Calathea: A Guide to Collecting Calathea

There’s a feeling when you first discover a new houseplant. It’s partly love and fascination, yes, but I’ve noticed plant parents become obsessed. Not just like, “oh I need to have this houseplant” but will-walk-to-the-ends-of-the-earth to find it obsessed. Right now, aside from a variegated Monstera, which I am finding is impossible to locate, I have a newfound love for Calathea. And it’s that kind of obsession. I mean, where have these been? Plus they’re deliciously non-toxic for pets, so yes, I’m in love with Calathea and must have all of them.

Calathea

Both Calathea and Maranta are commonly known as Prayer Plants. Their variegated leaves actually fold up at night, which conserves moisture, and allows them to pray to the plant gods. Part of the family Marantaceae, Calathea are cousins to Maranta, which are just as gorgeous. Typically I’ve seen both plants dubbed as “the perfect beginner” plant.

Hold the phone.

I wouldn’t call Calatheas easy – they actually come with a bit of sass and need certain conditions to actually grow well. They grow best in greenhouses and Brazil, so unless you live in either one there’s a bit of learning involved. It’s possible though, to create these conditions so your plant can be happy.

Types of Calathea

Honestly the best place to see all of the different types of Calathea are Instagram, so I brought my favorites here to flaunt with the help of  The Gardening Queen on IG:

Rattlesnake Calathea :: Leaf and Paw
Calathea lancifolia
Calathea Ornata : leafandpaw.com
Calathea ornata
Calathea Orbifolia :: leafandpaw.com
Calathea Orbifolia (by The Gardening Queen)
Calathea Makoyana
Calathea Makoyana
Maranta
Maranta
Calathea Roseopicta
Calathea Roseopicta

Calathea Care

Calatheas are crazy pretty, safe for cats and safe for dogs and purify the air. I’ll just remind you once more that these aren’t a beginner plant – just remember that your love for them will trump this challenge. No, actually it won’t, so here’s some helpful tips.

In nature, Calathea are found at bases of trees and their leaves are meant to hold and distribute water. With this in mind, Calathea are notoriously killed by over or under-watering. Plant parents typically see brown tips on leaves and assume more water is needed. I’ll get more into this in a bit, but that’s not quite right. Most often than not, the plant is fine on water, and it’s some other condition causing the dry tips.

Maranta

Light: The best conditions for Calatheas are bright and indirect light, like a east or west window behind a sheer curtain. Direct light dries the leaves almost instantly. To keep the variegation, these guys need a decent amount of light but too much will cause it to fade.

Humidity: These are found in the jungle, which means tons of humidity. Dry air conditions affect the leaves drastically, producing brown tips and crunchy stems. To keep humidity high, you can do either of all of the following:

  • Place these on a pebble tray (like here).
  • Mist regularly. Moisture absorbed into their leaves which keeps them healthy. Since Calathea are prone to bugs, check your stems and undersides of leaves often if you mist weekly or more.
  • Run a humidifier. This is what I do all winter and, sometimes, into summer. A humidifier keeps my Monsteras healthy and my Calatheas are usually chillin’ nearby.

Watering: This is the trickiest part of Calatheas, because there is no piece of advice I can give you about watering. Basically, depending on the temperature of your house and the humidity level, your Calathea may need water every week or every day. The biggest thing to remember: don’t let them dry out. They like to be kept moist, like a wrung out sponge.

I’ve seen a few care guides suggest letting these dry out between waterings. Do not do this. Why it’s suggested I don’t know, but their lifespan quickly decreases with any drying out period. When Calathea do need a drink, there are a few early signs (aside from the soil being dry) to look for. Leaves remain closed throughout the day, dry leaves, and roots sticking out of the bottom of the pot are all bad signs. They’re not happy this way and go downhill fast.

Potting: Always plant Calathea and Maranta in pot with a decent amount of drainage. Since over-watering is common, planters without any drainage encourage root rot, which is bad. After watering, always let excess water from the pot.

