Calathea Guide: How to Take Care of a Calathea Plant

Calathea Guide: How to Care for Your Calathea Plant

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The leaves of a calathea, with their intricate, bold patterns, are some of the most striking and beautiful in nature. And they’re more than just a pretty face; calatheas make absolutely wonderful house plants with their compact size, preference for indirect light, and indoor air purification… but they can be a little tricky to care for. Don’t worry, though. Our calathea guide has you covered: we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about raising a thriving plant, including light, water, fertilizer, soil, propagation, pests, disease and repotting tips.

Data Table

  • Common Name(s): Calathea, named cultivars including Freddie, Rosie, Dottie and Network
  • Scientific Name: Marantaceae calathea  
  • Ease of Care: Medium
  • Light: Bright, Indirect
  • Water: Frequently
  • Temperature: 65 – 80 F
  • Height: < 3 Feet
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Pest: Spider Mites, Aphids, Scale
  • Disease: Root Rot, Mosaic
  • Toxicity: Nontoxic to people and pets

Calathea Benefits

Obviously, you will benefit from getting to see your gorgeous calathea plant every day, but did you know that just being around plants can make you happier?

Because of their ability to brighten up rooms, and the sense of fulfillment they give successful gardeners, plants improve your mood, releasing chemicals like serotonin in the brain.

They can also improve your ability to concentrate. A study by The Royal College of Agriculture in Cirencester, England found that students who were surrounded by plants in class were 70% more focused than students who were not.

So yes, house plants are mentally beneficial but don’t sleep on their positive physical effects. They filter out air pollutants, increase the amount of oxygen, and boost the humidity content in your home helping you sleep better and stay healthy.

calathea dottie zebrina silvia rattlesnake plant cultivars

Calathea Care

These tropical plants love warm, humid spaces that have bright indirect light and limited water. Below are specific care instructions for helping your calathea plant flourish.

Light

Calathea plants love bright, indirect light, which is one of the many reasons why they make such awesome house plants. Find a shaded spot in a sunny room on a table or shelf for your calathea and it will thrive.

It’s very important that you only let indirect and dappled light touch your calathea. If your calathea plant is exposed to direct light its leaves will become burnt and lose their coloring.

Water

Keep your calathea’s soil moist but never soggy. It can be a fine line to walk, but when in doubt, underwater. Calatheas aren’t a particularly thirsty plant and too much water can easily cause root rot for them.

Use water that has purified, like distilled water, to feed them. You can use tap water but let it sit out for a night before use so the chlorine in it can dissipate.

Temperature and Humidity

The perfect temperature range for calatheas is between 65 – 85 F. Your calathea will react very negatively to the temperature dipping below 60 F, or to cold drafts, so keep it away from doors and open windows in the winter. Calatheas love humidity so keep them near other plants, sit them on top of a humidity tray, or gently mist them every week.

    Humid-Grow Humidity Tray

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    Your indoor plants will remain fresh and healthy. You should leave a little water in the tray all the time so that as the water in the tray evaporates it will create a constant humid environment for the plant and help offset the loss of moisture through the leaves. Also, are great for using under hanging grow lights.

Container and Soil

The soil you use for your calathea should be a light, well-draining potting mix. Again, you want to walk a fine line, ensuring the soil retains water but also drains well. Your container should have adequate drainage holes to prevent standing water and soggy soil. Calatheas also do well in bottle gardens and terrariums.

Fertilizer

Calatheas don’t require a lot of fertilization. Feed your calathea a liquid fertilizer diluted to ½ strength once a month during the growing season, skipping winter and fall. Water before fertilizing to avoid burning your plant’s roots. We like a multi-use marine fertilizer for most houseplants because its safe for plants, pets, and people, doesn’t create mineral buildup in soil, and is eco-friendly in production and use.

    Marphyl Marine Phytoplankton Liquid Organic Soil Enhancer

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    Use on houseplants, vegetables, flowers, lawns, trees, hydroponics. 100% natural, certified for organic use by OMRI, eco-friendly, non-GMO. Marine phytoplankton (micro seaweed) are micro algae full of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Naturally rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorus & Potassium. Give the growth and health your plants deserve.

