The zebra plant, also known as Haworthia fasciata, is one of the most popular succulent house plants thanks to its pretty leaves with their signature white markings. It is also quite small, which makes it a great table plant. It is drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, so it is a good choice for beginner plant collectors.
One of the most common complaints zebra plant owners have is that their plant has started turning yellow. If this is the case, it means there is an environmental factor that is causing the plant stress, and this stress manifests as discoloration.
The most frequent causes of a yellowing zebra plant are overwatering, underwatering, or too much sun. In this article, we will discuss each of these causes and how to remedy them.
If you are experiencing something similar with your zebra plant and you wish to learn more, then keep reading.
Why is my zebra plant turning yellow?
One of the main causes of a yellowing zebra plant is overwatering. This can come about in several ways: you may be giving the plant too much water every time you water it, watering it more often than you need to, leaving it outdoors during the rainy season, using a poorly-draining potting mix and pot, or not adjusting your watering habits according to changes in the weather and season.
You will know that the zebra plant is getting too much water if the leaves have turned yellow or brown and they feel soft and mushy to the touch.
Remember that zebra plants are succulents, and succulents can absorb and store water in their leaves to withstand drought. This means that they do not need to be watered as often as most plants.
Zebra plants can also go dormant when they have absolutely no more water in their soil. They have completely adapted to the driest of circumstances and it is much easier to fix an underwatered zebra plant than an overwatered one.
Because these plants grow in some of the most arid places on earth, and the soil in their natural habitat is loose and gritty, they do not do well in regular potting soil that is too dense and retains moisture too well.
One of the most serious consequences of overwatering your plant is root rot. This condition is caused by leaving the plant’s roots to stand in waterlogged soil for extended periods. Succulents need their roots to dry out between waterings so that they can absorb oxygen, and overwatering will prevent this. The roots will drown and die.
The dead roots will become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens, such as fungi and bacteria, and these will make the rot spread more aggressively to the rest of the plant.
Eventually, the rot will reach the leaves and this can lead to the plant’s death.
If you suspect that your zebra plant is overwatered, stop watering it immediately and place it in a spot where it can get lots of light. The light exposure will allow the soil to dry out faster. Let the soil in the pot dry out completely before watering the plant again.
If you think the plant has root rot, you need to take it out of the pot. Pull it out gently and wash off as much of the soil as you can from the roots. Be gentle as you do this, because the roots are quite fragile in this state.
Inspect all the roots closely and look for sections that have turned brown or black. These roots are rotten and will have to be removed. Use a sterile knife or scissors to cut off the rotten roots, leaving only healthy, white roots.
Lay the plant on a dry paper towel and allow the roots to dry out for a few hours.
Then prepare a new pot, making sure it has sufficient drainage holes at the bottom and filling it two-thirds of the way with a well-draining potting mix.
Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with the rest of the soil. Do not water it immediately; give it at least a week to recover from the trauma of repotting.
Make sure the new pot is not too big. A big pot will need more soil to fill it, and more soil means more water will be retained. The more water is retained, the higher the chances of overwatering the plant.
If you keep the plant indoors and the pot is placed on a saucer, make sure you empty the saucer of any excess water that it catches.
The best way to prevent overwatering is to make sure you are replicating the watering cycle that your plant prefers. Only water it when the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch. If the top of the soil is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Also check the bottom of the pot regularly to ensure that there is no soil blocking the drainage holes.
Even though the zebra plant is succulent and does not need to be watered as much as other plants, that does not mean you can simply neglect it for extended periods.
The leaves of an underwatered zebra plant will also turn yellow and then brown. The longer they go without water, the drier and crisper the leaves will become.
If you notice the plant’s leaves turning yellow and then brown, with the leaves near the base becoming dry and crispy, your zebra plant may be suffering from drought stress.
If you are sure you have been watering the plant often enough and are wondering why it is showing signs of underwatering, it might be because you are watering it too lightly.
You need to soak all of the soil in the pot every time you water it, so that all of the roots get their fair share of moisture.
If you keep your zebra plant in a spot that gets a lot of wind or drafts, this can dry out the soil and the plant’s leaves quickly, which will cause the same signs of underwatering.
If you think your plant is being underwatered, do not worry because this is very easy to remedy. All you need to do is to water the plant until all of the soil is soaked and excess water is dripping out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This is important because all of the roots in the soil should have access to the water.
Keep the plant in a spot where there is just enough circulation; not where it gets hit by drafts that will dry it out.
As always, the best way to prevent underwatering is by checking the soil in the pot. If the top two inches of soil are dry, water the plant, but if the soil is still damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
After three waterings, your zebra plant should have bounced back to its normal healthy self. You just need to make sure you water it correctly from now on.
3. Too much sunlight
Another possible reason your zebra plant is turning yellow is that it is getting too much light.
Yes, zebra plants are succulents, but they actually prefer bright, indirect light as opposed to direct sunlight.
You can tell if a zebra plant is getting too much sunlight because the leaves will turn yellow or even red, but will not feel soft or mushy like those of an overwatered plant.
In their natural habitat, zebra plants grow in shaded areas where they only get bright, indirect light. Replicating that same situation in your home, then, is what is best for the plant.
As we mentioned, zebra plants like bright, indirect light. So if you are keeping the plant outdoors, place it under a large tree, under a garden net, or on your porch. This way the plant can get the kind of light that it likes.
If you think it is getting too much light where it is currently placed, transfer it immediately.
If the only window in your home lets in too much light, you can always diffuse the harshness of the light with a sheer curtain.
After a couple of days in a shadier spot, your plant will likely look much better. Unfortunately, the foliage that has been sun-damaged will not revert to its original state, because it has literally burned from the sunlight. If you do not like how the sunburned leaves look, you can prune them off, or you can just wait for them to fall off in due time.
The zebra plant is one of the most popular succulent house plants because of how low-maintenance and compact it is. It is very easy to care for, which makes it a great starter plant.
One of the most common problems encountered by zebra plant owners is when their plant turns yellow. A yellowing zebra plant is undergoing some kind of environmental stress, and it is up to you to correctly identify the cause and fix the problem.
The most common causes of a yellowing zebra plant are overwatering, underwatering, and too much sunlight.
As long as you water your zebra plant correctly and place it in a spot where it gets only bright indirect light, you will have no problems maintaining its vibrant green and white colors.
Image: istockphoto.com / Junko