Problems with Calathea | Yellow leaves, curling, drooping and more

Many people have a love-hate relationship with Calathea. Also known as prayer plants, they have a reputation for being fussy and hard to care for, which is why the genus is not usually recommended for beginners. However, once you figure out what works for your plants, they can be an absolute delight to have in your home.

Keep reading to find out some of the common Calathea problems, so you can troubleshoot whatever might be affecting your plant.


2022 update: Lots of species that were previously in the genus Calathea, like the popular rattlesnake Calathea (Calathea lancifolia), have been moved to the genus Goeppertia. The aforementioned plant is now Goeppertia insignis, for example.

Luckily, this troubleshooting guide applies pretty well to all species in the family Marantaceae. This includes Calathea, but also Goeppertia, Ctenanthe and even Maranta.


Before we start…

All in all, the most common cause for issues with a Calathea is excess moisture. If reducing your waterings doesn’t help halt the process, you’ll unfortunately have to uproot your plant. Check the roots and lower stems: do they appear black/brown and mushy? Are they smelly?

If the answer is yes, that indicates rot due to bacterial or fungal infection. You will need to remove all afflicted roots and repot into a new, well-draining mixture.

Always use a planter with a drainage hole and give the plant plenty of bright indirect light. Keep the soil lightly moist, but never let a Calathea sit in a soggy pot.

If the stems are rotting, there unfortunately really isn’t much you can do.

Tip: To prevent issues like poor drainage and too little light, you have to know what your Calathea needs. You can find out everything you need to know in the full guide to Calathea care.

Collection of Calathea (prayer plant) houseplants | Calathea care & troubleshooting guide

Calathea yellow leaves

Problem: Foliage yellowing at an alarming rate
Causes: Watering issues, sunburn, shock, nutrient imbalance

Unfortunately, this is a very generic symptom. It can mean many different things:

  • Overwatering. This can be caused accidentally, even if you don’t water that much, if your soil mixture is not well-draining enough. It can also happen if your plant doesn’t get enough light to process the water you’re giving.
  • Natural shedding of lower leaves. As a plant grows, it will reabsorb nutrients from lower leaves, turning them yellow and then crispy and brown before they drop. This is normal, so if it’s only lower leaves and they’re not yellowing at an alarming rate, you’re likely fine.
  • Over-exposure to sun. Refer also to the paragraph on leaf pattern loss. Suddenly being moved to a sunny place or simply receiving too much direct sun will cause leaves to yellow and crisp up pretty good.
  • Plant is cranky. Calatheas seem quite sensitive to changes like being moved (like when you buy it), repotting and division. If you just did any of those things, give your plant a few weeks to come around.
  • Underwatering. Consistent underwatering can cause yellow leaves on a Calathea. However, you’d also expect to see some other symptoms, like leaf droop and leaf curl, before they start discoloring.
  • Over- or underfeeding. You might have used too much fertilizer, which can be corrected by flushing the soil with distilled water. If you’ve never really fertilized, a bit of houseplant food every month or so during the growing season might help.
Diseases of indoor plants. Sick leaves of Calathea. | Calathea care & troubleshooting guide

Calathea leaves curling

Problem: Foliage curling inwards or outwards
Causes: Thirst, soil compaction, watering issues

Calathea leaves curling and wilting can be an indication that you’re not giving your plants enough water. What makes this even more frustrating is that they can also indicate that you’re actually overwatering instead! It might also just be the plant being cranky due to being moved or repotted.

So how do you find out which one it is? It’s a bit of a process of elimination.

  • If the soil is dry, give the plant a drink and see if the leaves uncurl in the next few hours. If they do, adjust your watering schedule. You’ve been underwatering. This especially applies if the leaves are also turning crispy.
  • If the soil is moist but the leaves are wilting, aerate the soil by poking into it using a chopstick. This ensures water can reach the roots.
  • Leaves still wilting after that even though the soil is not dry? There’s a chance you overdid it previously and the roots are rotting, so you might have to uproot the plant to check.
Infographic illustrating different issues that might arise with Calathea houseplants

Calathea brown tips

Problem: Leaf tips are browning
Causes: Watering issues, mineral build-up, sunburn

As it was mentioned earlier, browning leaf edges on Calatheas are often a sign of low humidity. See the last paragraph for more on that.

It can also potentially indicate the following:

  • Underwatering. Consistent underwatering may eventually cause your Calathea to develop brown leaf tips. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if the soil is moist but the plant still seems thirsty, be sure to aerate the soil.
  • Overwatering. Yep, there it is again: almost all Calathea symptoms can have something to do with excess moisture.
  • Mineral build-up in the soil. Calatheas can be sensitive to the salts and minerals in tap water. As with all your houseplants, you should thoroughly flush your Calathea’s soil every few months. This can be done with distilled water, which will take the excess minerals with it while it flows out of the planter.
  • Exposure to too much light. Sudden exposure to might higher light conditions, or putting your Calathea in full sun, can cause the leaves to burn. Always acclimate the plant slowly if you’re changing light conditions.

