Tips On Calathea Plant Care – Stunning Exotic Foliage

Hailing from South America, Calathea (ka-LAY-thee-uh) are herbaceous perennial tropical plants winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 11 through 12. In most areas, it is kept as a houseplant. 

Calathea plant growing as a ground coverPin
Feather pattern foliage of Calathea plants | image: PlantCareToday

There are more than 300 different Calathea varieties of this lovely indoor plant and each of the Calathea species has its own descriptive common name, such as:

  • Calathea Peacock Plant
  • Rattlesnake Plant – Calathea Lancifolia
  • Eternal Flame
  • Prayer Plant
  • Zebra Plant (Calathea Zebrina)

These interesting, attractive plants are members of the Marantaceae family of plants. 

Calathea Plant Care

How to care for your Calathea | Grow at Home | RHS

Size & Growth

These fast growing tropical plants typically attain a height of 1’ to 3’ feet with an equal spread.

Calathea leaves are large, oblong and boldly marked in a wide variety of striped patterns and colors ranging from lilac to very deep green.

Many varieties have leaves with contrasting topsides and undersides. Most have attractive, contrasting veins. Calathea warscewiczii has striking foliage with a velvety touch and feel to the leaf. 

The leaves of many varieties fold up at night and unfurl in the daylight.

This phenomenon is part of the circadian rhythm of the entire family of plants. This action is known as nyctinasty, and is caused by changes in water pressure in the nodes (pulvini) located at the leaf base. These movements help these forest-floor dwellers take the greatest advantage of every ray of light.

Flowering & Fragrance

Depending upon the variety, these plants may produce white, yellow or purple flowers in the summertime. The plants’ botanical name means “a basket” and is a reference to the basket shape of the flowers.

Flower of Calathea Crocata also known as the Eternal FlamePin
Calathea Crocata (aka Eternal Flame)

Light Requirements & Temperature

These jungle plants can do well in any consistently warm setting that provides indirect lighting ranging from full shade to partial sun light.

Generally speaking, Calathea prefer temperatures ranging from 70° to 85° degrees Fahrenheit. They can tolerate occasional lows of 60° degrees Fahrenheit, but this is not recommended. 

Protect your plant from both cold and hot drafts. Calatheas do well in a north facing window.

Watering & Feeding

Monitor the soil closely and keep it moist, not soggy. Your watering schedule will vary depending upon a number of factors such as sunlight exposure, the time of year and the amount of humidity in the air.

Calathea is picky about the type of water used in watering. Calatheas do not like fluoride, chlorine, or bromine. This makes most city tap water a No-No.

If possible use room temperature reclaimed rainwater, well water, or distilled water on your plants. Do not use filtered water that has been processed through a water softener.

Try to keep chemicals and salts out of the water and your Calatheas will do great.

Read this article on Calathea Watering and Why It Is SO Important 

These jungle tropicals like high humidity. For this reason, a warm, kitchen windowsill or a bathroom setting may be an ideal location. You can also keep humidity levels higher around plants by grouping them together, providing a pebble humidity tray and/or using a humidifier.

During the spring and summer months, give your plants a light feeding of any general, liquid houseplant fertilizer (NPK 10 – 20 – 10) on a monthly basis. Do not fertilize during the winter months.

Soil & Transplanting

Plant Calathea in slightly acidic (6.5) moist, well draining soil. A potting mix with a high peat content will help keep the right amount of moisture around the plants’ roots. African Violet potting soil is a good choice.

Pot your Calathea in a container that has ample drainage holes. Use of a synthetic container (e.g. plastic or resin) will help keep the soil moist.

Blooms of the Calathea crotalifera (Rattle Snake Plant) Pin
In Hawaii, Calathea crotalifera (Rattle Snake Plant) – Image: wikimedia.org

How Often Should You Repot Calathea?

When your plant outgrows its pot, it is time for repotting. Be careful not to over pot. Just move up to the next size.

Healthy plants can be repotted annually or semi-annually during the spring and summer months. Be sure to repot using a new potting soil mix. 

Repotting time is the perfect time to propagate plants by dividing them and replanting them.

This is a great way to get more plants to enjoy and share. However, keep in mind that your young new plant will not be as bushy and lush as your old plant.

Calathea grows fairly quickly, so young plants should fill out and look attractive in a short period of time.

Grooming & Maintenance

Watch the leaves for signs of trouble. If they curl up or dry out around the edges, increase watering. If lower leaves begin to yellow, reduce watering.

In either instance, trim off dead, dying or damaged leaves. Remove spent flowers as needed in the summertime.

