How to Care for Alocasia Zebrina (Zebra Plant)

Alocasia Zebrina

The alocasia zebrina is a unique looking plant that’s prized for its long, thin, striped stems. It also has oversized heart shaped leaves that puts it in the Elephant Ear family. Together, these two features make this medium sized houseplant very memorable.

The plant grows up to 3 feet tall and about 3 feet wide. It is a fast growing plant that traces it origin from the Philippines. As such, it used to warm, humid tropical conditions. And while is somewhat well suited to homes and other indoor spaces, it isn’t the easiest plant to grow.

That said, once you figure out what it likes, you’ll be able to enjoy its eye catching beauty.

Alocasia Zebrina Plant Care

Alocasia Zebrina Light

The alocasia zebrina does best when given bright, indirect light. Being a small plant that grows in the forest and jungles of Southeast Asia, it is used to bright shade provide by larger plants and trees.

As such, its leaves have adapted to this by becoming very good at absorbing light. Their large size raltive to the plant allows them to take in a log of sunlight even when under shade or when it is coming from an indirect source.

What this means is that you don’t want to put it in the path of direct sunlight, which will scorch its leaves. And, when this happens, you’ll see them bleach.

Similarly, their good light absorption capabilities allows them to withstand low light conditions. However, they places that are dim will cause them to grow fewer leaves and stem (which they are known for).

Just as importantly, when there isn’t enough light, your alocasia zebrina will grow aggressively towards the source. Because of its relatively long stems it can quickly become lopsided. To counteract this effect, you’ll want to rotate the plant to even out exposure from all sides.

Because of its high light requirement, a south facing window is a good spot for it. However, you need to make sure to keep it away from direct sunlight. So, you have a few options:

  • Keep it about 3 to 6 (maybe more) away from the window. The goal is to keep it from the sun’s rays at any time of the day. This will depend on the angle at which the sun enters through the window.
  • Filter the light using some kind of cover or shade. You can use shades, curtains or other things to cover part of the sun coming from the window to filter the light. Garden centers do this a lot with shade covers.

Whatever you do, you want to keep it away from direct sunlight.

The east and west facing windows will get quite a bit of sun as well. But, not as much as that of the south. However, you’re safer with east facing windows as far as scorching goes because the morning sun is fairly gentle.

In the west, the afternoon sun can be harsh depending on where you live and what time of year it is. So, you’ll want to apply similar methods to that of the south in protecting the plant.

Pro tip. Always keep the leaves clean by wiping it with a damp cloth. Don’t use leaf shine as it will damage foliage. Clearing dust from leaves removes debris that can hinder light absorption. Just as importantly, you want to do this in the morning. At the latest, early afternoon. This allows the leaves to dry. In the evening or late afternoons, the cooler climate will make it harder to dry increasing the risk of fungal infections.

 

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Alocasia Zebrina Temperature & Humidity

Since it is native to Southeast Asia, the alocasia zebrina is used to tropical weather. This means it prefers warmer, more humid conditions compared the cold. In fact, it is not frost tolerant. So, you don’t want to leave it outside when the temperature drops somewhere in the middle of autumn.

The plant grows best when the temperature is kept relatively stable between 60 to 80 degrees. This makes them hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11.

But if you leave them in the cold they will go dormant. And, after a while will experience leaf loss.

Similarly, they’re not fans of wind chills and breezes. Warm or cold drafts as likewise no-no’s with this plant.

In addition to stable warm temperature, high humidity is another requirement for optimum growth.

Ideally, it likes it when relative humidity is over 60%. If it doesn’t get enough humidity, you’ll start to see its leaves turn brown.

Unfortunately, most homes don’t experience this much moisture in the air. As such, you need to make special arrangements for your plant. The easiest ways to increase humidity around the plant are:

  • Group it with other plants. Plants transpire like you and I perspire. So, when the moisture evaporates, it makes the air more humid. On their own, they don’t transpire enough to release enough moisture. But as a group, they can. However, make sure not to keep the plants too close together. You want enough space between them to allow air to circulate. This lets them breathe as well as helps their leaves dry faster when wet. Thus, reducing the chances of fungal problems. Similarly, distancing them keeps pests from infesting other plants quickly.
  • Water trays. Setting the plant on rocks above a tray with water also helps. Similarly, you can surround the plant with bowls or trays of water instead. Either way works. The goal is water surrounding the plant will evaporate. As it does, it will make the air more moist.
  • Move the plant to the bathroom or kitchen. Both areas of the home are more humid. But, when you do make sure there is enough bright light. Because of the plant’s high light requirement, this can be a bit difficult.

Other options include misting or buying a humidifier.

alocasia zebrina

source: wikimedia commons

 

Watering Alocasia Zebrina

Alocasia zebrina need moist soil. But make sure the soil is not soggy or wet. Too much water will eventually cause root rot which can be a big problem when not caught early.

Because of its water requirements, towing the line between keeping the soil moist and overwatering always needs to be on your mind.

It is likewise important to keep it mind that the plant’s stems store a lot of moisture. So, less volume per session is always better than more. However, never let the plant dry out. It is not drought tolerant.

This means that it is better the water this plant more frequently but using less water each time. This strategy is completely the opposite of deep watering which is suited to most houseplants.

With the latter, you soak the plant and allow it to drain. Then wait until the top 2 inches of the soil dries before watering again.

