Total Calathea Plant Guide

16 Jan 2022

The Calathea may have a reputation for being a tad finicky, however, our care guide will fill you in on everything that you need to know to grow a prosperous Calathea.

We’ll discuss its key characteristics and care requirements as well as how to grow and maintain a healthy houseplant.

Main Features

The Calathea is an absolutely stunning genus and the many species that belong to it produce vibrant, eye-catching foliage with deep and elegant veins. It is a herbaceous perennial and they’re native to South America.

This fussy, tropical houseplant makes a statement no matter where it’s grown. It belongs to the Marantaceae family, and its varieties go by a few nicknames; zebra plant, rattlesnake plant, peacock plant, pinstripe Calathea, and cathedral window plant.

This genus is made up of many varieties and we’ll be discussing some of the most popular types in the next section.

Calathea Types

There are over 300 different types of Calathea, and each produces its own uniquely shaped and colored foliage. Here, we will briefly discuss the 10 most sought-after types.

  • Calathea zebrina: It is also called the ‘zebra plant’, and this plant shouldn’t be confused with the Aphelandra squarrosa (also commonly known as the zebra plant). This houseplant has stunning foliage with green and white stripes that resemble zebra stripes on the top side of the leaf. It is then purple on the bottom side of the leaf.
  • Calathea orbifolia: This houseplant has gorgeous, large, and rounded leaves with silvery-green stripes.
  • Calathea lancifolia: This variation is also known as the ‘rattlesnake plant‘ or ‘rattlesnake prayer plant’. It has light green foliage with dark, green oval markings. The underside of these leaves is purple too.
  • Calathea crocata: It has simple, plain light olive-green foliage which is accompanied by bright orange blooms. When its flowers emerge, the plant is referred to as the ‘eternal flame’.
  • Calathea ornata: This ‘femme fatale’ plant has pretty pink and white striped leaves.
  • Calathea makoyana: It’s commonly known as the ‘peacock plant’ and its foliage has a purple underside with white and green markings on the topside.
  • Calathea setosa: The houseplant is also referred to as the ‘compact star plant’, and it produces evergreen, broad leaves with dark silver veins.
  • Calathea roseopicta: The foliage also has purple undersides, while the top side is emerald-green and has a pink midrib. This plant is also known as the ‘rose painted’ Calathea.
  • Calathea majestic: The ‘white star’ Calathea has dark green leaves with thick white stripes. A few of the leaves will be covered in a shade of pink near the midrib.
  • Calathea rufibarba: The ‘furry feather’ or ‘velvet’ Calathea’s blue-green foliage has a soft, velvety texture and it sprouts from deep red stems.

Prayer Plant vs. Calathea

The Calathea is very closely related to the prayer plant, however, there are a few differences. Both houseplants belong to the same family; Marantaceae, and they look quite similar.

One of the differences is that the prayer plant’s leaves have significant veins and ribs, while the Calathea has brighter and more intricate patterns on its leaves.

The prayer plant also has oval-shaped leaves, whereas, the Calathea species produce a wide range of leaf shapes. The prayer plant is more of a low-growing houseplant when compared to the Calathea genus.

A major distinguishing factor is that the prayer plant performs nyctinasty, which means that its leaves curl inwards in response to the nighttime. The Calathea does not carry out such an action.


The Calathea can grow between 6 inches to 3 feet (15 – 91cm) tall and 6 inches to 2 feet (15 – 61cm) wide. The size will vary across the different species and is largely dependent on the care it receives.

How Fast Does It Grow?

It is a relatively fast-growing plant and can reach its mature size in a year. The houseplant will usually sprout an extra 2 feet (61cm) of new growth per year before it’s mature.

How Long Does It Live?

This houseplant isn’t known for its long lifespan. The typical Calathea will only survive for around 1 to 2 years.

Is It Toxic to Cats and Dogs?

The Calathea is not a toxic houseplant. It is perfectly safe to grow around your cat or dog.

So, not only is it a stunning and pet-friendly plant but it is also beneficial for your health too. It is a natural air purifier and removes harmful toxins from the air we breathe.

Calathea - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

Calathea Care

Now, we will take a deep dive into the specific care that a healthy Calathea requires. We’ll discuss how to water, prune, and repot it, as well as how to create the optimal environment.

How Often to Water It

The Calathea loves a good watering. This thirsty houseplant thrives in moist potting soil, but it mustn’t be soggy.

Before watering it, always check the top 2 inches (5cm) of the soil. If the potting mixture is dry then you can water it until the excess water flows out the drainage holes, but if the soil is still moist then wait one more day before watering it.

Typically, the Calathea needs to be watered once every three days during the spring and summertime. In the cold winter months, you should water it once a week.

The type of water you use is important when it comes to this plant. It is highly sensitive to the minerals and chemicals found in tap water, so it’s best to use distilled water or natural rainwater.


