This group of beautiful tropical plants is an ever-popular houseplant. They have a tendency to be fussy about their care, but once the techniques are mastered, it turns out they are rather easy plants to grow. Plus, they are absolutely worth the effort to learn their fussy care requirements.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the dos and don’ts of Calathea care. Once you have seen how this group of plants prefers to live, they are going to be your best plant friends.
How to Identify Calathea Plants
There are many different varieties of Calathea plants, each with its own unique colors and features. This makes it difficult to just give a clear-cut answer as to what to look for to identify a Calathea plant. In spite of this, there are a few things you can look for when trying to determine if a plant belongs to the Calathea family.
Features that are common amongst most varieties of Calathea plants are:
- Blooms that look like flowers growing out of a basket (Note: Calathea comes from the Latin word ‘calathus’, which means basket).
- Leaves that are either oval or oblong in shape
- Leaves that are variegated in green, creamy white, or pink
- Leaves with undersides that are colored purple or burgundy
- Leaves that are striped, feathered, or veined in variegated colors
- Leaves that fold up at night and open up in the morning
With so many varieties of Calathea being grown, it is best to keep things simple as we learn how to grow and care for these plants. To do this, we will only list the most common varieties available.
Calathea Beauty Star
This hybrid Calathea variety features leaves with distinctive pink stripes and feathery markings made from shades of green.
Calathea Burle Marx
This variety of Calathea features long leaves that are thin, covered in stripes made from different shades of green, and colored a solid purple on their undersides.
Calathea Concinna ‘Calathea Leopardina’
This variety of Calathea is another plant in this family that is referred to as a zebra plant due to the animal print markings on its long, thin leaves.
This variety of Calathea features wide, oval-shaped leaves with creamy white centers that are outlined in dark green.
This variety of Calathea features large leaves that are oval in shape, smooth and shiny in texture and dark green with a faint pink pattern running throughout them.
This variety of Calathea is also known as a zebra plant because it features striped green leaves.
This variety of Calathea features long, oval-shaped leaves with a feathery pattern in variegated shades of green.
This variety of Calathea features large light-green leaves resting on tall, thin stems. This particular variety can get up to sixteen feet tall if provided proper care.
Calathea Medallion ‘Calathea Veitchiana’
This variety of Calathea features leaves that are very large and oval-shaped. Upon the top of the leaves in various shades of green intermixed with a creamy white color is a feathery pattern that looks as though it has been painted onto the leaf. The underside of the leaves is a brilliant purple-maroon color.
This variety of Calathea features long, thin leaves that are covered in a feathery design of green and white patches.
Calathea Ornata Sanderiana
This variety of Calathea features glossy leaves that are dark green and striped in pink. But, the color is not just for the top of these leaves, the bottoms are colored in a vibrant dark purple as well.
This variety of Calathea features large oval-shaped leaves with a leathery texture. The leaves are variegated in shades of green that form veins along their length and width.
This variety of Calathea features long, oval leaves that are highly variegated in green, white, and pink. This particular plant grows up to three feet tall and can form a thick, rugged-looking bush.
This variety of Calathea features leaves with bright green and white stripes. These leaves are very pointed at their tips and widen toward their bottom ends.
This variety of Calathea features large leaves that are either shaped like an oval or are oblong. The leaves of this plant are highly variegated in dark green, white, or a pinkish-purple color.
This variety of Calathea features long and thin leaves that are bright green, striped in white, yellow, or pink, and grow from a central rosette.
Eternal Flame ‘Calathea Crocata’
This variety of Calathea features leaves that are dark green on top and burgundy purple on their undersides. The most distinctive feature of this variety is the orange flowers it produces. Because the blooms resemble tiny flames, the plant has been nicknamed, Eternal Flame.
This variety of Calathea features dark green leaves with light green stripes running throughout them. The undersides of these leaves are colored in burgundy-purple. The most distinctive feature of this plant is the texture of the leaves, which feel like velvet.
Network ‘Calathea Musaica’
This variety of Calathea features long, oblong-shaped leaves with extraordinary markings on them. This is a plant that must be seen to fully understand its uniqueness.
Never Never Plant ‘Calathea Lubbersiana’
This variety of Calathea features long, thin, and oblong-shaped leaves that are variegated in green and white.
This variety of Calathea features large, shiny, oval leaves covered in feathery patterns. The variegated green and white leaves are reminiscent of a peacock’s showy feathers.