Calathea Ornata :: Leafandpaw.com

Problems with Calathea and Maranta

I’ll be honest with you – Calathea and I can’t seem to jive. I have a few lovely ladies but I keep them in my IKEA mini greenhouse and that’s the only way they stay happy. The minute I take them out, I swear they’re cursing at me and throwing spitballs.

Some common Calathea problems are –

Brown leaves or brown tips: See some brown edges? It’s ok, don’t freak out, since it’s pretty common. Inconsistent watering habits are the main offender. It can also be over-feeding and low humidity. Always water until it comes out of the drainage holes, and never water in small amounts. After modifying your watering habits, monitor new growth – you may need to still adjust humidity levels if you’re still seeing brown tips.

Folded up leaves: This means your Calathea needs water. Give her drink for God’s sake.

No color and no variegation: Has your Calathea producing new just green leaves? Most likely, your plant baby is in a too-shady spot (see my plant with Harvey below). Depending on what type of Calathea you have, you’ll have to change the amount of light it receives. Red Calathea do better in lower light, while green and white Calathea need brighter locations to keep their variegation.

Fading color on Maranta :: leafandpaw.com

Propagate your Calathea

Calathea are some of the easiest plants to propagate. Unlike other plants like succulents and Monsteras, Calatheas are propagated by division, like hostas. You’ll want to work with healthy and established mother plants only. Do not attempt propagation if the plant is immature or throwing tantrums.

I’ll have a blog post about this soon, but here’s a quick step by step guide:

  • Step 1: Protect the plant with your hands and turn it over (similar to as if you were re-potting) and take it out of the pot. If there are any crowding issues, gently loosen the pot so the plant can slide out.
  • Step 2: Using your fingers, pull the roots apart to separate them. Be sure not to pull out hard or break any roots –  this step is merely so you can easily see what you’re working with.
  • Step 3: Once you split the roots a bit, figure out a chunk you can take off – the cutting must contain a leaf and roots for it to survive. Be sure to have a pot ready for the child plant. You’ll need to use the same soil mixture the mother plant had, so the baby plant can acclimate easier.
  • Step 4:  Snip/tear this piece from the mother and set inside her new pot. Water thoroughly and make sure all water has drained out.
  • Step 5: Keep the new plant out of bright, hot sun and instead keep in a cooler location with part shade. Keep humidity high; you can either place the plant on stones or put in a plastic freezer bag with the top mostly open. Give her a few weeks, and you should start to see new, baby leaves!

I hope this post helps solve some (common) Calathea problems and prompts you to grow happy and healthy plants. Special thanks to Vanessa, The Gardening Queen, for her contribution and amazing photos of her Calathea collection.

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  1. Hi! Iโ€™ve had my calathea ornanta for a few years now. When I first got it, the leaves all grew low down, close to the soil, but over time they have shot up so now I just have three leaves with the tallest one about a foot up. They also are all pointing up instead of lying flat. Any ideas on whatโ€™s happening or what I can do to fix it?

  2. My Calathea experienced some burning after too much light. I moved her into indirect light and her leaves unfolded, but the tip of one is still really brown/yellow/crispy. There are 3 others that are fine. There hasn’t been any new growth though, so I’m worried. Is there anything I can do to remedy this? Also, I think some gnats from my Philodendron hopped over onto the Calathea. SOS ๐Ÿ™

    1. Uh oh! Calatheas are definitely sensitive to light – they like indirect light and warm temperatures with high humidity. Right now she isn’t happy, so I wouldn’t trim any leaves off of her yet, but keep her in a place where humidity is high until new growth starts. I had a similar situation happen and it just takes some time for them to recover. As far as gnats, place some sticky fly tape near her soil and never let them stand in water. That should help.

  3. Hi! Oh my calathea orbifolia is the plant that keeps me guessing and completely frustrated. At first I thought I received a lemon, possibly just a poor quality plant. Nothing I do seems to make her happy. However, this summer (Iโ€™m in the southeast with lots of humidity) I put her outside and she seems to be doing better since I cut off all the leaves that were mostly brown and crispy. I water her regularly and have her in well draining soil, under the eaves of my home so its bright but not direct light. My main issue aside from browning leaves is that they donโ€™t get much bigger than a few inches across. Any thoughts??? Sheโ€™s driving me crazy but I love her so!

