How to Grow and Care for Calathea Zebrina (Zebra Plant)

Slightly raised overhead view of calathea zebrina houseplant

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Calathea zebrina are famous for their uniquely striped foliage, giving rise to the common name of the zebra plant. Similar to its popular cousin—the prayer plant—zebra plant leaves are bright green with dark green stripes. Foliage color isn’t the only thing these tropical houseplants have in common, as both plants are known to raise or fold their leaves at night. Calathea zebrina grows up to three feet tall, with leaves reaching up to two feet long. 

 Common Name Zebra plant
 Botanical Name Calathea zebrina
 Family Marantaceae
 Plant Type Perennial
 Mature Size 3 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure Partial
 Soil Type Loamy, Moist but Well-drained
 Soil pH Acidic, neutral
 Bloom Time Spring
 Flower Color Purple, White
 Hardiness Zones 10-11, USA
 Native Area South America

Calathea Zebrina Care

Here are the main care requirements for growing zebra plants:

  • Choose loamy, well-draining soil when potting this plant.
  • Place the plant in a spot that receives bright, indirect light.
  • Water regularly when the top one to two inches of soil begins to dry.
  • Skip fertilizer unless growth is very stunted.
Closeup of calathea zebrina leaves showing striations

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Closeup of a new calathea zebrina leaf unfurling

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Closeup showing a calathea zebrina bloom

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Closeup of calathea zebrina foliage and stripe patterns

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault


Calathea zebrina is native to South America and grows under the protection of large trees and other tropical plants, so this plant is accustomed to receiving filtered dappled light. With this in mind, don’t place this plant in direct sunlight, as this can burn the leaves. When kept outdoors, be sure it receives partial sunlight, ideally dappled or filtered by surrounding plants. 

When growing the zebra plant indoors, choose a spot near a bright window, but not where it will be bathed in direct sunlight. A shelf or small table is better for a zebra plant than a sunny windowsill. 


Calathea zebrina requires loamy, moist, well-draining soil. Striking a balance between moist and well-draining is key since heavy, wet soil can easily lead to soggy roots and root rot. On the other hand, soil that drains too rapidly will not provide this plant with enough moisture. For the best results, use a mix of potting soil, perlite, and peat. 


For the best results, zebra plants require regular watering. How often you water will depend on how quickly the soil begins to dry. This will change depending on the season as well as the surrounding climate and humidity levels. 

Generally, these plants need water once a week during the growing season and less than once a week during the winter. The ideal way to check whether or not your plant needs water is to feel the soil. If the top inch or two begins to dry, it is time to water the plant. 

Temperature and Humidity

Giving these plants ideal humidity levels is key to maintaining their health. They require humidity that is at least above 50 percent and ideally above 60 percent. When kept outdoors in a tropical climate (USDA growing zones 10 to 11), this is usually not too hard to achieve. For indoor calathea zebrina plants, you may need to use a humidifier to provide enough moisture in the air. Alternatively, you can place this plant on a tray of pebbles and water or mist the leaves several times a week.

Like other plants in the Calathea genus, zebra plants require warm temperatures to thrive. These plants do best between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They should never be kept in temperatures any lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  


Most people don’t need to fertilize zebra plants. In fact, too much fertilizer can easily burn this plant. If you have an especially slow-growing or weak-looking plant, you may decide to fertilize with a light, well-balanced formula diluted to a quarter strength during the growing season. 

Propagating Calathea Zebrina

You can propagate Calathea zebrina by division. If your plant has grown large enough to produce separate rosettes of leaves at the base of the plant, that is the perfect time to divide it. You will need a pot with drainage holes, well-draining soil, and a sharp pair of snips or a knife. Then follow these directions: 

  1. Prepare your other pot by filling it with moist, well-draining soil.
  2. Gently slide your zebra plant out of its pot and shake away excess dirt to access the roots. 
  3. Divide the separate rosettes of leaves from each other. Use the knife or snips to cut through root systems when needed. 
  4. Plant each division in its own pot and water the plants. Place them in an area that receives high humidity and bright, indirect light. 

Potting and Repotting Calathea Zebrina

Zebra plants grow very well when kept in pots. These slow-growing plants do not outgrow their pots quickly, so you will only need to repot them once every two years or so. Once the plant becomes root bound and you see roots coming out of the drainage holes, it is time to repot. When repotting, be sure to choose a container that is slightly larger than the last one (about two inches larger). Make sure that you pick a container with drainage holes for the sake of giving this plant well-draining soil. 

When it is time to repot, gently tip the plant on its side and slide it out of its container. Place the plant in its new container and fill the extra space with new, potting soil mixed with perlite and peat, for drainage. Be sure to bury the roots to the same level that they were in their previous pot. 

Common Problems With Calathea Zebrina

When given the right conditions, zebra plants are hardy, healthy tropical houseplants. However, if conditions are not correct, you may experience some growing problems. Let’s look at some common issues. 

Brown, Curling Leaf Tips

This is a telltale sign of not enough humidity or water. Zebra plants require high humidity to stay healthy. If the leaves begin to curl and turn brown, you will need to increase the humidity by placing a humidifier nearby, placing the pot on a tray of water and pebbles, or regularly misting the leaves. 

If the plant needs more water, water thoroughly until the soil is fully moistened. Allow excess water to drain away. If you would prefer, you can use sterile scissors to trim away the brown edges.  

Drooping, Mushy Stems

If your zebra plant's foliage begins to droop excessively or the stems feel soft, even mushy, it's an indication of overwatering. If allowed to progress, this can quickly turn into root rot. You will need to change the soil to a mixture that is not as heavy to allow the water to drain away. If there are any signs of rot, such as black, soggy sections, cut these away to try to save the plant. 

  • How fast does Calathea zebrina grow?

    Calathea zebrina is a slow-growing plant, so you won’t have to worry about this plant quickly outgrowing its pot or its space on your dresser. You will only need to repot this plant every two years or so.

  • Should I mist Calathea zebrina daily?

    This depends on your humidity levels. If your home is very dry, daily misting may be suitable. Still, you want to be cautious about the amount of water that is constantly sitting on the leaves.  Placing the plant near a humidifier or on a pebble tray and misting less often is a better option. If your home has a well-balanced humidity level, you may only need to mist once a week.

  • Are Calathea zebrina hard to grow?

    Calathea zebrina can be sensitive to humidity and temperature levels, as well as underwatering and overwatering. However, once the right balance is found, these plants make wonderful houseplants.