This variety of Calathea features green leaves that are striped in either white, creamy yellow or light pink. The underside of these oval-shaped leaves is colored in a purplish-red.
Rattlesnake Plant ‘Calathea Lancifolia’
This variety of Calathea features long, shiny leaves with wavy edges. The leaves are also variegated in shades of dark and light green in such a way that a pattern resembling a snakeskin appears on each leaf.
Rose Painted Calathea ‘Calathea Roseopicta’
This variety of Calathea features elliptical leaves that are ribbed in shades of green, pink, or creamy white. The undersides of these leaves are colored in purple maroon.
Round Leaf Calathea ‘Calathea Orbifolia’
This variety of Calathea features leaves that are distinctively wide and colored in light green and white stripes.
Velvet Calathea ‘Calathea RufibarSba’
This variety of Calathea features leaves that are long, thin, and wavy. As the leaves mature they will turn from a bright green to dark green with undersides that are velvety in texture and purple-maroon in color. They also feature purple-maroon stems.
How to Grow Calathea Plants from Seed
The unfortunate truth is, Calathea plants are difficult to grow from seed. For this reason, it is not a commonly used method; however, with some patience, it can be done. The steps to growing a Calathea plant from seed are:
- Purchase seeds from a reputable seller (sellers who price their seeds between $1 and $2)
- Create a mixture of tropical plant soil and peat mixed with coarse sand (the ratio should be 1:1 soil to peat/sand mixture)
- Fill a seed starter tray with the soil and peat/sand mixture
- Place the seeds half an inch into the soil
- Lightly water the soil
- Cover the plant container with a plastic bag to retain moisture
- Set the plant container in a warm area that receives bright but indirect sunlight
- Remove the plastic bag for a few hours every other day to allow the seeds access to fresh air
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy at all times
- Once the seeds have germinated and sprouted to two inches tall, they can be transplanted to larger containers
How to Propagate Calathea Plants
Root Division is the most commonly used method to propagate new Calathea plants. To reduce the chance for shock, it is best to work through this method sometime in the spring or early summer seasons. The steps for propagating a Calathea plant via root division are:
- Water the plant 24 hours before propagating it
- Carefully remove the plant from its current container
- Gently pull apart the plant’s roots so that each root section has at least one leaf, or, use a sterile cutting utensil to divide the plant’s rhizome.
- Fill new plant containers with potting soil
- Place the plant sections into the new containers and spread the soil around their roots to secure them into the containers
- Water the new plants
- Place the plant in a warm area that receives plenty of bright, but indirect sunlight
- Cover the plants with a plastic bag
- Once the plants begin to grow in a few weeks, the plastic bag can be removed
Calathea Growing Conditions
These are tropical plants that prefer tropical climates. Keep this in mind if you choose to grow Calathea inside your home. You will need to provide all Calathea varieties with at least 75% humidity and temperatures ranging between 60 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
If this amount of humidity and this temperature range sounds uncomfortable to you, it may be a good idea to consider purchasing an indoor plant humidifier or pebble tray and a plant heat mat. These technologies will allow you to provide just the right amount of heat and humidity directly to your plants without creating a jungle environment in your home.
Another factor that should be considered when preparing to grow a Calathea plant is where the plant will be set. It is recommended that it be kept away from cold drafts and air conditioner and heater vents. During winter, it should not be left in a heated room all day and then left in a room that is cold at night because this can give it shock.
Once you know the best environment for Calathea plants and how you will set up your home to create this type of environment, you will be well on your way to mastering these slightly fussy but beautiful tropical plants.
How to Plant Calathea
Calathea plants should be repotted when they begin their growth rate begins to slow, they require more than two watering sessions a week, their roots are growing out of its container’s drainage holes, or their foliage looks too heavy for their current container.
Just as with the method of root division, a Calathea plant should only be repotted in the spring or summer to reduce the chance of shock. Repotting will benefit the plant by providing it with fresh soil and more room for its root system to grow. The steps for repotting a Calathea plant are:
- Choose a plant container that is 2 inches larger in diameter than its current container
- Fill the plant container potting soil
- Create a hole in the soil for the plant to set inside
- Carefully remove the plant from its current container
- Gently dust off any excess soil from its roots
- Using a sterile cutting utensil, cut off any rotten roots
- Set the plant into the hole in the new container
- Spread the soil around so that the plant is secure in its new container
- Water the plant
- Set it in a warm spot with plenty of sunlight
Calathea Potting & Soil
When selecting soil and a plant container for your Calathea plant, keep in mind that these plants do not grow well in soggy soil or standing water. Choose a plant container that has optimal drainage holes and soil that holds moisture but is also well-draining.
