9 Reasons your Zebra Plant Leaf is Turning Brown [With Solutions]

Zebra Plant Browning
Zebra Plant Browning (Source: notetrekker/ Reddit)

So you just got your hands on a beautiful Zebra plant with its exotic looks and beautiful texture. You are excited to grow it and show it off to your friends and family. However, you’ll notice that growing a Zebra plant is easier said than done after some time.

Although it’s a beautiful plant for indoor decoration, it can be hard to grow properly, which is why you will need tips from the right person to avoid your Zebra plant from dying.

Being a Zebra plant fanatic myself, I had my fair share of troubles while growing it properly. Brown leaf tips being one of the most common issues while growing a Zebra plant.

Brown leaf tips occur in Zebra plants due to a phenomenon known as drought stress. Drought stress occurs when there is continuous transpiration of water from the leaves of a plant due to reduced water availability in the soil and changing atmospheric conditions. 

Brown leaf tips (Source: Reddit)

Fortunately, I have done my fair share of research to find out the causes of brown leaf tips in Zebra plants, and I am here to tell you about the necessary measures you can take to solve it.

Is it Normal for Zebra Plant Leaves to Turn Brown?

When anything green starts turning brown, there is a natural tendency to think it’s not normal. Contrary to that, it is, in fact, normal for a plant’s leaves to turn brown sometimes.

It can be due to something as simple as an aging process or a plant’s way of shedding down excess leaves to avoid water loss.

If you notice some brown leaves around the plant base, then it’s nothing serious to get worried about. Gently peeling them off and letting them fall with ease will do.

9 Reasons that Causes Zebra Plant Leaves to Turn Brown

Most probably, your Zebra plant leaves are turning brown due to a lack of sufficient water.

However, other factors can cause your Zebra plant leaves to have brown tips. Along with being aesthetically unpleasing, it is also a symptom that the plant is not getting the proper care it needs.

Here are the most common 9 reasons that can cause your Zebra plant leaves to turn brown.

Note: These are applicable to all the varieties and sub-varieties of the Zebra plants, including, but not limited to plants from the genus Aphelandra, Calathea and Haworthiopsis.

1. Watering Too Lightly

Being a succulent plant, the Zebra plant is sensitive to both over-watering and under-watering. Over-watering the plant can cause soil to log, whereas underwatering results in brown leaf tips.

If you water too lightly,  it only reaches the topsoil, causing the root area to remain dry. What little moisture on the topsoil dries off fast, and the plant won’t have enough water to sustain its photosynthetic process.

under watered zebra plant
Underwatered Zebra Plant(Source:u/crabbyhippie Reddit)

Solutions

  • The sweet spot for Zebra plant watering is deep watering the plant when the soil is dried off completely. This usually means watering your Zebra plant once every two weeks if you use a pot to grow it indoors.
  • It is ideal for keeping the soil consistently moist in the summer season to allow enough water for the plant to soak. You can allow the soil to dry off a bit between watering when winter comes.
  • In early winter, the growth of the plant will be minimal. It won’t need more water than usual. Watering less frequently during those times, not allowing the soil to dry off completely.
  • By the late winter months, you will see new growth on the plant. It is best to water it with a weak fertilizer solution once every two weeks.

2. Water-Logged Soil

The soil becomes water-logged when water is unable to drain away. Water-logging occurs due to overwatering and is common on heavy compact soil.

When water-logging occurs on Zebra plants, the first symptom is seen in its leaves. Dark areas might appear along the mid-leaf, and the tips will start to go brown. Prolonged exposure to water-logged soil will also damage the roots causing them to rot away.

Haworthia_limifolia
Healthy Haworthia Limifolia (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Solutions

  • Firstly, check if there are enough drainage holes in the pot. Provide adequate drainage to the plant by making small holes on the bottom side of the pot.
  • If the problem persists, then the next thing to consider is the compactness of the soil. When the soil is too compact, the water won’t be able to reach the roots properly. Likewise, if the soil is not compact, then it will result in overdraining of the water.
  • Succulents like Zebra plants best grow in well-drained aerated soil.
  • The best potting mixture to avoid water logging is
  1. 1 part peat
  2. 2 part potting soil
  3. 1 part sand
  4. 1 part perlite

This mixture will provide adequate drainage and aeration that will avoid water-logging as well as over-draining.

If you’d prefer to buy commercial soil, this soil mix is highly recommended as it has perfect pH balance, helps fight root rot, and is pathogen-free.