Pruning

Your calathea does not require extensive pruning. All you have to prune to keep your plant healthy and presentable is dead and dying leaves that have turned brown or yellow. Use sharp, clean pruners or scissors to cut the leaf at its base where it joins the plant’s main stalk. If a leaf only has brown edges you can trim them away with scissors following the leaf’s natural curve.

Calathea Propagation

The best way to propagate calathea plants is through division.

Propagate when you are repotting your plant. Calatheas should be repotted at least once every couple of years at the beginning of the growing season. Repotting and dividing your calathea can shock its system, so doing them at the same time reduces how many times you have to stress out your plant.

Look for the natural separations in the plant’s roots, being gentle while you search and split.

calathea pinstripe plant foliage closeup

Plant the newly divided plant sections in pots with fresh soil and take care to keep them warm and moist, providing them with reduced light and humidity. To keep them properly humid, cover them in plastic.

Within two to four weeks they should adjust, and you can treat them like your old calathea plant. Congratulations! Your calathea just multiplied!

Calathea Varieties

Calathea varieties all have eye-catching foliage but greatly differ in the patterns and colors they sport. Below are the best and most popular calathea varieties you can grow indoors.

Pinstripe Plant

My favorite calathea is the pinstripe plant (shown right). The swirl of white, pink, and emerald green is completely stunning, forming a feather-like pattern that will catch eyes and inspire praise. Its leaves can grow to be over a foot long, but the plant itself rarely surpasses two feet tall. Plant it in fertile, well-drained soil, in a spot with warmth, humidity, and protection from direct sunlight and you should run into few problems with your pinstripe plant.

Peacock Plant

This plant is pretty as a peacock with a white and green pattern on the top side of its leaves that contrasts beautifully with the striking reddish-purple coloring on their underside. Its beautiful foliage is oval-shaped and can grow to be 12 inches long, while the plant itself will only grow to be 2 feet tall. Peacock plants thrive in fertile potting mix, high humidity, and temperatures between 65 – 70 F.

    Calathea Peacock (6-Inch Pot)

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    Calathea Plants, native to tropical South and Central America, Africa, and the West Indies, are grown primarily for their beautiful, brightly colored, upright, oval leaves. This Peacock Plant likes humid, warm environments and lots of bright, indirect light.

Jungle Velvet Plant

Also known as Calathea warscewiczii, this is one of the most popular calathea varieties. Its leaves do its name proud, with a velvety texture, and a light and dark green fishtail pattern that is reminiscent of the tropics. Because it’s in the prayer plant family, its large leaves, which can reach 3 feet in length, rise and close at night and reopen during the day. Set it up in a warm, humid spot with well-draining soil and it will flourish.

Calathea warscewiczii jungle velvet plant foliage closeup

Zebra Plant

As its name would imply, the Calathea zebrina has dark green striped markings on its leaves that look similar to the pattern of a zebra. The long leaves, which can reach a foot in length, complete the prayer ritual at night, rising and folding. This evergreen perennial is one of the taller calatheas growing to be three feet tall. Provide your zebra plant with bright, filtered light, humidity, and fertile soil, regularly flushing it to remove salt build-up, and it will be happy.

white fusion calathea indoors variegated cultivarWhite Fusion Calathea

A rarer cultivar, White Fusion (right) is particularly finicky about light. Variegated plants with significant white spots on their foliage are less efficient at photosynthesizing sunlight, so they need to receive more than their green counterparts. That said, the effort is will worth it, because this is among the most striking (and sought-after) calathea varieties available. On average it reaches about 20 inches tall, making it an excellent option for compact spaces. It thrives in temperature between 65 – 80 F with rich soil that drains well.

