How do you Care for Calathea Indoors?


How to care for calathea

To grow and care for calathea plants indoors, locate the plant in bright indirect light, wait until the top 2 inches of the soil are dry, keep the temperature between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C), and mist the leaves to increase the humidity.

The best way to keep your calathea happy is to mimic some of the conditions of their native environment in your own home. Sounds tricky, right? It is much easier than it sounds, so keep reading my article for all you need to know!

Here is a summary of the care instructions for growing calathea plants indoors:

Growing Conditions:How to Care for Calathea:
Light:Bright indirect light.
Humidity:Prefers at least 30% humidity. Increase humidity with regular misting.
Temperature:The optimal temperature range for growth is between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C).
Watering:Water when the top 2 inches of the soil dry out (once a week in Summer and once every 2 weeks in Winter). Water with rain water rather than tap water.
Repotting:Repot every 1-2 years in a pot one size up.
Soil:Use a mix of 80% houseplant potting soil and 20% perlite for added drainage.
Fertilizer:Use a liquid general houseplant fertilizer once a month at half strength in the Spring and Summer.
Winter Care:Reduce watering frequency, mist the leaves more often, and keep indoor temperatures above 55°F (13°C).
Toxicity:Non-toxic to cats and dogs.

About Calathea

Calathea are native to the rainforests of Brazil, where they thrive in bright indirect light under a tree canopy and grow in moist yet well-draining soil.

Due to the striking appearance of their leaves, they have many names, such as the peacock plant, rattlesnake plant, and zebra plant.

Calathea
This is my personal favorite calathea variety. I particularly admire the variegated foliage of this ‘rattlesnake‘ cultivar.

Calathea is a relatively slow-growing plant, but you can expect it to grow to a maximum size of 28 inches (70 cm) indoors if you get the care right.

To increase a calatheas growth rate, ensure it is in a room with bright light, apply a fertilizer, and wipe the leaves frequently with a damp cloth to remove dust which can prevent photosynthesis.

Calathea plants are safe for pets around the home.

It is pronounced with 4 syllables as “KAL” + “uh” + “THEE” + “uh”.

Are Calathea Easy to Grow?

Calathea can be pretty tricky for beginners to grow as they are quite specific about their preferred environment when indoors.

To grow calathea indoors successfully, we need to think about how they grow in their native environment and recreate some of these conditions indoors.

Calathea Light Requirements

Calathea grows naturally under a canopy out of direct sunlight, so recreate these conditions by placing your calathea in bright indirect light when indoors. Direct sunlight scorches the leaves brown, whereas too much shade causes poor, leggy growth that droops.

I personally find the best results when growing my calathea in a room with a south-facing window so the room is brightly lit but with the plant set back from any direct light.

I have found that the brighter light has increased the growth rate and also made the variegation on the leaves stand out more.

It should be noted that in direct sunlight, the color can fade and look washed out before scorching, which is due to how sensitive the leaves are in direct sunlight.

Pro tip: Is your calathea leaning to one side? In my experience, calathea plants look better if you rotate the plant by 90 degrees every time you water, to create more even well-distributed growth.

What is the Best Indoor Temperature and Humidity for Calatheas?

The optimal temperature for growth is between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C), calathea can tolerate temperatures as low as 55°F (13°C) in Winter, but growth will be much slower, and the plant needs less watering.

Calathea are native to tropical forests, and therefore, I find it is necessary to increase the humidity when caring for calathea indoors to prevent them from turning brown.

The best method for doing this, in my experience, is to fill a saucer of water underneath the calathea’s pot and prop the calathea above the water line with pebbles. The constant evaporation from the saucer of water creates a humid indoor micro-climate that replicates the conditions in the calathea’s natural habitat and prevents the leaves from drying out.

3 other methods for increasing humidity that I find successful are:

  • Misting the leaves with water every few days.
  • Buying a plant humidifier to control the humidity.
  • Placing the calathea in a naturally humid room such as a bathroom.

I love to grow calathea in bathrooms as they are often brightly lit and have consistent humidity. Frosted glass and sheer curtains that are common in bathrooms also help to diffuse sunlight, which helps protect the leaves from damage.

