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How to care for Calathea

  • 4 min read

How to care for Calathea

With their brilliantly patterned oblong leaves, Calathea plants come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. As a gorgeous addition to your garden, these tropical plants are often called “prayer plants,” “zebra plants,” “peacock plants,” or “rattlesnake plants.” All varieties of Calathea can be differentiated by their gorgeous leaf patterns. While these plants do flower, Calatheas are best known for their unique foliage and resilience in tropical climates but can be tricky to raise outside their natural habitat. 

As tropical plants, Calatheas work best in the home as a statement piece and can grow up to two feet tall when mature. Outdoors, these plants are ideal as groundcover when placed between flowerbeds and under trees for shade. To learn more about how you can help your Calathea thrive, check out our guide below:

Toxicity

Before getting into general care, it’s always important to know how your new plants will affect other members of your household. Fortunately, Calathea plants aren't toxic to animals or people – they’re often used as food wrappings in Brazil! If you aren’t looking to eat your Calathea, keep it out of reach from any curious pets or children looking for a snack.

General Care

With a massive genus of over 300 species, you’re bound to find some Calathea plants that require slightly different care than others. Generally, though, Calatheas all have pretty similar care needs:

Light

For light, your Calathea needs dappled or filtered sunlight. Their leaves are sensitive to direct sunlight and can burn or fade when exposed to bright light. To ensure your Calathea receives enough sunlight and its leaves stay colorful, place it somewhere it’ll receive plenty of indirect sunlight: south, east, or west-facing windows work best, as long as your Calathea has a shaded reprieve during the afternoon. Every so often, rotate your Calathea to keep it from growing leggy.

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For light, your Calathea needs dappled or filtered sunlight.

Soil

Calathea plants need loamy soil with neutral pH loamy soil with a neutral pH. A peat-based potting mix works best since peat allows for more soil aeration while remaining nutrient-rich. Other nutrient-rich and well-draining potting ingredients include coir, compost, and pine bark, and perlite works best as an inorganic addition to your soil mixture.

Water

Calatheas prefer lots of water but don’t like to sit in wet soil. When you water your Calathea, do so regularly  (once every one or two weeks), but ensure any excess water drains from your soil completely. Depending on the humidity of your environment, your Calathea may need more frequent waterings.

Temperature and Humidity

As tropical plants, Calatheas thrive in USDA agricultural zones 11 and 12. These plants can tolerate temperatures between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit but wither if exposed to temperatures below 60 degrees. Best kept indoors, your Calathea will need moderate humidity of around 50% to thrive. To achieve a regular 50% humidity, use a humidifier or mist your plant regularly.

Fertilizer

For fertilizer, we recommend frequent feedings during the springtime growing season. Use a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer once a week during the growing season, but avoid feedings during the winter months.

Potting and Repotting

You’ll only need to repot your Calathea when the plant starts to become root bound. To ensure your colorful plant babies get the most out of their pot, use one that’s roughly 10% larger than your Calathea’s previous pot, preferably made from a porous material like concrete, terra cotta, or ceramic to improve drainage. In addition, make sure you repot your Calathea in the springtime. When you repot your plants outside of their growing season, they’ll take longer to recover from transplant shock, and since Calatheas don’t do well with sudden disruption, they may not survive an inopportune repotting.

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Calathea only need to be repotted when the plant starts to become root bound.
Photo by Ivan Pantic

Blooming

Calatheas are best known for their unique foliage, but they also flower! These plants tend to flower for around 2-3 months during the growing season and will only flower under specific growing conditions. To encourage blooming in your Calathea, slowly increase the amount of sunlight it receives and increase the area’s humidity from 50 to 60%. Ensure your environment is around a warm 75 degrees, and make sure your Calathea’s roots are wet but not soggy in between waterings. These conditions should be enough to get your Calathea sporting bright, colorful flowers that offset its leaves.

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These plants tend to flower for around 2-3 months during the growing season and will only flower under specific growing conditions.
Photo by DEA

Propagation

To propagate your Calathea, it’s best to work by dividing the plant during its growing season. To propagate via division, wait until your Calathea begins to spread by producing clumps around the root ball. Separate these clumps a day after watering, and plant them in a fresh pot of soil to propagate. Then, treat the separated section of the plant as its own little baby.

Common Pests and Complications

Calathea plants are subject to common houseplant pests like spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, and scale. If left overwatered, your Calathea might also become subject to fungal gnats, which prefer wet soil with poor drainage. 

Another common complication with Calatheas is their leaves losing their color and patterning. When this happens, your Calathea is getting too much sunlight. Simply relocate them to somewhere a bit shadier, and their patterning will return over time.

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