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Calathea Plant: Care, Propagation Strategies, Varieties

The Calathea plant is a fun, tropical looking houseplant that grows best in bright indirect light

The Calathea plant, also known as the peacock plant or zebra plant or rattlesnake plant, is an excellent houseplant for those looking to add a touch of green and color to their homes. They are easy-to-care plants that do well in low lighting conditions and can even survive neglect! This article discusses how to care for your Calathea so you can enjoy it for years to come.

Plant Profile

The Calathea plant is native to the Amazonian rainforest. It belongs to the family of Marantaceae and is a leafy houseplant that thrives in most zones but does best with plenty of bright indirect light. They grow well as indoor or outdoor plants because they can handle lower levels of light.

Their large green leaves are often variegated with white spots on them and resemble peacock feathers hence its common name ‘peacock’. Colored flowers are rare among Calatheas, but there are many varieties available today, including exotica types from Madagascar like Calathea Exotica and more.

  • Family: Marantaceae (Prayer Plant) family
  • Origin: South-America
  • Zones: Zone 10-11 (USDA) provides the perfect conditions for Calathea plants. Comfortable in temperatures from 40 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit (about 20 to 50 Celsius). It can be grown indoors or outdoors.
  • Origin of the name “Calatheas”: this is a common question with no clear answer – most believe it comes from the Haitian word for “thimble” or another possible origin could be related to ‘calathus’, which in Greek means a long handled pot used as cooking ware by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Calathea Plant Care

The Calathea plant is a popular choice for those looking to have an indoor houseplant that requires low light and little care. It’s also great if you’re looking for a no-fuss, long-lasting leafy display in your home! With these easy tips on looking after it properly, anyone can enjoy this beautiful plant throughout the year – even with minimal gardening experience!

So, How to care for the Calathea plant?

Calathea-Makoyana
Calanthema makayona – Photo by Candrian

Sunlight

We’ve found that they like bright light but not direct sunlight, so a south window is just about perfect. Keep them away from drafts and open doors or windows as well. If you’re using artificial lights for your Calathea plant, be sure to keep it on a regular cycle of 12 hours per day with no more than 14 hours per day and 45 minutes each time the lights are off. This includes fluorescent bulbs, too – give them at least an hour in darkness every two days if possible!

For plants grown outside, they should get total sun exposure during the hottest part of the summer; otherwise, partial shade outdoors will work just fine for most of their life. The only exception would be for plants grown in a greenhouse or other artificially heated space.

Soil

One of the best things you can do for your Calathea is to provide it with a potting mix that’s rich in organic material. This will ensure that its soil stays moist, which is an essential factor when caring for Calathea plants. The type of soil you choose ultimately has little bearing on whether or not your plant thrives, but it should be well-draining and lightweight enough so there are no pockets where water can accumulate.

RELATED: Best Moisture Meters for Plants

Water

Calathea plants need regular watering for best results but do well with infrequent watering as well—be sure not to let their soil dry completely before re-watering it again. In general, Calathea houseplants can survive just fine without any additional fertilizing beyond what may already be present in your potting mix or added water (unless you’re using city tap water that’s been treated with fluoride).

How often should I water my Calathea plant?

The frequency of watering Calathea will depend on the type, size, and soil content of the potting mix that it is in. Generally speaking, most people recommend watering when the top inch or two inches has dried out. Remember that some pots may require more frequent watering than others, so check with your variety to see what works best for them. If they are planted outside during periods where there is no rain, then one would typically water every day or even twice per day depending on how hot it gets (heat can dry them out quickly) and how much sun they get.

Propagation

To propagate Calathea plants from cuttings, take about eight inches of the plant’s stem and let it callous for up to four days before planting it into the potting mix. You can also carefully remove seeds from the fruit pods by scraping off the fleshy outer covering only (no need to peel), then sow them directly onto topsoil that has been sterilized by baking at 275°F – 300°F degrees Fahrenheit until dry. Keep your growing medium moist but not wet; cover containers with plastic wrap to dry out. In both cases, you’ll need to wait at least a month before transplanting your new plants into their containers.

Calathea-Zebrina
Calathea zebrina – Photo by Severin

Repotting Calathea

How often should I repot my Calathea plant?

Calathea plants prefer to be transplanted when their roots have filled the potting medium and become root-bound, typically happening every one to two years for most varieties. Some may take up to three years before needing a transplant, though, so make sure you check with your particular variety first!

When should I repot my Calathea plant?

The best time of year to do this is in late winter or early spring while it’s still cool outside (the top freeze line). Again, some will need more frequent repottings than others, depending on how quickly they grow and fill their pots – so keep an eye out for that too. Generally speaking, any time after six months is good, and you’ll know the roots are pretty full when they start to peek out of the drainage hole at the bottom.

Fertilizer

Calathea does not typically need fertilizer and won’t lack any nutrients if they are happy in their potting medium of choice. If you’re noticing yellowing leaves or slow growth, though, fertilizing every other month with a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer should give them the boost they need (follow directions on the package for dilution ratio). Alternatively, an application of compost tea to the top inch or so of soil once monthly will also help keep your plant healthy.

