How to Grow Healthy Calathea Plants
Felicia, retail manager at Groovy Plants Ranch, hears lots of calathea questions especially during the winter months. One customer asks, “Why are my calathea leaves drooping or curling?” Another shares leaf images on his phone and asks, “Why are the edges so crispy?” Oh, and everyone wants to know, “How do you pronounce this plant name?” With their dazzling colors and striking leaf patterns, it’s no wonder so many customers want to successfully grow these stunning tropical plants.
Felicia starts with the easiest one. Calathea, pronounced CAL-LAY-THEE-AH, are also called prayer plants because their leaves lift at nighttime like praying hands then fall in the warmer afternoon to conserve water. Time lapse videos of these leaf movements are a definite YouTube hit.
Watering and Humidity
When it comes to water, Felicia offers a few tips for growing success, especially in winter months when heated homes become too dry for these humid-loving plants natively found on the rainforest floor.
“They need a good regular soaking but shouldn’t be constantly wet,” says Felicia. “Let the top half inch of soil dry out between watering.”
She says many customers panic when they see crispy leaf edges and drooping leaves thinking the plant is thirsty. Instead, “they really need to check the soil first before watering.”
If the soil is too wet, roots will rot. Stems will turn brown at the base, and new growth will be mushy. On the other hand, it they dry out, leaves will curl or turn crispy.
To water correctly, Felicia advises daily checking soil moisture by inserting a finger a half inch into the soil. If moist, leave it alone. If dry, bring the plant to the sink to fully soak soil until water is running through the pot’s drain hole.
“Pouring a half cup on the plant at the windowsill won’t do,” she says explaining a pot needs to be fully saturated and drained which works best at the sink.
“Another thing is calathea don’t like the chlorine found in city water,” she says. Instead, she suggests using rainwater or simply sitting a pitcher of city water on the counter for a day until the chlorine evaporates.
She also recommends boosting humidity by 1) using a humidifier, 2) clustering plants together or 3) placing pots over a tray filled with pebbles and water.
“Brown leaves still happen even with the best of care,” says Felicia. But, don’t sweat. She says calathea push out so much new growth, it doesn’t matter. “Just cut off brown tips and prune away brown leaves.”
“Calathea like low to bright indirect light,” says Felicia. Try a north-facing windowsill or an east-or west-facing one with shears or blinds. Also, watch leaves’ coloring for signs to adjust lighting. If leaf color fades, try moving plants farther away from the light.
“There are a ton of different ones – velvety ones, spotted ones and even pure white ones,” says Felicia. Her favorites include 1) ‘Rufibarba’ with fuzzy green leaves and burgundy undersides; 2) ‘Dottie’ with dark purple – almost black – foliage and bright pink markings; 3) ‘White Fusion’ – a showstopper with bold brushstrokes of greens, pinks and white; and 4) ‘Shine Star’ with dazzling variegated leaves, pink veins and maroon undersides.