Calathea – Care Guide & Tips

Calathea - care & buy - myPlant

The Calathea is a very popular houseplant. There are many different varieties available, all equally beautiful. The leaves are oval or oblong, purple or green, but all with a beautiful pattern. Every Calathea species shares the same special feature: the plant moves! In the evening a Calathea will close its leaves. In the morning they will open again. Because of the sound this causes we also know this plant as the “rustling plant”. In England, a Calathea is a common housewarming gift because of this: “to turn a leaf” means a new beginning.

In terms of care, it can be a bit of a diva, but with the right approach you’ll come a long way. You can read all about it here. We also like to tell you more about the origin, growth habit, air-purifying properties and the different species. At the bottom of this page are answers to common problems with the Calathea.

Calathea origin and growth habit

Origin

Calathea originated in the Amazon region of South America. Can you imagine these beautiful, colorful plants just growing there in the wild? There, the leaves are used for roofing and making baskets. That’s probably also where the botanical name comes from. Calathea is derived from the Greek “calathus,” which roughly means basket.

Of course, the conditions there are totally different compared to ours. Nevertheless, a Calathea can survive just fine here if you take into account the wishes (and requirements) of the plant. The main differences with the living conditions there have to do with the humidity and the amount of light. More on that later.

Growth habit

The Calathea falls within the plant genus Marantaceae. This plant family is characterized by the beautiful drawings on the leaves. The underside of the leaf is usually more plain and often green or purple. You may be familiar with other plants within this family, for example the Maranta or the Stromanthe.

In practice, the Maranta and the Calathea are often mixed up. A handy tool: Maranta is a hanging plant, Calathea is not. The leaves of both plants close at night. For this reason they are sometimes called prayer plants: in the evening the leaves stand against each other like praying hands

The characteristic leaves of the Calathea grow on stems that emerge from the ground. Depending on the species, these stems are green or purple. A new leaf is still rolled up at first. Once the rolled up leaf sticks out completely, rolling out can begin. If you see that several leaves are curled up something else is going on. The Calathea is not the fastest grower. Eventually, this plant can grow about a meter high. Of course, this is partly dependent on the species and the care.

Calathea care

If you have bought a new Calathea in a garden center, or online, it has made a journey to its new location. This is a stressful experience for a plant. It usually has to get used to the move and the new location.

It may be that the first new leaves in its new location do not come out quite nicely in shape. This is normal. Read the instructions below carefully for the maintenance of this plant, and you will see that it will do just fine!

Location and light

Choosing the right location is extremely important. The first thing to consider is the light. It is often thought that Calatheas like shade. However, this is not the case. A position in the shade will cause the beautiful colors to fade and eventually the growth will also be inhibited

So don’t put them in a dark place. It is better to choose a location with a lot of indirect sunlight. By indirect sunlight is meant that the sun’s rays should not fall directly on the leaves. This can cause leaf burn, recognizable by the brown spots on the leaf

A dash of sun in the morning is fine, but especially the afternoon sun is much too hot. So this is an east-facing window. In this way you mimic the natural conditions: under the tall trees in the tropical rainforest there is hardly any direct sunlight either.

It is good to note that the leaves that are most in the light will grow the largest. If you want to keep your Calathea in balance, turn the plant a quarter turn every week. The same applies to other tropical plants such as the Philodendron

Finally, take into account any drafts in the location. When you think of drafts, you often think of the cold air that travels through a room when two windows face each other. A Calathea does not like that. Draughts can also refer to the warm air coming from a radiator. If you put a plant up there or next to it, you will see the leaves move. This is very bad for the plant because this air is extremely dry. More about this later in the section on humidity.

The ideal temperature

Because it is a tropical plant you would say that it only grows at higher temperatures. If you choose the right location, without direct sunlight and drafts, the usual room temperature is fine for this plant. Usually it lies between 18 and 22 degrees

It is important that the temperature never drops below 15 degrees. This can cause damage to the plant. This is especially in the winter something to watch out for. If you put the window up for a few hours the temperature can quickly drop below 15 degrees.

