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How to revive a zebra plant that’s drooping

Lush and exotic zebra plants (Aphelandra squarrosa) bring a tropical feel indoors with dramatic foliage and sunshine yellow bracts. 

Native to Brazilian rainforests, they crave warm, wet conditions and can be particular. 

One issue that crops up often is drooping leaves. But don’t fret if your zebra plant is looking a little sorry for itself. It may be nothing to worry about at all.  

Why is your zebra plant drooping?

It’s important to note the natural habit of these plants tends to be on the droopy side. Even if you think your plant is moping, it might be perfectly happy.

If the plant is new, it may be that you just aren’t used to its natural droop compared to your other plants. 

Take a look at the picture of a healthy zebra plant below. How does yours compare? 

zebra plant drooping

You can see that a good proportion of the leaves naturally point downwards, with just the uppermost leaves facing skywards.

Some plants are naturally droopier than this, while still being perfectly healthy.

However, if your plant looks distinctly more deflated, or is droopier than it used to be, it may need some help. The most likely issue is water.

Have the leaves suddenly wilted, or are drooping to excess?

Have you noticed your plant become noticeably droopier in the last day or so? Sudden or excessive drooping suggests the plant is short of water.

As a rule, zebra plants need water twice a week when actively growing (in spring and early summer). In their rest period, this can be reduced to once a week.

If you aren’t sure when you last watered, you can use the finger test to check the compost and see if it is getting enough.

Push in your finger – is the top inch still moist or has it dried out? These plants like their compost moist at all times, so if it feels arid and dusty, a good drink should help it recover.

You might also like: advice for fixing your limp peace lily.

Reviving an underwatered zebra plant

Give the soil a thorough soaking until water starts to drip through the pot’s drainage holes. Try to avoid spilling water on the leaves as best you can.

If you can, use soft filtered water at about room temperature. This is the closest thing to natural rainfall, which is what all plants love best.

Wait for the water to finish dripping through the drainage holes before returning the pot to its saucer, pebble tray or pot cover.

Zebra plants are quite thirsty, but like most houseplants don’t take too well to waterlogging. The pot needs to be well drained so roots aren’t left sitting in sodden soil.

After a good water, you should find the plant perk up remarkably quickly. It’s quite possible for it to look much happier in a matter of hours.

What if watering doesn’t work?

If your plant doesn’t start looking like its old self again after a thorough water, the most likely explanation is overwatering.

Ironically, plants tend to exhibit very similar symptoms when they’re being overwatered and underwatered.

If you’ve been a little too keen with the water, and soil has been kept on the soggy side, this can suffocate your plant’s roots.

Ultimately, if not addressed this can lead to root rot. Roots will look brown and mushy – and won’t smell too pleasant either!

When you did the finger test, was the soil already wet? Adding more water in this case is only going to make things worse.

If the roots have been subjected to too much water and succumbed to root rot, the plant has sadly gone past the point of no return.

But if the soil wasn’t wet when you checked, there are a couple of other reasons the leaves may be drooping.

What else could cause the drooping

Has the flower bract just started to fade? This is often accompanied by the lower leaves drooping or falling off, which is quite normal and no cause for alarm.

Could it be possible you’re feeding the plant too much? Overfertilizing a zebra plant can make the lower leaves droop and fall off too.

If you’re feeding the plant at all in winter, or more than 1-2 times a week in spring and summer, that could be the problem. Drop the feeding for a while and see if your plant rallies.

I know it can be a real heart-sinker when a favourite plant starts looking poorly, so I hope you now feel a little reassured. Most of the time, there’s no need for alarm if you find your zebra plant drooping. Think of it as a challenge being set – a riddle you can solve by a simple process of elimination. And remember, your plant is rooting for you too – good luck!

Photo by dayofthedreamweavers on

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