calathea

How To Grow and Care for Calatheas

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Calatheas are ornamental plants from the family Amaranthaceae. The name, Calathea, came from the Greek word ‘kalathos’ which means ‘basket’, pertaining to the plants’ inflorescence.

Like most members of the Amaranthaceae family, Calatheas are native to South America where they can be found growing naturally in most tropical forests. The leaves are used by native residents to make baskets and other purposeful crafts, another reason for the plant’s name.

Calatheas are sometimes also called ‘prayer plants’, referring to the opening and closing of the leaves due to changes in their environment. However, prayer-plants may sometimes refer to another plant species from the same family as well as the Maranta leuconeura plant.

Calathea leaves are famous for their striking colors and elaborate patterns that almost look like they are painted on. The design varies from species to species. The underside of the leaves also varies in color from bright green to deep burgundy.

Indoors, Calatheas are mostly grown for their foliage, but some species, like the Eternal Flame, are preferred for their beautiful inflorescences of bright orange-yellow color.

Whatever reasons you might have for growing these elegant houseplants, this article will provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to get started.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameCalathea
Common namesList all common names here
FamilyMaranthaceae
Plant TypeHouseplant
Height and Width1 to 3 feet  (indoors), 1 to 3 feet wide (indoors)
OriginSouth and Central America
Flower colorsOrange, purple, etc.
Foliage colorDark green or occasionally yellow, white, rose, and olive 
Sun ExposureIndirect sunlight
Soil Type & pHMoist, slightly acidic soil
Special featuresLow-maintenance, good for containers 

How To Grow Calathea

Unless you live in the tropics, the easiest way to grow calathea will be indoors in a container. These plants thrive in bright, indirect light, as direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. The bathroom is the ideal environment for the calathea plant, as it will receive a bit of humidity as well as minimal light.

Propagation

There are several ways you can grow calatheas but the easiest is to propagate by division. This can be done when repotting. Look for thickened tubers with a leaf or two. Gently pull apart the root ball with a clump from each side coming away naturally.

Each clump should have a part of the root system. Take the division and place it in a pot, planting a few inches deep in well-draining soil. Keep the soil slightly moist and warm until new growth appears.

You can also purchase a calathea plant from a garden center or nursery. This will give you more choice, particularly if you buy from a specialist. Just make sure you inspect the plant carefully when it arrives to ensure that there are no signs of pests.

Soil

The best type of soil for calathea will be well-draining and fertile. Consider adding 25% extra peat moss to regular bagged houseplant potting soil. This will ensure that your soil is appropriately draining and has the right nutrients for your developing plants.

Pruning

You do not have to prune a calathea but doing so will improve its appearance and funnel its energy into producing new blooms and foliage. The blooms might be indistinct or hard to spot, but take the time to regularly deadhead them from the plant for renewed vigor and growth.

Repotting and Transplanting

Report your calathea every couple of years in the spring. Place your plant into a slightly larger pot, planting in a 2:1 mixture of soil-based compost and perlite. If your plants have had trouble becoming too waterlogged in the past, consider adding peat moss to the container to improve drainage.

How To Care for Calathea Plant

Calatheas are not the hardiest of indoor plants. They are often finicky when it comes to their environment, but with proper care and maintenance, they can be kept healthy and vibrant.

Here are some important calathea care tips:

Water

In their natural environment, calatheas thrive in shaded forest floors where the soil is seldom dry. They do not thrive well in drought conditions and would exhibit browning and curling. As a result, you should water your plant regularly (around an inch to two inches of water per week).

Calatheas are sensitive to salt and fluoride in water so make sure to spray them with rainwater or boiled tap water that has been cooled to room temperature. Keep their soil moist at all times and don’t be afraid to let them enjoy the occasional drizzle outside the house when the weather is warm, too.

Sunlight

Calatheas love partial shade, which is why they are preferred as indoor or greenhouse plants as compared to outdoor plants. They can tolerate both early morning or late afternoon light as long as it is indirect and not too intense.

Place your plants in areas in the house where they can get plenty of indirect light. When using calatheas for the outside garden, they should be kept in shaded areas with lots of filtered light as well. Some sunlight is needed, though, so don’t keep your plants in total shade. If you do, you may find that the foliage becomes pale or has indistinct markings.

Temperature and Humidity

Since calatheas originated in South America, they tend to favor an average to warm temperatures and high humidity. When growing indoors, make sure to keep temperatures at about 70 to 85 °F (21 to 20 °C) and humidity high (15%).

Humidity tends to be the one aspect of growing calatheas in which many growers go wrong. The plant can be somewhat tricky to care for in terms of its humility requirements. YOu will need to stand the potted plant in a tray of wet pebbles and mist the foliage regularly with a spray bottle.

As an alternative, you can grow the plant in a humid environment, such as in the bathroom. If your plant does not receive the humidity it needs, it will begin to show signs like browned or rolled-up leaves.

Fertilizer

Calatheas grow in slightly acidic soil so make sure to plant them in well-draining soil mixed with peat and perlite. Fertilize them every three weeks using a high nitrogen foliar fertilizer in the spring through summer months as well as once-monthly during the fall and winter.

In addition to cutting back on fertilizing in the winter, you should also reduce your watering, as the plant growth will slow down during this period.

Pest and diseases

There are a few pests and diseases you will need to keep an eye out for when growing calathea.

Caterpillars

There are several species of caterpillars that can damage calathea, with damage typically appearing as holes that occur along the edges or in the center of leaves. This is often confused with snail or slug damage. You can use an insecticide to get rid of the caterpillars and remove any affected areas by pruning them back.

Fungus Gnats

These pests are very common among indoor-grown calatheas. You’ll likely detect the fungus gnats themselves as they move around the surface of the soil or on leaves. They are tiny black flies that look much like fruit flies. Although they do not cause damage to plants, they are frustrating to growers and can also indicate that the soil is remaining too moist.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are common pests of houseplants, particularly of calathea. These look like white cottony masses in the leaf axel, on roots, and on lower surfaces of leaves. You can use an insecticide as a soil drench to get rid of them.

Pseudomonas leaf spot (P. cichorii)

This disease is caused by bacteria and leads to water-soaked lesions that become black. These can cause leaves to drop prematurely. You can avoid the disease by avoiding overhead watering as much as possible.

Alternaria Leaf Spot (Alternaria alternata).

This disease also causes water-soaked lesions but it is fungal in nature instead of bacterial. You will need to reduce the period of time in which leaves are left soaking wet, as this can reduce the likelihood of the fungus spreading among your plant’s leaves.

Fusarium Wilt (Fusarium oxysporum)

This fungal disease is common among calathea plants, particularly those that were propagated from cuttings. Wilting is the most common symptom of infestation. You can use a drench treatment or a copper-based fungicide to help address this disease.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

There are several accepted species of calathea, with dozens of varieties for you to choose from.

Some good calathea varieties include:

  • Rattlesnake calathea (C. lancifolia)
  • Pinstripe plant (C. ornata)
  • C. louisae
  • Rose painted calathea (C. roseopicta)
  • Peacock calathea (C. makoyana)
  • Zebra calathea (C. zebrina)
  • Calathea medallion (C. veitchiana)
  • Round leaf calathea (C. orbifolia)
  • C. warscewiczii
  • Velvet or furry calathea (C. rufibarba)
  • C. rotundifolia
  • C. picturata

Conclusion

So there you have it – everything you need to know in order to grow a calathea plant. Whether you’re interested in a zebra calathea, pinstripe plant, or rattlesnake calathea, the advice given above should help you be successful in growing gorgeous, healthy plants no matter what.

*Photo by J_Koneva/depositphotos

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