Calathea Essential Care
Here at Mar Mar we love Calatheas. They grow in all kinds of shapes, leaf sizes and colours which makes them one of our favourite houseplants! There are some surreal and stunning examples out there, it’s a wonder that some have evolved in the way that they have. They are fans of low light places acting as a great way of filling space where other plants cannot thrive. Another plus point; they are non-toxic to humans and animals. In this article we’re going to sing their praises, let’s dive in…
Calatheas hail from the rainforest floors of the South American Amazon Rainforest. One may be wondering how we replicate such an environment. It’s a question worth asking. Let’s start with the quintessentials that will keep your houseplant thriving; Position in bright, indirect light. It’s really that simple! Luckily, these guys can also tolerate low light, which means that they can live just about everywhere in our homes. Water once a week when placed in bright, filtered light or water every fortnight when placed in low light conditions. We have found that they grow best in room temperatures above 18 °C. As we often say: “Less is more”, avoid smothering this plants with too much affection as overwatering and too much disturbance will lead to quick deterioration.
Calathea Majestica 'Whitestar'
Calatheas are some of the most stunning tropical plants that grow from rhizomes as leafy perennials in South America. Their foliage ranges from pointy arrowhead shaped to oval, some varieties are striped and grow in eye-catching purple and pink colours. We especially love the variegated species with their striking foliage and the varieties with furry, velvet-like undersides!
Calatheas have a symbiotic relationship with humans. In their natural habitat, some of the non-toxic, larger leaf specimens are used to wrap food with. Their pointier cousins are often used for handicraft to weave baskets.
As the days draw to an end, much like their distant relatives Maranta's (Prayer Plants), their leaves turn up and curl up signaling that it’s time to go to sleep.
With this last point in mind let’s get a little nerdy: Do you guys sometimes wonder what your houseplants are up to when we’re not around to see, or is that just us? Some species are actually twisting and turning when we’re not looking… Have you heard of the scientific term nyctinasty?
The Calathea family is closely related to the Maranta species which are both known as the ‘prayer plant‘ family. Some varieties are rhythmically moving throughout a 24 hour period, they open their leaves in the day and close up again at night. A similar plant movement, that is maybe more commonly known, can be found in flowers such as tulips, that open and close their petals depending on the sun’s intensity. Let’s take the sunflower for example that, just like some of our prayer plant varieties, turns its’ head with the sun’s movement in the sky. Some Calathea varieties move their leaves responding to light conditions in order to absorb as much as possible. When the sun sets, the leaves fold and curl in the evening and unfold again when it comes out in the morning. These guys are truly exceptional, aren’t they?
Calathea Majestica 'Whitestar' Foliage
Let’s see what we can do to make our show-stopping Calatheas really happy. They thrive in bright, indirect light in a warm and sheltered spot, tucked in a windowsill or on the bedside table. They don’t like direct sunlight but can tolerate low light conditions and flourish beautifully when you place them somewhere where they get lots of humidity. Water once a week or every fortnight, in winter you can water them a little less. Calatheas are sensitive to frost and might wilt in very cold conditions, so make sure you treat them to a minimum room temperature of 15 °C; 18-30 °C would be even better - then they can truly thrive and live up to their full potential. It is worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast, when it’s going to be cold avoid watering, with the damp soil getting too cold it can really shock the plant and cause quite dramatic wilting.
Spray your houseplant with lukewarm water from a plant mister to increase humidity and place on a tray filled with pebbles and water to increase ambient humidity. Give your Calathea a little feed with liquid fertiliser (like our Plant Elixir), that you can add to water, every now and then during the spring and summer months and repot every few years so the rhizomatous rootstocks can expand and grow.
Calathea Makoyana (Peacock Prayer Plant)
Calatheas are the ideal companions for our homes and offices. Let’s give a shout out to some of our favourite varieties that range from unusual snake-shaped, furry leaves to mosaic patterns and lime-green, detailed foliage.
Calathea Lietzei 'White Fusion’
Calathea Makoyana - Peacock Prayer Plant
Calathea Lancifolia (Rattlesnake Calathea)
Calathea Majestica 'Whitestar'
Calathea Rufibarba - Furry Feather Calathea
Let’s hope there won’t - but there might come a time when your Calathea looks a little sad. With the right care this can be avoided, we have found a number of easy solutions for the most common problems, just in case everything you’ve tried is in vain.
Yellow Leaves: Sometimes we tend to overly-love things we care for, so let us check if you might have given your Calathea a little more water than it actually needed? One thing about these guys is that they have an aversion to sitting in water and to their soil being soggy. Keep the compost damp butter never soggy and only water when the top inch of compost feels dry. Also feel through the holes at the bottom of the pot and compare it to the topsoil, if there’s a stark contrast in moisture levels it could mean there’s not enough drainage.
Brown leaves: Does your Calathea show symptoms of brown leaves or spotting on the foliage? This problem might be caused by a possible fungal infection, so we would recommend to use distilled or filtered tap water to make your houseplant happy again. Sometimes dots of yellow/brown can be a sign of sun spots. If the glass in your windows is a little old and warped it can essentially act as a magnifying glass focusing the sunlight to burn the leaves in concentrated areas.
Unusually curling or wilting leaves: If the stunning, shiny and fuzzy foliage of your houseplant curls or looks like it is wilting, your Calathea might need a little more water. What has always worked for us is the finger-test: Put the tip of your finger into the compost to check if the soil feels damp. If it’s dry beyond an inch or so down or the soil is pulling away from the edge of the pot (creating a gap between the soil and pot), give your Calathea a good drench in the bath or shower. We even sit ours in a bucket of water until the soil has taken up a good amount of water (about 10 mins or so).
Have you guys found yourselves falling in love with the Calathea family yet? We hope that you were able to get some answers and inspiration and that you’ll have fun looking after your new houseplant at home. Please share your pictures and stories with us. We love to see what people are up to.
Calathea Rufibarba (Furry Feather Calathea)