Rattlesnake Plant

Rattlesnake plants (see below in “Where to Buy”) have huge leaves that can grow to be over 2 feet long, even though the plant itself tends to stay in the normal 2 – 3 feet tall range. The leaves have an intricate pattern with numerous green shades that overlap and iconic green spots. The wavy edges of the leaves and their reddish underside add to the plant’s beauty. Provide it with sandy well-drained soil, warm temperatures, and indirect sunlight and it will flourish, maintaining its gorgeous dappled pattern.

Where to Buy Calathea Plants

You can buy calathea plants at your local garden center or online.

An excellent online option is The Sill. This plant has uniquely round leaves that are a brilliant green on their topside and a deep burgundy underneath. It arrives in a custom, hand-picked planter and is expertly and quickly shipped.

    Calathea Medallion in Custom Planter

Buy Calathea Medallion at TheSill.com
    Calathea roseopicta 'Medallion' is a cultivar of calathea selected for round leaves with brilliant markings, resembling a medallion. Calatheas are often called 'prayer plants' because of their unique leaf movements: they raise and lower their leaves from day to night as a part of their circadian rhythm.

If you can’t decide which calathea variety you want, try Bloomscape’s Calathea Collection. The collection features three small potted calathea varieties: calathea orbifolia, a rattlesnake plant, and a pinstripe plant. They each arrive safely packaged custom 4-inch pots.

    Calathea Collection in Custom Planters

Buy Calathea Collection at Bloomscape
    These three plants feature colorful and lively foliage. Calathea plants have a habit of folding up their leaves during the night, a phenomenon called nyctinasty. Because of this, they are often called Prayer Plants.

Amazon sells many calathea varieties, many of which come from reliable suppliers such as Costa Farms, Hirt’s, and House Plant Shop.

    Calathea Houseplant Collection

Buy Indoor Houseplant Collection on Amazon
    5 live plants in 4-inch pots. This collection includes Calathea Vittata, Beauty Star, Rattlesnake, Peacock and Triostar Stromanthe in grower pots. Plants are well packaged for shipping and come with care instructions.

For rare and bare-root calathea plants, Etsy is the best place to shop. The stock changes constantly, of course, but if there’s an uncommon variety of any plant you’d like—almost all calathea cultivars included—chances are there’s an Etsy seller with 3exactly what you want.

Common Calathea Questions

Still nervous about caring for your calathea? Below the most common calathea care questions are answered.

What is the Growth Rate of Calathea Plants?

Calathea plants tend to grow slowly and only reach about 2 feet in height. Their impressive leaves, on the other hand, can reach anywhere from 1 foot to 3 feet long.

rattlesnake plant calathea lancifolia closeup of foliageWhat are Common Calathea Pests and Diseases?

The main disease that calathea plants have to deal with is root rot. To avoid root rot, never leave standing water in your plant’s soil and avoid watering it to the point of sogginess. When in doubt, underwater. These plants do not require a lot of H2O.

The pests that tend to plague calatheas the most are spider mites, aphids, and scale.

Spider mites target leaves, resulting in bronzed, scorched, and fallen leaves. To prevent spider mites provide your plant with adequate water and remove dust from the leave’s surfaces frequently. If your plant is already infested use miticide to combat them. You will need to repeat the treatment every couple of weeks to ensure you take care of the spider mite’s eggs.

Aphids and scale result in sticky, curling, misshapen, and yellow leaves. To remove scales gently scrape off the insects. You can remove aphids by hand. If the infestation is bad enough you can use insecticidal soap or horticultural sprays to flush them out.

Are Calathea Plants Toxic?

Calathea plants are not toxic to humans and pets. In fact, some animals find them rather tasty. Of course, don’t encourage them to nibble on your plant. While their leaves may make a nice lunch for Fido, they serve a higher purpose keeping your calathea alive and healthy.

Conclusion

With stunning leaves and relatively simple care requirements, calatheas are an incredible plant to grow indoors. Keep your plant happy and healthy to enjoy its bevy of benefits, including its serene nighttime prayer ritual.

I hope you enjoyed this guide! If you did, be sure to share it and comment below with any unanswered calathea questions, or to let me know which variety you decided on!

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