3. Direct Sunlight

Direct sunlight is the worst enemy for a succulent plant like the Zebra plant. Not only does it encourage excessive transpiration, but it also causes scorching of the leaves, causing them to turn brown.

Solutions

  • Turning red or white is a sign of stress for the plant, which clearly indicates excess sunlight. If your plant is at this stage, it can recover itself once you remove it from direct sunlight.
  • If your plant is indoors, move it to a location not exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Moving the plant to windows facing North is the most favorable option. While Southern windows have the brightest exposure to light, Northern windows have enough light to keep the plant blooming without burning the leaves.
  • If the plant is outdoors, move it to a shaded area such as under a tree canopy, under a porch, near a fence, or a wall. Another good option is to grow the plant inside a greenhouse to maintain the sufficient environmental conditions necessary for the flowers to bloom.

4. Air Currents Issues

Drought stress can occur in Zebra plants due to too much airflow.  Airflow from air conditioning, draft through open windows, draughts, or air current from heat sources can cause the plant’s leaves to dry out quickly, resulting in brown leaf tips.

Solutions

  • You should position the plant strategically to avoid any air currents. Although it can tolerate breezy conditions, it should not be placed anywhere with a high airflow rate.
  • If placed indoors, Zebra plants should be kept as far as possible from sources of air current like fans, air conditioners, or heaters.

Even if your plant is starting to show symptoms of brown leaf tips, following the aforementioned steps can help to reduce the signs of stress and revive the plant fully.

5. Potting Soil Repelling Water

Healthy soil contains a good amount of organic matter that helps aerate the soil and retain its moisture. On the contrary, dry soil results in hydrophobic soil that repels water.

Hydrophobic soil occurs in potting mixture due to low amount of organic matter. It accumulates a waxy residue on top of the soil that doesn’t allow water to seep in.

Here are some solutions to fix potting soil repelling water.

Solutions

a. Wetting Agent

If your Zebra plant doesn’t get the adequate amount of water it requires, it quickly dries out in the summer. A wetting agent can help retain the soil’s moisture and water retention capacity, allowing the plants to survive longer without water.

Commercial wetting agents are available in nurseries or garden centers, or you can buy them at Amazon. You can also use diluted dishwashing liquid or laundry water as a DIY wetting agent.

Be sure to use a biodegradable and environmental-friendly option when choosing your soap or dishwashing liquid to make a wetting agent.

b. Mulching

Mulch is a layer of material applied to the topsoil that helps retain moisture and improves the fertility of the soil.

Pine bark, wood chips, compost, manure, or other organic materials like straw, hay, whey, etc., can be used as mulch.

Soil-mixed-with-mulch
Soil mixed with mulch(Source: Pixabay)

In the absence of these organic materials, you can alternatively use marbles, pecan shells, gravels, or pebbles, which tend to be heavier and won’t be blown away even if placed near an airy place.

However, it’s suggested to use organic materials as much as possible as it provides food and essential nutrients to the plant required for its growth and sustainability.

c. Mycorrhizae

Mycorrhizae is a fungus present in the plant roots that helps the plant to retain additional moisture and nutrients. These fungi are more effective for absorbing nutrients and water than the root itself.

Adding this fungus to your Zebra plant can help to reduce its drought stress issue and ensure that your plant retains its green leaves.

If you want to know the science of how Mycorrhizae works, then you can click here for a full research article on its ability to improve moisture retention of soil.

You can find this fungus in packaged form at hydroponics stores. Or, you can also order one from Amazon.

6. Temperature Issue

Being succulent, the Zebra plant grows best in the temperature range of 68-75°F. If the plant’s temperature falls below 55°F, it can cause damage to the plant’s beautiful foliage.

A higher temperature than 80°F saps the moisture from the plant leaves, which results in the browning of the leaf tips.

Solutions

  • Avoid over-exposure to sunlight and try to keep it at a shady place as much as possible.
  • Keep the room temperature at about 70°F during the day.
  • At night-time, the 55-60°F temperature should be enough to maintain optimum temperature for your Zebra plant.

7. Low Humidity

Proper humidity is one of the key factors that affect the growth of a plant. Being a tropical plant native to Brazil, it seeks high humidity to maintain its beautifully textured leaves.

If the relative humidity falls below 30%, it will result in wilting and browning the leaf tips.

Keeping a humidity level of 40-80% will allow your Zebra plant to thrive beautifully. If your plant is near a vent, then it can be a threat to its survival.

