Zebra plants, also known as Aphelandra squarrosa, are most loved for their unique green foliage with patterns of white stripes.
However, unlike certain other houseplants, caring for a zebra plant can be slightly challenging. These plants tend to be temperamental regarding their growing conditions, so you might encounter certain problems from time to time. For example, if you notice your zebra plant’s leaves drooping, it is most likely a sign of underwatering. However, other issues like overwatering, overfeeding, sunburn, pests, and incorrect pots might also be contributing factors.
If you are frustrated about your zebra’s sudden droopy appearance, this guide is for you! All the possible issues are explained in detail below, so you can pinpoint the cause of your plant’s problem and how to fix it.
Why are my zebra plant’s leaves drooping?
1. Inconsistent watering habits
If your zebra plant’s leaves are drooping and turning crispy, it probably needs more water!
These plants are native to the tropics where their soil is always moist, so neglecting to water them or watering them too lightly can leave them struggling with drought stress. Sparse watering depletes the moisture reserves in the plants’ leaves, especially during the hotter seasons when their transpiration rate is higher.
To avoid the ill-effects of dry soil, keep an eye on your plant and water it as soon as the top two inches of soil have dried out. If it has been longer than usual since you last watered it and the soil is very dry, give it a thorough soaking to ensure that all of the roots have had water. Provided you have caught the underwatering in time, your plant should bounce back to health within a few weeks once you start watering it properly.
You should also keep in mind that your zebra plant’s watering requirements can vary depending on the time of year and the climate where you live. Spring and summer are when your watering frequency should increase slightly, to encourage faster growth and to accommodate the warmer temperatures. And, like most houseplants, your zebra plant will reduce its water requirements during winter due to shorter days and lower temperatures.
Are you watering your zebra plant every week? Then its droopy appearance may well be caused by too much watering! If you notice additional symptoms such as yellowing or browning of the foliage and dark, mushy roots, you need to reassess your watering habit before it is too late.
Zebra plants originated from the tropical regions of Brazil. Their leaves are thick to efficiently store water and reduce moisture loss during the transpiration process. they do not really need a huge amount of water to stay upright, and providing them with more than they can tolerate can damage their delicate roots and even possibly kill them.
As mentioned, watering your zebra plant once every two or three weeks should suffice. Make sure that the top layer of soil has completely dried out between watering sessions. If you are not sure, check the soil by inserting your finger through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot – this will give you a good indication of the moisture level in the lower layers of soil. If it feels moist, delay watering your plant for a couple of days until it is slightly dryer but not bone-dry. Otherwise, water your plant.
3. Inappropriate pot
Pots that retain too much moisture can harm your zebra plant in the same way as overwatering it.
Some factors you need to assess are the following:
- Is the pot too large for your plant? The extra space in a large pot can increase moisture retention since the soil will need a longer time to dry.
- Does your pot have enough drainage holes? Pots with poor drainage cause the excess water to pool at the bottom after watering your plant.
- Are you using plastic pots? Breathable pots like those made of ceramic or terracotta might be more beneficial since these materials can wick the excess moisture from the soil. Plastic pots, on the other hand, tend to hold more moisture that may promote root rot. If you are using plastic pots, make sure to keep a very good eye on your watering routine to prevent waterlogged soil.
4. Soil impermeability
Zebra plants might also suffer from water stress when the soil mix is not sufficiently well-draining. Common garden soil is not recommended for zebra plants since it is typically very dense and retains too much water, causing the plant’s roots to decay easily.
The ideal growing medium for zebra plants should be rich in nutrients, able to retain just enough moisture, and drain well to prevent standing water. Some recommended potting mixes for zebra plants include Organic Potting Soil and Miracle-Gro Potting Mix. You can also create your own recipe by mixing one part garden soil, one part perlite or coarse sand, and two parts peat moss. Leaf mold and coconut coir are also great additions if you do not have peat moss on hand.
5. Lighting issues
In their natural habitat, zebra plants thrive under a canopy of trees where they enjoy partial or indirect sunlight. It is crucial to emulate these conditions if you want to ensure proper growth and healthy leaves on your plant.
One common mistake made by zebra plant owners is to leave their plant outdoors, unprotected from the scorching heat of the sun. This can cause sunburn and irreversible damage to the leaves! So, as soon as you notice the leaves drooping, assess the plant’s growing conditions – is it regularly exposed to full sunlight? If so, you should move it to a spot that gets partial shade.