As the temperature gets cooler, the need for humidity is much greater, so if the calathea is in a cold, draughty room, then make sure you take steps to increase the humidity.

Avoid placing calathea plants next to any sources of indoor heating and out of the air current of air conditioning, as this can sap moisture from the leaves.

How Often Should You Water Calathea?

Calathea needs the top 2 inches of the soil to dry between each bout of watering. Typically, this means watering once a week in Spring and Summer and once every 2 weeks in Winter. If the soil dries out completely, the leaf edges turn brown, whereas if the soil is too damp, the calathea develops root rot.

I personally recommend using your finger to judge when the top 2 inches of the soil is dry as I find this method is more reliable than moisture meters. If the soil is still damp, then delay watering your calathea until the top 2 inches feel dry.

I find the best way to water calathea is to water from the bottom by placing the pot in a tray of water for 20 minutes to allow the potting soil to draw up moisture. This ensures that the potting mix is evenly moist so the calathea’s roots can access the moisture they need.

Why You Should Use Rainwater Rather than Tap Water

Avoid watering with tap water if you live in a hard water area and use rainwater instead. Calathea is sensitive to minerals and chemicals (such as chlorine) in the water, which can turn the leaves brown.

If rainwater is difficult to acquire, then I recommend leaving a vessel of tap water out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate, after which it is safe to water your calathea.

Repotting

Re-pot calatheas every 1 or 2 years into a pot that is only 2 inches larger in diameter than the previous pot. Always re-pot calathea in the Spring, as this is when they are most resilient to transplant stress.

If you repot into a much larger pot, then the soil dries out too slowly for the calathea to tolerate.

My personal favorite pot for calathea plants is a terracotta or clay pot as they are breathable, which allows the soil to dry out more evenly, whereas plastic pots are impermeable and can retain water for too long around the rootball.

However, you can re-pot calathea in any pot as long as it has a drainage hole in the base and it is proportionate to the size of the plant.

What Kind of Soil Do Calathea Plants Need?

Calathea needs a well-draining potting mix of around 80% houseplant soil and 20% perlite or pine bark-based orchid potting mix. The added perlite or bark creates the porous structure to hold enough moisture to meet the calathea’s water requirements whilst also being well drained to avoid root rot.

I have found you can grow calathea well in normal potting soil as long as you carefully monitor the leaves of moisture in the soil and be mindful that it is likely to dry out at a slower rate.

I would personally recommend amending the soil to be on the safe side.

Fertilizer

For best results, I recommend using a general liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength once a month in the Spring and Summer months. Always use the fertilizer at half strength as the calathea’s roots are sensitive and can be damaged by too much fertilizer at a high concentration.

Whilst a calathea can survive without fertilizer (particularly if you re-pot it every year), I personally recommend fertilizer as the leaves of my calathea are larger and have vibrant variegation with regular fertilizer in the Spring and Summer.

Calathea that does not have any fertilizer applied tends to have poor growth.

How Do You Care for Calathea in Winter?

With the right care, the calathea’s leaves should stay green and healthy during Winter.

The three most important factors for caring for calathea plants in Winter are:

  1. Increase the humidity with regular misting. Whilst I prefer to increase the humidity by using a tray with water underneath the pot, I also mist the leaves every other day to counteract the dry air from indoor heating.
  2. Reduce watering to once every 2 weeks. With fewer hours of sunshine, the calathea’s demand for moisture decreases significantly, so only water once every 2 weeks to avoid root rot. Feel the soil to detect when the top 2 inches of potting mix have dried before watering again.
  3. Keep temperatures above 55°F (13°C). If the temperature decreases too much, this tropical plant can turn brown and die back, so move it to a warmer room.

It is also essential that you avoid using fertilizer in Fall and Winter whilst the plant is dormant.

Is Calathea Toxic to Cats and Dogs?

Calathea plants are not toxic to cats, dogs, or humans, according to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Although, from experience, my cat has attempted to claw at the leaves, so I still recommend keeping calathea plants away from pets!

Related articles:

If your calathea is turning brown, read my article, How to Revive a Dying Calathea.

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