Solutions

  • Keep your Zebra plant away from any direct lines of heat or vent.
  • You can retain the moisture in the leaves by misting them lightly. Avoid any standing water on the leaves of the plant as it can cause leaf-spot disease.
  • Placing the plant in a humidity tray with pebbles is a good option.
  • Keeping an electric humidifier is the best way to ensure that your plant gets the proper humidity it needs. You can check out good humidifiers on Amazon.
humidifier
Humidifier (Source:Amazon)

8. Over Fertilizing

Fertilizers are a must for Zebra plants as it takes a lot of food for a single flower from this plant to bloom.

Too little fertilizer causes the plant growth response to be poor, while over-fertilizing also causes a lot of damage to your plant like stunted growth, yellowing of leaves, wilting, brown leaf tips, and sometimes may result in the death of the plant.

Overfertilization also causes salt to build upon the top of the soil, blocking the water from seeping through. It makes it much harder for the plant to take up water resulting in drought stress.

Solutions

  • Fertilizing every 2-3 weeks is a must during the growing season to ensure that the flowers bloom consistently.
  • During winter, it won’t be necessary to fertilize the plant regularly. Instead, watering the plant with a weak fertilizer solution would be the appropriate thing to do.
  • Quick-release water-soluble fertilizers are the best for succulents like the Zebra plants.

9. Small Pot and Rootbound Plants

When succulent plants like the Zebra plant are kept in a small pot for a long duration of time, it can result in drought stress, inducing brown leaves.

Although it is not much common for Calathea and Aphelandra species, Haworthia can sometimes be affected by being root-bound.

Solutions

  • Check every year if your Zebra plant is starting to get root-bound. While repotting every year is not necessary, it is important to check if the roots are starting to overgrow, just to be on the safe side.
  • If you plan on repotting, the most favorable time is in the growing season. That means spring and summer.
  • The preferable pot size while repotting is only 1″ larger than the existing pot.

Brown leaf tips should not be confused with Brown leaf spots, as both of them are very different from each other. While brown leaf tips are caused by unfavorable environmental conditions, brown leaf spot is a result of diseases and pests which is a topic for next time.

Should the Brown Leaves of the zebra Plant be Removed?

Brown leaves of the Zebra plant should be removed as soon as possible as it leaches the essential nutrients from the plants that can be used elsewhere.

Dying brown leaves are also a point of attraction for unnecessary pests and fungus. As yellow and brown leaves won’t be turning green anytime soon, it is best to trim them away to help the plant send its energy to the healthy parts.

This step-wise instruction will help you remove the brown leaves without damaging the plant.

Step 1: Gather a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears. Sharp blades will help to minimize the damage to the plant cells allowing them to recover fast.

Step 2: To avoid the risk of transferring any plant disease, wipe both sides of the scissors or the shears with alcohol before and after using them.

Step 3: Locate all the leaves which are starting to show browning effects. If there are any fallen leaves in the soil, remove them gently without disturbing the healthy leaves.

Step 4: If the leaves are entirely brown up to the base, then cut it off completely. For leaves that are just starting to brown at the tips, remove just the affected part.

Pro Tip: Some gardening experts suggest leaving a small sliver of the brown area remaining on the leaf. It will help to avoid opening any fresh wound that might only cause further browning.

Watch a quick video tutorial on how to remove brown tips from the leaves.

Tips to Take Care of Zebra Plant

Here is a quick takeaway on the requirements for your Zebra plant.

Factors affecting Zebra plantOptimum Condition
Watering RequirementConsistently moist in the summer. Once every two weeks during winter.
Soil well-drained aerated soil. Multi-purpose or cacti soil can be used.
Sunlight Bright sunlight without direct exposure
TemperatureAround 68-75°F. Not less than 55°F.
HumidityAround 40-80% relative humidity. Not less than 30%
Fertilizer RequirementEvery 2-3 weeks during growing season. In winter, use a weak fertilizer solution.
Potting Should be done during growing season only when the roots start to overgrow.

Conclusion

The Zebra plant is a finicky plant that is hard to take care of. However, we have a saying that difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. The hard work and efforts that you put in caring for this plant will be well worth it in the end.

If you start being more observant, you will notice that the plant starts communicating with you. It tells you what it needs and what you should avoid. This is the fine line between an experienced grower and a novice.

With the right amount of water, proper soil, and suitable atmospheric condition, your Zebra plant will continue to thrive beautifully, adding a touch of wilderness to your home.

When you notice that your zebra plant is losing its leaves, don’t panic! Use the tips from this article to Prevent Leaves Falling Off from Zebra Plant?

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