How to Grow and Care for Calathea

Calathea

Quick Overview

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Marantaceae
Sun Exposure: Partial sunlight, full shade
Watering: Heavy
Colors: Yellow, purple, white
Size: 2-3 feet tall
Hardiness Zones: 11,12
Soil Type: Moist but well-drained
Soil pH: 6.5
Propagation: Off-shoot division or leaf cuttings
Toxicity: Non-toxic

The beautiful Calathea plants originate in the jungles of the Amazon in South America. In their natural state, they grow very close to the ground, shaded beneath dense greenery.

Calatheas are simple to care for. But if they do not receive proper care, they will be sure to let you know. To keep your calathea happy, make sure it is in a pot that drains well, and keep the soil moist (not too dry or wet). Since it is by nature a lower, shade growing plant, it does not like direct sunlight. But it does enjoy bright spaces with indirect sunlight. Your calathea will thrive in more humid environments and does not adapt well to drastic temperature changes, so be sure to keep it away from vents. 

It may take some trial and error to figure out the basics of what your calathea plant prefers. But once you figure out the basics, calathea’s are very simple to care for. Keep reading to learn tips and tools as you get started! 

Related: Calathea Varieties

Calathea

About Calathea Plants

Calatheas are known for their bold patterned, oval-shaped leaves that come in various shades of green. Some varieties boast a deep purple color beneath their leaves that is visible when the leaves “close” each night. 

This nightly folding of the leaves is one of the trademarks of calathea plants. Their leaves point up at night and droop during the day. For this reason, some varieties are referred to as prayer plants because the leaves mirror praying hands at night when they point upwards. 

They are also often sometimes referred to as cathedral plants, rattlesnake plants, and peacock plants due to their colorful patterns. 

While they do bloom in the wild, most calatheas do not flower as houseplants. There is an exception in the C. crocata species, which can produce a lovely yellow/orange flower. 

Related: Calathea Varieties

Calathea

Watering Your Calathea

Calatheas can be temperamental when it comes to their watering preferences. They do not like soggy soil, but they also cannot tolerate dry soil.

How Often to Water a Calathea Plant

As a rule of thumb, most calatheas should be watered weekly in the summer months and a little less during the winter months. Though this will vary based on size, how much sunlight the plant gets, and the local climate. 

Before watering your calathea, check the top inch of soil with your finger. If it is moist, you can leave the plant be. It does not need water. If the soil is damp or dry, water it.  

Calatheas do not like sitting in excess water. So when you water your plant, water it thoroughly, but be sure that it has good drainage. Calatheas hate having “wet feet.”  

You might consider using the bottom watering method as an alternative. This method often better controls for overwatering. 

What Kind of Water Should You Use? 

Calatheas are more sensitive than other plants to the chlorine and fluoride that is in most tap water. Filtered water or fresh rainwater is better for your plant. 

You will be able to see the effects of tap water on your calathea if you use it regularly. High concentrations of chlorine can cause the tips of the leaves to brown (though this is not the only reason tips of leaves brown).  

Some say that letting your water rest overnight will allow the chlorine to dissipate. But with new chloramination techniques that cities are using, this is no longer true. 

Overall, filtered or distilled water for your calatheas is best. You can also purchase reverse osmosis water or collect rainwater to use in your watering routine. 

Calathea

Soil

Calatheas like moist soil but not wet soil.

  • Be sure to choose lightweight soil that absorbs moisture but that also allows the soil to drain well. African violet potting soil is a good option.
  • To increase drainage, put clay pebbles or gravel at the bottom of the pot.
  • You can also add perlite to the soil mix to make it more porous. 

Humidity & Temperature 

Calatheas love humidity, which, as you might imagine, is reminiscent of their South American jungle origins. 

Try to place your calathea in an area with warmer temperatures (between 60-85 degrees F). Keep an eye out for vents or other drafts that will cause sudden temperature changes. That environment will be stressful for your calathea. 

Drafts or vents also tend to dry out soil and leaves, which is also bad for these humidity loving plants.

Your calathea will be happy if you keep it in a bathroom or another room with high humidity. You might also consider getting a mister or a humidifier for the room it is in, as well, especially if you live in a dry climate. 

Related: Calathea Varieties

Fertilizer

Calatheas do not need to be fertilized very often. 

If you like, you can try to boost growth with houseplant fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer). Fertilizing during the winter months will not be effective. When you do fertilize, try to do it on a monthly schedule. It should not need to be fertilized more than that. 

An all-purpose fertilizer will work well on your calathea. Choose something with a 10-10-10 composition of equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. 

As with all plants, it is good to keep a log of when you fertilize your plants to avoid over-fertilization. 

plant

Light 

Calatheas do not fare well in direct sunlight, which can bleach their leaves. They do like bright rooms, though, and indirect sunlight. Put your calathea in an area of the room that receives indirect light for most of the day (around 8 hours). 

As a general rule, the darker the leaves are on your calathea, the lower light needs the plant has. 

Pests 

Spider mites are calathea’s most common pest. They can be identified on your calathea by tiny, silvery dots or patterns on the plant. You may also find small webs underneath the leaves or in the corners of stems. 