Damaged leaves can unfortunately not be fixed, though be sure to go over the care you’re providing and correct any issues.

New foliage should be healthy and eventually replace the old, brown-tipped leaves.

Calathea lancifolia, a popular houseplant also known as rattlesnake plant.
It’s normal to see a little bit of brown on any houseplant.
2022 edit: this species has been placed in the genus Goeppertia, not Calathea, but the tips in this guide still apply to it.

Calathea leaf pattern loss

Problem: Calathea leaves fading
Causes: Lighting issues, nutrient deficiency

Because Calatheas are loved for their gorgeous leaves, it’s heartbreaking if the patterns start to fade. The following issues are most strongly associated with this symptom:

  • Too much light. If your Calathea is getting too much light, the leaves will appear faded, translucent even. The chances of this happening indoors are not that high, but if it has, just move the plant a few feet away from the window.
  • Too little light. If the leaves on your plant appear faded and it’s in a low light spot, that might be it. Unfortunately you have to accept that all plants need light and they can’t be in a dark spot in the home. Slowly acclimate your Calathea to a higher light location.
  • Underfertilization. If you’ve never really fertilized and the plant has been in the same soil for a while, it might be struggling. Use some diluted general houseplant fertilizer about once a month during the growing season.

Mushy stems on Calathea

Problem: Calathea “melting”
Causes: Root rot progressed to stem rot

If your plants have mushy stems, it’s a sure sign that you’re overwatering and that your plants are suffering from rot. If you dig into the soil, you may find that the roots are also mushy and rotting away.

If it’s just the roots, remove all afflicted parts, repot into fresh soil and say a little prayer. If it’s the stems too, then unfortunately your Calathea can probably not be saved.

Calathea houseplant with only a few leaves due to pest infestation.
Even if your Calathea looks absolutely pitiful, don’t give up just yet! The new leaf sprouting on this bug-infested specimen is a sign it still has life inside.

Calathea drooping

Problem: Calathea wilting
Causes: Watering issues, cold

You may notice that the leaves of your Calathea plants droop more during the day. This is completely normal since the leaves fold up during the night, then let loose during the day! That’s why they’re also referred to as prayer plants (read more).

If the drooping is significant, there might be something else going on. The causes are quite similar to those of curling Calathea leaves.

  • Underwatering. The most common cause, so check the soil. If it’s dry, then you’ll have to indeed adjust your watering schedule. If the soil is moist then aerate it in case the water is not reaching the roots.
  • Overwatering. If the soil is quite wet, you’ll have to either water less or move the plant to a higher light location.
  • Drafts and low temperatures. These guys are tropicals and they like things nice and toasty! Room temperature is perfect for them.

Calathea infestation

Problem: Bug invasion!
Causes: Spider mites, thrips, mealybugs & more

If your Calathea’s leaves are showing speckled discoloration or crisping up, drying and browning, you might have to whip out the magnifying glass. There’s a chance the plant is infested by unwelcome visitors!

Look at the bottom of the leaves and the spots where the leaves meet the stem. Also keep an eye out for little flies. A few of the common culprits are:

  • Spider mites. They love Calatheas and are frequent visitors that can get out of hand. They like dry air, meaning infestations generally happen during winter. Up the humidity and give your plant frequent leaf showers. That should usually do the trick.
  • Fungus gnats. These pop up when the soil is consistently moist. Their larvae munch on your plant’s roots. The first step is letting the soil dry out a bit more. If that doesn’t work, try mixing one part 3% hydrogen peroxide with four parts water and apply this to the soil.
  • Scale. If your Calathea’s leaves have a sticky substance on them, this is a likely one. Scale excretes honeydew in order to feed ant colonies that protect them. Scale looks like brown or greyish bumps on the plant. You can try an insecticide or removing manually by attacking the scale with a cotton bud dipped in rubbing alcohol.
  • Mealybugs. UGH. The worst of all in my opinion! As described in the guide to mealybugs, these cottony looking small bugs like hiding in leaf and stem crevices and sucking the life out of your Calathea. Try neem oil to remove them or move straight to the insecticide; they can be in the soil as well so it’s really difficult to remove these guys.
Pink leaf of Calathea houseplant, close-up showing infestation of spider mite pests.
The dust/grains and discoloration on this Calathea roseopicta leaf are clear indicators of a spider mite infestation.