The houseplant needs to be planted in quick-draining soil and a pot with drainage holes. These two aspects are key to maintaining a thriving houseplant.

If the roots sit in soggy conditions then they may begin to rot, and they won’t receive enough oxygen either. This will cause the plant to eventually die.

You can enhance the soil’s ability to drain excess moisture by adding a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot or throwing in some extra perlite.

How to Prune It

You will need to prune this plant during the spring or summertime to remove any unhealthy, diseased, or leggy growth. You can also trim off any excess growth to maintain the houseplant’s size too.

We’ve set out a list of steps below:

  1. Clean your pruners or pair of scissors.
  2. Cut off the entire leaf by the base of the stem or snip any damaged edges off.
  3. You can then care for it as you previously did.

When and How to Repot It

Typically, the Calathea should be repotted once a year or when it is rootbound. The new container mustn’t be too big and instead should be 1 or 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm) wider.

It is best to transplant it during the spring or summer time as it is highly sensitive to being repotted. Furthermore, you should only repot a healthy-looking Calathea.

Follow the steps below:

  1. Slide the houseplant out of its container.
  2. Take out a new pot and fill the bottom 2 inches (5cm) of it with soil.
  3. Place the Calathea in the center of the container and cover the roots with extra potting mix.
  4. The top of the soil should be 2 inches (5cm) below the pot’s rim.
  5. Pat the soil down to anchor the houseplant and moisten it.
  6. Care for the houseplant as you previously did.

Environment Conditions

Light Requirements

The Calathea is native to tropical rainforests, where it received filtered sunlight. Even when grown as a houseplant, it should be placed under indirect sunshine as direct light will burn its leaves.

The houseplant should be placed under bright light for 6 hours a day. This way, your houseplant’s foliage will remain waxy, bright, and colorful.

It can tolerate shady areas, however, the growth may become leggy and slow.

Best Soil Type

The optimal soil has a pH level of 6.5 and is lightweight, airy, and well-draining. The potting mixture should be moist at all times, so it needs to retain water too.

You can opt for an African Violet potting mixture or you could mix together your very own potting soil.

Here are two top potting mix recipes:

  • Mix together 40% perlite + 50% peat moss + 10% compost
  • Combine 50% soil + 20% orchid bark + 20% charcoal + 10% perlite


The best type of fertilizer to use when you feed your houseplant is a well-balanced, water-soluble, liquid fertilizer. You should choose one with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium like 20-20-20 or 10-10-10.

You should feed it once a month while it is actively growing, and refrain from fertilizing the houseplant in winter.

To avoid overfeeding the plant, make sure to dilute the fertilizer to half its strength and only feed it during spring, summer, and autumn.

Top tip: If you’re worried that you’ve over-fertilized the Calathea then place the pot under a light stream of water for 20 minutes. This will flush out any excess fertilizer salts.

Pot Size and Type

The houseplant prefers to be slightly pot-bound and only requires the container to be 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm) wider than the diameter of its rootball.

It is best to stick with a plastic pot, as a clay container will dry out the soil too quickly. We already mentioned that this houseplant loves moist soil, so a terracotta pot will require daily watering.

Temperature Tolerance

The Calathea thrives in temperatures ranging from 65 to 85°F (18 – 30°C). The temperature should never drop below 55°F (12°C), and it also shouldn’t be above 90°F (32°C) either.

Extreme temperatures will cause damage to the houseplant’s waxy foliage as it is sensitive to cold and hot climates.

Humidity Level

A Calathea prospers in a relative humidity level of 60 percent. This tropical plant will thrive in a steamy bathroom or kitchen.

The humidity levels should never dip below 50 percent, or its colorful foliage may begin to fade and turn into a yellow color.

You can boost humidity levels by using a humidifier, building a humidity tray for the plant, or spritzing the foliage frequently.

Outdoors vs. Indoors

It flourishes when grown in USDA hardiness zones of 11 to 12, which are the exact zones that the jade plant prospers in. The Calathea is more suitable as a houseplant than an outdoor plant.

If you plant it outside then you’ll need to replicate its natural, tropical environment. This can be challenging as you’ll need to water it more frequently, place it in filtered sunshine, and maintain a high level of humidity.

Calathea - care, water, light, soil, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)


Sadly, the Calathea rarely blooms when grown indoors. If you’re lucky enough to see these stunning flowers then they’ll sprout during the summertime.

Depending on the species, your houseplant may blossom yellow, white, or purple flowers. They will last for approximately 2 months before they become limp and fade away.

When the bloom begins to die, it is best to deadhead the houseplant, so that energy will be directed to new and healthy growth.

How to Encourage Blooming

There are a few ways that you can encourage your plant to bloom:

  • Feeding it regularly during the spring and summertime.
  • Using distilled water.
  • Ensuring that it receives sunlight for at least 2 hours a day.
  • Maintaining a warm temperature during the wintertime.

