How to Grow and Care for Aphelandra (Zebra Plants)
The zebra plant, which typically grows indoors, is loved for its unique dark green leaves striped with white veins. The jewel of this plant is its colorful flowers. When in bloom (which usually happens in late summer or early autumn) a zebra plant bears tall golden bracts that can reach several inches long and number between two to four per plant, lasting up to six weeks. The indoor zebra plant is a slow-growing plant, reaching maturity of a couple of feet tall in three years.
Zebra Plant Care
Native to Brazil, the zebra plant is a beautiful—but temperamental—plant. If you're up for the challenge of nurturing this tough plant, begin by choosing a spot for it that boasts a slightly higher humidity level (60 to 70 percent) and a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the plant in bright, filtered light (but not direct sunlight) and its soil consistently moist. Accentuate its graphic striped leaves with an equally bold pot and keep an eye out for its signature yellow bract, which will bloom in late summer or early fall. Once the plant has flowered and the bracts appear to be dying, prune your plant, taking care to remove the spent bract and any surrounding leaves or stems that appear wilted.
Zebra plants thrive in indirect light or partial shade, as they're used to growing under a canopy of trees in warm and humid climates. Direct sunlight can cause the leaves to scorch and should be avoided, but complete shade can mean that your plant won't bloom.
A zebra plant will grow best in soil that is neutral to acidic. A multi-purpose potting blend is adequate for a zebra plant—you can also incorporate sand into the mixture to ensure that it drains well. If a flowering plant is your goal, feed using fertilizer every one to two weeks during its growing season (spring and summer).
As mentioned, zebra plants prefer consistently moist soil, which may take a bit of finesse, as overwatering can cause the leaves to wilt. It's recommended that you water your zebra plant to saturation every few weeks (or as you observe the soil drying out), allowing the water to completely penetrate the soil until it runs out of your container's drainage holes. Your water temperature should be slightly lukewarm so it mimics the variables of a drenching rainstorm in warmer climates, but only water under the leaves, never from above.
Temperature and Humidity
Because of their origins, zebra plants grow best in moderate temperatures—their grow location should reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and never dip below 55 degrees.
Humidity is also important to the zebra plant, so its space should be kept at 60 to 70 percent humidity. If these conditions cannot be achieved naturally indoors, you can increase moisture levels by using a humidifier. Overall, strive to maintain an even temperature for your plant. Avoid high fluctuations in either direction and keep it away from any vents that could make it too hot or too cold (such as a radiator or air conditioner).
The use of fertilizer can greatly benefit the zebra plant's growth, especially when it comes to its ability to flower. During its peak growth season (typically spring and early summer), the zebra plant should be fed every one to two weeks using a fertilizer that is well-suited to both foliage and flowers.