With your alocasia zebrina, you don’t want to do that. Once the top half inch (0.5 inches deep from the surface) gets dry, it is time to water. This often means watering more than once a week.

After a while, you will likewise know when it is time to water your plant just by lifting the container. Dry soil is lighter than moist soil. So, with experience, you’ll be able to tell.

The only time you want to give it a lot of water is when its stem and leaves are drooping or wilting. This is a sign that it is short on water.

You also want to remember that the plant goes dormant during thew winter. During the time, you want to water much less frequently. This means waiting until the top 2 inches of the soil dries.

The plant is likewise sensitive to chlorine and other chemicals in the water. As such, if you plan on using tap water, always allow it to sit in room temperature for at least 12 hours or more. This allows the chemicals to evaporate before you water your plants.

 

Soil

Because it is prone to overwatering, you want to use well-draining soil. This allows you some leeway when watering.

Additionally, for its size, it “eats” a lot. This is because its natural environment provides it with soils that contains lots of humus. As such, making sure to give it rich soil that holds moisture but is loose van very well draining.

To do so, use a combination of peat and perlite. Together, these substrates give you the ability to retain enough water with the ability to drain excess moisture well.

 

Fertilizing

As mentioned above, the plant is a heavy feeder. So, apply liquid fertilizer diluted to 50% strength every two weeks.

Also, be careful about when you feed it. During its growing season (warmer months), it will need this feeding schedule to grow quickly. But, come wintertime, it will slip into dormancy. Thus, make sure to stop feeding it in the colder months.

Otherwise, you can easily overfertilize the plant.

Because you’ll be feeding it more often than most houseplants, it is likewise key to flush the soil every few months. This gets rid of fertilizer salt buildup in the soil. It also prevents too much of it from accumulating.

 

Alocasia Zebrina Pruning

The alocasia zebrina is a fast grower. And it can grow to as big as 3 feet high and 3 feet wide. As such it will be one of the larger houseplants you’ll have. This is the reason why you’ll need to feed it more often.

However, this growth happens during the warmer months when the plant is actively growing. During this time you’ll see new leaves grow every two weeks or so. Similarly, it will shed older foliage to make way for the new ones.

Thanks to this, you don’t need to prune it as much as some of your other houseplants.

Additionally, part of the reason you don’t need to prune it as much is that doing so doesn’t help it get fuller or bushier is it does other indoor plants.

So, the your main goal when pruning the alocasia zebrina is to get rid of yellow, discolored or damaged leaves. since it takes care of its old leaves naturally, you don’t have to worry about it.

The other thing you can do by pruning is to limit its size and shape. You can do this by removing the older leaves which are bigger. This will leave you the smaller, younger leaves.

Last but not least, keep in mind that the plant is toxic and can cause irritation to skin. So, do wear gloves when working on the plant.

And, as always, sterilize your cutting tools before pruning.

 

Alocasia Zebrina Propagation

The best way to propagate alocasia zebrina is by division during its growing season. But, it is easier said than done because the plant’s root are sensitive and delicate. As such, you need to be very careful when handling the plant.

Here’s how to propagate alocasia zebrina.

  • Carefully take the plant out of its pot
  • Once out carefully inspect it and brush away excess soil and dirt.
  • From looking at the root, you should also see a few clumps and offsets. These are new plants or plantlets that are developing from the roots.
  • Gently separate them from the mother plant. This makes it easier than root division because you don’t need to separate the rootball. However, in a way it is also harder the first time you’ll be doing it because it is different and you want to know what you’re looking for and how to separate the offsets from the mother plant.
  • Place the plantlets in a container of their own with soil And, put the mother plant back into its container with fresh soil.
  • Because alocasia zebrina experience quite a bit of shock from being repotting, give them some time to recover. In the meantime, water them and put both pots under bright, indirect light.
  • You’ll know the plants are recovering once they sprout new leaves.

 

Alocasia Zebrina Transplanting & Repotting

Repotting is something you don’t want to do often with the alocasia zebrina. That’s because its roots are delicate. Thus, repotting can damage them if not done carefully. Also, it takes a while for them to recover from this experience.

This means only repot when it is very rootbound. The plant doesn’t mind being a bit rootbound or staying in a small pot. As such, this makes it easier for you.

Needless to say, when you do repot the plant, be extra careful when taking it out of the container.

 

Toxicity

The alocasia zebrina is toxic to both humans and pets. As such, you do not want young children or pets playing near it. Not only is the sap poisonous when ingested, it also causes skin irritation.

Similarly, its leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals which likewise cause mouth, throat and digestive problems.

 

Pests and Diseases

Moisture is the root of most problems when it comes to your alocasia zebrina. That’s because it like humidity and need frequent water. More so, it also can’t stand wet feet.

Together, this means you watering routine should be on point. That’s because these conditions increase the risk of root rot and leaf spot.

The good news is, keeping your plant healthy and giving it the proper requirements above makes it fairly resistant to both disease and pests.

The most common way they become vulnerable is when they experience overwatering or drought. Both weaken them, making them susceptible to pests and diseases.

With pests, you’ll likely see mealybugs the most. Although spider mites and aphids are likewise common with the plant.

If any of these happen, use insecticidal soap and water to treat your plant. Also keep them away from other plants because these creatures can easily travel to nearby plants.

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