Calatheas come from Brazil and are a very common house plant – although not beginner-friendly. One common issue many people have with Calatheas is drooping leaves. This can be caused by their daily movements, hence their name ‘Prayer Plants’ due to the leaves moving upwards during the night and down during the day.
It can also be due to poor plant care, so let’s take a look at the key points to keep your Calathea in good condition.
The simplest problem to fix for your Calathea is underwatering. Check the soil on your plant. If it seems dry it needs a drink. These plants prefer to have soil that is moist, so be sure to water every 1-2 weeks as needed. Always check the soil before watering and make sure the top two inches are dry before you water again.
Other symptoms of underwatering are yellowing or brown leaves and hydrophobic soil. Hydrophobic soil has been dried out to the point that it will no longer easily absorb water.
The easiest way to solve it is to place your Calathea pot into a larger container and fill it halfway with water. The water will be absorbed slowly through the drainage hole and rehydrate both your plant and your soil.
While underwatering can be detrimental to your plant, overwatering is actually worse. If your plant’s roots are sitting in soggy soil they can begin to rot and may even become moldy. Some symptoms of overwatering are droopy leaves, mushy stems, soggy wet soil, and maybe even a mild smell.
To check your plant for overwatering feel the soil, if it is soggy you likely will need to remove your plant from the soil to check for root rot. Healthy plant roots are firm and usually white or off-white in color. If the roots of your plant are mushy and dark brown or black it’s likely they are rotten.
If you spot any healthy roots, you can likely save your plant by removing the dead roots and repotting it in fresh soil.
Calathea plants thrive in medium to high humidity. When they don’t have the humidity they need, you may notice their leaves pointing downward or the edges of their leaves may be dried out and look burnt. Try to avoid keeping your plant under or near heat or air vents as these can lower humidity.
Increasing humidity for your Calathea is pretty easy and you have a few options on how to do it.
One cheap and easy way to increase the humidity around your Calathea is with a pebble tray. These are very easy to make and super customizable. Choose a tray that is large enough for your plant’s pot to sit in.
You can usually get clear plastic ones at stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot, but you can also use more decorative glass ones that you find at thrift stores or around the house.
Once you choose your tray you will want to get stones to fill it. You can get decorative pebbles or river rocks, or you can use inexpensive gravel. Now that the rocks are in your tray you will fill the tray with water to just below the top of the rocks. Place your Calathea’s pot on top of the rocks and as the water evaporates it will provide your plant with added humidity.
If DIY solutions aren’t your thing, or you want something more foolproof, a humidifier is also a great option. These can be a bit more expensive than a pebble tray, but they are very effective and can be used on more than one plant at a time if you are able to group your plants together.
Another option that can raise humidity is misting. This is my least favorite method as it tends to be a bit messy and less effective, but it can help in a pinch until you can get either a pebble tray or a humidifier.
All you need is a mister or a spray bottle filled with distilled or rainwater and you can use it on your plant every few days. Be careful when misting that you don’t get your drywall or any furniture wet or you could cause damage.
Calatheas can be fast-growing plants, so if you aren’t using fertilizer it could cause your plant to start looking drab and droopy. The ideal fertilizer for Calatheas is a balanced liquid fertilizer used once a month in the spring and summer. I use a 10-10-10 fertilizer for my Calatheas and they seem to thrive on it.
If you don’t want to mess with liquid fertilizer, you can also use pelleted fertilizers. These are designed to slowly release nutrients into the soil every time you water and are great for beginner plant keepers.
Be careful that you aren’t overfertilizing your plants as this can cause damage to the roots and even kill your plant. It’s best to wait until your plant seems to be happy and growing well before you start adding fertilizers.
It’s crucial to get the right lighting for Calatheas.
If your plant isn’t getting enough light it can lead to poor water absorption, slow growth, and an unhappy plant. Calatheas prefer medium to bright indirect light, which can be achieved in an east-facing window, or by keeping it a few feet from a south-facing window. If your plant is getting a good amount of light, it should help to protect it from issues like overwatering and root rot.
Too much light
Symptoms of too much light are dried-out soil and burnt leaves. Calatheas like a lot of light, but they can’t tolerate direct light. If your plant seems to be getting burned, try moving it a few more feet away from the window and see if that helps.
Other Calathea Care Tips
While the above care tips should keep your calathea leaves from drooping, there are a few other things you should know to keep your plant thriving.
The right soil is crucial for keeping your plant happy. An ideal soil for a calathea is one that is nutrient-rich, but well-draining. You should be able to accomplish this by making a 1:1 mixture of indoor potting soil and perlite. I prefer to use Fox Farms Ocean Forest, but you can use whatever soil you prefer.
If your soil isn’t well-draining it can lead to too much water retention and root rot.
You will want to repot your calathea roughly once a year in the spring. If your plant has outgrown its pot, you can upgrade to one that is about 2 inches wider in diameter, but if it seems comfortable, you can reuse the same pot and just add new soil.
Good news for those of us with cats and dogs! Most varieties of calathea are pet-friendly. Be sure to double-check on the exact variety you plan to get, but most can be safely kept around your furry family. Be sure to keep your cats and dogs from doing too much chewing on your plant leaves though, as this could cause your plant some issues.
Calatheas tend to be rather dramatic and they don’t like change, so if you have recently purchased a calathea and it’s dropping leaves or seems unhappy, it could just be due to its new surroundings. They will frequently have issues after being moved or repotted, so try to give them a few weeks to settle in before worrying too much about their health.
Don’t lose hope
These plants are a gorgeous addition to any houseplant collection, but as I’ve said, they can be quite a handful. Don’t feel too bad if your first calathea doesn’t flourish the way some of your other plants do.
While all calatheas prefer the same general care, each plant is an individual and they may have different care preferences based on where they were originally grown. Try to see what your plant is telling you and adjust accordingly. Once you get the hang of it, their beauty will be worth it.