Aphelandra Squarrosa - Zebra Plants


Aphelandra squarrosa - Copyright: Gardeners' Dream



Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  3. Dormancy Period & Achieving Flowers
  4. Common Issues
  5. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity.

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Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Moderate
  • Aphelandra like bright, indirect light away from excessively dark situations. Although an hour or two of direct sunlight in the early morning is accepted, be sure not to fall in the trap of sun-scorch and dehydration. 
  • Provide near-constant moist soil, allowing the soil's top third to dry out in between waters. Reduce irrigations slightly further in the height of winter. 
  • Supplement at monthly intervals all year round, using a houseplant-labelled fertiliser to ensure quality foliage and flower development. 
  • Repot every two years during the spring, using a 'Houseplant' labelled potting mix.
  • Keep an eye out for Spider Mites & Mealybugs that'll hide in the plant's cubbyholes and underneath the leaves.
  • Unfortunately, Aphelandra usually only last a few years due to the species' tendency to die shortly (a year or two) after flowering. This is one of the reasons why finding them in garden centres is difficult, as the eventual death results in disappointment.
  • In the 'Dormancy Period & Achieving Flowers' section, familiarise yourself with the terms, 'bracts' and 'flowers' that make up the specimen's blooms.




Location & Light - 🔸🔸

Aphelandra prefer to be sat in medium light with the absence of deep shade. As you'll have to keep the soil relatively moist, the risk of soil mould and over-watering is considerably increased when maintaining too little light. 

Once the autumn kicks in, be sure to include an hour or two of direct light per day to get it through the dormancy period, lasting until the following spring. Remember - acute exposure to the sunlight during the spring or summer of more than an hour will negatively affect the plant.


Water - 🔸🔸🔸

Aphelandra are best kept in reliably moist soil, as inconsistent moisture levels may result in stunted growth and an unhappy plant. Allow the compost's top third to dry out in between waters in the growing period, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. Under-watering symptoms include a shrivelled stem, yellowing leaves, stunted inflorescences, little to no growth and dry, crispy patches forming on the leaf edges. These issues are usually caused by too much light/heat or forgetfulness. Remember, the brighter the location, the more watering you'll need to do. Over-watering symptoms include a weakened or rotten stem, no new growth, yellowing lower leaves and eventual plant death. Click here to learn more about root rot and how to address it!


Humidity - 🔸🔸🔸

Create a humidity tray to provide a moist and stable environment for your plant. If the surrounding saturation is too low or the heat too high, its leaf-tips may start to brown over and curl, especially in direct sunlight. Gently hose the foliage down from time to time to hydrate the leaves and keep the dust levels down.


Fertilisation - 🔸🔸

Supplement once a fortnight using a houseplant-labelled fertiliser, reducing this to monthly in the autumn and winter. Try not to under-feed your specimen as its rate of growth and flower lifespan may be hindered.




The striking contrast between the flowers and variegations



Dormancy Care & Achieving Flowers

Aphelandra will naturally flower across the summer months, lasting only a few days. Although the individual inflorescence isn't long-living, its bract that'll house the flowers will stay in colour for many weeks or months. (Have a look at the image below for visual reference).

For those in bloom, keep a reliable and consistent environment with a bright, indirect location with regard waters; never allow the soil to become dry. Follow the care tips provided above until your specimen enters the following autumnal months, before re-reading this section on winter care. 

If, however, yours is current flowerless, you must provide a cool autumn and winter period around 15℃ (59℉) to reinforce its dormancy. Keep the roots pot-bound to add further stress onto the specimen, which in turn will significantly heighten the chance of flowering. Blooms will generally appear in the summer, during the active growth season. 

N. B. - Each individual stem will only flower once, so if you only have already-flowered foliage, you'll have to wait until the following year for a new offset to appear. New juvenile stems will develop from late winter and could produce a bloom within the next summer if it reaches maturity. The following steps should be taken from early autumn until the end of winter. 


Sunlight & Location

Be sure to provide a bright location with little to no direct sunlight. Although the winter rays won't necessarily hurt the plant, be careful not to fall in the trap of sun-scorch and severe dehydration. Avoid deep shade and the use of artificial lighting at night or locations that boast temperatures higher than 18℃ (64℉).


Hydration

Reduce waters so that at least half of the soil becomes dry. It's essential to keep them on the drier side to life, as they'll think that hard times are ahead and therefore will need to pass its genes on to the next generation.


Occasional Feeds

During the autumn and winter, fertilisation should be performed at monthly intervals with a 'houseplant' feed. While the flowers are in development or in bloom, use a Tomato fertiliser to provide fortnightly nourishment of potassium.


Reduce Everything

This is to remind you that everything needs to be reduced - especially the temperature.


Temperature

This is the most significant step; reduce the temperature down by around 5℃ compared to the summertime or place in a room that's between 14º - 17℃ (57º - 62℉). You'll be at a significant disadvantage if the ambient temperature is kept constant throughout the year, as Aphelandraa will only respond in locations that have daily fluctuations of around 7℃. Never exceed the minimum temperature as it may lead to plant death or yellowed foliage at a bare minimum. If these steps are followed successfully, you could see a show of blooms in the following summer - but remember, dealing with nature may not always provide the results you'd relish.




The 'bract' is a modified leaf with the true flower in its axil. In some cases, as shown above, the bract can be much larger than the actual flower, which serves as an advertisement to airborne pollinators.




