Caring for Calatheas
Here at Urban Sprouts, we really love the Calathea genus of plants. You might say these stunners are the Hemsworth brothers of the plant world–all slightly different, but each attractive in their own way.
Popular with style bloggers and plant hoarders alike, some varieties have enormously showy round or oval leaves (Calathea orbifolia/medallion), and some have long, narrow leaves with deep maroon undersides (rufibarba, lancifolia). A few of my favorites have leaves shaped and patterned like feathers (concinna, zebrina, ornata).
Calathea can sometimes be fickle but when cared for correctly can be great houseplants here in the PNW. These beauties love warm temperatures, humidity and gentle fertilizing. They love our temperate rainforest humidity, just be careful to avoid direct sunlight and cold drafts. Here are some tips to care for but here are some great tips for successful Calathea care in the PNW.
Choosing your potting medium is possibly the most crucial step in keeping healthy Calatheas.
These beauties love a lightweight, well-draining soil. For best results, we recommend making your own potting mixture at home. Start with a base of brown peat moss, and add one part vermiculite and one part perlite. This mix drains quickly and won’t provide organic matter for hungry mold or mildew. In a pinch a commercial African Violet mix will do. Here in the PNW (or other high humidity and lower light areas) a well draining soil is particularly important so we don’t invite mold or mildew into the plant.
Potting in a mixture like peat moss means there’s little organic matter for your plant to absorb through the soil, so it’s important to supplement nutrients during the spring and summer. Calathea can be sensitive to fertilizer burn so if you use a commercial blend we reccomend starting at half strength or for best results use our bacterial innoculant fertilizer, which introduces beneficial microbes into the soil that generate nutrients for the plant so there is no risk of burning.
Calatheas like to have consistently damp soil; plants that are too dry are vulnerable to mites; too wet, and you run the risk of mold and root rot. Make sure to water appropriately for the season: during the summer, Calatheas may require watering twice a week, but during the winter, you may find yourself watering somewhere between every 7 and 10 days.
Checking the soil dampness before watering can save you a lot of trouble: using your index finger, check the dampness level of the top two-to-three inches of soil. If the soil is faintly damp, water thoroughly. Make sure to empty all drainage trays afterward—reabsorbing water from below can quickly lead to root rot. In the winter, the top inch of soil should be completely dry before watering again.
Depending on the species of Calathe the brightness of the light required will vary. Most of them will grow fastest when the lighting in the room is bright and indirect for a good portion of the day (6 hours or so). For example I keep orbifolia across the room from a large, west-facing window that gets lots of afternoon sun but never directly in the sunbeams, but my rufibarba sits happily in my bathroom about 10 feet from a small frosted East facing window in the shower.
If your space isn’t bright enough for your favorite Calathea adding a plant light in a nearby lamp can help your Calathea get the energy it needs to thrive or supplement through the winter months.
Brown leaf edges sometimes signal a lack of humidity—a humidifier or water tray placed nearby can help healthy plants perk up. However, if leaf issues continue to arise even with proper water levels and soil aeration, take some precautions.
Frequent brown spots, crispy leaf edges, withering and general plant droopiness can indicate a serious infection. Separate the Calathea from the rest of your plants to avoid contamination, and wipe the leaves with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and a cotton ball.
If you notice any surface mildew, take the pot outside and scrape off the top layer of soil. Wash your hands and any tools you’ve used before touching your plants again. Allow the soil to dry as much as you can without drying out the plant and then water through next time with a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water (don’t worry the peroxide won’t harm your plant but it will dry out remaining mold spores).
Avoid water on the Calathea leaves, as standing moisture can breed harmful bacteria that in turn overwhelm a struggling plant. We reccomend watering with a narrow noseled watering can and pass back and fourth in “C” shapes at the soil level, avoiding the leaves.
While getting your Calatheas in just the right condition can take a bit of work the beautiful results can make it all worthwhile. Hopefully, these tips will have your plants looking Insta-ready in no time. Feel free to take advantage of our social media and text support lines (206-789-0710) if you have questions about your Calathea!