Calatheas are a genus (*see below for more on this if you’re feeling nerdy) of flowering plants native to the tropical Americas such as Bolivia and Brazil. Calathea orbifolia (pictured below), zebrina and lancifolia species are easy to come across, but there are dozens more. Like us, many people fall instantly in love with them because of their incredibly colourful and ornate leaf markings, which look almost like they’ve been painted on. Look out for the Calathea veitchiana species and you’ll see what we mean. Sigh.
They’re no way near as resilient as certain other tropical indoor plants, but that shouldn’t put you off – they’re not at all demanding and it’s simply a case of knowing what they like, and what they hate. However, if you’re a beginner indoor gardener or are looking for a seriously low maintenance houseplant, this might not be the right choice for you.
First thing’s first: Light. Calatheas are used to growing in shady tropical, humid climates, which makes them perfect for low-light spots in your home. Keep them positioned away from direct sunlight or very hot, dry air. Too much light will damage their leaves, but too little will limit growth. Look out for crisp, dry leaves, which could indicate sunburn.
Ideally pick a room with a temperature of between 15.5-24ºC, and a spot where it will receive plenty of indirect light. One of the things we love the most about our Calathea orbifolia (and what prompted us to name her Trisha the Wave) is the way its leaves open and close at different times of the day, especially after watering.
Speaking of, watering is the next most important factor to consider, and is the key to keeping a Calathea happy long-term. From early spring to late summer, water regularly to keep the soil moist, but never soaking. Like many tropical plants, a good trick to check when it’s time to water is to simply stick your finger 2-3” into the soil and check it feels completely dry. If so, then it’s time to water. If not, hang on until it feels dry.
Drainage is really important too, because soggy compost will encourage bacteria to grow and quickly damage a Calathea’s root system. So make sure to use a pot with a drainage hole so that any excess water can be tipped away a couple of hours after giving it a drink.
In autumn and winter months, growth will slow down and therefore much less water is needed. Keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil, and only gently water once the top half of the soil is dry.
A common problem is brown leaf tips – this is due to the plant experiencing too much dry air. Try moving it to a more humid spot, and misting the plant’s leaves regularly will help keep it hydrated too. Alternatively, sit the plant pot on a tray lined with a bed of stones, which will help boost humidity by collecting any excess water, without damaging the plant’s roots.
You can find more on the symptoms of brown leaves here.
Calatheas grow relatively quickly in their active period (spring and summer), so make sure to add a little houseplant fertiliser to your watering can every month to give it the extra nutrients it needs to grow new shoots and leaves.
The last thing to bear in mind is pruning. As the plant matures, you'll notice older leaves turning yellowy brown. You can cut these away near the base with a pair of sharp, clean scissors or secateurs.
Do you need advice with your calathea? Comment below and we'll do our best to help you solve any problems or queries. Calatheas, we adore you!
* A genus is a kind of ‘rank’ of plants within a wider family; the family which all Calatheas belong to is the Marantaceae, or ‘Prayer Plant’ family. All Marantaceae plants are identified by their starchy roots and similarly formed flowers and leaves. From there, each genus includes various (sometimes hundreds or thousands!) of species of plants. The genus name comes first, then the species name, for example Calathea orbifolia
**First photos by Erika Raxworthy and the rest swiped from Pinterest