save your plant.
Drooping leaves are one of the first signs that your zebra plant has been overwatered.
If the soil is waterlogged for a long period or constantly wet, there won’t be enough air pockets. Without these pockets, the roots will struggle to breathe and absorb enough oxygen to supply to the rest of the plant, causing the leaves to droop.
Keep in mind that leaf discoloration and drooping leaves are also signs of underwatering. So, you’ll need to look for other signs of overwatering before you start treating your zebra plant.
Another early symptom of overwatering is leaf discoloration. Granted that some discoloration is normal in zebra plants. However, if multiple leaves turn yellow or brown at the same time, your zebra plant most likely has a problem.
Because the roots can’t absorb the necessary nutrients, the plant isn’t able to produce chlorophyll, which gives the leaves their healthy green color. Typically, older leaves and those near the soil are the first to turn yellow or brown.
If your zebra plant is drooping or changing color, you need to touch the leaves and stems. If they feel soft and mushy, your zebra plant has taken in too much water.
In addition to the mushy feel, you may notice brown, bruise-like spots on the leaves and stems. These spots form when the plant’s cells become oversaturated with water and burst.
Excessively and constantly wet soil can promote the growth of root rot, which can be fatal. The problem is that it’s difficult to detect during its early stages unless you happen to repot your plant.
When you examine the plant’s roots, you’ll notice that they’re mushy and turning dark brown, which means that they’re decaying. If left untreated, the rot will spread to the stems and leaves, and the plant will likely be beyond saving.
Unfortunately, root rot is likely to go undetected until a lot of damage has been done, at which point the plant emits a swampy, rotten-egg-like smell, a telltale sign of the disease.
Fungus gnats are small pest insects about the size of fruit flies that thrive in moist conditions. That’s why they tend to fly around and hover over wet soil.
The presence of fungus gnats on your soil is a sure sign you’ve overwatered your plant.
Zebra plants are known to be temperamental, angrily dropping leaves at the first sign of changes in their environment. So, if they’re overwatered, they’re likely to experience severe stress.
As a result, these plants will drop their leaves in an effort not to waste nutrients and survive. The weaker leaves, which turn yellow and mushy, are usually the first to fall.
Treating an overwatered zebra plant is possible, but it entirely depends on how much damage the plant has sustained.
So, as soon as you notice signs of overwatering, follow these steps to save your zebra plant:
Saving an overwatered zebra plant depends on the severity of the damage. The longer it’s been overwatered, the more damage it’ll have gone through.
If your zebra plant’s leaves are slightly drooping and wilting, it may be able to recover and become healthy again.
However, if the stems and leaves of your plant are mushy and turning black, root rot has likely set in. In this case, you’ll have to extract your plant from the soil and examine its root system.
If the entire root system has turned black and mushy, it’s too late to save the plant. However, if you can find any healthy, white, firm roots, you may be able to save and help your plant recover.
All you need to do is prune off the rotten roots and place the plant in fresh, well-draining soil.
The first step to reversing the effects of overwatering is to keep your zebra plant away from water for a while. So, check the soil for any stagnant water.
If there’s water pooling on the soil’s surface, carefully tilt the plant’s pot and pour it out. Empty the saucer/tray beneath the pot as well so the roots don’t sit in water.
You should also check the drainage holes for compacted soil that may be blocking excess water from draining. If this is the case, you can use a wooden stick to loosen the soil by gently poking the holes.
If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, you should make some yourself or repot the plant in one that does. These holes will allow excess water to drain, preventing the plant from sitting in waterlogged soil.
Overwatering causes the soil to become heavier and more compact, making it harder for the plant’s roots to breathe. This is where soil aeration comes into play.
When you break up the compacted soil, it dries faster and becomes more aerated. So, in the same way that you poked through the drainage holes with a wooden stick, dig through the soil’s surface.
If the soil is so compacted that the stick can’t easily penetrate, you shouldn’t force it. Otherwise, the force can damage the roots, so it’s best to repot your plant in new, well-draining soil.
You should avoid watering your zebra plant for the time being. The goal is to completely dry out the top half of the sodden soil.
You can expedite this process by exposing your plant to sunlight. Zebra plants prefer indirect light or partial shade, but they can withstand a few hours of direct morning sunlight, which can dry the soil faster.
Damaged leaves are most likely going to die and fall off. Until then, they’ll continue to consume nutrients that would be better spent on healthier leaves, delaying the plant’s recovery.
That’s why it’s best to prune any leaves that have discoloration, brown spots, or a mushy feel.
Most plants experience shock when transplanted and repotted. With the damage caused due to overwatering, your zebra plant may become severely stressed.
In this case, you need to place your plant in an ideal environment to help it regain its strength and recover.
Choose a well-ventilated room in your house that receives bright, filtered light. The room should also maintain somewhat high humidity levels and warm temperatures for the plant to thrive.
After the top half of the soil dries, you can start watering the plant again every few weeks. Each time you water your plant, you want to saturate the soil until the water runs out of the drainage holes, allowing the soil to stay consistently moist between waterings.
There are many symptoms of an overwatered zebra plant, some of which can help you treat the problem before it becomes fatal. A sure sign of overwatering is if your zebra plant has soft, mushy leaves that are drooping and turning yellow.
So, now that you know how to detect the signs of overwatering in zebra plants, you’ll be able to identify the problem early on and act fast.
After you’ve taken the necessary steps to save your zebra plant, give it a chance to recover. It could take a few days to several weeks, but if all goes well, your plant should start to perk up within a couple of weeks!
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.