Common Issues with Aphelandra

Yellowing lower leaves could be a sign of over-watering, but equally is a byproduct of maturity. If the older leaves rapidly become yellow in quick succession, over-watering could be to blame. People don't realise that a plant's root system needs access to oxygen too; when soil is watered, the air will travel upwards and out of the potting mix. A lack of accessible oxygen for the roots will cause them to subsequently breakdown over the oncoming days. Click on this link to learn more about root rot and how to address it.

If your specimen is located in a dark environment with mould developing on the compost's top layer, use a chopstick to stab the soil in various areas gently. You should aim to enter the compost between the base of the plant and the pot's edge, as failure to do so may lead to damaging its lower portion. Leave the holes open for a few days before re-surfacing the soil to avoid it becoming overly dry. Not only will the gentle shift in the soil's structure mimic the work of small invertebrates in the wild (worms, etc.), but it'll also add oxygen back into the soil, thus reducing the risk of root rot. Repeat this monthly, or whenever you feel the potting-mix isn't drying out quickly enough.

Curled leaves and brown leaf-edges are the result of too little water and over-exposure to the sun. Aphelandra are best located in bright, indirect settings, and those that haven't acclimatised to the harsh rays will show signs of sun-scorch and environmental shock. A splash of winter sunlight is acceptable as long as the soil moisture is regularly observed, with complete avoidance once summer comes along.

Never situate it within four metres of an operating heat source, for instance, a heater or fireplace. Due to the heightened temperature, the plant will soak up far more moisture than those situated in cooler locations, increasing the chance of droughts and browning leaf-edges.

Transplant shock is a big issue when it comes to heavy-handed repots. Give the plant a good soak 24hrs before the action and never tinker with the roots, unless it has been affected by root rot. Typical signs of transplant shock are largely similar to under watering, with wilting, yellowing leaves and stunted growth among the most common symptoms. Click here to learn more about addressing transplant shock and a step-by-step guide on performing the perfect transplant.



Aphelandra squarrosa has 'opposite' growth, where the two leaves either side of the node grow simultaneously, a similar trait found in Acers. 



Origins

Aphelandra squarrosa was formally classified in 1847 by German botanist, Christian Nees von Esenbeck, during a voyage to South America. At one stage though, it was placed under the genus of Ruellia, for twenty years before finally resting in its current name. Aphelandra refers to the single-celled anthers of the flower, whereas squarrosa describes the square-like positioning of the bracts when fully developed.


The Distribution of Aphelandra squarrosa.


Temperature

14° - 27℃   (57° - 80℉)
H1b  (Hardiness Zone 12)  - Can be grown outdoors during the spring and summer in a sheltered location whilst nighttime temperatures are above 12℃  (54℉),  but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure more than an hour of direct sunlight a day as it may result in sun-scorch. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors.


Spread

The overall size can be up to 1m (3ft) in height and 0.5m (2ft) in width. The ultimate size will take between 2 - 5 years to achieve when repotted biannually, with several new leaves unfurling per annum.


Pruning & Maintenance

Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean scissors or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.


Propagation

Via Seed or Stem Tip Cuttings.

Stem Tip Cuttings (Moderate) - This method is an easy way to duplicate the original plant. Stems that are at least 10cm (4 inches) in height and part of an established plant are most successful. To avoid making a mess of the serrations, use a clean pair of scissors and cut 8cm down from the stem's end, dipping the wound in water and then into rooting hormone to speed the propagation. Rooting can take in the range of between two to eight weeks, depending on environmental factors and the cutting's quality. We recommend using a Cactus & Succulent-labelled potting mix, with a pot that has adequate drainage to avert the risk of blackleg. Provide a bright, warm setting of around 18℃ (64℉) with relatively moist soil, but be sure to allow the top half to dry out in between waters. You'll know if propagation is successful as the leaves will stay green and firm, along with small roots developing from the callous (dried wound). New foliar growth will emerge from the nodes after around twelve weeks, but it may take longer if the conditions aren't optimal. After a month of solid new foliar growth, transplant into a slightly bigger pot and treat it like a mature specimen with the care tips provided above.


Flowers

As mentioned in 'Dormancy Care & Achieving Flowers', the actual flower will only last a few days; it's the yellow bracts which will provide the colour for several weeks. Swipe up to learn more about their flowers, and how to achieve a sensation bloom!


Repotting

Repot every two or three years in spring using a 'Houseplant' labelled potting mix and the next sized pot with adequate drainage. Aphelandra are far better potbound for several years due to the heightened risk of root rot and repotting-issues (like transplant shock) - so only repot if you feel it's wholly necessary.

Hydrate the plant 24hrs before the tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those situated in a darker location, introduce extra amounts of perlite and grit into the lower portion of the new soil to downplay over-watering risks. Click here for a detailed step-by-step guide on transplantation, or via this link to learn about repotting with root rot.

If you're still unsure of what to do, never hesitate to send us an email or direct message to get our expert advice on transplantation.


Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, scale, thrips & whitefly. Common diseases associated with this species are root rot, red leaf-spot, heart rot, botrytis & southern blight - click here to learn more about these issues.


Toxicity

Not known to be poisonous when consumed by pets and humans. If large quantities are eaten, it may result in vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite.


Retail Locations

Online Stores.



If you need further advice with indoor gardening, never hesitate to send us an email or direct message via the Instagram Page. This could be about your own specific plant, transplantation into a bigger pot, pests or diseases, terrarium ideas, & more!



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