Calatheas are beautiful house plants grown for their stunning foliage. The top sides of the leaves look as if they have been painted with beautiful brushstrokes – they’re often intricately patterned, in many shades of green. The undersides of the leaves are often burgundy red.
This striking foliage has earned calatheas several nicknames, including the peacock plant, cathedral window plant, zebra plant and rattlesnake plant. Calatheas are also sometimes called the prayer plant as they are closely related to the maranta plant, also known as the prayer plant. However unlike marantas, they do not close their leaves up at night. Many calathea varieties have recently been moved into the genus Goeppertia, so you may now find them being sold under this name.
Calatheas hail from the forest floor of tropical rainforests, which gives plenty of clues as to their care – they cope well in low light levels but need plenty of humidity in order to thrive. You may notice your calathea moving its leaves throughout the day as it orientates itself towards the light – something it has evolved to do in its native environment.
How to grow calathea
Calatheas need specific care in order to thrive. They need a consistently warm spot and bright but indirect light – keep them out of direct sunshine. Keep the soil moist from spring to autumn, and provide some humidity by misting the leaves daily or standing on a tray of moist pebbles. Calatheas need to be watered with filtered or distilled water, or rainwater – not tap water.
More on growing calathea:
Growing calathea: jump links
- Where to grow calathea
- How to care for calathea
- How to propagate calathea
- Calathea problem-solving
- Types of calathea to grow
Where to grow calathea
Calatheas do best in bright, indirect light but will tolerate a bit of shade. Avoid direct sunlight, as this will scorch the leaves, and keep away from draughts. Provide a minimum temperature of 15°C and avoid rooms with regular temperature fluctuations. Bathrooms are ideal for calatheas, as they love a humid atmosphere.
How to plant a calathea
Plant your calathea into compost that’s a 2:1 mix of soil-based compost and perlite. Repot in spring, every couple of years, into a slightly larger pot.
Caring for a calathea
Keep the soil evenly moist (but not soaking wet) at all times from spring to autumn – watering little but often is ideal. Use distilled water, filtered water or rainwater as calatheas are sensitive to the chemicals in tap water. Make sure any excess water has drained away. Water less in winter, keeping the soil just moist.
Calatheas do best in a humid environment, so mist the leaves daily with tepid water or stand on a tray of gravel or pebbles that is topped up with water.
Feed your calathea every couple of months with a balanced fertiliser. Wipe the leaves occasionally to remove dust.
How to propagate a calathea
The best way to propagate a calathea is by dividing it. When you repot the plant in spring, gently pull apart the rootball with your fingers – you should find that a clump at the side comes away naturally. Check that each clump has a part of the root system. Repot both plants into fresh compost, in pots a little larger than the new root ball. If a clump doesn’t come away naturally, you can cut through the rootball with a clean, sharp knife.
Growing calathea: problem solving
Leaves that are curling inwards are a sign under watering. Your plant should bounce back quickly once you have watered it. Ensure that any excess water drains away afterwards.
Yellowing or wilting leaves could also be caused by overwatering. Calatheas suffer in soggy compost as it causes the roots to rot (you may notice that the base of the plant is blackened). Allow the compost to dry out before watering again, and always let excess water drain away.
Brown patches could be caused by sunburn. Move your plant out of direct sunlight.
Faded leaves mean that the plant is getting too much light – move to a shadier spot.
Small brown patches on the leaves, surrounded by a yellow halo, could be leaf spot. This can be a problem if water has splashed on the leaves. Remove any affected leaves to stop the problem spreading. Avoid using tap water.
Brown edges on the leaves or brown tips can be caused by dry air – so boost humidity around the plant, either by misting or by standing on a tray of damp pebbles. You may have also overfed your plant, or watered it with hard water.
Red spider mite can affect calatheas. The leaves and stems of the plant will be covered in fine webbing and the upper surface of the leaf becomes mottled. If you look carefully, using a magnifying glass, you will see mites and eggs on the undersides of the leaves. Improve air circulation boost humidity. Alternatively, use sprays containing, fatty acids or plant oils.
Advice for buying calatheas
Here’s our guide to buying the right calathea for your home, including where to buy calatheas:
- Calatheas are available from garden centres and nurseries, as well as specialist house plant nurseries. Bear in mind that you may get more choice if you buy your calathea from a specialist nursery
- Make sure you have the right conditions for growing calatheas – remember they do best in a humid environment in bright but indirect sunlight
- Check over your calathea before you buy/when it arrives. Make sure the leaves are healthy and plump, and there are no signs of pests
Where to buy calathea online
Varieties of calathea to grow
- Calathea crocata (syn. Goeppertia crocata) – burgundy leaves and stunning orange flowers in summer, which can last for several months. Most calatheas do not flower indoors, but this is an exception
- Calathea zebrina (syn. Goeppertia zebrina) – apple green leaves with painterly dark stripes. Also known as the zebra plant
- Calathea lancifolia (syn. Goeppertia lancifolia) – long leaves that are pale green splashed with dark, and red-purple undersides. Also known as the rattlesnake plant
- Calathea ‘Medaillon’ (syn. Goeppertia ‘Medaillon’) – intricately patterned leaves in shades of lime, apple and dark green. The undersides are dark red
- Calathea makoyana (syn. Goeppertia makoyana) is also known as the cathedral window plant – its pale green, striped leaves appear translucent when the light shines through them
- Calathea orbifolia (syn. Goeppertia orbifolia) has beautiful rounded leaves and silver patterned markings