Calathea care & info | Prayer plant

Plants in the genus Calathea are among the most spectacular houseplants out there. Their colorful and patterned foliage really is hard to beat! Some houseplant enthusiasts consider this species fussy, though, and Calathea care can be a challenge if you don’t know what your plant needs.

Let’s go into everything you need to know about Calathea plant care to keep yours happy and thriving.

Name(s) (Common, scientific)Prayer plant, peacock plant, zebra plant, rattlesnake plant, pinstripe plant, Calathea sp.
Difficulty levelMedium-hard
LightBright indirect
WaterKeep lightly moist
SoilGeneral potting soil + perlite

Calathea natural habitat

Calatheas are native to jungles in the tropical Americas and are typically found growing at the base of trees.

In their natural growing areas, leaves of the Calathea plant actually serve various purposes. Locals use them to wrap objects like food or for all sorts of handicrafts, such as baskets (Leoni & Costa, 2013).

Did you know? Some species of Calathea are assisted by native ant species for their seed dispersal. The ants take the seeds to their nests and feed on certain parts, after which the seed can easily sprout.

Horvitz, 1981
Calathea ornata (pinstripe Calathea), a popular houseplant | How to care for Calathea

Calathea care: light and temperature

Light

When considering the best location for your Calathea plant, keep in mind their natural habitat. These plants are often naturally shaded by larger trees, meaning that in most cases they won’t be exposed to direct sun.

This genus is often advertised as being low-light plants. In reality, they tend to do a lot better in medium to bright light, in front of a window.

As long as there’s not too much direct sun, the plant will love it! Overly harsh rays, however, can burn your Calathea’s leaves and cause their beautiful patterns to fade.

Temperature

Because Calathea plants are from the tropics, they thrive in warmer temperatures. If you’re feeling nice and toasty, chances are your plants are feeling pretty comfortable, too. They like to be kept between 65 °F and 85 °F (18 °C and 30 °C).

Be sure to keep your Calathea (and any other houseplant, for that matter) away from sources of unstable temperatures. Drafty corridors, heaters, air con units and the like are just not ideal, as plants appreciate stability.

Humidity for Calathea

Calatheas definitely do best in humid environments (50% or higher). In fact, a lot of people say that this is really the key to Calathea care. Without high humidity, you may notice the leaves of your plants turning brown around the edges.

So what can you do to make sure your Calathea doesn’t dry out? Unfortunately, spraying or using a pebble tray is not very effective, but there are alternatives.

  • Running a humidifier (ideally using distilled water). This is probably most houseplant enthusiasts’ preferred option.
  • Moving your plants into higher-humidity areas, such as bathrooms (as long as there’s enough light).
  • Grouping all your plants together to take advantage of the increased humidity as they transpire.
  • At a loss? An old aquarium or terrarium might be the perfect place for your Calathea(s) and other humidity loving tropicals. Install some good lights in the hood and line the bottom with sphagnum moss.

Did you know? Having a basic humidity meter on hand can be very handy when you’re trying to achieve houseplant success.

Rattlesnake plant, a popular indoor plant. Two new, half unfurled leaves sticking out.
Calathea lancifolia, also known as the rattlesnake plant.
2021 edit: This plant has been renamed Goeppertia insignia, but Calathea care guidelines still apply.

Calathea care: soil and planting

Soil

Calatheas like to be kept moist but hate wet feet. It’s important the soil meets those needs. The ideal soil mixture is well-draining and aerated, so a mix of general potting soil with some perlite or orchid bark usually works well.

Some Calathea enthusiasts also like to add a bit of sphagnum moss or coco coir as a moisture-retaining element. This helps ensure the soil doesn’t go dry too quickly, without causing issues with rot.

If you don’t feel like mixing your own soil, something like an African violet mixture should do the trick.

Planting

Like all houseplants, your Calathea should be in a planter that has a drainage hole. You can use a plastic nursery pot placed inside a decorative pot, for example.

Calathea care usually involves repotting yearly, especially if yours is happy and growing quickly. Repot during spring or summertime when the plant is actively growing. If you want to divide and propagate your Calathea, this is the perfect time to do so!

Calathea houseplant among other houseplants against green wall.

Calathea care: Watering

As mentioned before, Calathea plants like to be in moist soil and should never be allowed to fully dry out between waterings.