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You can also give it a nutritional boost by cutting off the top inch of growth and placing the fresh cuttings in water overnight. Toss them on your soil mix or potting medium, side-by-side with any other plant stems you were planning to discard that week – this will add an even bigger nutrient punch!

Pests And Diseases

Calathea plants are prone to few pests but if they do happen to show up despite our best efforts, pick at least one potential pest near its roots every time you fertilize and throw those away, too (along with all grass clippings). This should help keep their population numbers down. If diseases become an issue, remove diseased leaves as soon as possible, and you should be fine.

Calathea-White-Star
Calathea white star – Photo by Candrian

Temperature and Humidity

Calathea plants like a range of around 60-80 degrees. They also require humidity, so feel free to mist them on occasion and keep the potting mix moist but not saturated or wet.

Are Calathea plants toxic to cats or dogs?

No, they’re not! However, it’s important to note that some varieties of these plants contain calcium oxalate crystals which irritate mammals’ mouths and stomachs–especially those with sensitive skin like children, so be sure you know what type if any your particular variety has before allowing them near your pet(s).

Calathea Plant Types

How many varieties are there of Calathea plants? Several, with more than a dozen subspecies and hundreds of cultivars. Typically you’ll find them classified by their leaf shape as well as coloration–most have at least one green variety that is also available in variegated ones.

  • Calathea zebrina: also known as the zebra plant is a perennial evergreen that has been cultivated since 1885. It thrives in moist and shady conditions with temperatures between 50°F-90°F. One of the most popular varieties, this plant has leaves that are striped with different colors. These plants need many suns, so make sure you have plenty of room before planting them.
  • Calathea lancifolia (Rattlesnake): this is a rare species found in the rainforest of Brazil and is also native to Madagascar! The leaves are usually green with dark purple or black markings that appear to make an exciting contrast against other plants. These types need low light, moist soil but not soggy and being watered sparingly – they don’t do well with overwatering.
  • Calathea bipinnata: this variety of Calathea has the most leaves and is likely to grow fastest. It can tolerate more light than other varieties, so it’s a good option for locations that get direct sun exposure all day long (such as in an office with west or south-facing windows). However, don’t put it near any heat sources like fireplaces or radiators – overheating will kill your plant!
  • Calathea makoyana (Peacock): while not nearly as common as C. bipindata, this variety has narrower leaves and usually grows slower because it needs less sunlight than its cousins do. If you’re looking for something easier to care for but still offers plenty of green, this is a good option.
Calathea-Rattlesnake-Lancifolia
Calathea rattlesnake – Photo by Severin
  • Calathea medallion: is a beautiful plant with graceful and elegant leaves. It has been deemed one of the most popular plants for tropical gardens in South America, because it tolerates humid climates well. The Calathea medallion is soft and smooth, but also durable.
  • Calathea crocata: also known as the “painted Calathea,” this variety has dark green leaves with reddish streaks and spots on them that make it stand out from other types. It’s easy to propagate using cuttings but can be challenging for new gardeners because it needs more light than most plants do. Don’t water your plant until its soil dries out – overwatering will kill it!
  • Calathea dubia: this variety is a contender for the best houseplant because it’s effortless to care for and has bright green leaves with yellow stripes. Its only downside is that its narrow leaves make it more susceptible to damage from bugs than other varieties are – be on the lookout!
  • Calathea exotica: is known for their broad leaves with vivid markings, which make an attractive addition to any room’s décor as well as being easy-to-grow plants perfect for new gardeners or those who have little time but still want the benefits gardens provide. That said, they require lots of sunlight, so place them near a window or use artificial light sources if you don’t have any windows in your home.
  • Calathea crotalifera: these Calatheas originate from Colombia and Panama, where they thrive in humid conditions and tolerate dry environments just as well. The flowers on these plants are bright purple, while the underside is green for easy identification.
Calathea-Lietzei-Fusion-White
Calathea lietzei – Photo by Candrian
  • Calathea ernestii: another variety originating from Colombia and Panama, this type is known for its beautiful dark foliage coloration, which contrasts beautifully against its grayish-white background. This particular plant may not be one for beginners as it requires a fair bit of care to grow.
  • Calathea repens: this type does well in dry environments and can even tolerate cold temps too! This plant will often flower with yellow or red leaves, which are also very attractive. It’s important not to overwater these plants to keep the soil moist but don’t water every day because they won’t last long if you do!
  • Calathea plurifolia: native from Brazil, this species loves bright indirect light and high humidity levels. They have an interesting pattern on their petioles (leaf stems) where different colors appear all together like green, white, black and deep purple making them stand out among other plants.

These Calathea varieties should give you some good ideas about how different plants may react depending on where they originate and what type of environment they prefer. Make sure to choose one that suits your needs before bringing it home!

In conclusion, Calathea care is relatively easy to provide for these plants. Before buying, you can find the perfect variety that will meet your needs from one of the many available!

Theresa Lien
A professional writer who has specialized in houseplants and indoor gardening. She's had experience with outdoor landscaping too, having written about plants that grow well on balconies and patios as one of her previous articles for Wohomen.

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