A few soil options to use with Calathea plants are:
Along with good drainage, it is necessary to set Calathea plants in soil that has a pH level ranging from neutral to acidic. To determine the pH level of soil, use a Soil pH Meter to test it. Soil levels can be made more acidic by adding bone meal, hardwood ashes, or ground eggshells to it. Soil levels can be made more alkaline by adding ground limestone to them. For a more detailed look at how to adjust soil pH levels, read this article.
Calathea Water Requirements
Calathea plants need moist soil all the time, and yet, they should not be allowed to rest in soggy soil because this will cause root rot. The best way to confirm that a Calathea plant needs a drink is to test its soil moisture. If the top inch of its soil is dried out, it needs a drink; however, if the top inch of soil is soggy, it does not need a drink.
It is very important to water Calathea plants with either rainwater or distilled water that is lukewarm. This is because these plants are very sensitive to salt and minerals. It is possible to water them with tap water as long as the water has been set out for at least 24 hours so that the minerals in it have time to evaporate.
A plant watering app can help prevent overwatering or underwatering these fussy plants. Use one to help you track when a plant has been watered, set reminders to water it, and get answers to common plant care questions.
Calathea Light Requirements
All Calathea plants should be set in an area that receives plenty of bright but filtered or indirect sunlight. They should not be set in full or direct sunlight because this will cause leaves with variegation to lose their variegation. It will also cause the leaves to dry out and wilt.
It is just as important, however, that they be given enough sunlight to help their leaf variegations to develop. To ensure that your Calathea plant is receiving adequate amounts of sunlight, use a light meter to test indoor light.
Best Calathea Fertilizer
Calathea plants can benefit from a dose of balanced liquid fertilizer once a month during spring and summer. The doses should be diluted to half strength and they will not need any feedings during the winter months.
All varieties of Calathea plants can use the following fertilizers:
Best Calathea Companion Plantings
Since Calathea plants tend to be fussy with their care requirements, it is best to choose a companion plant that has similar care requirements or has easier to follow care requirements. Let’s look at a few options and why they may be the perfect plants to pair with your Calathea.
Any Other Type of Calathea Plant
Choose another Calathea variety to set next to your current plant. They will both require the same type of care, which will streamline all your gardening routines. Also, it is widely known that clustering tropical plants together not only looks good as décor but provides the plants with much-needed extra humidity.
These plants are also native to tropical regions of the world, and therefore, will share humidity with Calathea plants. Pothos plants are also very unfussy plants, which will make it a breeze to care for both types of plants side by side.
Here is another option of tropical plants that will share humidity and nearly as fussy of care requirements. Ficus plants are notoriously beautiful, slightly difficult, and well worth the effort. Why not give them a go along with your Calathea?
Calathea Diseases and Common Problems
There are a few diseases and pests that Calathea plants are susceptible to, but if you learn how to properly care for your Calathea plant, these should not be a huge problem. Here are the most common issues faced by Calathea plants:
Browned or Browning Leaves
This is often a sign that the plant is not receiving adequate amounts of moisture. Tweak its water regimen and provide it with more humidity and the plant should recover.
Other problems that show up as browning on leaves are too much fertilizer or too much direct sunlight. If you suspect either of these may have caused your plant’s leaves to turn brown, try moving it to a shadier area to avoid direct sunlight or saturate the soil of the plant to remove excess fertilizer.
Burnt Edges on Leaves
This is a sign that the plant is either under-watered, over-exposed to sunlight, over-fertilized, or possibly all three. The plant can recover if you tweak its water regimen, move it to a shadier spot, and remove the excess fertilizer from its soil. If you are unsure which problem is causing the burnt edges on your plant’s leaves, try one treatment for a few weeks before switching to another.
Cucumber Mosaic Virus
The signs of this type of infestation are leaves that have jagged yellow streaks on them. The only solution for dealing with this is to dispose of the plant so that it cannot infect other plants.
This is a common symptom caused by a lack of moisture or humidity. Tweak the plant’s water regimen and provide it with extra humidity in its environment and it should recover.
Dropped or Drooping Leaves
This is often a sign that the plant has been under-watered, but it can also be caused by the stress of being transplanted or moved into a new environment. Keep an eye on the plant and give it the care it needs and it should recover.
