With their bold stripes, patterns, and colors, calathea have become one of the most popular tropical plants to have in your home. However, they also have a reputation for being one of the more difficult plants to care for.

Calathea are native to Brazil, making them the ultimate tropical plant. But don’t worry, you don’t need to move to South America to make your calathea happy! Here is a complete guide to caring for your calathea:

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Light

Calathea prefer bright indirect light or even dappled sunlight, as they are used to growing along the jungle floor beneath the canopy of trees. In general, plants with brighter colored foliage require brighter light than those that have deep green leaves. However, direct light can cause their colors and patterns to fade or even burn the leaves.

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Water

Calathea can be sensitive to different minerals found in tap water, so it is best to water them with filtered water, rainwater, or just let your tap water sit out for 24 hours so that any chlorine or fluoride will have evaporated before watering. They also love water; they prefer to live in moist, but not soggy soil, so you may want to water your calathea more often than your other plants. A rule of thumb is to let the top 1-2 inches of the soil dry out in between waterings; just remember not to let the soil dry out completely. If you notice the leaves withering or browning, that is a sure sign that your plant is not getting enough water or moisture.

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Soil

Since calathea like their soil to stay moist, it is best to plant them in a peaty potting soil that will retain water well. However, they are still susceptible to getting root rot if the roots are waterlogged, so make sure the pot they are in has drainage holes. If it does not, simply plant the calathea in a plastic nursery pot with holes and place it inside a decorative pot.

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Temperature & Humidity

Native to South America, calathea prefer a warmer and more humid environment with temperatures ranging from 65-80 degrees. The good news is that you can boost their humidity without turning your home into a jungle! There are 5 ways you can do this:

  1. Humidifier: Add a large one to boost the humidity of the entire room, or a smaller tabletop humidifier to target plants directly.
  2. Misting: Misting plants can work great to boost humidity. Make sure you are using a fine mister and only doing so in the morning so the water has the rest of the day to evaporate.
  3. Grouping plants together: Plants can help boost one another’s humidity too!
  4. Wet pebble tray: Filling a tray (with a larger diameter than your plant) with pebbles and water and placing plants on top is a great way to enhance humidity for specific plants.
  5. Domes: Place these over a plant to help with humidity, but make sure to remove it for a bit each day so your plant can catch its breath.
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Fertilizer

To help your calathea thrive, make sure to fertilize once a month from March to the end of September.

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Propagation

The best way to propagate a calathea is through root division. You can do this by untangling the roots and pulling apart the pieces (gently) that have naturally separated. The best time to propagate calathea is during the growing season (March through September). However, because they are fairly slow-growing, divisions may take time to reestablish themselves and appreciate extra humidity to help them recover.

Troubleshooting

Leaf browning or wilting: This is usually due to underwatering; increase humidity to help balance moisture needs.

Leaf yellowing: Yellowing leaves that are lower or toward the inside of plant may be caused by overwatering (let the top 1-2 inches dry out before watering). Yellowing leaves toward top of the plant may indicate too much direct light.

Spider mites & fungus gnats: Calathea’s foliage is prone to spider mites. You can help prevent this by regularly wiping the leaves to remove dust and spraying them down with neem oil, a natural pest preventative. If your calathea contracts spider mites, fill a spray bottle with water, add a little bit of dish soap, and spray on the leaves and stems to drown the spider mites. After waiting a few minutes, wipe everything down with a paper towel. The best way to avoid fungus gnats is not to overwater your plants; allow the top 1-2 inches to go dry before watering again. If you develop a gnat problem, top-dress with Mosquito Bits or dust the top of the soil with Diatomaceous Earth until the issue is resolved.

Even though calathea are a bit picky about their environment and care, we can easily say that they are worth it. We carry many different kinds of calathea including Calathea orbifolia, Calathea warscewiczii, Calathea zebrina, Calathea roseopicta, and Calathea ‘White Star’. Beginners might want to try Calathea lancifolia ‘Rattlesnake’ or ‘Medallion’ for an easy start. Calathea warsewiczii, Calathea zebrina, and Calathea ‘White Fusion’ are a little more high-maintenance once you are up to the challenge. Now that you know exactly how to care for calathea, grab one for yourself at any of our locations!

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