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Calathea plant: How to grow and care for it


Looking for a beautiful and low-maintenance plant to grow at home? We’ve got an idea for you: Calathea. Here we explore the different types of Calatheas like calathea lutea, calathea orbifolia and calathea ornata, and ways to keep your plant healthy and thriving. 

© sonjachnyj | 123rf

The Calathea is a tropical plant from Brazil that’s now immensely popular all around the world. Its beautifully-patterned leaves are painted in various shades of green with maroon undersides — it’s quite eye-catching, to say the least.

Calatheas come from neotropical rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plants. In essence, they are from the Marantaceae species, with cute nicknames such as the Calathea prayer plant, zebra plant, peacock plant, or rattlesnake plant.

The striking veins of these plants with geometric patterns are not only a sight to behold, but they are also low in maintenance for indoor survival. If you are living in the city with a busy job and hectic schedule, nurturing plants can be a daunting task. However, you can easily grow Calathea in your apartment balcony or even in the living room as it requires minimal care. It can be fitted into many types of planters and locations, making it the perfect house plant.

To know more about indoor plants, read 21 best indoor trees to grow at home.

What are the benefits of Calathea plants?

Apart from adding to the beauty of your home, Calathea leaves can also be used as food wraps or for woven baskets thanks to their geometric shape and brilliant combination of colours.

How many types of Calatheas are there?

There are more than 300 Calathea varieties, each boasting different leaf patterns, colours, and veins. Let’s take a look at the most popular calathea varieties.

1. Calathea lutea

Nickname: Cigar plant

© Taweesak Sriwannawit | 123rf

Unlike other low-growing Calathea plants, this species can grow up to three or four metres high. Its large paddle-shaped leaves and cigar-like flowers make it the perfect addition to any indoor and outdoor garden. On top of that, Calathea lutea is also very easy to care for. Just place them in shady areas of the house and they’ll grow just fine.

2. Calathea lancifolia

Nickname: Rattlesnake

calathea lancifolia in pot isolated on grey background
© lightfieldstudios | 123rf

With strappy snake-shaped leaves and wavy edges, the Rattlesnake (some also refer to it as Calathea insignis) is the most popular of all the Calathea varieties. Growing up to 30 inches in length, the mix of green and purple coloured leaves of Rattlesnake Calathea plants will give a striking look to your beautiful home.

3. Calathea roseopicta

Nickname: Medallion, Shining Star, Shine Star

© dewins | 123rf

The Calathea Medallion is known for its big medallion leaves. This Calathea variant has a brilliant green pattern on top with stripes of deep burgundy underneath. At night, their sides fold up, exposing the underside beauty of the leaves more vividly.

4. Calathea makoyana

Nickname: peacock

© dewins | 123rf

The Calathea makoyana has beautiful leaves with purple undersides and different shades of green on the top that gives it a peacock-like look, making it an instant eye-catcher. In terms of caring for Calathea makoyana, put it in areas with bright, indirect sunlight and high humidity. You only need to water when the soil is dry.

5. Calathea zebrina/Calathea leopardina

Nickname: Zebra

Calathea zebrina

Calathea zebrina, or more commonly known as Zebra plants, have large oval-shaped leaves protruding from long stems. The texture of the leaves is velvety with dark green stripes on bright green hues at the top and a lush purple at the bottom.

Read more: Fittonia (nerve plant): How to grow and care for it

6. Calathea crocata

Nickname: Eternal flame

© homy_design | 123rf

This variant of Calathea plant has the plainest leaves with fiery orangish-red Calathea flowers that glow like a flame, thus birthing the name ‘eternal flame.’

7. Calathea ornata

Nickname: Pinstripe or femme fatale

© ferli | 123rf

The last on our list is Calathea ornata. It has a mixture of green leaves with thin white stripes and a lush pink colour. Known to be fussier than the others, Calathea ornata is more difficult to care for. Although, with good care, they will live happily for a very long time. One of its cultivars, the Calathea Majestica (also known as White Star), is one of the most popular Calatheas around, thanks to its white and pink stripe leaves.

Read more: Monstera deliciosa: How to grow and care for this popular indoor plant

What is the easiest calathea to care for?

Not all calatheas are born equally. Some Calathea species require extensive care, while others can tolerate neglect. If you’re new to plant parenthood and are interested in growing Calatheas to spruce up your space, then you should start with these low-maintenance species:

  • Calathea lancifolia
  • Calathea roseopicta ‘Marion’
  • Calathea cocinna ‘Freddie’
  • Calathea ornata
  • Calathea fasciata

However, if you’re up for a challenge, here are some high-maintenance calatheas for you:

  • Calathea orbifolia
  • Calathea rufibarba
  • Calathea setosa
  • Calathea dottie
  • Calathea warsewiczii
  • Calathea zebrina
  • Calathea white fusion

How to propagate Calathea plants?

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Calatheas grow at a medium rate, giving your pot enough time to adjust to its growing shape. When it reaches two feet in height and width, it would stop growing. Before they outgrow your pots, you’ll need to propagate them.

However, propagating Calatheas will need a bit of work as it can only be done by plant division. It is best to repot the plants in early Spring when the conditions for Calatheas are more favourable. Carefully divide the roots and set them in different pots with caution.