    1. Hi Abby! Sounds like you are doing everything right! If you cut off all of the leaves, though, she is basically starting from scratch, so the leaves will probably be smaller initially but she should be growing new, bigger leaves as she regains her strength. As far as brown leaves, don’t be alarmed if the tips are brown on any Calathea (especially orbifolia), it seems to happen all the time even in perfect conditions. Hope that helps!

  4. I propagated my prayer plant by cutting below tne node and p,aced in water. I have small roots now and will soon plant and new plant!!

  5. which species of calathea have thicker leaves, like the rattlesnake? I’ve had back luck with white fusions and marantas as their leaves are much more delicate, but the rattlesnake thrives. thanks!

    1. The calathea orbifolia have thicker leaves, still not as thick as the rattlesnake calathea, but I find they are similar in temperament. They are a bit more durable than the white fushions which can be super finicky, but they still need high humidity. Hope that helps!

  6. I have a gorgeous calathea lancifolia I keep in my shop. It’s thriving. When I got it I was told by an horticulturist friend not to give it too much water. That’s advice I’ve interrupted as ‘let it dry out before you water’. That’s what I’ve done to this day. She has been bone dry before. Plants at my shop have to be able to stand that because sometimes I just get busy and forget. So I suppose it depends on the type.

  7. My Calathea Ornata has the problems already mentioned (curling, yellowing leaves) but I noticed that some of the stems are splitting. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Dawn, hmm, without seeing a photo I’m not sure what you mean by splitting, but it could be a watering/humidity problem, which is causing the other leaf issues you have. Feel free to send a photo to Leaf and Paw’s Facebook page and I’d be happy to take a better look!

  8. Hello im a newbie in parent for my calathea pin-stripe and im kinda freaking out because the tips of their leaves turns brown, then there are three new leaves growing and it also has brown tips…i dont know what to do…can you help me with my problem? My room doesnt receive direct light from the sun, my humidity level here in manila is arou 50 to 65…. i dont have the idea what went wrong with my baby thea…

    1. Hi Yan! Calathea are very finicky and if you have any heat in the house it can make the leaves dry out. Make sure you are watering the plant thoroughly when it is barely moist and letting all the water drain out, Calathea do not like to sit in water. They do like sun and I would actually put it in a brighter spot – that seems to help them whereas shady spots tend to make them have problems. I hope that helps!

  9. Hi my calathea ended up with a tear in the middle of the leaf. I dont know how really. Is it safe to leave it be or should i just take it off? Thanks for any advice.

    1. Hi Cez, it’s up to you, really. Personally I like to remove damaged leaves (as long as the plant has many others) so that its energy can focus on creating new ones. It won’t hurt the plant to leave it either.

  10. I have two caletheas. They surprisingly lasted for 4 weeks of self watering, while I was away on vacation but I came back to a nasty gnat infestation. I let them dry out between watering to get rid of the gnats but one of them never recovered ๐Ÿ˜ฃ After that I definitely agree with your suggestion to never dry out. Wish I would have read your post before I did it!!

    1. Oh no! Gnats are seriously the worst. For future infestations, especially on calatheas, I would repot instead and add some fresh soil and some sticky fly paper near the plants. Good luck!

  11. I adore these plants! Unfortunately my cat literally ate half of my new Maranta, so it’s a good thing they’re pet safe! ๐Ÿ™ Hopefully I’ll have better luck with my next one (which I plan on tucking high and out of munching range)!

  12. Thank you so much for your information on calatheas..I’ve now required 5 and I actually live in Ireland so not that warm however I mist most days and I’ve noticed one of them is slightly Brown tipped so misting it more of her however it’s shooting up 5 new leaves as the other similar one …so can’t be doing to bad…Great piece ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

  13. I jsut recently got a calathea. Well, not recently, a while ago I got one, a pin-stripe. but just the other day I got another. Iโ€™m thinking itโ€™s a zebrina.
    They are both so beautiful. I canโ€™t stop looking at them and smiling same time!

    Idle head