Watering the Calathea

Make sure the soil always stays slightly moist. Never let the soil dry out completely, but don’t keep it soaking wet either. In general we say: when the top 2 centimeters of the soil are dry it is time to water again. Then give a small amount. And did we mention that a Calathea can be a real diva? Ideally, then, the water should be at room temperature and lime-free.

So how often do you water? That depends on the needs of the plant. In spring and summer the water consumption is higher. Then you give 1 or 2 times a week. In autumn and winter the plant is less thirsty. Then once a week is often sufficient. The ideal amount and frequency also depend on the size and location of the plant. Here you need to get handy.

Preferably start with a little less. Too much water causes more damage to a houseplant than a shortage of water. By the way, you can limit an excess of water by using a good drainage system. This includes a layer of hydro grains and a drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. Excess water can still be harmful this way, but it can eventually drain out of the pot.

A shortage of water can be easily recognized. First the Calathea will start to droop. If the thirst lasts longer the leaves will roll up. The plant does not look healthy, but it is not too late. A good sip of water and the leaves will roll out nicely again!

Watering the Calathea

As mentioned earlier, a Calathea originally lives in the rainforest in South America. The big difference with the conditions there is the very high humidity. This is usually around 80 percent. In the night often even higher

The humidity in our living rooms and bedrooms is a lot lower, usually between 40 and 60 percent. You can see the effect of this best in the leaves of the Calathea: they get brown edges or brown dots. If the humidity is completely too low, the leaves will become dry.

Ensuring high humidity is one of the most important things in the care of the Calathea. Unfortunately, the ideal humidity for the plant is not desirable for our own health. The solution is quite simple: spray the Calathea with a plant sprayer

For this you can use tap water, but preferably water that does not contain calcium. If you use normal tap water, which contains lime, the leaves will develop white spots. This is not a problem for the health of the plant, but it is not good for its appearance.

Another advantage of misting the leaves is that no dust remains on them. This keeps them nice and shiny and you can enjoy this beautiful plant even more.A final note about humidity: the bathroom can be a nice place for this plant. In the bathroom it is often warm and humid. Of course it is important that there is enough light in this room. Something that is often not the case.

Nutrition

The additional feeding of a houseplant is done according to need. This is greatest in spring and summer. We also call this the growth phase of the plant. Then you see many new leaves appear. This costs the plant a lot of energy and so there is a need for nutrition

In autumn and winter you see hardly any activity in your Calathea. Feed it only during spring and summer. Once every two weeks is sufficient. Choose a houseplant food for leaf plants, preferably organic.

If you do not do this, the plant will not die immediately. In nature, it sometimes happens that a plant has no food available for a period of time. After a while the growth will decrease. Then the plant will shed its leaves to save energy. The plant has less energy and becomes more susceptible to diseases. So you would do well to supplement your Calathea as part of its care!

It is good to know that you can also give too much plant food. Your plant is in a pot and a surplus of plant nutrition has nowhere to go. The roots will be damaged by this excess fertilizer. Did you forget to give food once? Then don’t give too much, but simply resume your normal schedule.

Potting soil

As mentioned above, this plant does not like to stand in soggy soil for long periods. This can cause root rot, which can eventually kill the plant. By making the soil a little airier you can help prevent this

You can use a normal potting soil for houseplants, but then mix in some perlite or sand. By adding this material, water flows through the soil more easily. In addition, it is important to have a hole at the bottom of the pot. Otherwise, the water cannot get out.

Pot and repotting

It does not matter much which pot you choose for your Calathea. Do you choose a terracotta pot? Make sure you water a little more often than usual. Terracotta is porous and water will therefore disappear faster from the soil.

These plants do not grow fast. Repotting is therefore not often necessary. The frequency depends on the location and care, but is usually every 2 to 3 years. You know you have to repot when the roots at the bottom of the pot grow out of the hole.

Always repot in early spring. Then the plant starts its growth phase and will produce many new roots and leaves. Repotting can be quite stressful and this way the plant still has the entire spring and summer to recover from the move.

Pruning

There are many houseplants that you need to prune to keep them beautiful and healthy. Consider, for example, the purple hanging plant Tradescantia Zebrina. This is not the case with the Calathea. Also, you do not need to prune them for their size because they grow rather slowly.However, it is good to regularly remove the dead leaves. You can cut these off as close to the base of the plant as possible.