Most Calatheas types have delicate roots, so take extreme care when you place them in the new plot so as not to damage their roots. Add fresh soil and grow them in a warm, humid and moist surrounding for best results. And make sure that the new divisions are kept in reduced light until they actively start to grow again, which may take about two to four weeks.

The best thing about propagating Calatheas is that you can grow multiple Calathea plants without having to buy them separately. Besides, you also have the liberty of growing them at different sizes depending on what suits your house interior.

If you like your Calatheas the same size, then choose a similarly sized pot when repotting. However, if you want to grow it bigger, then choose a 1-2 inch larger pot for the new plant so that it has more space to grow.

How do you care for Calathea plants?

Calatheas love their moist and humid environment. Most Calathea fatalities occur due to the wrong balance of light, water and humidity. Once you know the trick, it is pretty easy to grow and fairly low maintenance.

In fact, once your Calatheas reaches the desired size, all you need to do is spruce up the yellow, crisp, or brown leaves to keep them clean and healthy.

The best thing is Calatheas won’t easily die on you. Even if you are late to care for them, they will come back to their natural glory when they are treated right. Below, we tell you how best to care for your Calathea plants.

Read more: How to grow a low-cost and minimal care money plant

What kind of potting soil should I use?

Calatheas prefer soil that is moist but not wet. They also have an appetite for slightly acidic soil with a pH level of around 6.5. Stick to a soil that can retain water without being too wet, as that can harm the fragile roots of these plants. Aim for a peaty potting mixture, which is light and airy, giving more room for your plants to grow.

If you are looking for perfect potting soil, you can get a mixture of 50% potting soil, 20% orchid bark, 20% charcoal and 10% perlite. This will provide fairly perfect food nutrition for your Calatheas to nourish beautifully.

How often should you water your Calathea?

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Calatheas are thirsty plants and hence need regular watering. In the summer or bright light conditions, you may have to water them more than in low-light, colder seasons. When you see the Calathea leaves curling inwards or getting yellow, it is time to give them some water.

Maintain a moist but not soggy water level for these plants. Depending on your location, weather and surroundings, you may have to water them every few days, once a week or once every fortnight.

Stick your finger in the soil. If the top two inches of the soil has dried out, it’s time to give them a drink. But also make sure that your Calatheas are potted with drainage holes at the bottom as Calathea root can easily rot if waterlogged.

One more thing: these plants do not like just any water. Calatheas prefer filtered distilled water or rainwater. And if you must use tap water, then allow it to sit out overnight so that the chlorine or fluoride present in it can evaporate.

Do Calatheas like to be misted?

Most Caltheas prefer a 50% humid level. They can soak moisture from the air through their wide green leaves. These are some of the ways to maintain the right level of humidity:

  • Use a humidifier
  • Place the pot over a tray filled with pebbles and water. The pebbles will prevent your plant from being submerged in water while keeping the surrounding air sufficiently moist.
  • Group all your Calatheas in the same place to increase the overall humidity.
  • Mist them directly on top of the leaves.

Read more: Rubber Plant (Ficus Elastica): How to Grow and Care for It

Do Calatheas need sunlight?

Calathea Orbifolia in clay pot under the sun
© Chatchai Somwat | 123rf

Calatheas prefer filtered bright indirect light for ideal growth. Since they grow at the base of tropical forest, direct harsh rays can actually burn the leaves and cause the vibrant colour of the plants to fade. If you can match a temperature level of 65°F-80°F, avoiding a drop below 60°F, it will be ideal for any Calathea types to grow properly.

How do you fertilise Calathea plants?

Calatheas best survive with monthly fertilization from spring to fall season, skipping the winter season. They mostly need fertilization when they are growing or blooming. You can nurture the plants with a liquid fertilizer of any houseplant fertilizer to give them their share of nutrients. Follow the instruction of the fertilizer packet and dilute the mixture accordingly. However, if your plant is not growing, you don’t need to fertilize them at all.

To get the right ingredients for your Calathea, check out the Best 7 plant nurseries in KL for all your indoor plant needs

Is my Calathea plant dying?

© dewins | 123rf

Here are some symptoms to tell you that your Calathea is in mortal danger and what is causing them. This will give you a better idea to treat your Calatheas adequately.

  • Symptom: Browning leaves

Reason: Lack of humidity

  • Symptom: Browning tips of leaves

Reason: Water contains too much mineral or chemical, so switch to filtered water.

  • Symptom: Curled, wilting leaves

Reason: Lack of water

  • Symptom: Yellow leaves with black spots at the base

Reason: Overwater

  • Symptom: Fading colour or loss of saturation in leaves

Reason: Direct sunlight

  • Symptom: Spots or patches in leaves

Reason: Fungus infection or mineral contamination

  • Symptom: Leaves are covered by Fungus gnats that look like fruit flies

Reason: High humidity in the soil. You can get rid of them by watering the bottom of the plant by submerging the pot in water, leaving the top one inch of the soil dry. If that does not work, try mixing diatomaceous earth with the top part of the soil.

Read more on Avoid these 7 mistakes and your indoor plants won’t die again

Why do Calathea leaves stand up at night?

You may find that prayer plant is one of the more common nicknames for Calatheas because Calathea’s leaves shift their position depending on the position of the sun. At night, their leaves go up and in the morning it goes down. This movement is helped by the swollen nodes present at their leaf base, which adjusts the water pressure so that the leaves can absorb maximum sunlight by gravitating towards the sun.

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