Calatheas are some of the most popular houseplants in the world, but there are aspects of their care that may be a bit challenging, especially for beginner plant owners.
These plants are native to South America and are coveted for their beautifully colored leaves that can come in white, pink, purple or green.
In this article, we will discuss the proper cultural care of Calathea plants and how to correctly propagate them. So, if you are thinking of adding one of these to your plant collection, keep reading.
1. Light requirements
Calatheas prefer bright, indirect light, whether from the sun or from grow lights. Place the plant in a spot near a north- or east-facing window, as these are the ones that do not let in harsh light. If the only available window lets in very intense light, you can still use it by placing a sheer curtain over the window. The curtain will help diffuse the light and make it less intense so that it does not damage the plant.
These plants also do well in low light conditions, but their growth is noticeably slower in low light than in bright light. The Calathea varieties that are lighter in color will need more light to maintain their vibrant hues.
In the winter, when sunlight is scarce, a grow light is your plant’s best friend.
2. Water requirements
You should not simply follow a set schedule when watering your Calathea. Rather, to determine whether your plant needs to be watered, touch the top two inches of soil in the pot. If the soil is dry, you can water the plant, but if it is still damp, wait one or two days and check it again.
The frequency of watering will depend heavily on the climate where you live, the season of the year, and the current weather conditions. Thus, someone who lives in a cold climate, during the winter with a lot of rainfall, will not need to water their plant as much as someone living in a warm, dry place with little to no rainfall. This is because the colder and wetter the weather, the more slowly the soil dries out. These plants also do not need much water during winter because they are not actively growing at that time.
Calatheas are a bit picky about the kind of water they like, so only use rainwater, filtered or distilled water.
3. Humidity requirements
Calatheas like a humid environment and they will appreciate the occasional misting with a sprayer. Try to mist only in the daytime so that the plant can dry out in the morning sun. Letting water stay on the leaves for long periods of time can encourage fungal growth.
You can also increase the humidity by using a pebble tray filled with water. Place the pot on top of the pebble tray and, as the water evaporates, it will moisten the leaves and the soil in the pot.
Another trick is to place humidity-loving plants close to one another so that together they create a microclimate.
If you have the means, you could purchase a humidifier to regulate the humidity levels in your home without you needing to worry about it.
4. Soil requirements
As mentioned above, these plants like their soil to be constantly moist but not damp, so the ideal is a well-draining potting mix that also has moisture retention qualities. You can make your own mix by combining one part perlite to two parts regular potting soil. This mix allows air and water to reach the roots of the plant while being porous enough to reduce the possibility of overwatering and, hence, root rot.
The pot you use for the plant should have drainage holes at the bottom so that any excess water can simply flow out, rather than stagnating around the roots.
5. Fertilizer requirements
This plant should only be fertilized during the spring and summer. This is the period when the plant is actively growing and will use up a lot of the minerals and nutrients in the soil. Avoid feeding the plant during the fall and winter, because this could lead to toxicity in the soil which will do the plant more harm than good.
Use a fertilizer made specifically for indoor plants, diluted to half-strength, and give it to the plant once a month in the spring and summer.
These plants do not need to be repotted very often because they are not prone to becoming rootbound. You will know if a plant needs repotting if the roots start to grow out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, or when there seems to be more root than soil in the pot. The plant will also look sad and stunted if it is rootbound. When choosing a new pot, choose one that is a size larger than the last one. Using a pot that is too large will entail too much soil, and too much soil means too much retained water and a greater chance of overwatering and root rot.
Repot the plant during its growing period in the spring and summer. Repotting is a traumatic experience for the plant, and it will need to be actively growing in order to recover quickly.
- The most effective way of propagating a Calathea is by division of the parent plant. You are basically removing sections of the parent plant to make more plants.
- Take the parent plant from its pot and inspect it for sections that appear to have their own root system. These roots usually look like they have just sprouted, rather than mature roots. Each section should also have at least one leaf on it.
- Gently separate the roots of each section. You can normally do this with just your fingers, but if you are having a hard time untangling them, you can cut them apart using a sterilized pair of scissors or a knife. Try to cut through as little of the root system as possible.
- Prepare several smaller pots and plant each section in its own individual pot. Use a well-draining soil mix and water it.
- You can now continue caring for the new plants as you would a regular plant. Make sure you keep all of the plants’ soil moist but not damp. You will see new growth on the plants after a couple of weeks.
- Propagation is best done during the growing period, in the spring and summer.
Calatheas are not the easiest plants to care for because they are very sensitive to changes in watering habits. However, once you figure out what works best for them, growing them will become a breeze. You will be rewarded with interestingly-colored leaves that can be all types of green, white, pink and even purple. Give the plant bright, indirect light, regular room temperature and humidity, and only fertilize it once a month during the spring and summer.
You can propagate the plant through division, which is when you separate the plant into sections that have their own leaves and root systems. Simply plant each section in its own pot and care for them as you would a regular, mature Calathea.
Image: istockphoto.com / Akchamczuk