Increasing humidity for your Calathea

If you don’t have one yet, a humidity meter is incredibly helpful if you’re a houseplant enthusiast. If the humidity is under 50-60%, that’s the first thing to fix in your journey to figure out what’s going on with your Calathea.

Increase the humidity by placing the plant in a more humid room like the bathroom, placing multiple houseplants together or, most effectively, running a humidifier.

Tip: Seriously, if the humidity in your home is low, run a humidifier. Low humidity can affect you as well as your plants!


If you have any more questions about Calathea leaves yellowing, drooping, curling or other issues, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. 🌿

13 thoughts on “Problems with Calathea | Yellow leaves, curling, drooping and more”

  1. Hello, thanks for sharing tips, they are very useful! I have Calathea ornata and Calathea makoyana. The first is doing well, but the second one seems to be losing leaves before they even grow – I found a lot of dark ‘skin’ (I don’t know how to call it) around the stem, near the bottom. It looks like there was something growing and it suddenly stopped. Is this normal? I had three new leaves last month (I bought it 2 months ago) and nothing since then. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  2. My calathea has two leaves nearest to the indirect sunlight which have brown stains on the upper part and are sticky underneath. If they are being attacked by something should I just cut them off very near to the ground?

    Reply
    • If they’re being attacked by bugs then I’m afraid cutting them off isn’t going to make much of a difference. Have you tried having a look with a magnifying glass?

      Reply
  3. Hi! My Calathea Ornata is in a closed terrarium but still dying! It gets medium/low light. I’ve sprayed to increase humidity in the terrarium and keep soil consistently moist but no matter what the leaves curl, shrivel and crisp up like a crumpled bag of chips. Any idea what I could be doing wrong?

    Reply
    • Yikes! Have you checked for bugs like spider mites? Have you checked the actual humidity levels using a cheap humidity meter? I would definitely increase the light levels personally if you say it’s medium-low.

      Reply
  4. Hi, My rattlesnake calathea’s leaf tips are turning whitish beginning to curl into a bubbly- like form although it isn’t sunburnt or anything and the leaves aren’t crispy. I was hoping to get an answer to my problem. I put a humidifier under it because I think it might be because my room is too dry but I’d really appreciate a more definite “diagnosis” so I know what to do.

    Reply
    • Hi! Sorry to hear your plant isn’t doing well. I can’t really diagnose your plant through the internet, just give some pointers, but if you think your room is too dry then let’s start by getting a definite answer to that! Do you have a humidity meter? If not, they’re < $10 to buy and I think they're a great asset for any houseplant enthusiast. Any way you could get one and check where you're at in terms of humidity with and without the humidifier?

      Reply
  5. Hi, thanks for this post, it’s been very helpful! I have two calatheas and there are black, ink like spots under the leaves of both of them. Once the spots appear on a leaf then the leaf starts discolouring, then curling and then drying out. If I touch the spots with something wet then the colour starts rubbing off, as if it’s watercolour. I’ve tried finding out what it is and nothing is mentioned online, also tried insecticide and doesn’t seem to do much. Do you have any idea what it might be?

    Reply
    • Hey! That’s a head scratcher, sorry to hear your plants aren’t doing well. The first thing that pops up in my head is mold, just because you can rub it off. Could it be sooty mold as a result of some kind of bug infestation?

      Reply
  6. Hi, my calendar Sabrina has started dripping spots of brown resinous fluid about tye size of a 20 cent piece. Only one at any time. I originally thought it was water seeping through the saucer, but have confirmed that it isn’t. I can’t find any point on the plant it is coming from. Any ideas? It is an amazingly healthy plant continually growing new leaf.

    Reply
  7. Hi,
    I have a calathea anulque and she’s been really floppy lately. I’m not even sure how to describe it… droopy, except it’s not the leaves, its the stems. They started to kind of divide into two (from being just a general bunch of standing stems/stocks) and then leaning to opposite sides, away from each other (like a V shape). Now they’ve all just started leaning to one side but so severely that I’ve loosely tied a string around them and then around a pole on the side, holding the string up. This is keeping them up a little more but they’re still leanin’!

    Do you have any idea why this could be? I’m having a hard time finding info online.

    Reply
    • It’s always difficult to diagnose from afar, so you could consider joining the Houseplant Central FB group and post some pics there for us to have a look. That being said, drooping is related to thirst. If a plant doesn’t perk back up after watering, that’s an indication that something might be going on with the roots causing them to be unable to take up water. The most common culprit is root rot. Is there any way you might have overwaterered? Alternatively, in some cases, this happens when soil has clumped around the roots and water doesn’t reach them. In those cases, aerating the soil with a chopstick might help. If you can’t solve this, you might have to take the plant out of its container and check if there is anything going on with the roots.

      I hope that helps somewhat!

      Reply

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