Zebra plants, which have the nice-sounding botanical name of Aphelandra squarrosa, are gorgeous indoor plants. They come from the Acanthaceae family, native to Brazil, where the climate is generally warm, humid, and wet.
You might have any of the Zebra plant variants, like the Fritz Prinsler, Dania, Snow White, or Leopoldii. The best feature of all of these houseplants is their dark green leaves and signature white veins.
It’s such a pity when your zebra plant starts dropping its leaves. Fortunately, there are some tried and true ways to salvage your plant and turn things around.
Here are seven reasons why a zebra plant drops its leaves and how to address them.
Inconsistent or incorrect watering is the most common cause behind the sudden shedding of zebra plant leaves.
Replicating the moist climate of zebra plants requires keeping the soil well irrigated. There’s a catch here; when zebra plants grow in the jungle, any excess water gets drained.
Potted zebra plants don’t have that luxury, and the soil can become waterlogged. Overwatering can also lead to root rot, which destroys the plant from the roots up.
Underwatering is just as damaging to the zebra plant as excessive watering. If a plant isn’t sufficiently hydrated for more than a week, the leaves start wilting and falling off.
An overwatered zebra plant would soon turn yellow, and the leaves would feel mushy. Additionally, the soil would be consistently moist between irrigations.
On the other hand, an underwatered plant would droop, then wilt, and finally fall off.
Prevention is the best remedy, and you can do that by following a semi-regular watering regimen. Make an irrigation schedule, but follow it sparingly.
You always need to check the dryness of the soil before rewatering. Don’t wait till the topsoil becomes bone-dry. As soon as the moisture recedes, you’d need to water the zebra plant again.
If the plant is dehydrated, soak it in clean water immediately. Then, try to irrigate roughly every other week.
Zebra plants flourish when they feel supported, in addition to finding easy access to water and nutrients. A proper soil mix would provide all that, plus an effective drainage system that prevents waterlogging.
Dense soil restricts water flow and drainage, which eventually causes the leaves to fall off.
The leaves on the extremities turn yellow, wilt, and fall off. Sometimes, the stems become weak and discolored as well.
Replace dense soil with a well-draining loose mix. Also, check for root rot, and clean the plant from any infection.
Zebra plants need plenty of bright light, but, in an indirect way. Many people make the mistake of assuming that a plant that originally grew in a tropical climate essentially needs full light. They’re often dismayed to watch the plant get damaged under excessive light.
The opposite is just as tragic. When the plant is kept in a shaded spot, it doesn’t get enough energy to grow and thrive.
Intense direct sunlight soon burns the leaves. They turn brown, then they fall off
In underlit locations, the leaves become smaller and lighter in color. If the plant isn’t moved to a brighter spot near a big window, the leaves soon drop.
Placing the zebra plant under filtered light is the closest environment to the canopied forests in Brazil, where it originally grows.
In winter, you can take the zebra plant on the porch or in the garden. But in the harsh summer, it’s best to place it indoors, near a north-facing window.
Zebra plants thrive when their ambient temperature is around 70°F at day time, and ranging from 55-60°F at night time.
Extreme temperature fluctuations reflect badly on the plant’s health.
If the temperature is too hot, the leaves start dropping quickly and successively. The plant does this to avoid dehydration, as the water vaporizes through the pores in its leaves.
In frosty surroundings, the internal tissues of the plant freeze and stop functioning. The leaves become dark brown or necrotic black.
Dehydrated zebra plants need deep soaking and bottom watering to stop the shedding sequence. Additionally, avoid fertilizing the plant in the hot season, as this might worsen their situation.
Frosted plants rarely recover, but you can still move them to warmer locations and hope for the best.
Tropical biomes are characterized by their high humidity levels. Thus, it’s imperative to make sure the air around the zebra plant is never too dry.
Indoor humidity is often around 30% while zebra plants require high humidity levels of 70-80% at a minimum. Chances are, your plant is feeling too dry.
You can choose one of the following methods to increase humidity levels around your zebra plant.
- Install a humidifier
- Mist your plant frequently
- Place a pebble tray filled with water near the plant
- Move the plant away from heaters, fans, or ACs.
Fertilizers typically make your plant greener, healthier, and quite vivacious. That is; when these substances are used in moderation and at the right times.
Overfertilization can lead to damaging the plant, starting with its dropping off leaves.
If the plant is overfertilized, there are some tell-tale signs that you can’t miss.
- White buildup on the topsoil
- Stunted growth of the plant
- Whole leaves become yellow
- Browning around the leaf tips
- Too many leaves falling off suddenly
- The plant is too vulnerable to pests, bugs, and diseases
Zebra plants need fertilization every 3 weeks on average, and they often prefer organic slow-release fertilizers.
If the soil is already suffering from excess fertilizers, it’s best to replace it with a new potting mix. Alternatively, you can rinse the contaminated soil several times with clean water until the chemicals wash away completely.
Mealybugs, scales, and spider mites frequently infest zebra plants as well as other indoor plants. It’s important to inspect the leaves routinely, especially, the underside.
Pests and bugs often leave clues behind them. Here are some of the signs you should be wary of.
- The leaves start curling and seem smaller
- The growth of the plant is stunted
- White cottonlike substance on the leaves
- White, yellow, or black spots on the leaves
- Brown patches in the leaves
- Sticky honeydew on various parts of the plant
- Silky webs below the leaves
There are specific remedies for each type of infestation. But in general, it’s best to wash the plant with mild soap, spray it with diluted neem oil, and rub off the sticky parts with alcohol.
If all else fails, you can use an organic pesticide to eradicate the infestation.
Zebra plants are gorgeous, with their lush broad leaves and deep green color. They are a bit finicky and temperamental though, but they aren’t entirely hard to please.
Keeping an eye on your zebra plant easily eliminates half of the issues that force its leaves to drop. The rest lies in providing an optimal environment that mimics the plant’s native climate in Brazil.
Overwatering, insufficient light, and low humidity are among the most common causes of the zebra plant’s displeasure. Thus, maintaining the right watering schedule, placing the plant in a bright location, and misting it occasionally should make it vivacious and perky.
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.