How to Grow It

Ideally, you should grow a new Calathea during the springtime when it is actively growing. You can propagate it or plant its seeds.

Top tip: Always sterilize your tools with a rubbing alcohol mixture or diluted bleach solution. This will prevent the spread of disease and bacteria.

Calathea Propagation

Unfortunately, there is only one way to propagate this houseplant. You can propagate it by dividing the rootball and planting these divisions in either soil or water.

How to Divide and Propagate It in Soil

Propagating the plant’s divisions in soil is the perfect method for those offshoots with mature roots. Always use well-draining and fresh soil when planting these divisions.

Follow the guide below:

  1. Remove the plant from the container and brush away the soil surrounding the rootball.
  2. Use a sharp knife and slice the offshoots away from the rootball. Before pulling the divisions apart, you must carefully untangle the roots.
  3. Plant them in some moist potting mixture and pat the soil down.
  4. Care for these divisions as you would an adult plant.

Propagating in Water

Rooting a division in water is similar to planting it in soil, except these offshoots will first be grown in water before they’re planted in the potting mix later on. This method is ideal for a division whose roots are not mature yet.

We’ll lay out the steps below:

  1. Lift the houseplant out of its pot and shake off any excess soil around the rootball.
  2. Examine the roots and slice the offshoots away from the mother plant.
  3. Fill a jar with room temperature water and place the division in it.
  4. Allow the roots to fully grow and then transplant the division into fresh soil.
  5. Once you’ve planted these divisions, you can care for them as you did their mother plant.

Seed Planting

Planting the Calathea seeds is not an easy or successful method as the germination process is time-consuming.

If you want to feel that sense of accomplishment as you watch new growth emerging from the soil then give this method a try.

  1. Fill a shallow tray with some moist seed starting potting mixture.
  2. Press the seeds about 0.5 inches (1.3cm) deep and mist them.
  3. Put a plastic bag over the seeds and place the tray on a heating mat.
  4. Make sure that the seeds are in bright, indirect sunshine. Additionally, the soil must be kept moist throughout this process.
  5. You can transplant the seeds once it sprouts 2 inches (5cm) of growth.

How to Save a Dying Plant

We previously mentioned that the Calathea is a fussy houseplant with specific demands. If it isn’t grown in the optimal environment or cared for well, then its foliage may become yellow, droopy, and develop brown tips or yellow spots.

We will explain what is causing each of these issues and how to solve the various problems.

Yellow Leaves

The foliage will begin to yellow when it receives too much sunlight, there is a sudden change in the environment, the air is too dry, or the temperature is too low.

During the summer, your houseplant cannot survive direct sunshine as the sun rays will scorch the leaves. You will need to discover a new home for the plant so that it is placed under filtered sunlight.

Calathea is sensitive to changes in its environment, so if you’ve recently moved it then the leaves will turn yellow. The houseplant may need a week to settle down, and its leaves will become green again.

If your household humidity level is too low then this tropical plant won’t survive. You must mist the leaves with room temperature water twice a week to increase the level of humidity surrounding the plant.

Once the winter chill sets in, your plant should be placed in a sunnier location to maintain a warm temperature. It will wither away if left in the cold for a prolonged period of time.

Droopy Leaves

Limp and droopy foliage is due to one of the following care issues; a lack of humidity and a lack of water.

These can be remedied by making two important changes; increasing humidity levels in your home and watering the houseplant more frequently. You can place the plant on a tray of pebbles and water, or you could check the soil regularly so you’ll know when to water it.

Brown Edges

Brown tips form on the leaves when your plant is watered with tap water, humidity levels are low, and when it isn’t receiving enough sunshine.

Tap water contains harsh chemicals such as chlorine which can damage your plant’s roots and foliage. It is best to make use of rainwater or distilled water instead.

If the air is dry then you will need to run a humidifier near the houseplant or place it amongst other plants to increase humidity levels.

The Calathea thrives in bright light, so you will need to find a sunny windowsill or tabletop where it can bask in warm, indirect sunlight.

Yellow Spots on the Foliage

Spotting foliage is caused by overwatering or overfeeding your houseplant. These are fairly easy to rectify as all you need to do is change the number of times you water or feed it.

If the soil is waterlogged then allow it to dry out before watering it again. Remember that no houseplant can survive soggy conditions so make sure to water it appropriately.

In the case that overwatering isn’t the problem then your houseplant is being overfed. You will need to cease fertilizing it for a month and you must flush the fertilizer salts out of the soil.

Final Comments

Calathea may not be the best houseplant to care for if you’re a total newbie, however, after a bit of practice, you’ll grow a beautiful houseplant. This guide allows you to develop the perfect care regime and if consistently cared for, you will be gifted with vibrant, bright, and bold foliage.

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