The Calathea genus includes some dazzling species of houseplants that stand out thanks to their bold leaf markings that have earned these plants some alternative names like zebra plant, rattlesnake plant, or peacock plant.
If you’re looking for an ornamental plant that will add to your room’s decor, Calathea houseplants make an excellent choice regardless of whether your goal is to accentuate certain decor elements or simply brighten up a room.
Native to tropical South and Central America, Africa, and the West Indies, Calathea houseplants come in as many as 300 varieties. The plant is sensitive in some respects, but they’re generally not difficult to look after.
If you’re about to get a Calathea plant for your home or office, or you own one already, my plant care tips below will help you offer this plant all it needs to thrive in your company.
Calathea Plant Care Tips
The plant care recommendations below will ensure that your plant receives the best care and helps you identify potential problems with your plant.
Because there are several Calathea plant varieties, it’s only natural that some of the things you will read below may not all be applicable to your particular variety. Therefore, I encourage you to read these recommendations as a general guideline to Calathea plants and research
Depending on your Calathea variety, the plant grows at a moderately fast rate, but without spreading out over their pots. On average, Calathea plants don’t grow higher than 2 feet.
This is a great size for this highly decorative plant, making it a good choice for most homes or apartments.
When it comes to light, Calathea plants require indirect light, which should be bright, but some varieties will thrive in lower light conditions as well. Whatever you do, do not place these plants in direct sunlight — their leaves will fade and scorch. In fact, when it comes to Calathea plants, the darker the leaves, the lower the light requirements.
I mentioned how this houseplant is sensitive to certain keeping conditions and watering is one of the things that needs your special attention, and that’s because Calatheas don’t do well if watered with hard water, soft water, or water that has added chemicals like chlorine and fluoride.
If you have a water filter installed in your home that removes disinfection chemicals and fluoride, you can go ahead and use that water. Alternatively, you can use rainwater or distilled water. You can even aerate tap water (let is sit overnight) to evaporate chlorine.
The soil of your Calathea plant should be moist, but never soggy. A good rule of thumb in watering this plant is to allow the top inch of soil to dry out before you water the plant again. Some varieties require even dryer soil between waterings (2-3 inches of the top soil).
And while this plant thrives in a humid environment, it should be noted that allowing the plant to sit in soggy soil will cause bacterial and fungal infections.
Temperature & Humidity
As a tropical plant, Calatheas should be guarded from the cold as they don’t tolerate cold temperatures or even cold drafts.
Their ideal temperature range is between 65-80 F. Temperatures outside this range may hurt the plant, which will first become noticeable as a curling of the leaves. Cold temperatures will quickly shorten the lifespan of your Calathea plant, especially if you’re dealing with a particularly sensitive variety.
Humidity is also a component of the natural habitat of these plants and they do better in environments with increased humidity around 50%-60%.
Some varieties can tolerate air that is dryer, but more sensitive varieties will require more humidity, otherwise their leaves will turn brown.
If the air in your home is too dry, there are things you can do to increase the humidity level around your Calathea plant:
- Try placing the plant on a tray of wet pebbles;
- Invest in humidifier that you can place close to your plant; or
- Simply group together more plants to increase humidity.
Misting the plant from above is not desirable and you should use other methods to increase humidity. If the air is too dry, the plant becomes prone to mites and scale.
A well-draining soil that retains moisture but won’t get soggy is the ideal soil for Calatheas. A light and porous soil that drains quickly like soil designed for African violets works well for Calatheas too.
Alternatively, you can create your own Calathea soil mix by using 50% potting soil in combination with 20% orchid bark, 20% charcoal and 10% perlite.
Fertilizing isn’t crucial but the plant does benefit from added fertilizer during the growing season. Use a balanced liquid plant fertilizer but make sure to dilute it to half strength. Fertilize only during summer and spring when the plant is growing. Fertilizing more than once a month is usually not needed.
Potting & Repotting
Use a pot with draining holes to avoid having your Calathea plant stay in soggy soil. Both plastic and terracotta work fine. Repotting is needed usually once a year or every other year mostly only to freshen up the soil if it becomes compacted.
Calathea Plant Propagation
Propagation of this plant is possible by division, usually when repotting the plant. Divisions should be covered with plastic and kept in a warm, moist and dark place until active growth can be observed.
Different Types of Calathea Plants
Here are some Calathea plants that might interest you. Some of these are high-maintenance and some are easier to tend to.
I’ll start with the high maintenance varieties:
This Calathea type grows a bit taller than the average Calathea plant, reaching about 3 feet or 1 meter. It features long, elliptical leaves with green markings on the leaf top that evoke zebra stripes. The undersides of the leaves are purple.
Calathea White Fusion
This variety is often referenced as the ‘drama queen’ of Calathea plants since it’s extremely finicky. The purple underside of the leaves creates an elegant contrast with the white and green marbling of the top.
For those not up to the challenge of dealing with very sensitive varieties, I recommend the following varieties:
This variety also goes by the name ‘beauty star’ and features pink and white stripes on the tops contrasted with purple undersides. It’s not as finicky as the white fusion, but still requires attention.
Calathea Concinna Freddie
Worried that your home isn’t too bright for Calathea plants? This variety is specifically bred for its low light tolerance.
Calathea Makoyana or Peacock Plant
This variety boasts spectacularly decorated leaves — hence the peacock plant name — with bright green stripes ‘interrupted’ by dark green, oval shaped patterns. The purple underside of the leaf is present in this variety as well.
Make sure you read up more on the requirements of the variety of your choice, especially if you’re dealing with a sensitive one. Be watchful especially of temperature, light, and watering needs.
Calathea Plant FAQs
If you’re curious to further your knowledge about these plants, the FAQs below may give you some more pointers.
What other Calathea Varieties are There?
Other popular Calathea varieties include C. crocata, Calathea roseopicta, Calathea lancifolia, Calathea warsewiczii, Calathea rufibarba, Calathea orbifolia, etc.
Why are the Tips of my Calathea Plant Browning?
Browning leaf tips are usually a sign that the plant is getting too many minerals or the water you’re using contains chemicals. If the entire leaves are browning, the problem may be the lack of humidity.
Are Calathea Plants Toxic?
Good news for pet owners, Calathea plants are not toxic to cats or dogs, so they’re safe to keep around your pets.
Can I Cut off the Bottom Leaves of my Calathea? They’re looking kind of shabby.
Yes, don’t be afraid to cut off old leaves from the bottom of the plant. This will encourage new leaves to grow. Old leaves will be usually brown or yellow, so don’t leave them on the plant, they’re not doing anyone any favors.
Do Calathea Plants Bloom?
Calathea plants flower in the wild, but they’re less likely to do so indoors. There’s one exception, the C. crocata species, which flowers without problems even indoors, producing beautiful orange flowers.
While Calathea plants have some requirements and sensitive varieties may be a bit high maintenance, once you get down the basics of caring for them, you’ll do fine.
On the upside, Calathea plants don’t require any pruning or trimming, except for the occasional removal of old leaves.
These are beautiful plants and even if not all flower indoors, their peculiar foliage and interesting patterns make up for a potential lack of flowers.
Because these are tropical plants, you should be careful during the winter to guard the plants from the cold.
With so many Calathea varieties, you’re bound to find a plant to your taste. I hope my article will serve as a good basis in getting started with your Calathea plant, and you’ll be able to enjoy taking care of it.