Keep in mind, though, that complete shade is also not good, as it can inhibit the plant’s growth. If you decide to keep your zebra plant indoors, make sure that it receives sufficient light to conduct photosynthesis and maintain its lush foliage. A spot near an east-facing window would be ideal, or you can install grow lights indoors to keep your plant happy and thriving.
6. Low humidity
Zebra plants cannot tolerate areas with low humidity. Just like underwatering, the dry indoor air, especially during the cold seasons, can turn their leaves from plump and firm to thin and dry in no time. No gardener wants to see their plants sad and drooping!
Due to their tropical origins, Zebra plants need a warm, semi-shaded environment with 60 to 70 percent humidity. To protect your plant from any weather-related stress, you may want to invest in a humidifier to maintain an ideal growing climate in your home.
7. Extreme temperature changes
Temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit provide the most favorable growing conditions for your zebra plant. If the temperatures exceed 85 degrees, your plant will likely droop as it tries to conserve the remaining moisture in its leaves.
To avoid temperature-related drooping, make sure your plant is protected from fluctuating temperatures. Keep it away from heating devices, air conditioning vents, and areas exposed to cold drafts.
8. Pest infestations
Like any other houseplant, your zebra plant is not immune to pests, and droopy leaves may be an early sign of an infestation. As the pests reproduce and feed on the sap of the leaves, you might also start seeing sticky substances or white cottony webs along the stems and leaves.
Some common enemies of zebra plants include the following:
- Spider mites
Neem oil and insecticidal soaps usually work wonders in eradicating these bugs. It is easier to get rid of an infestation in its early stages, so check the leaves regularly for signs of infestation and, if you see any bugs, apply treatments weekly until your plant has recovered.
9. Too much fertilizer
Overfertilization causes a salt buildup around the plant’s roots and restricts its water uptake. This, in turn, results in drought stress, so you will see signs similar to those of underwatering.
To grow your zebra plant to its full potential, fertilize it no more than once every two to three weeks, and only during spring and summer. Avoid feeding it during its dormant period in the colder months. A balanced, water-soluble fertilizer is recommended to encourage your plant to bloom.
10. Plant diseases
Zebra plant diseases like fungal leaf spot are usually linked to overwatering and misting. That is because the pathogens that cause these diseases thrive in moist and humid environments. If you do not correct your watering routine, your zebra plant may succumb to one of these diseases.
Unfortunately, treating fungal and bacterial diseases in zebra plants can be tricky, so prevention is definitely better than cure. Keep your watering habits in check and monitor your plant from time to time to catch any early signs of infection. Trim off any damaged leaves, stems, or roots to prevent the spread of an early infection.
11. Transplant shock
Transplant shock can happen to almost any plant. If your zebra plant’s leaves are drooping after you have just transferred it to a new pot, then it is likely adjusting to its new home.
To help your plant recover, you need to provide it with the best care possible. Ensure that you meet all of its basic requirements, such as proper watering, correct humidity, and partial or indirect sunlight. Give your plant some time to recover from the transplant shock and it should bounce back to its normal, healthy shape.
12. Acclimatization to a new environment
If you have recently bought a beautiful-looking zebra plant from a store or nursery, do not be surprised if it starts to droop a few days after you bring it home with you.
This is a normal reaction for most plants, since they would not normally have to deal with location changes when growing in the wild. Hence, you should try to limit the number of times you move your plants from one location to another, to avoid unnecessary stress.
So, if you have recently brought home a new zebra plant, or you have decided to move your existing plant to another spot in your house, you will likely notice its leaves drooping. Do not worry – this is normal! Simply allow your plant to adapt to its new location. Under favorable growing conditions, its droopy appearance should disappear in a few days or weeks.
Incorrect watering habits are a top cause of drooping zebra plant leaves. If you are able to spot this mistake early, then establishing an appropriate watering schedule should help your zebra recover without too much trouble.
If you suspect other issues like pests, overfertilization, incorrect pot or soil, humidity issues, or inappropriate lighting conditions, you might need to investigate further to solve the problem. Hopefully, with proper care and growing conditions, you can save your plant from severe damage and help it regain its healthy leaves.
Image: istockphoto.com / Herman Vlad