More on Curling Calathea Leaves and the cause of Prayer Plants Leaves Turning Yellow

Popular Varieties of Calathea To Grow and Collect

  • Calathea Medallion
  • Pinstripe plant Calathea Ornata
  • Calathea Roseopicta
  • Calathea Freddie
  • Calathea Orbifolia

How To Propagate Calathea

When your plant outgrows its pot, you may wish to propagate it by division. To do this, you would simply remove the plant from its existing container. Shake off excess soil from the roots so that you can see where it will be easy to separate them.

You may be able to simply gently separate them with your fingers. You may need to use a very sharp, sterile implement to separate them. 

Once you’ve divided your plant into 2 or more plants, you can plant each one in its own new pot.

Details on Calathea Propagation here

Calathea Pest or Disease Problems

Harsh, direct sunlight will burn the plants’ leaves. Too little light will cause leaves to have muted colors and indistinct variegation. Bright, indirect sunlight encourages healthy growth.

  • Too much fertilizer can also cause leaf burn.
  • Excess water will cause root rot and problems with fungal infection.
  • Too little water or too little humidity naturally causes wilted, or dry leaves.
  • Under watering also makes Calathea susceptible to infestation by spider mite and mealybugs.

Are Calathea Plants Poisonous?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Calathea is a non-toxic plant to cats, dogs, horses, and people. [source]

Related: Are Pray Plants Safe For Cats?

Is The Calathea Considered Invasive?

Although these fast growing tropical plants are not listed as invasive, it stands to reason that care should be taken to prevent unwanted spread when planting them outdoors in a tropical setting.

Calathea Plant Problems

As with all plants, when you provide optimum, consistent care you should not encounter too many problems. Most Calathea challenges are caused by too much or too little water or light and/or improper ventilation and temperature control. Here are several of the most common maladies.

What to do about poor growth and brown leaf tips or edges:

If your plant is growing poorly and the leaves have a crispy brown edging, lack of humidity is usually the issue.

Remember these tropical plants need constant warmth and humidity to thrive. Without it, the leaves will just look raggedy. To treat this problem, trim the brown edges off carefully and improve warmth and humidity levels.

What to do about spotted curling leaves and lower yellow leaves:

When the leaves are spotty, curling and yellowed, it means you are not watering enough. Remember as a tropical plant Calatheas like moist soil. Keep the potting mix uniformly moist for the entire growing season. Repotting into a self-watering container can help tremendously with this problem.

What to do about droopy leaves and rotten, limp stems:

When there are signs of fungus and rotting, it may mean that you are watering too much. Again, a self-watering container can help with this.

It may also mean that your plant is too cold or experiencing too much air movement or cold drafts. Move your plant to a sheltered, warm setting away from drafts.

What to do about washed out, faded leaves:

Poor leaf coloration can occur because of improper lighting. Either too much or too little light will cause loss of color and pattern.

Most of the time, exposure to direct sunlight is the problem. Evaluate your Calathea care and lighting situation. Make corrections so that your plant receives bright indirect light and no direct sunlight.

What to do about gray mold (Botrytis):

Sometimes you can go overboard with the humidity levels. If you keep your plant in a very muggy atmosphere, the result can be a mold attack.

If you see spots of gray mold on your plants, trim back the affected area and provide some gentle ventilation.

Place a small fan set on low near your plants. Don’t put the breeze directly on them. Set up your fan so that it provides gentle circulation for the entire area.

Why Is My Calathea Sticky?

If you notice your Calathea has sticky leaves often under the leaves your plant may have plant scale insects. Learn more about this problem of Calathea sticky leaves and how to fix it.

Suggested Calathea Uses 

In non-tropical settings, Calathea are kept as greenhouse, house or office plants. In settings such as South Florida and Hawaii, they make attractive landscape plants and can make a nice, tall groundcover plant at the front of a shrub border.

Other Attractive Members of The Marantaceae Family

Interesting leaves of the Burle Marxii Calathea aka the fishbone prayer plantPin
Fishbone prayer plant. Interesting design on the leaves of Burle Marxii Calathea

Conclusion

Calathea is a very attractive plant native to Africa and the tropical areas of the Americas. Although on most varieties, the flowers are quite inconspicuous, the beautifully marked foliage in shades of green, pink and white more than make up for this.

These warmth and humidity loving plants can grow successfully outdoors in Florida and other tropical regions of the US.

Otherwise, they do very well as houseplants and greenhouse plants.

They also enjoy spending the late spring and summer months outdoors as long as they are not exposed to direct sunlight.

With the right combination of humidity, warmth, water and well-drained soil, you can enjoy great success with flashy Calathea.

The Calathea is one of over 35+ indoor plants for the home we’ve selected.

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