If you’re into striking foliage, then Calatheas are for you. Members of the Marantaceae family, Calathea are tropical plants that hail from South America. These leafy plants are particular about some aspects of their care, but once you understand what they need, your plants will thrive. Here is what you need to know about Calathea care.
Types of Calathea
Calatheas have an upright growth habit, with leaves emerging from a central root ball. One stem generally produces two leaves. The foliage can be round, oval, or lance-shaped, but while the shape varies, all plants have lovely patterned foliage. The leaves also move throughout the day in a process known as nyctinasty. Foliage will fold down during the day, displaying its colorful patterns, but fold up in the evening. Many cultivars have a surprise in store, and the foliage features deep purple or magenta undersides for a stunning burst of color when the leaves are folded up. Some of the more well-known Calathea varieties include:
- Calathea concinna ‘Freddie’
- Calathea ‘Fusion White’
- Calathea lancifolia
- Calathea musaica
- Calathea orbifolia
- Calathea ornata ‘Pinstripe’
- Calathea roseopicta ‘Corona’
- Calathea roseopicta ‘Dottie’
- Calathea roseopicta ‘Rosey’
- Calathea veitchiana roseopicta ‘Medallion’
- Calathea rufibarba
- Calathea zebrina
Thoughts and Prayers
Calathea leaves in the folded-up position resemble hands in prayer, thus inspiring the common nickname, Prayer Plants. Prayer Plant is a term used to describe various plants, primarily members of the Marantaceae family. Notable genera in this family include Marantas, Stromanthe, Calatheas, and Goeppertias. Historically, Calatheas and Goeppertias were in the same family, but each had its own genus. Recent genetic testing has ruled that plants previously classified as Calathea are actually Goeppertias.
Many plant owners are unaware of this change, and old habits are hard to break, so the name Calathea is still widely used. I used the term Calathea since that is the more popular and widely used name. I tried to use the proper names in this article, but it can be hard to find a definitive listing of what plants are now Geoppertias, so forgive me for any naming errors — it is not intentional. Calathea and Goeppertias have similar care needs, so this guideline is still applicable even if you are unsure about what type of plant you have.
Calathea Light Needs
Medium to bright indirect light is necessary for proper Calathea care. Plants in low light will grow more slowly and may feature muted colors. Please note that new foliage may have a washed-out appearance, so don’t be alarmed if a new leaf unfurls and doesn’t look as bold and vivid as the mature foliage. Give the plant time, and the new leaf should blend in.
Bright light is a no-go for Calathea. The delicate leaves will burn if exposed to direct sunlight. Move the plant a few feet back from a South-facing window or locate the plant in an East- or West-facing window.
How Often to Water Calathea
Give your Calathea a drink when the top few inches of soil are dry. This tropical plant likes damp conditions, but overwatering is a serious problem. The best Calathea care can be undone by improper watering. Yellowing leaves and fungus gnats are signs a Calathea is overwatered. Feel the soil to determine the dryness and only water when necessary. Drench the soil when it is time to water, allowing water to drain through the container.
Calathea can be dramatic when thirsty, and the foliage may flop over. The plants can bounce back from severe dehydration. Soak the soil and give the plant time. The leaves should pop back up in a few hours. Allowing the leaves to droop is stressful for the plant, so try to avoid letting this happen, but know there is a chance the plant will recover.
Water with high mineral content can be a problem for most Calathea cultivars. Use filtered or bottled water, or fill a watering can and let the tap water sit overnight before using it to water your plants.
The edges of the leaves may dry out and turn brown when the plant is watered using hard water. Leaf damage caused by hard water looks the same as damage caused by low humidity, so it may take trial and error to determine the actual problem.
Best Soil for Calathea
Calathea care requires moist, well-drained soil. While this plant likes water, standing water will cause root rot, so excess water must be able to drain. Most potting mixes are suitable for Calathea, but a slightly acidic blend or a mix that includes peat is a good fit.
Temperature for Calathea
It should come as no surprise that Calathea plants like warm conditions, given that they are tropical. Comfortable room temperature is good for these leafy beauties, so anything between 65° and 85° F is acceptable. A covered porch or patio is an excellent area for your Calathea during the summer. Wait until the temperature is consistently above 60° F before moving your Calathea outside.
Dampness or humidity is a big part of Calathea care. These tropical plants will take all of the humidity they can get. Most Calatheas like humidity above 50%, but they like humidity over 60% even more. You can still enjoy these lovely houseplants if you live in a dry climate or experience dry winters. A humidifier or a pebble tray with water are easy solutions to provide increased humidity and excellent Calathea care. Leaves will curl and turn brown along the edges when the humidity is too low.
Houseplants depend on you to provide nutrition, and routine fertilizer applications keep your Calathea happy and leafy. Balanced fertilizer applied every two weeks during the growing season supports new growth. Use a water-soluble fertilizer to ensure the roots soak it all up, and combine fertilizing with routine watering.
Remove damaged growth; otherwise, pruning is not a big part of Calathea care. Most Calathea owners have dealt with dried-out foliage caused by low humidity. Remove the entire leaf if more than half is brown and crispy. Remove a damaged leaf by trimming the stem as far back as possible without preventing future growth. If less than half of a leaf is damaged, just cut the damage off and keep the healthy part of the leaf.
Some plants bloom with proper Calathea care. Blooming Calathea plants send up flower spikes, and these stems can be removed when the blooms fade.
When to Repot Calathea
Roots peaking through the container’s drainage holes are the easiest way to know when a Calathea needs to be repotted. These beauties do not like to be root-bound, and growth will slow down if they need a new container.
Repot Calathea when the plant is actively growing. Select a pot that has drainage and is one to two inches larger than the previous container. The ideal container will provide a reasonable amount of room to grow. Select terra cotta or unglazed ceramic if you intend to plant your Calathea directly in a container.
Propagate Calathea through division. It’s easiest to divide a plant when repotting; the earlier the growing season, the better. Remove the plant from its container, gently remove the soil and separate the main plant into multiple smaller plants. You can cut the roots to separate plants as needed. Always use clean, sharp shears when trimming any part of a plant.
Newly separated plants need a container that is slightly bigger than the root ball. Give the plants fresh soil and keep the soil damp for the first couple of weeks. New roots should develop, and the new plants should acclimate after a few weeks. Once the plants are settled in, you can wait until the top few inches of soil is dry before watering.
Is Calathea Pet Friendly?
Calatheas are pet friendly, and these plants are safe in homes with cats and dogs. Be mindful if you have curious pets prone to nibble on foliage, but rest easy knowing Calatheas are not toxic.
Calathea Styling Tips
Pair Calathea with a subdued planter so the showy foliage stands out. Small Calatheas look darling on a desktop, while larger floor plants can anchor a big space. The warm tones of a wooden plant stand will complement the patterned foliage.
Calathea Care Tips
Humidity is the biggest challenge when caring for Calathea, but once you get a handle on that, these plants are easy to maintain. Calathea care is easy, but if you have trouble, just get back to basics. These lovely plants are beautiful and intriguing, and you may find yourself collecting Calathea once you learn how to care for them.