This benefits the ornamental value, but it is also better for the health of the plant. Because the affected leaves are gone, the Calathea can use all its energy to create new, healthy leaves.

Calathea species

Calathea plants come in many varieties. Most are bred for the color and pattern on the leaves. Below are seven of the most common lower taxa.

Calathea Roseopicta

We begin with the beautiful Calathea Roseopicta. This species has a large leaf which tapers at the top and bottom. The unique thing about this Calathea species is the color of the leaf. It is dark red at the back and dark green at the front. In addition, there is a beautiful, pink pattern on the front. The pattern looks like it was sketched on with a pencil. Beautiful! There are many popular cultivated forms of this species, such as the Calathea Medaillon.

Calathea Orbifolia

Other Calathea species may have more striking colors, the Orbifolia more than makes up for this difference with its leaves. These are large, broad and have a beautiful pattern. The leaves really impress and give the plant a tough look.Want to know more? Read more about the Calathea orbifolia.

Calathea Rufibarba

The Calathea Rufibarba is another unique species! The leaves are narrow and the leaf surface is wrinkled on the sides. This gives the appearance of the leaf having jagged edges, but that is not the case.Also special is the color difference: the leaves are green on top and purple on the bottom. The leaves basically grow straight up, but once the plant gets bigger and fuller they can fall over. Then this Calathea takes on a more fuller look.

Calathea Majestica

No list of Calathea species is complete without the Majestica. This variety also has a narrower leaf, but is light green with white markings. In some varieties of the Majestica, there is so much pattern on the leaf that the entire leaf appears white.

Calathea Makoyana

Truly a beautiful and unique Calathea type is the Calathea Makoyana. The color combination and pattern on the leaves makes this plant very popular.

Origin

The leaf of the Calathea Zebrina is a lot narrower than the previous one, but has an equally special pattern. The nickname “Zebrina” is of course explained by the stripes that run across the leaf. The dark green stripes contrast beautifully with the lighter green of the leaf.

Calathea Ctenanthe

The Calathea Ctenanthe differs slightly from the previous Calathea species. The leaves are a lot smaller, but also the total size of the plant remains fairly limited. This variant is therefore nice for a place with less space, on a cabinet for example. The pattern on the leaf is as special as its brothers and sisters. Truly a feast for the eyes!

Calathea Ornata

The Calathea Ornata also has the characteristic leaf pattern. In this case it is pink stripes running from the center to the sides of the leaf.

Calathea Triostar

Unique because of the shape of the leaf, but also definitely the color. That is the Calathea Triostar, also called Stromanthe Sanguinea Triostar.

Calathea is air purifying

So there are very many beautiful species available. But did you know that in addition to beauty, they also have a function? These plants are very strong air purifiers! There are many plants that can purify the air. The degree of air purification depends largely on the surface area of the leaf. The larger the leaf, the more capacity. Take for example the Pancake plant with small leaves. It is air-purifying, but because of its small leaves, it does not have much capacity. Most Calatheas have very wide leaves. So because the leaf area is so large, it can purify extra air.

The Calathea flower

First, it must be said that a flowering Calathea as a houseplant is quite unique. The plant can do fine in a living room and grow well, but flowering is really a different story. Only under the perfect circumstances, or if you are very lucky, will your Calathea start to flower. You probably brought it into your house because of its beautiful leaves. One exception is the Calathea Crocata (pictured below). Are the flowers (almost) finished flowering? Then cut them off with stem and all, as close to the base of the stem as possible. This way the energy can go to the production of new flowers and leaves.

Buying a Calathea

As you could read above, there are almost countless different types of Calathea. All of them are equally beautiful. Would you like to buy a Calathea? Then pay close attention to the supplier. These plants must be well packaged and transported, otherwise they will not arrive beautifully. There are of course web stores that do this well. Many of them offer their plants on Bol.com. So you as a buyer have a clear overview of the offer and you can compare well.

Calathea origin and growth habit

The leaves curl up

Curly leaves on your Calathea is a sign that the soil has been too dry for too long. When the plant starts to feel thirsty, the leaves will droop first. If the drought lasts even longer, the leaves will curl up.

