It can be frustrating when zebra plants don’t grow as healthy as they should. You start asking questions: What am I doing wrong? Why is my zebra plant turning yellow?
Leaves’ discoloration means you’re not providing the ideal growing environment for them.
Whether it’s soil, watering, or lighting, a lot of factors go into growing a healthy zebra plant—and these plants aren’t easy to maintain.
In this article, we’ll show you how the lack of a proper environment can hinder your plant’s growth.
Let’s see all the factors that can cause your plant’s leaves to turn yellow and what you can do about it.
Most people attribute yellow leaves to their watering regime right away. While it’s definitely the most common cause of discoloration, the first thing you need to inspect is your soil.
After all, your zebra doesn’t receive water all the time. But, it sits on the soil all the time.
Zebra plants require a specific type of soil. It has to strike a perfect balance between retaining enough moisture and draining excess water.
If your soil doesn’t have good drainage properties, it’ll absorb too much water. That can cause root rot.
On the other hand, not retaining enough moisture will cause your plant to dehydrate quickly. These are all issues that can cause your plant’s leaves to turn yellow.
Water drainage properties aren’t all there is to it, though; your soil’s acidity levels stimulate your plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. Zebra plants thrive in soil with a pH between 5.5-6.5.
If the acidity levels step out of that range, the roots of the plant stop absorbing nutrients. So, the leaves turn yellow from nutrient lockout.
Watering your zebra plant is the trickiest step in its growth process. Unlike most plants, zebra succulents don’t have a specific watering schedule.
That’s why the most common cause of discoloration is over-watering/under-watering the plant.
When you water it too often, the roots stop absorbing oxygen and start to die. As a result, the leaves don’t get any water or nutrients, and they turn yellow.
On the other hand, under-watering your plant can cause the roots to die from dehydration.
As with over-watering, the roots stop transferring nutrients to the leaves. So, they turn yellow/brown from nutritional deficiency.
If you’re growing your zebra plant under direct sunlight, now would be the time to move it somewhere with more shade.
While zebra plants can tolerate it, overexposure to direct sunlight can burn their leaves, turning them yellow in the process.
Zebra plants thrive best in warm environments and high levels of humidity. Not providing any of these conditions can be the source of discoloration on the leaves.
So, always keep the temperature below 60-80oF and humidity levels between 60-70%.
If you grow your plant indoors, keep it away from air conditioners, heaters, or air vents. The extreme temperatures these devices create can damage the leaves.
Whether you mist the leaves yourself or use a humidifier, make sure the air around your plant is damp enough.
As a plant parent, your first instinct might be to shower your baby with love by fertilizing it as much as possible.
Unfortunately, that can be counterintuitive; just like humans, plants need a balanced diet. When you over-fertilize your plant, it sends excess minerals to the tips of the leaves.
It’s called a fertilizer burn, and it can turn the leaves of your plant yellow.
You get the same results when you under-fertilize your plant. The leaves won’t get enough nutrition and start discoloring. In some cases, the discoloration can start with older leaves.
Some people attribute older leaves’ discoloration to old age. There’s more to it than what meets the eye, though.
If there aren’t enough nutrients, the plant takes them from older leaves and diverts them to newer ones. This is so that the newer leaves can grow more healthy.
The lack of nutrition in older leaves causes them to turn yellow.
Plants get comfortable in their environment when they stay in it for a while. That’s why it can be stressful for a plant to change that environment.
If you’ve just bought the zebra plant from the store, it may need some time to get used to its new home. During that time, you might notice its leaves turning yellow.
Don’t worry! Provide an ideal growing environment and give it some time. It’ll grow healthy again.
At this point, you know that zebra plants like to retain moisture for a long time. That makes them attractive targets for pests, such as mealybugs and spider mites.
As these pests suck the sap and moisture of the plant, it gradually starts to dehydrate. Moreover, the spots the pests feed on turn yellow.
