How To Grow and Care for Calatheas

Calatheas are among the most beautiful houseplants you can grow. They have the most spectacular leaves in dramatic colors and patterns, including pinstripes, fishbone-shaped markings, and even markings that look like a peacock’s tail feather.

These leaves can visibly move to follow the light, and fold up at night, only adding to these plants’ personality. 

They often produce small flowers, too, if the conditions are right.

However, many people who have tried to grow them in the past may tell you that your heart will get broken trying to care for them, as they have a reputation for being difficult to care for.

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to growing them, and these will help you massively when it comes to taking care of these gorgeous plants.

Here’s everything you need to know about calatheas.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About Calatheas

Calathea plants are sometimes known as prayer plants, as they open and close their foliage to adapt to light levels and different levels of moisture in the soil and the air. 

But this name can be confusing, as it can also refer to other plants in the Marantaceae plant family, which are related, but they come under the Maranta genus.

There are many types of calathea that vary in appearance, some with oval leaves, some with oblong or almost strap-like leaves, but nearly all have fascinating variegation in interesting patterns and bright colors, including purple, pink, red, orange, and white.

The undersides of the leaves are typically a different color, usually in purple, but they can be pink, red, or bright green.

On average, calatheas will reach between 1 and 3 feet tall indoors, but this depends on the variety you go for, as some can get larger than this. 

Are Calatheas Really That Difficult To Grow?

Calathea plants are native to tropical parts of the Americas, which can make it difficult for them to survive indoors. 

Our homes tend to be too drafty, too dry, and too dark for them, but there are things you can do to make sure that these beautiful plants thrive.

One thing that many people will tell you is that the foliage of a calathea plant is very delicate, and will often curl up and go brown without any visible reason for it.

There are two main reasons for this: the atmosphere is too dry, or you’re using tap water. One thing that calatheas don’t do well with is the chemicals in tap water, as this can cause the leaves to burn.

Instead, use distilled water, or cooled spare water from your kettle (left out in a spray bottle with the lid off for about a day) to keep the foliage bright and healthy. 

If you find that your home is too dry, use a humidifier, or grow calatheas in a mini greenhouse or terrarium to lock in the moisture in the air.

How To Grow Calatheas

Sunlight And Position

It’s a misconception that calatheas don’t like light. They love light, but they don’t do well with direct sunlight for very long. 

So the best place for a calathea is where it can get the most light possible, but the least amount of direct sunlight. 

Keep calatheas out of drafts and away from sources of heat, as this will make the air drier, and your plants will suffer for it. 

Humidity And Temperature Needs

The air needs to be relatively humid to stop the leaves of a calathea from curling, browning, and drying out.

Once a leaf has gone brown it won’t recover, so it’s best to prevent it where possible. Some calatheas need a humidity level of 50%, while others will need a much higher level of humidity, at around 60% to thrive.

These beautiful plants will grow best in temperatures between 65°F and 85°F. Anything below 60°F and you will start to see damage on your plant.

Soil Requirements

Calathea plants require well-draining soil with plenty of nutrients, but you could use a regular houseplant compost without any problems.

Should You Cut Back A Calathea?

Calathea plants do not need to be pruned. However, it’s a good idea to cut the flowers off once they have finished.

If your calathea plant has gone through a bad patch and all the leaves are burned, it’s worth cutting back the majority of the leaves, which will encourage the plant to produce more. 

How And When To Repot A Calathea

Repot your calathea plants in spring. Exactly when you will need to do this depends on the growing conditions and the size of the plant, but check your plant every year or so.

If roots have started to creep through the drainage holes, your calathea is ready to be repotted.

Only use one size upwards for a repot, and try not to disturb the roots too much. 

It’s worth noting that the foliage may droop for a few days or so, but treat it how you normally would, and it will eventually recover.

How To Make Sure Your Calathea Thrives

Be Consistent With Watering And Humidity

Make sure that you don’t let your calathea plant get too dry, in both senses of the word. The soil can’t completely dry out, and neither should the atmosphere get too dry.

Always check the soil to see if your calathea needs watering, about once a week or so. If the top two inches of the soil is dry, it’s time to water it.

Never water from the top of the plant, always the base to prevent any fungal diseases or problems. 

Don’t assume that because your calathea’s leaves have curled up, they need water. This can be a sign that they have been overwatered, or the light levels are low, and the plant has ‘gone to sleep’. 

However, too long without water means that the plant’s beautiful leaves will turn brown, so keep checking the soil!

It’s also worth keeping the humidity as consistent as possible, as extreme changes will have an effect on your calathea plants. 

Always scale back watering in winter, as calatheas tend to go dormant during this season, and won’t need as much water as they do when they are actively growing.

Should You Feed Calatheas?

Calatheas are delicate plants, and while they can benefit from an occasional feed, regular feeding can do some damage. 

It’s worth knowing that feeding calatheas too often can cause leaf burn. Always use a balanced but weak houseplant feed, at around half the recommended dose.

Too much fertilizer can also lead to a buildup of salt in the soil, which will need to be washed out, otherwise it can harm the plant.

Fertilize once a month or so during spring and summer, and don’t feed them at all in fall or winter.

How To Propagate Calatheas

Calatheas are propagated by division, and the best time to do this is when you repot the plant in spring. 

You will need to be gentle with calatheas, as they are quite sensitive! Gently separate the root ball into quarters or even half, making sure that each part has some leaves and roots.

Plant the divided parts into new pots with fresh soil, watering it if it was dry when you separated the plant.

It may take a while for the plants to show new growth, but don’t give up on them.

Growing Calatheas: Problems To Watch Out For

Calatheas are notorious for being tricky to care for, but once you know what they want, they aren’t that complicated to look after.

However, there are some problems that you do need to watch out for. 

Yellowing Leaves

If the leaves are turning yellow, this usually suggests that the position is too bright for the plant, or the water is too high in fluoride. 

Try moving your calathea to a shadier position, and use cooled kettle water or distilled water instead.

Brown, Curling Leaves That Are Drooping

If the leaves of your calathea are drooping, curling, and going brown, this means that the plant is too dry. 

Up the humidity by grouping a calathea together with other plants, water it regularly, and you can also mist it to temporarily boost the moisture in the air.

Pests To Watch Out For

You might see thrips, spider mites, mealybugs, or whiteflies on your calathea, especially when grown indoors. 

Sometimes an infestation can come out of ‘nowhere’, where your plant has been too close to an open window, or the pests were already in the soil.

The best way to deal with pests is to use a mild horticultural oil, insecticide soap, or you can use rubbing alcohol directly on the affected areas. 

One good way of keeping your calatheas happy and pest free is to mist the leaves (both the tops and the undersides), and then wipe the moisture away with a damp microfiber cloth, every week or so.

If you combine this with the optimal growing conditions, and avoid using tap water, your calatheas will be very healthy, and this will help avoid pests and diseases altogether.

Final Thoughts

Calatheas can be tricky houseplants until you understand what they need from their environment. The closer you can replicate their natural conditions, the better they will thrive.

It’s also worth mentioning that some calatheas are easier to look after than others. Probably the best one to start with is Calathea makoyana, or the peacock plant. It helps that this plant is quite forgiving (for a calathea) and is one of the most beautiful and widely-available varieties.

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