This looks serious, but fortunately it can usually recover. Do not give your plant a big splash of water right away, but first a little. Then after a few hours, give it another shot. The Calathea is notorious for its high demands on care. Of course, there are easier plants, such as the Pancake Plant.

Is the Calathea poisonous?

Good news: the Calathea is not poisonous! So you can safely bring this plant into your home if you have cats or other pets. The fact that this plant is safe when pets accidentally ingest leaf parts is of course nice. But they can easily damage these beautiful leaves. Cats in particular have been known to wreak havoc on a houseplant. So maybe it is better to keep them away?

My plant has yellow leaves

Do the leaves have yellow edges or do you even have a completely yellow leaf? This is a signal from the plant that the roots have been standing in wet soil for too long. The Calathea is really demanding when it comes to watering: not too little, but definitely not too much.

The first thing you should do is remove the plant from the pot. Check how wet the soil is. If it is really soaking wet you should replace the soil. If it is not soaking wet you can simply adjust the watering. On this page, in the care tips, you can read how to do this. The yellow leaves will not regain their color, but the new leaves should be healthy again. If you want, you can cut the yellow leaves from the plant.

My Calathea has spider mites or aphids

They are very beautiful plants, but unfortunately the critters think so too. These plants are susceptible to lice, spider mites and other ailments. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat this.

Preventing it is better than curing it. The best way to prevent bugs is to mist the leaves with a plant sprayer. If you do this daily, the bugs will have much less chance to settle.

Another tip: inspect. Check the leaves and stems weekly for abnormalities. One characteristic of aphids is that they suck the sap from the leaves. This causes the leaves to curl. Because most of the sap goes to the young leaves, aphids are often found there.

Discolored leaves

You probably brought this plant into your home because of its beautiful leaves. Of course you do not want the leaves to discolor. There can be many causes for the discolored leaves, so consider which one applies to your situation:

  • Because the plant is in direct sunlight, brown spots appear on the leaf.
  • Watering the plant too much, too often results in yellow spots on the leaf.
  • Because the plant is in the shade too much, the markings on the leaf fade.

Grown too big

These plants grow to a maximum height of 1 meter in a pot. Do you think that is too big? Then you can do two things: prune or split.PruningThe leaves grow on stems that come out of the ground. So you cannot shorten the stems, as you would with other houseplants. What you can do is prune away the largest and tallest leaves. This leaves you with a small plant. Cut the leaves, including the stem, as close to the base as possible.SplittingA more drastic approach: splitting the Calathea. By splitting the root ball in two two smaller plants are created. Please note that this is a drastic action for your plant. So only do this with healthy plants and preferably choose a time in the spring.

Summary

Botanical nameCalathea
FamilyMarantaceae
Also known asZipper Plant, Korbmarante
Water quantityAverage
HeightNo more than 1 meter
Light requirementsLots of indirect light
Toxic?No

 

What is the easiest Calathea to care for?

Calathea lancifolia – Also know as Rattlesnake Plant, this long narrow-leafed Calathea is also considered the easiest in the family to care for.

Does Calathea need sunlight?

Calatheas thrive in medium, indirect sunlight but tolerate lower light levels too. Bright direct sunlight can cause the stunning colours on their leaves to fade, with prolonged exposure likely to burn and scorch their leaves.

How often should you water Calathea?

Water. Calatheas enjoy weekly waterings, allowing the top 2′ of soil to dry out partially. In winter, we recommend watering less frequently to prevent overwatering and root rot. This plant is not very drought tolerant, and extended periods of dryness will cause leaf edges to brown.

How do you keep Calathea alive?

Calathea like to have moist soil or planting substances, but not soggy. They do not want lots of water, as it can drown them. When you water a Calathea plant, do not water it so much that the plant ends up sitting in standing water. Temperature – Calathea plants do not like the cold very much.

Is Calatheas hard to care for?

A Calathea with its exotic foliage, is a bit difficult to care for and has very specific water, light, and fertilizer requirements. However, like many other fussy plants, a Calathea plant is well worth the effort. This very attractive plant is safe to have around children and pets.

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