There isn’t always a scientific reason behind discoloration. Sometimes, it’s the natural order of things.
You can provide the ideal growing environment for your plant, but as it gets older, a few leaves will turn yellow and even fall every now and then.
Now that you know all the factors that can cause your plant’s leaves to turn yellow, let’s see what you can do about it.
You can find soil bags that drain water well in gardening stores. Cactus potting mix would be a good choice. It’s made of organic materials. So, it has good drainage properties.
You can even use pre-mixed soil bags that target African Violets since they require similar soil conditions.
If, however, you want soil that caters specifically to your needs, you can mix it yourself.
The idea behind custom mixes is to use specific ingredients to improve the soil’s water drainage and retention abilities.
You can use equal parts potting soil, perlite, and peat moss. You can also add gravel, vermiculite, or coarse sand.
It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your plant.
Ideally, your soil should stay moist for about three weeks. So, you can test whether it’s good or not by touching it every now and then.
If you think it dries too quickly or too slowly, it’s not the best fit.
Before you place your zebra plant in the soil, though, you should test its pH levels to make sure it’s a good fit.
While a zebra plant doesn’t have a watering schedule, there’s an easy way to determine if it’s time to water it. Touch the surface of the soil to examine how moist it is.
If it’s damp, then you don’t need to water it. Just wait until it dries a little.
Don’t wait until it dries out completely, though, or you’ll be risking dehydration.
Watering your zebra plant every 2-3 weeks should suffice. That’s only a general estimation, though. It’s best to check the soil yourself.
It can be challenging for new plant parents to identify whether the soil is damp enough or not. In that case, you can use a moisture meter.
It’ll give you an accurate reading of the moisture levels of the soil.
What if you’ve already over-watered your plant and are facing root rot? In that case, remove the plant from the soil and cut the rotten roots.
Make sure to shake off as much soil as possible and use sterile scissors. Then, clean the pot with rubbing oil and put the plant in fresh soil.
If you’re under-watering your plant, just make sure you water deeply enough and don’t let the soil dry out completely.
Zebra plants need indirect sunlight to grow properly. That’s why it can be more troublesome to grow them outdoors as your placement options are more limited.
Just because they don’t tolerate direct sunlight, though, doesn’t mean you should place them in low-light conditions. That’d be just as bad.
If you’re growing your plant indoors, move it to a room with bright sun exposure. To make sure it doesn’t receive any direct sunlight, you can place it behind a curtain or anywhere with a bit of shade.
For outdoor growth, make sure you don’t grow it somewhere too sheltered. There has to be a proper balance between sun exposure and shade.
On average, you should fertilize your zebra plant once a month. For first-time plant parents, a liquid fertilizer might be the best option.
You can easily control its concentration when you add it to water. So, you won’t risk over-fertilizing your plant like how you would with fertilizer spikes.
If, however, your plant has already developed yellow leaves and you suspect it’s a fertilizer burn, there are simple steps you can take.
A common sign of a fertilizer burn is the culmination of mineral salt on the soil. Your first step would be to take as much of it out.
Then, give your plant a flush or two to get rid of excess salt entirely.
After that, you should wait about a month before you fertilize your plant again. Give it time to recover.
To deal with pests effectively, your best bet would be to use a pesticide or an insecticidal soap.
You can add 1 tsp of neem oil and insecticidal soap to a gallon of water and spray it on your plant.
It’s better if you try to fix the problem before cutting the leaves off completely. Try to identify the source of the discoloration and treat it.
If nothing works, though, it’d be better to cut the leaves. For what it’s worth, pests and fungi infections can spread quickly. So, you’d be doing your plant a favor.
So, next time you ask yourself: why is my zebra plant turning yellow? You’ll know it’s because you’re not providing the ideal growing environment.
So, make sure your plant is growing in a proper environment, and it’ll receive the necessary nutrients to grow properly.
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.