Four different genera share the name of prayer plant: Calathea (aka Goeppertia), Ctenanthe, Stromanthe, and Maranta. Maranta’s (especially Maranta leuconeura) are the most popular.
The good news is all varieties of prayer plant that have this name also share a lot in common, including habits and care.
These plants get the nickname of prayer plant because their leaves fold vertically at night, causing them to resemble hands in a prayer pose.
They’re popular in shade gardens and often make great hanging basket displays.
But something else they tend to have in common is their watering needs, with a low tolerance to too much or too little.
Watering Prayer Plants
As mentioned, many plants share the name prayer plant, but they have very similar care.
Understanding how to water one will generally carry over to the rest, with very little variation.
When to Water Prayer Plants?
One of the biggest mistakes people make is watering their plants by the calendar.
Plants let you know when they need a drink, either by doing a finger test on the soil or (in more extreme cases) by changes in their leaves.
Something to keep in mind is that the potting soil of a prayer plant can affect water content.
To a lesser extent, Peat moss and other organic material will retain water, while aggregates such as coarse sand or perlite will aid in drainage.
Another factor affecting soil moisture is sunlight, with direct sunlight or low humidity causing water to evaporate faster.
This is why you should always use the aforementioned finger test.
In the case of prayer plants, they usually need watering when the top ¼ of the pot’s soil is dry.
Test by sticking your finger in the soil and water if it’s dry more than 1 to 2″ inches down.
How to Water Prayer Plants
Most plants don’t like their leaves getting wet, and prayer plants aren’t much different.
NOTE: Always use rainwater or distilled water when watering prayer plants. More details on why the types of water matters here.
Always try to water the plant from just above the soil level without splashing when watering.
As with most plants, watering from below is inefficient and can make it harder to judge when your prayer plant needs to drink, so try to avoid doing it.
By far, the best method of watering for most plants (including prayer plants) is the soak-and-dry method, which means allowing the soil to first dry to a certain depth, then giving it a slow soak.
Pour the water directly onto the soil, working your way around the plant while avoiding any splashes.
Continue this process until water seeps out of the container’s drainage holes, then stop.
Not only does this method ensure your prayer plant is getting just the right amount of water, but it also helps to flush toxic mineral wastes from the soil.
Much like your infant or toddler, prayer plants have certain signals they give you that something’s wrong.
Unfortunately, these signals are just as limited as your infant’s five “word” cries or toddler’s grasp of sign language, and this is very apparent when the plant is signaling that it has a water problem.
Signs of a Watering Issue
Your prayer plant’s signs for many problems tend to be the same, but combinations of signs make it easy to diagnose the real issue.
In the case of a prayer plant, three main signs relate to watering.
The first sign is browning of the leaves, which can result from both overwatering or underwatering.
The second sign is when the leaf tips begin to turn crispy, usually in conjunction with the browning, and usually means either “My roots are dry” or “The air is too dry.”
The third sign is leaf curl, which is usually a sign of dehydration.
Two or more of these symptoms are a good sign the problem is water-related.
Do a finger test when you see the signs, and if the soil is wet, you’re overwatering, but if it’s dry, you’re likely underwatering.
If the soil is damp but not wet, start checking your plant for possible infestations or infections.
What Happens if Prayer Plants are Underwatered?
As mentioned, your prayer plant will let you know it’s too dry by a combination of browning, crisping, and/or curling leaves.
One possible early sign of thirst is often confused with the prayer plant’s natural movements, namely drooping.
When you see drooping leaves at a time when the plant normally doesn’t droop, don’t rush to water without doing a finger test first, as this can lead to overwatering.
Once you’ve confirmed with a finger test that this is a case of underwatering, you can easily fix the situation by simply watering the plant.
Underwatering usually has temporary effects if remedied early on but can kill your plant if not addressed.
What Happens if Prayer Plants are Overwatered?
Overwatering is a far more serious problem, with general signs as underwatering.
If the soil proves wet to the touch (and not just damp), you’ll need to act to prevent deadly root rot.
That could simply mean letting the plant dry out when caught early enough.
However, in more extreme cases, you will want to immediately transplant the prayer plant to a pot of fresh soil and ensure the new soil has perlite or another aggregate present.
Do Prayer Plants Have Special Water “Type” Needs?
As with most plants, prayer plants don’t get along with tap water.
This is especially true of Maranta leuconeura, which is highly sensitive to lime.
Natural rainwater is always best, but you can also use distilled water.
Adding a little hydrogen peroxide every few waterings will help emulate the effects of rainwater.
Keep in mind that diluted liquid fertilizers will count as watering unless otherwise instructed on the packaging.