If you notice spider mites on your calathea, rub the leaves down with neem oil. Neem oil serves as a general pest repellent and is effective in killing existing spider mites. It also prevents future mating and growth. 

Neem oil also repels aphids, mealybugs, other scale insects, and fungus gnats, another common calathea pest. 

Fungus gnats are not usually harmful to your plant, but they can be annoying. Adult fungus gnats look much like mosquitos. You will likely find them hopping around on your plant’s soil and buzzing around in the room your plant is in. 

Some types of fungus gnats can be harmful, though, as their larvae can eat through your calathea’s roots. You can read more about potential insects and mite problems affecting the Calathea in this production guide by the Mid-Florida Research & Education Center.

In addition to rubbing neem oil on your plant, sprinkle diatomaceous earth or beneficial nematodes onto your calathea’s soil. This protects its roots and prevents the growth of gnat larvae. 

Pruning Your Calathea

Calatheas do not need much pruning, apart from periodic removal of yellow or dying leaves. 

  • Do not be afraid of pruning away old leaves, as this can help generate new growth for your plant. If an old leaf needs to be pruned away, be sure to use a sharp pair of shears to make a clean-cut close to the soil’s surface. 
  • Brown tips can be common in calatheas, and some gardeners choose to trim these off with garden shears. Though, if you continue to see browning leaves on your calathea, it could be a sign of a deeper problem. 

If your calathea is a variety that does flower, help your plant by trimming the flower stems from the plant once they have faded. 

Calathea

Propagation

The most reliable way to propagate calathea is by division in the spring or summer. 

As your calathea grows, it will have little off-shoots of growth. You can repot your plant in a larger pot as it grows, or you can divide it into separate plants by dividing these off-shoots. 

To divide your calathea, separate the roots of the newest growth from the main body of the plant. You will need to take the plant out of its pot to do this. You may need to use shears to release the roots of the new plant from the existing root system. 

Be sure to water your plant well the day before you divide it to reduce stress. 

It is recommended that newly divided plants be covered with plastic to keep them warm and increase humidity. Once new growth is spotted, the plastic can be removed. 

Some calathea owners have success with water propagation by cutting a leaf off right beneath a node and placing it in water. However, this method is not the most reliable, and new plants tend to do better when they have existing root systems. 

Repotting Your Calathea

It is a good idea to repot your calathea annually to ensure that the soil remains nutritious and that the plant has enough space to thrive.  

Be sure not to put your plant in too large of a pot, however, as this can cause extra absorption of water and lead to soggy soil.

Use a well-draining pot for your calathea and choose soil that is lightweight and porous to encourage draining. 

Calathea Growth Cycle 

Calatheas, if given space, can grow to 2 feet tall before they stop. And, like many other lower light plants, they grow at a slow to moderately fast rate. 

Because of their size, they make a great option for office, house, or apartment spaces. 

Toxicity

A common question around calatheas is if they are toxic to pets and children. The good news is – no, they are not! Both your fur-babies and human babies are safe around calatheas.

They are tasty plants, though, so you may need to protect them from curious pets. 

plant problems

Troubleshooting Problems 

Calatheas can be finicky houseplants. Let’s see how to deal with some of the most common issues.

Yellow or Browning Leaves 

Yellow or browning leaves are normal for calatheas. But if your plant has yellow leaves in the middle, it could be a sign that something is wrong. 

This could be a variety of things – from harsh minerals in the water it is getting to improper light exposure. If the entire leaf of your calathea plant is browning, that is a sign of lack of humidity. 

Try adjusting the light or changing your water to observe what might be causing the plant distress. 

Most of all, be patient! While calatheas can be a little dramatic, they are resilient and are likely to bounce back as you figure out what they like best. 

Rolling Leaves 

Sometimes, too, you might notice that your calathea leaves are beginning to roll up. This issue is caused by a lack of humidity in the plant’s environment. 

Try misting the plant regularly enough to get the leaves wet, but not so much that there is standing water on it. 

You can also move the calathea to a room that has higher humidity or add a humidifier nearby. 

Faded Leaves

Faded leaves can occur if your plant is receiving too much light. When calatheas get too much sunlight, it bleaches their leaves. 

If you notice pale leaves on your plant, try moving it to a location with more indirect light.

Pale leaves can also be a sign of too little fertilizer (i.e., not enough nutrients for the plant). If you notice this, add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer into your upcoming watering routine.  

Drooping Leaves

While many calatheas leaves droop throughout the day, excessive drooping can be a sign of too much water or that your plant is too cold. 

Move your plant to a warmer location and get in the habit of testing its soil before watering it to make sure it needs it. 

Final Thoughts

Calatheas are beautiful, eye-catching plants that are a great fit for any space. And, with so many different foliage patterns and colors, you will be sure to find something that suits your taste. 

While they can be fussy if not given proper water and nutrition, once you master the basics, they are simple to care for.  

Share what you’ve learned here on social media! And if you have any questions about calathea care, ask in the comments below!