Depending on various factors, such as lighting, temperature, and humidity, you may need to water your Calatheas every few days or maybe as little as once every week or two. Sounds complicated if you’re a beginner, but no worries, you’ll get the hang of figuring out when your plants need a drink.

To know if it’s time to water, just check if the first couple inches of the soil feel dry by poking your finger around. If so, it’s time to quench their thirst! If the soil is still wet at the top, you can wait a bit longer.

One thing that trips many people up when it comes to Calathea care is that these plants are sensitive to salt and chlorine. Try using filtered water. Regularly flush the soil using distilled water, especially if you notice your plants starting to suffer. Yellowing leaves and brown leaf tips (despite proper humidity) are prime indicators.

Top view of Calathea orbifolia, a popular indoor plant. | Full guide to Calathea care
Calathea orbifolia and its flashy leaves.

Calathea propagation

Calathea propagation is unfortunately not really possible through stem cuttings. No worries, though! Multiplying your Calatheas is easy enough to do using the division method.

As mentioned earlier, the best time for Calathea propagation is when you’re repotting the plant.

  • Remove the plant from the pot and shake loose any soil around the roots.
  • Using sterilized scissors or shears (spray with some alcohol), you can carefully cut through the roots.
  • Make sure that each section has a few healthy stems and leaves. You might even find that some parts come loose quite naturally.
  • Fill up your new pots with fresh substrate, then plant the divisions. Because of the method you used all of them will already have new root systems, so you can just continue caring for them as usual!

Tip: Your new Calatheas might look a bit droopy at first. Plants don’t like change, so being divided like this isn’t exactly something they’re happy about! Just keep the soil lightly moist and they’ll perk up. Once you see new growth you’ll know you’re in the clear.

Calathea care: Fertilizer

Calatheas are not demanding and don’t need a lot of fertilizer. During the growing season (summer to fall), you can use a general houseplant fertilizer at reduced strength once or twice a month.

Be sure to stop using fertilizer once winter rolls around. Your plant won’t be actively growing and can’t use up the food you give it, which can result in burned roots.

Interior décor scene including a rattan peacock chair with a tropical printed pillow and a Calathea orbifolia houseplant in a terracotta planter.

Types of Calathea

The difficulties you can have with Calathea care are so worth it when you consider their foliage. And the craziest thing is that this genus contains a whole bunch of different flashy species!

Let’s discuss some of the more popular Calatheas that you might come across in your local plant store.

  • Calathea roseopicta (Rose painted Calathea): Available in many spectacular cultivars, like Calathea ‘Dottie’ (black and pink leaves), Calathea ‘Medallion’ (light and dark green leaves with purple undersides), Calathea ‘Eclipse’ (pink and green leaves) and Calathea ‘Corona’ (dark green leaves with a large spot of light green and some pink). You can get one here.
  • Calathea ornata (Pinstripe Calathea): Elongated leaves with thin stripes. Naturally dark green and light green but there are also cultivars with pinkish shades.
  • Calathea orbifolia: Large, round leaves with alternating light and dark green stripes.
  • Calathea zebrina (Zebra plant): Oval leaves with a spectacular striped pattern. You can get one here.
  • Calathea warscewiczii: Leaves are slightly less spectacular than zebrina, but its charm is in the beautiful flowers!
  • Calathea makoyana (Peacock plant): Very light green oval leaves with dark green oval spots.
Close-up of white flower of Calathea warscewiczii, a popular houseplant.
Some Calatheas, like C. warscewiczii, actually produce beautiful little flowers.

Is Calathea toxic to cats and dogs?

No. Thankfully, Calatheas are considered safe for cats and dogs by the ASPCA!

Keep in mind that it’s not just pets who might be in danger because of toxic houseplants. Houseplants can also be damaged by pets! Your most prized plants are best kept away from dogs, cats and kids if they have the tendency to chew or tear.


If you have any more questions about Calathea care or want to share your own experiences with these spectacular houseplants, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 🌱

Cover photo: feey

Sources

Horvitz, C. C. (1981). Analysis of how ant behaviors affect germination in a tropical myrmecochore Calathea microcephala (P. & E.) Koernicke (Marantaceae): microsite selection and aril removal by neotropical ants, Odontomachus, Pachycondyla, and Solenopsis (Formicidae). Oecologia51(1), 47-52.

Leoni, J. M., & Costa, F. R. C. (2013). Sustainable use of Calathea lutea in handicrafts: A case study from the Amanã Sustainable Development Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Economic botany67(1), 30-40.