Faded Colors or Loss of Variegation on Leaves
This is often a sign that the plant is receiving too much sunlight. Move it to a shadier area and the new leaves should start producing variegation and color once again.
Evidence of an infestation of fungus gnats is tiny mosquito-like insects flying around the plant. To deal with an infestation of fungus gnats, follow these steps:
- Remove the top two inches of soil from the plant container
- Sprinkle the plant and the soil with diatomaceous earth
- Place fresh soil around the plant
- Use a sticky trap to catch more gnats
The signs of this type of infestation are seeds and cuttings that turn yellow and wilt. The best treatment for this infestation is to remove the cuttings from their soil and wash them clean, then, replant the cuttings in fresh, clean soil.
This is a sign that the plant has been overwatered and exposed to temperatures that were too cold. Adjust the plant’s watering regimen and move it to a warmer area and it should start to recover.
These insects look like cotton that has attached itself to a plant’s stems and leaves. To deal with an infestation of mealybugs, follow these steps:
- Spray a solution of alcohol and water on the leaves
- Rub the leaves with a cotton ball
- Coat the leaves in neem oil or insecticidal soap every few days
The signs of this type of infestation are leaves that have dark green or black lesions on them. The only solution for dealing with this is to dispose of the plant so that it cannot infect other plants.
This type of infestation looks like tiny brown bumps on the backs of the plant’s leaves. To deal with this type of infestation, follow these steps:
- Spray them off with a hose
- Wipe the remainder off with neem oil and a cloth
- Prevent them from returning by coating the leaves with neem oil regularly
This type of infestation looks like webbing spread over the plant’s leaves and stems. To deal with this type of infestation, follow these steps:
- Spray the plant with a mixture of 1 quart of warm water, 1 tsp. of dish soap, and 2 tsp. Of neem oil
- Wipe off the leaves and stems
- Repeat as necessary
Spots on Leaves
This is a typical symptom of too much direct sunlight after the plant has been watered or misted. The spots cannot be removed, but they can be prevented by careful watering methods combined with proper lighting.
Yellowed or Yellowing Leaves
This is a sign that the plant has been overwatered. If its water regimen is adjusted it should recover.
Calathea Treatment and Maintenance
The best way to prevent harmful diseases and pest infestations is to provide the plant with regular care and cleaning. Here are a few tips to help keep your Calathea plant as healthy as it can be.
- Check it for signs of disease and infestations regularly, and treat them quickly.
- Clean the plant’s leaves regularly with neem oil.
- Learn how to properly water and feed your Calathea plant.
- Make sure your plant is set in an area with adequate amounts of sunlight, heat, and humidity.
- Mix diatomaceous earth into the soil.
Where to Buy Calathea Seeds Online
Calathea varieties can be purchased in seed form at these online shops:
Where to Buy Mature Calathea Online
Varieties of mature Calathea plants can be purchased from these online shops:
Question: Are Calathea Plants Toxic?
Answer: No, these plants are not toxic.
Question: Can Calathea Plants be Planted in Outdoor Garden Beds?
Answer: Yes, but only if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and above, and even then, some Calathea varieties should only be set outside in higher zones. Before committing your Calathea plant to the ground, check which zones it can grow outside in all year round. If you do not live in a zone that is friendly to your plant variety all year, it is best to keep it in a plant container that can be transferred indoors during cold weather.
Question: Should Calathea Plants be Pruned?
Answer: Yes, trimming off old leaves and blooms will actually improve the health of your Calathea plants. This is because the plant is using its energy to keep old and dying leaves or blooms alive instead of focusing its resources on new leaves or blooms. Once the old leaves or blooms are pruned away, the plant’s energy resources will go toward producing healthy new leaves and blooms.
Question: Do Calathea Plants Produce Blooms?
Answer: Yes, Calathea plants produce lovely blooms; unfortunately, it is very unlikely that any Calathea plants grown indoors will do so. The one exception is Calathea Crocata.
Question: Do Calathea Plants Purify Indoor Air?
Answer: Yes, these plants are known for cleaning the air by filtering out harmful chemicals in the air.
Calathea Varieties are all lovely and appealing as houseplants. They provide tropical beauty wherever they are placed. Whether you set some in your home or office, they are sure to please your aesthetic tastes and bring you a little closer to relaxing in nature. They are definitely worth the fussiness.